Visitors admire the landscape as they traverse a firm, smooth, crushed gravel walkway, view a dry stream or catch a glimpse of a Zen garden inside a garden gate. Designing landscaping with gravel, sand and rock requires more than spreading an expanse of sand, pea gravel or lava rock from the property line to the driveway or combining a pile of rocks with a few bulb plants and ground covers. Gravel replaces hardscape with a water-permeable surface suitable for walking while half-buried boulders add weight to the landscape when combined with sand and smaller rocks.
The Zen Garden
Gravel and sand are essential elements in a Zen garden. The smooth expanse of sand or 1/4- to 3/8-inch river-washed gravel, raked neatly in swirls that represent water movement, provides a calming influence in the garden. Boulders and other large rocks emerge from the "water" as serene islands that may sport a few evergreen trees or shrubs. Under the carefully positioned viewing bench may lie a sandy beach or a crushed gravel path in a darker or lighter tone than the gravel lake.
The Xeriscape Garden
Xeriscaping incorporates water-saving measures with drought-tolerant shrubs, trees and other plants. A drip-watering system hidden under gravel mulch provides additional water to specimen plants that need more moisture.
A water-permeable walk made of 3/8-inch crushed gravel that has been firmly tamped makes a smooth surface for walking on or being traversed by equipment operated by mobility-impaired individuals. Let the path wind around the Xeriscape's flowering shrubs, with river rocks providing accents amid creeping perennials.
An urn bubbling with water that disappears among polished pebbles can provide a focal point for guests before they reach your home's front door.
The Wild West Garden
You can build a landscape that is a vignette of a historic vista of the wild West, from the Great Basin into the high desert and canyons of the Rocky Mountains or Southwest. Sand and pebbles could cover a low rise, and a dry stream of rocks and larger pebbles might lead from the side yard to an oasis of desert trees in the center of the landscape. A wagon wheel, half buried in sand, and brightly colored broken pottery set a scene of the trek to the U.S. West. Border the sidewalk with river rocks and large pebbles that transition to sand, gravel and small pebbles. Ceramic lizards could bask in the sunlight on a large rock while ceramic brown desert tortoises could trudge toward the rocky border.
The Rock Garden
Carefully arranged rocks peek from the creeping foliage and shrubs that thrive in a dry rock garden. Ideal for a slope, a rock garden can evoke a desert canyon or the bank of a mountain stream. Its largest rocks divert rain or irrigation water from above, securing the slope while giving the landscape a weighty presence. A "pool" of glistening rocks at the base of a rocky outcropping can conceal the pump that sends reservoir water back up to a waterfall built into the slope.