Rocking a no-lawn gravel garden


Every time I pull into my driveway I feel happy looking at the new gravel garden that’s replaced the old foundation-hugging bed and lawn.


BEFORE: A fairly traditional foundation strip and lawn edged with dwarf mondo grass. The shrubs were planted too close to the foundation, but otherwise it was fine—no “mustache” strip of clipped evergreens, at least. However, it just didn’t express a sense of…garden excitement, and mowing and edging this space was a pain.


AFTER: A redesign gave me a gravel garden with a simple plant palette that breaks free of the foundation line, that gains vertical interest with taller plants and the use of tall containers, and with mostly evergreen foliage except for a pop of purple in the fall courtesy of the Mexican bush sage.


Three cool plants: Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha), toothless sotol (Dasylirion longissimum) in the steel pipe, and ‘Jaws’ agave in the tractor-rim planter.


Isn’t the shadow pattern wonderful? Just look at the teeth on that agave. Rawr!


A clumping ‘Alphonse Karr’ bamboo anchors the back left corner, helping to screen some drainage pipes. All that’s needed is a darker color on that back wall, which should occur this fall if we have our house painted as planned. It needs it, and I can’t wait to try something more natural looking than that creamy white.

All material © 2006-2012 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

14 Responses

  1. Juliet says:

    What kind of grass did you have, and how did you get rid of it so completely?

    It was St. Augustine, and I hired a guy to dig it out for me. It’s an easy grass to dig out, unlike Bermuda, and I’ve done my share of it over the years. But this time I gave my back a rest and hired a younger back. —Pam

  2. Looks great. Where did you get that tall cylinder? It’s fabulous.

    I bought it from Link Davidson and just love it! —Pam

  3. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    This front garden is gorgeous. Can’t wait to see what color you paint your house. It will really make the plants pop with some real color behind them.

    I think so too, Lisa. Because the architecture of our house is, ahem, plain (ugly) late 1960s style, and much of it is brick, we’re planning to paint the siding a neutral woodsy color, like khaki or grayish brown, to help it recede into the background of the garden. —Pam

  4. What a great transformation…simply amazing. A toothless sotol is in my list – up the road there is one that is GIGANTIC…it is incredible…I want to say almost 10ft in diameter. I really love the look of it. Nice pop of color from your salvia leucantha too Pam!

    The dasylirion is a fun plant to grow, Heather. It gets a LOT of comments, especially planted up in that pipe! —Pam

  5. Shelley Boucher says:

    Absolutely inspiring ! I am ready to share a bottle of wine with you asap.

    I am ready, Shelley! —Pam

  6. Liatris says:

    I love the different heights and positioning of the plants. You managed to make the eyes travel through out the space yet relish each item as if it were an art gallery. Very well done!!! I agree that a contrasting color on the house will anchor all the visual elements. You are an inspiration!!!

    Thank you, Liatris. I love your description of it. And yep, I can’t wait to get that wall painted. —Pam

  7. Carolyn says:

    Who knew gravel could look so good? Actually your redesign is exquisite and I can see why it puts a smile on your face…. less maintenance, less water and much more eye appeal. Love it!

    Thanks, Carolyn! Yes, gravel by itself—not so great. Gravel with fabulous plants? Wonderful! The French knew it, and it works great in the American Southwest too. —Pam

  8. Indie says:

    I don’t always like gravel lawns but that looks wonderful! I especially love that tall cylinder planter. What a stroke of genius for bringing some height to the area!

    Thank you, Indie! Like you, I don’t like “gravel lawns” either. But there are so many wonderful plants that love to grow with a fast-draining gravel “mulch” that you can make an attractive and xeric garden. Gravel doesn’t have to mean a moonscape. —Pam

  9. Alison says:

    I love this garden! Thanks for showcasing it. That ‘Jaws’ Agave in the tractor rim is such a brilliant repurposing of material!

    Thanks, Alison. That tractor rim worked out pretty well as a planter, and it was a LOT cheaper than the shallow stock tank I used in my former garden. —Pam

  10. Scott Weber says:

    Such an improvement…that’s for sure!

    Many thanks, Scott. —Pam

  11. Randy says:

    Just beautiful, Pam. A job well done. I really like the simple elegance of it.

    Thanks, Randy. A few Mexican feathergrasses to add next spring, and it’ll be good to go. —Pam

  12. Louis says:

    I can’t put into words how much I love your new and improved entry. The dasylirion in the steel pipe is amazing! Now only does it give it height and thereby layers but also has the effect of an old trunking one that would cost an arm and a leg. Love love love!

    Thanks so much, Louis! I love your point about the trunk effect—I hadn’t really thought about that. —Pam

  13. peter schaar says:

    Pam, the courtyard is very elegant! No other word will do. And, re our recent e-conversation, very Mexican.

    Why thanks, Peter. It’s so nice to get these odd corners of the garden fixed up the way I want them. —Pam

  14. This is a wonderful transformation, Pam. You at your best.

    Aw, thanks, Kathryn! —Pam

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