Gravel beds around my house

ashtonsApril 2, 2004

I am a new home-owner and gardener. My house has a nice metal roof with no gutters, so there is a lot of heavy run-off. The previous owner put beds of rocks and large gravel all around the house, bordered by wooden slats. I don't know if there is a term for them, but you know the stone beds that are often put underneath eaves, I guess to keep the water from eroding the soil beneath.

I find these rock beds very ugly, and I'd like to take them out and make some flower/groundcover beds, or at least something to break up the expansive wall of the house.

Does anyone know if there is any reason (perhaps drainage-related) that I shouldn't do this? And do you think a think native groundcover on top of a thick layer of new topsoil would work to keep a bed from getting washed out?

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chris_ont(5a Ont)

Do you have a picture of this?
Chances are that you need the rocks there exactly to keep the soil from washing away. Even thick groundcover can't stand up to a deluge.

Couple of things you could do (keeping in mind that I have no idea what this looks like now, or how wide the gravel strips are)

- Get eaves installed, get rid of rocks and garden as you like
- Break up the look of the gravel by adding some large, beautiful stones in some pleasing pattern among the smaller gravel to create nice display.
- Are things always damp under that gravel? Perhaps you could carefully move some of it and plant water-loving grasses, the sort you see by ponds. You could hide the wooden slats by planting something on the dry side that drapes over the wood (i.e. creeping phlox)
- plant something tall in front of the gravel bed to hide it from view. If anything, the gravel strip would make an excellent path to get at your plants from behind for planting or weeding purposes!


    Bookmark   April 3, 2004 at 11:57AM
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Here is a picture. THanks for your feedback!

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   April 3, 2004 at 2:05PM
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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4)

Dump the ugly stuff out of there!! Remember, there are a lot of people in the world who worry about some dirt splatters on the house more than ugly rock.
Remove the wood, find someone to love the rock.....and think about all the nice stuff you can plant in that spot!
Linda C

    Bookmark   April 3, 2004 at 10:02PM
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thorspippi(z9/s14 CA Sacramento)

Is the rock only to prevent the dirt splatters? or also to stop wearing away the dirt around and under the foundation?

    Bookmark   April 4, 2004 at 3:21AM
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Dirt splatters I couldn't care less about -- large expanses of siding are uglier than any dirt splatters :)

But if there was some other reason that these rocks were necessary I would be reluctant...One suggestion I've heard are to put leaning trellises against the wall and grow vining stuff. That isn't a bad idea, but I'd really like a bed with some depth.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2004 at 7:43AM
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Peter_in_Az(Sunset zone 10)

From the looks of the snow pile the heavy runoff from your roof would seem to miss the raised bed there (where the rocks are). Plant some creeping ground cover there like asylem(sp) or maybe rosmary to cover the rocks (I might be rong about the runoff). You could plant vines growing up a trellis along with the cover plants to break up the boring wall.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2004 at 12:08PM
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chris_ont(5a Ont)

Hmm, weird. I can see how the rocks might help to keep the soil from eroding, but it certainly wouldn't keep water away from the foundation, once it gets through those rocks.
But perhaps there is one of those perforated pipes under there, leading away from the house. It does look like you have a correct slope there, anyway.

I don't find the rocks particularly offensive. Reminds me of river rock. While I agree that a lattice and vine would look very nice on the wall, I would leave the rocks and plant a long bed in front of them, as I suggested previously. That way you can easily get behind them to work on the bed.

Doing that, however, would still mean that you get rain pouring off the roof onto the beds in a strong downpour, possibly causing damage. Any chance of running some eaves along there? Shouldn't be too expensive and you could put a rainbarrel at the end. Add some shutters to that window to break up that expanse of siding, maybe a windowbox with geraniums and you're halfway to a cottage garden :)


    Bookmark   April 4, 2004 at 12:59PM
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Thanks for all the suggestions!

There are actually 2 levels to the roof. The snow is from the top level, so it misses the lower level that you see in the picture. Water runoff falls straight down into the rocks.

I'm still not sure what I will do. The shutters, window boxes, and trellises will go a long way before I even think about the planting...Thanks again!

    Bookmark   April 4, 2004 at 3:08PM
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thorspippi(z9/s14 CA Sacramento)

Chris said, "But perhaps there is one of those perforated pipes under there, leading away from the house. It does look like you have a correct slope there, anyway. "

Now that you mention it, my house has this kind of thing going on. Rather, directing water away from pooling in front of the house by diverting it around the house.

Chris also said,"Any chance of running some eaves along there? "

I visited my in-laws this past winter. They'd just finished building their own cabin, up in the UP of Michigan. I asked him why he didn't put gutters around the roof. He said it was because snow and ice could form in them and end up just getting ripped right off.

No wonder contractors have to go through lengthy education for licensing. All these things to think about.

Speaking of which.... ashtons, you might consult a local contractor about this.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2004 at 6:28PM
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Twinkle(7 GA)

Is that wood siding? If so, you might want to think twice about putting flowerbeds right up against the house. Termites would love that! Termites are a terrible problem in my area, so mulch up against the house is a bad idea for me. In fact, I am thinking about installing gravel beds around my house, even though I have gutters. As a previous poster pointed out, they will make great paths for getting around behind my flowerbeds.

If you don't have gutters, I wouldn't get rid of those rocks. But you could put some different rocks or gravel on top to make it more appealing. Then just dig up the area in front of the rock beds and plant a bunch of flowers or shrubs.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2004 at 8:36AM
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leave the rock. put the bed IN FRONT of the rocks, make the back of the bed that strip of wood.

that way, you have a good drip-line, access to the back of the bed, and fewer dead plants. my parents have a no-gutters roof as well, and I had to drag in a MASTER GARDENER from the local AG college to convince them that nothing was going to survive under the soffits, and that if they wanted 'foundation' plantings- they had to move them out from under the drip-line, and that forwards was better than backwards.

this doesn't preclude the use of trellises, arbors, or anything else... it just means not butting them up against eh house, but maybe using a piece of rebar to strengthen a commercial wood trellis.

you have the land to make some nice deep beds there...and the more land cultivated in beds- the less mowing you have to do!

    Bookmark   April 5, 2004 at 10:51AM
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Thanks again for all the tips.

My problem with the rocks and wood is that it is too square, straight, and artificial looking. My goal is to (eventually) help the house blend more into the landscape - this includes getting rid of straight lines wherever possible, since, as my father says, there are no straight lines in nature. But I guess aesthetics sometimes need to play second fiddle to logistics. :)

    Bookmark   April 5, 2004 at 3:44PM
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I'm an avid landscaper, and it seems a good solution (in my opinion) would be to replace the wood trim (I hate that stuff too, termites eat it up!) and replace it with a taller stone-type border, or something that you like. In the meantime, change the shape and add some curves and swiggles where it dips in and out. Also, you could create pools of various rocks in different sizes and colors, accented with larger rocks and then purchase plants that do well or atleast tolerate rock garden enviroments. I can't see that it would hurt anything to break up the rock further by tucking in small flower beds here and there, just scoop rock out of the way best you can and place soil and plant. Make sure that you use plastic border to keep sections seperate. It sounds like alot of work, I know, but what you were talking about initially would be alot harder (that is if you don't have a barrier in place beneath the rock). I've removed gravel to put in flower beds and it's HARD! Not to mention completely impossible to get it all up without ripping up basically a foot of dirt to replace it. As it rains and gravel sinks into the soil. I can't wait to see what you decide!


    Bookmark   April 5, 2004 at 8:44PM
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clairabelle(z4 Quebec)

From what I can see, that strip of rocks is not too wide. I'd think about that golden rule 'If it ain't broke...', and perhaps leave the rock strip there and plant in front of it. You're not SUPPOSED to plant right up next to the foundations anyway. I say leave the rocks where they are and put in a curved bed with large bushes in various geometrical shapes in front of it From the larger plants you can work out to smaller ones for a more sculptured effect. You won't even see the rocks anymore.
I had the opposite problem (no water falling next to foundation because of long front eave), but was looking for a similar solution: how can I address the problem by NOT addressing it. ;) I left the back strip as it was and simply brought the bed forward. The back strip is approx. 2.5 ft from foundation, then the bed begins. With my large foliage plants, they thrive because a) they have lots of room to grow and b) are not bothered by that dry strip.

I'm in zone 4 and planted these hardy perennials: acuncus dioicus, pyramidal thuya, ligularia, cimicifuga, spirea Van Houteii, several large hosta varieties.

You're lucky in zone 7 to have so much choice! Enjoy and let us know what you decide.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2004 at 11:15AM
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meldy_nva(z6b VA)

There is a good chance that the rocks do cover a drainage pipe; plus they will discourage termites. That isn't a very wide area - I'd widen it just enough to be able to walk on it - you definitely do *not* want plants too close to the house-siding (otherwise you will be battling mildew, moss, mildew, insect access, mildew, etc). However, if you put a variety of medium and tall plants in front, no one will notice the gravel, while the plants will appreciate having good air circulation. I have similar on two sides of my house and the only person who ever noticed the space (and realized it was actually wide enough to walk on), was a professsional landscaper. I have a mix of hedges and bushes in front of the gravelly area, and flower beds in front of the hedges. The bed's front edges are gently curved (for easier mowing, but it does look good). Take time to sketch the mature heights of your preferred greenery, and be sure to have a selection of heights, widths and foliage color. To get feel for it, you can experiment with arranging annuals that are of different heights this year - and you will be surprised at how much better the place looks with greenery and flowers to soften the architecture.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2004 at 2:21PM
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Clairabelle's thinking along my own lines- though I wouldn't change the shape of the stone-run... I would remove the wood, though- it's only there to keep the rocks from migrating, and if you had a bed in front of it, that would serve the same purpose...

and it wouldn't take much to make the whole thing (which is, you'll note, very close to the ground) vanish completely- whether you use clumps of hollyhocks or an azalea or three- any bed will make that stone vanish visually- it anything, it will be taken as part of the house.

think of it from an INterior design viewpoint- if you have white walls, and brightly patterned rug (the garden) you're not really going to notice white trim at the bottom of the wall.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2004 at 2:16PM
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sleeplessinftwayne(z4-5 IND)

Hey there: Those rocks are there for a very good reason. One good storm is all it would take to wash out the area it is protecting and dig out a substantial ditch. The soil against the house is less compacted than the rest of the yard and so it would be the first to go. Before you know it the foundation would be exposed and you could have some very expensive concrete and foundation repairs to do. Can you say sinkhole? Definately leave the wood there. It is holding the rock in place to help protect the foundation. If it were me doing it I would put pavers next to the wood edge and another wood edge on the other side of the pavers and then put in a raised bed for foundation plantings and garden. -Sandy

    Bookmark   April 8, 2004 at 5:10PM
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Just for the record, this house is over 100 years old and the rocks and wood were placed there only within the past 5 years, and the fieldstone foundation is in nearly perfect shape from what I can tell. So, I'm not terribly concerned that I couldn't at least provide ample protection in a different form.

That said, I think Chinacat_sunflower's comments are right on. A well-done garden will subsume the rocks and make them little more than an afterthought...I don't think I'll go the walkway route, but I think some well places shrubs and a three dimensional bed will look pretty nice. Add some shutters and a trellis and I'll be very happy. now I just need to find the time :)

    Bookmark   April 8, 2004 at 9:22PM
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DrynDusty(z8 AZ)

I believe the perforated drain pipe and gravel/rocks are called a "frence drain," and is, indeed, useful for protecting the foundation.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2004 at 5:38PM
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