Gravel In The Garden

I have no idea what type of stone this antique English millstone was carved from, but I can attest to the fact that our skid steer could barely lift it. I averted my eyes when I saw the front tires of our loader leave the ground. Stone is incredibly dense, and heavy. If this millstone is granite, you can be sure that the carving process for this solid mass of stone was lengthy and exhausting. Stone is a treasured material in the landscape, as it is a natural material that takes just about forever to degrade. Its surfaces age beautifully. Crushed stone, including crushed granite, is a material much easier to handle and place, and is commonly known as gravel. These small shards of stone have endless applications in the garden, not the least of which involve the base and the top layer for a driveway. A giant granite millstone takes a machine and many people to move. Crushed granite can be dumped and  shoveled around wherever you need a hard surface. We have been shoveling.

Our decomposed granite display space and driveway is 24 years old. It has been subject to all manner of insults over the years, not the least of which is a near daily dose of heavy trucks going in and out. Add to that dirt spills from countless container plantings. Our graveled spaces were due for replacement.  How so? Decomposed granite comes with fines. As in granite dust. Those fines help to interlock the very small shards of granite, and harden up the surface.  But over the years, the foot and vehicular traffic drive the small granite pieces down, and bring up the soil and fines from underneath. Our gravel had become a dust fest on dry days, and a mud fest on wet ones.  It was time to replace it. As in dig out the old soil and sand contaminated gravel, and replace it with new stone.

The linden trees adjacent to the building are 24 years old. There would be roots to respect. Buried under our degraded gravel were the electrical lines for the lighting in the trees. This meant that all of the old gravel had to be loosened and dug out by hand, one pick axe and flat shovel full at a time. This was a big job, requiring both of my crews. The photograph above clearly illustrates the new gravel, some 4 inches deep, on the right, and the degraded gravel driveway on the left due for excavation and some new stone.

Our original driveway, circa 1995, was concrete. We removed all of that, save a two track of concrete to the rear. We eventually removed all of the rest of that concrete, and replaced it with a large scale crushed granite. Those large stones proved difficult to navigate, even in sneakers. They made leveling a pot on a pedestal time consuming. Big rocks are not so easy to navigate or manipulate. Little rock is much more forgiving. Our next go around, we switched to decomposed granite, 3/8ths of an inch and down with fines.  This gravel looked like sand when it went down. This miniature gravel with fines put up with our traffic for a good many years. As usual, the more moderate decision – an in between sized crushed stone –  would have been better choice.  Not too large, and not too small. The 3/8 inch and down granite gravel eventually succumbed to our traffic. I am happy to say, we are getting our chance at installing a granite gravel of moderate size this week.

I have known for a long time that our gravel needed to be taken up, and replaced. Late last week a decision was made to go ahead. We are in between jobs. The weather has cooled off. It was time to jump on this project. I am so pleased with the first signs of the results. Though it has taken lots of work to remove every object from the surface to be redone, putting it all back together has been a pleasure. Luckily, we have a home for that dirt laden gravel at our landscape yard. So we excavate and stockpile the old gravel out front, unload and install the new gravel, pick up the old and dump it at our yard-on our way for the next load of fresh gravel. How do we know when it is level? It is our best guess. Based on many years of experience engineering flat spaces. We’ll know we are close to dead on when the driveway drains properly. The mini gravel had become so compacted that water sat on top.  It took hours to trickle water the trees. It is worth it to breach that compacted layer, so water readily gets to the tree roots.

Everything in the landscape needs refreshing. Perennials need dividing. Shrubs need pruning. Soil needs a routine shot of compost. The work of the landscape is never really done. A landscape or garden is either going backward, or going forward. There is no neutral in a garden.  Fortunately a job of this magnitude only comes around once in a blue moon, but the transformation is satisfying.

I would guess we have a week left for the finish.  We excavate down to the original base layer. On this side of the drive, the lion’s share of the gravel exchange is done by machine.  But all of the spreading and grading is done by hand.

The center portion of the driveway will be done last. It is hard to spot in this picture, but the crown of the drive is too high. That crown never gets driven over. Water now drains towards the front door. In a very heavy and fast paced rain, water goes under the door and inside. A new permeable gravel driveway will correct that problem.

The new gravel at the shop has a fresh and pleasing texture. It is too big to be tracked inside. It will take a while to interlock and compact, but the crushed granite will eventually provide a stable walking and placement surface. Thinking some gravel will do for a drive, terrace or walkway?  My advice is to evaluate the size of the stone that would be appropriate for your project.

This gravel driveway has a base layer of 21AA crushed limestone, and a 3″ top layer of the same medium crushed granite we are using at the shop. The drive is a firm surface that shows no evidence of vehicular traffic, yet is is permeable to rain.

gravel driveway

exposed aggregate concrete drive with graveled edges

For those who would rather not deal with the maintenance of gravel, an exposed aggregate concrete surface provides the look of without the maintenance required of a paving material that moves. Aggregate concrete is a several part process that requires a highly skilled installation.

This driveway was beautifully done, and should provide many years of maintenance free service.

gravel terrace with exposed aggregate detail

decomposed granite terrace contained by aluminum edger strip

flagstone walkway with decomposed granite joints

concrete paver squares set in decomposed granite

limestone pavers with medium crushed granite

dramatic, the difference. Interested further in rock sizes?  The link below has pictures and descriptions.

stone and gravel sizes

 

Comments

  1. Kathy Darlington says

    Dear Deborah, I’ve oft admired your gravel terrace in the front and sides of your shop as it is so very welcoming and lovely. Thanks for this How-to gravel post. Decomposed granite being hard to find, we made the mistake of installing pea stone around a beautifully fenced in raised bed garden area. It looks great but is not pleasant to walk upon. Although it does slow down my two-year-old grandson! We will be replacing with DG. I called your supplier (State Crushing) and they did not know what I was talking about? So who is supplying DG for you? although I live on a farm in Chelsea and the delivery distance might be impractical. As far as weeds go, my husband carefully applies 30% industrial vinegar to the weeds in our gravel areas (long driveway too) that I have not already pulled. Works like a charm!—You are amazing and I thoroughly enjoy every post! Kathy

    • Deborah Silver says

      Kathy, try Mains Landscape Supply in Southfield. Ask for 1/4″-3/8″ medium crushed granite.They also carry the smaller version-decomposed granite. 248 356 8660. Pea stone is round. It does not stay in place, and your foot rolls around it in. all the best, Deborah

    • Don’t bother adding binding sand to the pea gravel- it doesn’t work. We just dug out the whole area completed 2 months ago under our pergola and replaced with 20” paving blocks that look like pea gravel. Wish we had done that in the first place!

      • Deborah Silver says

        Dear Christine, I am intrigued by your paving blocks that look like pea gravel! Where did you find them? I never use pea gravel for anything. That round stone has very few appropriate applications. best, Deborah

  2. Dear Deborah,

    thank you again for sharing your expertise and your process. Your post could not be more timely. I have been weeding my gravel drive all summer with my hori hori. The process turns my body into knots and as I go, I repeat to myself Henry Mitchell’s quote: “Gravel driveways are absurd.”

    But then on days when the weeds are gone and it is freshly raked, there is nothing like a gravel driveway for a country house. And the satisfying crunch as the car comes up the drive. Indeed, your post lets me know my driveway needs a renovation; otherwise, I am just maintaining the ghost of a gravel drive.

    Best,

    Mark

    • Deborah Silver says

      Loved your letter, Mark. We have been having the same weed fest you describe. It is very hard to weed gravel. The weeds drive me crazy. Our driveway was in dire need of a renovation-yes. Gravel driveways are indeed nuts, but I love the sound, the texture, the look, and that natural material that is so friendly and fitting with a landscape. I cannot imagine any other driveway and display material for our place. all the best, Deborah

  3. Amy & John Kampfe says

    WOW! What a great post!!! You have done an amazing job with gravel that is a heavy and time consuming product that gives beautiful results!!! In your post you show a low wooden table and two chairs that have weathered outside. I love that look but wondered if you suggest putting any wood preservative on them to help them last longer? Thank you for all your wonderful posts!!!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Rob tells me that furniture set is vintage white oak-made in England. Yes, it probably would benefit from some protection. best, Deborah

  4. Stone really adds to any space. Your new gravel is beautiful. The larger granite gravel stone sounds like the perfect solution. I was amazed how your 3/8 stone decomposed to dust over time. I have a stone dust and gravel parking pad at the end of my asphalt driveway to accommodate additional guests and their cars. My only issue is keeping the grass/weeds from growing in the stone. I have the same issue with weeds that grow in grout between 20 x 20″ blue stone. Have you experienced this and do you have a solution? I also love the patio ideas you show. Soon I will replace a patio in the back of my property and this will definitely be a combination of granite, blue stone and gravel. Fabulous post, thank you for sharing.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Susan, I do not believe my 3/8″ decomposed granite degraded to dust. I do believe that 20 some years worth of vehicular traffic brought the soil and sand underneath that small granite to the surface. And drove that small scale granite down. That soil and sand coming to the surface was a perfect medium for weeds. Scraping all that mess off, and replacing it with fresh clean stone means it will be years before we have weeds in the gravel again.

  5. Patricia Rainwater says

    Great post! I have always loved a crushed granite drive.

  6. nella davis-ray says

    This is an awesome post! Thank you. I’ve always admired the gravel yard at your store and wished I had one of my own. Years ago I made the mistake of using pea gravel on a pathway. Luckily it’s on the north side of my house that gets little use. I will be looking for a decomposed granite supplier for my next pathway.

  7. Jenny Anderson says

    Hi Deborah!
    What type of limestone squares are you using in your projects that are frost hardy to your area?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Jenny, Indiana limestone is perfectly frost proof in my zone. My limestone retaining wall caps are 25 years old. best, Deborah

  8. Mary Brown says

    Crushed red granite is appealing as well as grey or aggregate gravel. Terra-cotta pop for path or driveway. Have sample photo if anyone’d like to see it.

  9. I had a hard time finding DG in the upper mid-west. I dont understand why? Just used large stone pavers on 21AA base under the pergola in the vegetable garden.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Christine, I don’t understand why either. There are a number of places that carry it. But sometimes the name changes. best, Deborah

  10. So what size did you ultimately end up using for your space?

  11. Deborah, a wonderful post. I have always coveted a gravel driveway but could never convince my husband to to his fear of upkeep. Did you use, as one of the featured projects did, 21AA crushed limestone, and a 3″ top layer of crushed granite? And what is the size of the top gravel you used?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Cindy, yes. The stone size ranges from 1/4″ to 3/8″ in size. What I did not discuss in the post is the fact that gravel in a driveway needs to be retained by steel edging. That part of the process is expensive, but necessary when vehicles are driving on it. best, Deborah

      • Thank you for an informative post Deborah. We live in the country and I love our gravel drive but it needs refreshing for sure. I wondered how you maintain edges and see in your comment above you use steel edging. Can you provide a bit more detail? I refuse to use that black plastic stuff but have not been able to find anything made of steel, so I’m curious as to where you source yours. Perhaps you might be convinced to do a post on edging alone? It seems to me to be a such an important aspect of creating an pleasing outdoor space..many thanks for all of your wonderful posts. Best regards, Angela

        • Deborah Silver says

          Dear Angela, the only time I use steel edging is when there is liklihood that it will be driven over-so yes, I use it for driveways. It is very heavy and difficult to handle. I use this type: http://www.surelocedging.com/steel-edging.php Anywhere else in the landscape and garden I use aluminum, as it is easy to handle, bend, and cut. all the best, Deborah

  12. Greg Nelson says

    Dear Deborah, what a timely post for me this morning. I am just finishing putting down a gravel garden in my back yard. Now, no more grass to mow back there. A big job, but I am loving the results and the look. We shall see how I feel after the leaves start to fall. As always, thanks for all you do and share with us. Best, -greg

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