This garden gravel transformation on a budget shows that grass isn't always greener...

Watch this garden transform from weed-ridden to a leafy retreat out back and a bright gravel space out front

Pool with concrete edges and back wall with plants on
(Image credit: Future PLC / TOM ST AUBYN PHOTOGRAPHY)

As an interior designer, this homeowner had strong visions for what she wanted her outdoor space to look like. The project? To create a low-maintenance scheme for a back garden with a lawn, colourful borders, a paddling pool and a patio for relaxing and entertaining.

But she was working with a strict budget. So a gravel garden transformation was a great front garden idea that would suit both style and practicality. Relatively inexpensive to install and easy to maintain, it proved the perfect solution to transform the space into the retreat had in mind, at the price she could afford. For the back garden, a  beautiful old apple tree was retained too, while the rendered brick walls were repaired to create clean boundaries.

Not an avid gardener, but now happy to potter about and mow the lawn, this homeowner loves the way the garden of her west-London house feels. 'Sociable, welcoming and yet so private – it’s the perfect escape from the city.'

The garden gravel transformation 

The space before

Garden before image plain weed-ridden plot

(Image credit: Future PLC / TOM ST AUBYN PHOTOGRAPHY)

When this homeowner bought her 1940s bungalow three years ago, she was looking forward to refurbishing the interior of her new home, but the weed-infested 60sq m plot at the front and 100sq m space at the back was going to be more of a challenge. 

Having previously designed a small city garden at a previous property, it didn't stop her having a go at the wide plot of the new place. 'It was part of the allure of the bungalow', she explains. 'It isn’t overlooked at the back and is completely private, which is rare for this part of west London'. 

The design details 

Back concrete wall of garden with plant pots hanging

(Image credit: Future PLC / TOM ST AUBYN PHOTOGRAPHY)

Knowing she'd need help to create the scheme she had envisioned, she called in garden designer Joanna Archer, before coming up with a plan for a flower-filled layout at the back, with a lawn and a shed for storing the mower and tools. 

Windows from the kitchen, dining area and lounge all look out onto this space, so the planting had to offer year-round interest, too. Otherwise, this homeowner wanted a pressed gravel patio, a garden path idea she'd seen in the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris, and a small pool to dip toes in on hot summer days...

Front garden with gravel path and green door

(Image credit: Future PLC / TOM ST AUBYN PHOTOGRAPHY)

1. Garden path plants

Neat topiary balls provide structure among the flowers, which are mostly in shades of peach, pink and yellow. And the cool ferns and woodland plants sit under the trees. 

In spring, tulips, daffodils and alliums filling the borders as the perennial plants push through. 

Green garden shed at the back of garden with table and sun hat on surrounded by flowers

(Image credit: Future PLC / TOM ST AUBYN PHOTOGRAPHY)

2. Pots, plants and flower arrangement

Large antique zinc pots are home to bright flowering plants with wispy grasses behind and balls of Japanese holly (Ilex crenata) bring structure to the scheme. 

A bed filled with summer flowers in peaches and pinks creates a graceful edge to the dining area and vigorous evergreen climbers Clematis ‘Apple Blossom’ and star jasmine decorate the boundary. 

All the while the neighbour’s ginkgo tree provides light shad and a line of pleached Portuguese laurels adds year-round interest along the back wall. 

Pool with concrete edges and back wall with plants on

(Image credit: Future PLC / TOM ST AUBYN PHOTOGRAPHY)

3. Poolside

The water in the paddling pool is kept invitingly crystal clear with a UVC filter pump, chlorine granules and an algaecide. The jasmine produces clusters of tiny flowers in summer, which infuse the garden with a wonderful scent.

Focus on: gravel gardens

Back garden with gravel in the sun featuring pots on the back wall and swimming pool

(Image credit: Future PLC / TOM ST AUBYN PHOTOGRAPHY)

Love this garden idea and want to try it for yourself? Here's how you can use tiny stones to create a low-maintenance garden filled with colourful plants: 

  • Location – Most plants suited to gravel gardens hail from warm countries and need sun to thrive, although a few will tolerate partial shade. They also like free-draining soil, so dig in some horticultural sand or grit if you have sticky clay. 
  • Preparation – After removing all weeds, designer Joanna Archer suggests laying a biodegradable weed-suppressing mat such as Ecomatt (green-tech. on the surface to prevent future growth. Then cover the mat with a 3cm layer of 20mm pea shingle in a natural shade. To plant through gravel, move it to one side, cut a cross in the mat, and dig a hole for each plant. 
  • Flower options – Choose drought-tolerant plants such as lavenders, cotton lavender (Santolina), pinks (Dianthus carthusianorum), sedges and lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis). Once planted, tuck the mat around the stems and re-cover with the gravel. Keep well watered until established.

Additional words by Zia Allaway 

Millie Hurst
Senior Content Editor

Millie Hurst was Senior Content Editor at Ideal Home from 2020-2022, and is now Section Editor at Homes & Gardens. Before stepping into the world of interiors, she worked as a Senior SEO Editor for News UK in both London and New York. You can usually find her looking up trending terms and finding real-life budget makeovers our readers love. Millie came up with the website's daily dupes article which gives readers ways to curate a stylish home for less.