Gifts From The Gravel

It is now May and that means it is time for a new topic from
Gardening Gone Wild’s garden designer workshops. This month it is stone and gravel. It is also time for the Volunteer Viola Beauty Pageant. Most all of the contestants hail from the gravel paths around the knot garden at the top of the hill. We have gravel paths all over the property in the back. The look of this material is very English Cottage style, my favorite. It keeps one’s feetsies dry as you stroll the ups and downs and it drains freely when we experience those heavy downpours. Those are quite rare in recent times, but the gravel serves us well. Christopher C. has written in his blog,
Outside Clyde, of the free plants he has been able to obtain from the edge of the gravel driveway where he is building a cabin on the side of a mountain. His story is amazing, if you aren’t familiar with it, zip over there and give it a look.
In order for the violas to grow to their optimum beauty, the weeds must be meticulously removed from the growing medium. That means some quality time spent on hands and knees, scooting along the gravel and pulling any unwanteds.

Two examples of wanteds, on the left is a bread seed poppy baby. He gets to live and will be moved to a better location to showcase his tall red or pink bloom. On the right is a baby viola, looking like a dark purple from the appearance of the bud already formed. Being able to distinguish the weeds from the good guys is a skill learned by trial and error over the years.

Another good guy, salvia coccinea, probably a red one although we have coral and white sometimes. One has learned to recognize the spade shaped first leaves on these and either transplant them or let them grow in the gravel. We love them as do the hummingbirds.

Uh oh, a bad one, poke berry. He will have to go. There are many of these native plants around the edge of our property allowed to grow to their full potential of around eight feet tall. In late summer the purple berries are a gourmet treat for the many birds. That ensures a good supply of seedlings coming up in all the flower beds and paths. But the babies are distinctive and easily pulled at this size.

The weeding has been finished in this section, and the girls are practicing their makeup and talent for the big competition.

The judges will be looking for interesting marking and color combinations. While we agree that all are lovely, we will be looking for that special one.

This wildflower is abundant here. We let some of them flower fully, most are pulled, depending on what else we are trying to grow in that area. I would love to know the name of it. Does anyone know what it is?

This one is a welcome visitor, the penstemon ‘Husker Red’. All of these are kept and replanted in a variety of beds. The dark leaves are evergreen and form neat mounds. The flowers are whites and pinks, some nearly lavender after having partied with some of the other penstemons we grow, Red Rocks and Sour Grapes, among others.

A sweet little blue. It is wonderful how they flower at such a small size. The blooming continues as the plants grow to about a foot in diameter and tall. If crowded with other plants, they will weave through their surroundings and still give plenty of colorful faces to cheer our mood.

On the left, a violet, this is a goner. On the right is the biennial forget me not, with its fuzzy oval leaves. It will be moved to an appropriate place of honor for it is a beloved plant here. These seedlings are descendants of our very first garden in our first house in Pennsylvania. The in laws were given some of the babies from the original plant purchased in 1976, the bicentennial year, when I was carrying Semi. As we moved from place to place, we would dig a piece from the in laws’ volunteers and plant it in our new gardens. The name fits how we feel about the memories associated with these, mostly blue, but sometimes blooming pink, forget me nots.

The seeds have scattered themselves over the years in this part of the path. Many packs of violas in blue, white, yellow and the dark purple Bowle’s Black were planted in the quadrants the first year they were created with old bricks used for edging. Back then the paths were mulch, we brought the gravel up later. Getting the ‘brown 57’, the name this type of stone goes by around here, up to the top of the hill was hard physical labor. But the muscle strain was worth it. The gravel keeps the soil from washing down the hill, lets us meander with dry feet when the dew is heavy in the mornings, and provides the perfect environment for self seeding desirables to perpetuate themselves each year. We are looking for a banner year with many beautiful semi finalists to be voted on by you, our reading public. Stay tuned and brush up on the viola attributes you find appealing.


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36 Responses to Gifts From The Gravel

  1. Helen says:

    What a usful post I will look at the seedlings emerging in my gravel in a new way now

  2. Frances, says:

    Hi Helen, that is exactly the kind of comment I relish. Hope you can find some treasures in your gravel.

  3. Jan says:

    The violas are among my favorite plants & you have some very pretty ones. Down here we are pulling them up because the heat is causing them to go over. I, too, love having seedlings pop up around the garden. Can’t beat free plants.

    Jan Always Growing

  4. GardenJoy4Me says:

    Frances .. this is a great post because I have seedlings emerging from my ornamental rocks and gravel too ! Labrador Violets in fact .. ( I was going to post about them yesterday but I wasn’t feeling well) .. These volunteers amaze me because taking root in a hot, dry, sun area surprised me so with these little guys .. Hope to get some pictures up today with them !
    I love your little ones peeking up like that : )

  5. Frances, says:

    Hi Jan, these viola babies will last longer than the ones planted last fall. The gravel keeps the roots cooler probably. Most all will be done by July unless they are growing in a very shady spot. Thanks for stopping by.

    Hi Joy, hope you are feeling better today. Glad you have some gifts also, they are so fun to spot, even though I have to get down very low to see what they are. Looking forward to see what you have.

  6. Melanie says:

    Frances this is such a timely post for me. Yesterday I had a landscaper here and was inquiring about gravel for my driveway. He gestured along the length and said “well first you have to use round-up”. That’s the end of that because I have way too many cool babies growing in that gravel. I love to crawl along and look at them, you did an awesome job getting photos of those seedlings.

  7. Frances, says:

    Good morning Melanie, round up on the gravel? Over my dead body!!! Thanks for the kind words, crawling on hands and knees is the right description of most of my photos. HA

  8. Ewa says:

    Gravel – it looks so lovely. we have constant discussions about it at home. I love it. Huzz says it is difficult to keep in place… maybe one day we come to an agreement 🙂
    Greetings from Poland…

  9. Frances, says:

    Hello there Ewa, it is probably not morning where you are. Huzz is correct about the gravel, especially in the driveway, staying in place. We had a gravel driveway for a couple of years, but it is a steep slope and the gravel would wash down into the street and the cars would take it down also. I would have to go and sweet and shovel it back in place. Ugh! If fairly level however, it works fine. It stays in place on the paths, as they have brick edging to help hold it in place. Edging of some sort would help in a driveway too, I assume. Thanks for stopping by.

  10. Nancy J. Bond says:

    Little Viola is a natural beauty!

  11. Frances, says:

    Good morning Nancy J., aren’t the voilas just so sweet? It will be hard to chose the semi finalists, so many lovely ones. Stay tuned for the vote in a week or so.

  12. tina says:

    That is so cool how those violets grow in that gravel. I am not a big fan of gravel since it usually migrates to the lawn but yours is lovely and looks like it well contained with the edging. Very nice. I too love Huskers. It is such a nice pretty spring plant.

  13. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    What a delightful post seeing all of the volunteers in their pretty frocks. A very good tutorial of seedlings too.

  14. Christopher C. NC says:

    Not only is the gravel drive here a natural place to look for choice self seeded plants, sometimes seeds are purposely thrown there for better germination and access to the new plants.

  15. Frances, says:

    Hi Tina, huskers are hard to beat, they offer everything a gardener could want. Thanks for giving my gravel a fair look, it is contained in the places we use it for the most part. It does like to wander into the liriope at its edge on the garage side. I need to put some kind of edging there to hold it in.

    Hi Lisa, it is a good idea to learn what the seedlings look like from the plants you are growing, nothing beats free plants!

    Christopher, excellent idea. So much easier to scatter seeds in the gravel than fool with them in the greenhouse. Thanks.

  16. Nan Ondra says:

    Trust you to come up with an unexpected angle on the stone topic, Frances! It’s always great to find volunteers, I think, and you have some lovely ones. Gravel is such a terrific propagation medium. I keep thinking that someday I’m going to leave all the seedlings in the paths and walk on the beds instead.

  17. Frances, says:

    Hi Nan, thanks, but I was going to write about foundlings in the gravel before I remembered your stone theme. Just lucky! The seeds that were started this year in the chicken grit did the best also. Gotta love the gravel.

  18. Mr. McGregor's Daughter says:

    My shredded hardwood mulch paths function the same way as your gravel – great seedling beds. I love all your little Violas & their happy faces.

  19. brokenbeat says:

    voting for the one on the left in the last picture because it looks like a butterfly.

  20. Yolanda Elizabet says:

    I thought that I had a lot of welcome seedlings in my gravel but yours take the biscuit Frances! What a plethora of free plants and most so very welcome.

    One of the reasons I chose gravel was that the late Geoff Hamilton showed me it was such a happy medium for seedlings. Apart from that it does keep the feetsies dry, it has excellent drainage and it looks good too. What more could you possibly want?

  21. Gail says:

    Frances, what a charming post! I think I would like gravel aths and it might be just the thing for the patio eyesore! Have you tried a sweet native plant…Green and Gold Chrysogonum virginianum…it loves gravel.


  22. Frances, says:

    MMD, that’s good to know for people without access to the gravel. We all love the violas here, cannot have enough of them.

    Brokenbeat, I’ll keep that in mind, but this is just a warm up. The real contest will be held later this month. The volunteer violas are just starting to bloom, we want to give as many a chance as possible to compete. ;-> love.

    Hi YE, gravel is great for plethoras as well as feetsies. We use it alot here, it is perfect for the hill and our sometimes heavy downpours. I like the looks of it also. Glad to see you listened to Geoff. ;->

    Gail, I can highly recommend gravel, but a good edging helps keep it out of the beds or off the patio. One thing about it, not too good for bare feet! I have heard of that plant but have never grown it. Do you have it?

  23. Brenda Kula says:

    I took out all the lawn on one side of my garden home and replaced it with flagstone and gravel. My dogs don’t like to walk on grass: delicate little things! We live on the corner of the cul-de-sac, so have lawn over on that side. I’d like to rectify that too someday. Loved the pixie faces of the little flowers. They look kind of like the tie-dye of the 1970’s.

  24. Frances, says:

    Hi Brenda, It sounds like you have a nice large space to garden in, once you get rid of all the lawn! HA It is easier to do it a portion at a time. Poor little doggies feetsies too, don’t like the wet? It does look like there will be some interesting contestants for the pageant this year. Last year was a flop due to the late freeze then drought. Things are shaping up nicely this year. ;->

  25. Anonymous says:

    I’ll take the poke berries. They act as natural chicken wormers. Your picture of seedlings helped me too. I now recognize baby huskers. Thank you much. Much Love, CP

  26. Diana says:

    Frances – I love how well you can tell your tiny, little shoots apart. What skill. And it shows your love of and dedication to your garden. I’m struggling with identifying weeds in my new native/wildflower bed because I have just planted many new things and when I look at it, I’m not sure what I put in and what Mother Nature put in for me!

  27. Frances, says:

    Hi Chickenpoet, we can pot up some pokes for you, also some ferns. Knowing what the babies are is a skill that really is a boon to the gardener. Free plants! love.

    Hi Diana, Thanks. I am pretty good with the older plants in my gardens, but still have trouble with the newbies. At least some weeds I know now too, maybe you can work by process of elimination, weeds you know out, wait on the other stuff. Your new bed sounds like a lot of fun.

  28. Amy says:

    I love Violas. When my family moved to this area when I was about eight years old the lawn had grown quite long, and there were self-seeded violas everywhere. They still grow in my mother’s garden, well, the great, great, great etc. grandchildren do and they pop up in the most surprising places.

    Just last night while drifting off to sleep I was think about what I’ll do someday when I need pathways. I love the look of gravel. Do you ever have to replace/replenish it on the paths?

  29. Frances, says:

    Hi Amy, what a true gardener, dreaming about path materials. HA In certain places where we were chintzy with the gravel, it has needed a little more. But the original paths, which are bordered with walls and buildings, or large rocks, or even bricks, have not needed any more. I can highly recommend gravel, unless you insist on walking barefoot, shoes are required. I just keep flip flops by the back door, or sloggers, or even slippers. In fact there are a whole lot of shoes by the back door! Love your viola story.

  30. semi says:

    I didn’t know the forget-me-nots were from berwick. i just found one today in the herb farm. more gravel in the future for my garden. Love semi

  31. Frances, says:

    Semi, so glad you have some of the forget me nots, I remember planting some in the deck bed the first year for you, with the nandinas. Gravel is good.

  32. Robin's Nesting Place says:

    I love sweet little violas; they never reseed for me though.

  33. Frances, says:

    Hi Robin, thanks for visiting. Do you have any gravel paths or areas? They seem to love the coolness under the rocks.

  34. Salix Tree says:

    Hi.. just got home and saw your comment on my blog. You asked about the lamb’s lettuce, and yes, it is indeed lamb’s lettuce. You can eat it on sandwiches as fresh new leaves and even when it flowers like yours is doing here. Mine have all grown tall and flowery in my absence, soon they will seed themselves all over again, and make more yummy fresh leaves.
    Loving your violas, aren’t they the sweetest little flowers?

  35. 2greenthumbsup says:

    Hi Frances,

    Loved your post! It reminded me of all the volunteers I used to find along the dry creek bed I had at my previous home – lots of violas and columbines. The stones in my case, and the gravel in yours, work wonderfully to catch and hold the seeds that will be next year’s volunteers.


    Oops, almost forgot! I did have an area with pea gravel that was equally effective for growing volunteers and was much easier on the bare feet.

  36. Frances, says:

    Hi Cathy, thanks for leaving a message. You are lucky to have some stone and gravel to gather the seedlings from, or even just enjoy them there, we both are ;->

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