Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage in Dungeness proved that you could create a beautiful garden even in the most barren, impermanent of landscapes and Beth Chatto’s gravel garden experiment in a car park is now famous for never needing to be watered. However, gravel gardens are often overlooked and underused in the gardening world in favour of other planting styles – a shame as they can work at all scales and with any mix of plants. Herbs are suited to the conditions typical of a gravel garden, so as well as providing an edible element, they will also fill the garden with their scent, adding another layer to the garden’s allure. Texture also adds to the impact of a gravel garden with silver leaved plants automatically creating a more Mediterranean feel. Leaf colour, texture and form are important in creating the desired look for the overall garden and help create a rich plant tapestry. People often perceive gravel gardens as being barren, dull landscapes with sparse planting that does not provide much colour. On the contrary, you can create the same beauty as a traditional garden full of perennials, with the added benefit of considerably less maintenance. This was proven in the Beth Chatto tribute garden at the 2019 RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival, which showcased an abundance of colour, texture and form. Many of the plants were drought tolerant species while others were chosen for their ability to adapt to prolonged dry spells, which proved invaluable when the garden stood in all its glory, unwatered for two months during the summer’s heatwave. At the heart of the garden was the idea of ‘right plant, right place’ which was Beth Chatto’s vision for sustainable gardening.
As the climate changes, we will have no choice but to change with it, however, the look of the typical English country garden may not be lost in the process, just adapted and evolved.