A Gravel Garden For Free

Behind some outbuildings at the Old Forge is an oil tank and an expanse of gravel.  For three long years, I weeded that gravel until, a couple of years ago, I (finally) realised I was being stupid.  Instead of weeding, why not fill it with plants?  Drought resistant, hardy plants of course but there would be another stipulation.  The owners hadn’t asked me to do it, they didn’t know I was going to do it – I could hardly spend their money on planting up my own little project.  So, I would only use plants I already had, sow seeds I could collect and hopefully, please them with the result.

Gravel garden

This is the oil tank area a couple of months ago with new growth appearing.   During the summer of 2013, I shook opium poppy seed-heads about, as well as the seeds of Verbascum olympicum.

Gravel garden (6)

June 2015

I added some spindly valerian plants (Centranthus ruber) – salvaged from someone’s compost heap.

Gravel garden (5)

And they’re flourishing in these hot, dry conditions.

Gravel garden (8)

I planted several clumps of a variegated grass.  I’m afraid I don’t know the variety – it too was unloved in another garden.

Gravel garden (1)

Crocosmia went into the mix (there is always spare crocosmia in any garden I’ve ever worked in).  They’ll flower later.   Verbena bonariensis is here too (from an almost infinite supply of seedlings at the Priory).  They have just started flowering.

Gravel garden (10)

I left a wide path so that the oil-delivery man can get to the tank – with his large, sinuous hose.

Gravel garden (12)

The verbascum has been the only failure and that’s a shame; the towering yellow spikes would’ve looked grand.

Gravel garden (7)

The caterpillars of the Mullein moth have shredded my lovely plants.  I’ve picked off dozens but, as I’m only at the Old Forge once a week, I haven’t been able to clear them all.

Gravel garden (13)

Look what they’ve done to my should-be-stately plants.  I shan’t be using verbascum again.  All the plants here must be tough and more-or-less problem free.  Sorry verbascum – you just don’t make the grade.

Honeybees in Opium poppy (2)

The amount of insect interest in my ‘new garden’ has been fantastic.

Honeybees in Opium poppy (1)

I’ve seen four or five honeybees crammed into one poppy.

Red admiral butterfly  (2)

Butterflies, like this red admiral, love the valerian.

But the icing on my Bakewell tart is the Hummingbird hawk-moth.  I’ve seen them at the ‘Forge before feeding on lavender and V. bonariensis.  But now I can watch them flitting about and supping on valerian too.

Gravel garden (3)

I watered the plants (only once a week, obviously) whilst they got established but otherwise they fend for themselves.  Below the three-inch deep gravel is very poor soil – mostly lumps of chalk actually.  I do a little weeding and thinning; and pull up the poppies after they’ve seeded.

Gravel garden (9)

It is still a little sparse but I have some ideas for more plants and something to fill the forthcoming ‘verbascum gaps.’   But I’ll only use stock or seed I already have or can scavenge.  Because what I really like about my little gravel garden is … it didn’t cost a penny.

Follers Manor Opening Times 2015

Last summer I visited a stunning private garden called Follers Manor.  The gardens sit on a shoulder of the South Downs, to the south of Alfriston, East Sussex and above the pretty village of Litlington.   Here’s an account of my visit.  (I didn’t use all the photos from that day.  Here are a few more).


The owners, Geoff and Anne, have asked if I’d help advertise their three open days for summer 2015.


The first is on Saturday 27th June from 11am to 4pm – in aid of St Wilfred’s Hospice.


The other two days, Saturday 4th and Sunday 5th July, are under the National Gardens Scheme.   Opening times for these are 2.00 – 5.30pm.


And that’s it.  If you can’t go along on any of these – and apologies for the short notice – you’ll need to wait until 2016.  (Unless you arrange a group booking).


There is plenty of parking (in an adjacent field) and I’d recommend a visit to Alfriston – a beautiful Sussex village with tea shops, pubs …  and the National Trust’s first acquisition – The Clergy House.


In the village of Litlington (just visible above) is a small, independent plant nursery and adjacent tea gardens.  Both of which I’m fond of.


Though if you don’t make it to Litlington, Follers sell plants too.  If you’re in the area and able to visit Follers, please do leave a comment with your impressions of Ian Kitson’s design.  I’d like to hear what you think.

(For more information see the Shaw’s website).