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Gravel is one of the most versatile and decorative of all garden surface options. Not only does it come in a wide variety of materials it is much more affordable than other surfaces.
Unlike conventional paving gravel, does not require skilled labour to spread and lay. Spreading gravel is a much faster process than laying paving making it more economical and efficient.
Gravels come in various size grades which can create aesthetically, pleasing, visual, textures.
They also provide an opportunity to combine areas of seating and circulation with planting.
Our Moroccan, Desert garden with gravel seating in Missenden, Bucks
Gravel is also a more ecological surface allowing storm water to permeate back into the soil. This reduces the risk of flash flooding and the polluting of natural watercourses and wetlands.
In this article I will answer some common questions about laying gravel within your garden. I will also explain how to lay a gravel patio area for seating correctly.
Do I need to dig out soil before laying gravel?
It depends if you intend to grow plants through the gravel or use the gravel as a path of patio. If you are using gravel as mulch for planting beds you will not need to dig out soil.
However, if you are laying gravel for human traffic you should excavate out at least 100mm of topsoil.
If you wish to lay gravel to a driveway you should excavate at least 200mm of topsoil.
Do I need a sub base for a gravel patio and seating?
For a gravel patio it is ideal to have a compacted sub base of between 75 -120 millimetres deep. The perfect depth will depend upon your soil type, surrounding trees and expected traffic volumes.
A well compacted and even sub base will ensure a firm and robust surface which will resist weed encroachment.
Do I need to put sand under a gravel patio?
Gravel by its very nature will displace and move under foot. Therefore you only want to spread materials under gravel which are stable.
This is why compacted mot type one is the best material for under a gravel patio. Sand will easily rutt and displace making your gravel surface unstable.
Sand also provides an easy root run for surrounding trees and shrubs. This can lead to bulges and undulation within the gravel surface.
Do I need to lay plastic membrane under a gravel patio?
It is always recommended to lay a robust landscape membrane under your gravel. This will act as a separation barrier between your sub base and gravel.
Separating the two surfaces will prevent sub base working its way up and infiltrating your gravel. Plastic membrane will also act as a root barrier preventing weeds encroaching upon your gravel patio.
What type of gravel is best for patios?
It is difficult to isolate any one type of gravel which is the best for patios. However the best aggregates will be ones which do not absorb moisture.
This will prevent algae and discolouration from microorganisms. Generally the best gravels will be graded between 10 -20 millimetres in size and compliment your gardens style.
One of the most commonly used and reasonably priced gravel is shingle gravel.
What tools will I need to lay a gravel patio?
The great thing about laying a gravel patio is you do not need many tools; Usually a spade, shovel, spirit level and wheel barrow is enough.
You will probably need more tools to install your edgings than laying the gravel itself. The most common edgings for gravel are stainless steel, timber gravel boards and masonry.
Installing these will normally require brick laying tools, a sledge hammer and drills for fixing.
What is the best edging for a gravel patio?
The best edging for gravel will depend upon the design and style of the patio. For modern patios stainless steel is minimalist and effective.
For sheer durability and choice however I feel masonry materials are the best edgings for gravel patios. Materials like natural stone, brick and concrete blocks offer a strong and robust edging.
How to lay a gravel patio area step by step
Excavate out your new gravel patio or seating area to a depth of 140mm and dispose of the spoil. If you are removing soil from site you may want of fill up a skip with the excavated ground.
Install your patio edgings so the sub base and gravel can be contained. These may consist of stainless steel edging, timber boards, bricks, natural stone or concrete blocks.
Using pegs, peg out your sub base level. This will help you to achieve a consistent depth of gravel without too much displacement. Run a string line tightly across your gravel patio from the tops of your edging. Tap pegs in 40mm below the finished level, this will enable you to peg out a perfectly level base.
Supply and spread your hardcore, the best aggregate for this is mot type 1 compactable hardcore. With a wheelbarrow and a rake spread out your type 1 evenly to the top of your pegs.
Compact your type 1 sub base with a vibro compaction plate. These are available to hire from most good hire companies.
Apply a robust weed membrane to the surface of your sub base and fix it firmly into position.
Supply and spread your gravel to the top of your edgings and at an even level across your patio.
You have now completed laying your gravel patio and seating area!
3 Tools for laying a gravel patio
Spear & Jackson Landscaping rake (Amazon)
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