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What are the benefits of creating a hardy succulent gravel garden or border?
1. Drought tolerant
2. Low maintenance.
3. Bee and butterfly friendly.
4. By using the correct mix of plants you can enjoy a colourful border 365 days a year.
5. Frost Hardy.
But where to begin?
Forget about the planting for now , concentrate on your soil. The planting is the easiest part, the fun part. However if the soil is not suitably free draining then all of your efforts will have been in vain. It seems a lot of effort but in preparing the ground properly you are avoiding months and months of weeding and normal border maintenance in the future.
Unless you are lucky enough to live on an abandoned sand pit chances are you will have to do soil preparation. Normal garden soil will be too moisture retentive. I shall for the purposes of this article imagine a blank canvas, an empty or new border in full sun. Postitioning such a border under trees is not advised. I cannot see or feel your soil so this is a guide, adapt it if you already have quite free draining sandy soil.
Using sharp sand , gravel or horticultural grit mix 60% of the drainage material to your garden soil. In other words you have reduced the soil percentage to just 40%. This is now free draining. You need to do this to a depth of at least 8 inches. Rake flat.
Edging. Do not use wood unless it has been treated. Bricks ,rocks or concrete slabs are best. Cover the area with weed suppressant. Peg it down quite taut and tuck the edges under the edging. Don’t worry about using a mix of rather ugly edging as it will be covered in no time. Without edging heavy rain will wash the top layer of gravel away.
The fun part. Start positioning your plants. Further back use the specimen sedums, the middle can be filled with the medium flowering sedums. Choose different foliage tones for a contrasting effect. As you get near the front of the border incorporate a mix of evergreen and semi trailing sedums. Approx a foot from the edge I recommend the WOW series of Delospermas, this are taller than the other varieties. Then as you approach the edging choose varieties from my ‘low creepers section’. The ‘Sundella’ range of Delosperma are perfect used right at the front as they will in their first year cover the edging and soften the lines. This too is the area to pop in some sempervivums for an extra zing of colour and texture. A few Aloe Aristata here will provide flame coloured flower spikes in mid summer. It’s essential to choose at least 70% evergreen plants for this area to achieve good winter interest.
It’s not possible to give exact spacing requirements in this article, due to the sheer number of plant choices. My method is to sketch it out first, a nice way to spend a rainy winter day 😁. Read the spacing on each plant description and do a simple drawing. Alternatively you can be brave and select my ‘Hardy Succulent/Gravel Garden border Starter Pack’. Click on the link at the bottom for more details on this.
Using a sharp scissors or knife cut holes and pop in your plants. If root bound pull them apart gently. Water in well, and remember drought tolerant hardy succulents are not drought tolerant until the roots have established. Regular watering is needed at the planting stage and for a couple of weeks , after that you can mostly rely on rainfall.
Cover the membrane in a layer of gravel until it is hidden. By hand around the freshly planted plug plants, ensuring that the young foliage is ‘proud’ of the gravel.
Pat yourself on the back and have a nice cool drink. Relax, be smug. Your summers will not longer be spent doubled over weeding or worrying about your water meter. You have helped feed your local bees and butterflies for many, many years to come. If another hot dry summer like 2022 occurs your new border will thrive.
Top tip, leave the seedheads on over winter, resist the urge to cut them back. They are a haven for our smaller insects and the seedheads structures are ever so pretty.
I don’t stock them as they are expensive and slow growing but a few choice Agaves would work really well in this border design.
If you have tender succulents in pots that are overwintered inside, these can be brought out for the summer months and be dotted around the planting area.
*There are other methods. This method is the one I recommend if using plug or young plants.*