Scree Gardens: The Beauty and Versatility of Stone and Gravel

Scree gardens expand variety and versatility in the landscape by providing free-draining habitats for unique, sun-loving plants.

Photo By: Bob Farley

Photo By: Bob Farley

Photo By: Bob Farley

Photo By: Bob Farley

Photo By: Bob Farley

Photo By: Bob Farley

Photo By: Bob Farley

Photo By: Wayne Barger

Photo By: Wayne Barger

Photo By: Bob Farley

Photo By: Bob Farley

Photo By: Bob Farley

Photo By: Bob Farley

Photo By: A BOB F, Bob Farley

Suburban Scree

In the natural world, scree is an accumulation of pebbles and stones formed by geologic weathering and the exfoliation of crags, cliffs or mountains. Combinations of small gravel and rocks of all sizes tumble downhill or downstream. Carried by powerful forces, and over time, they settle and lock into place. Seeds find their way into the landscape, and ecosystems and plant communities are formed and sustained by the unique conditions the habitats offer. Plants then evolve to adjust and thrive in these harsh environments. Mimicking these types of ecosystems is a matter of finding the right spot in the garden, amending the soil, and hauling in gravel and stone to create microhabitats. With these microhabitats, homeowners can expand the variety of plants in their garden.

In an upper tier of this formal garden, designer, Gloria Clemmensen, set out to bring a little informality to her client's garden. Prairie plants, low-growing grasses, and herbs planted as drifts in mounds of soil amongst the pea gravel allow for clean and controlled wild in the formal setting. When the plants mature, herbs and grasses will fill in to provide ground cover and structure for taller stems.

Atlanta Botanical Gardens

Situated along a south-facing wall of the Desert House, hardy succulents, agaves, and cacti, benefit from the radiant heat that comes from the conservatory and the sloping terrain. Grasses and creeping plants add softness to the spiny collection.

Repository Respite

Hometown Bank transformed a blank slate into a large public oasis with the help of garden designer, Arnold Rutkis (Stoneshovel). With rock-lined scree beds, grassy hillsides, prairie plots, native shrubs, and trees, this landscape is a perfect example of how to bring nature back into a commercial setting after the construction destruction.

Rooftop Succulents

Commercial flat roofs don't have to be ugly barren wastelands. Worldwide, an increasing number of green-roof systems are replacing traditional gravel roofs as new buildings are built with sustainability in mind. This roof of a hospital is filled with succulent plants giving a pleasing view to patients and visitors from the rooms above.

Urban Prairie

An art museum rooftop gets a habitat garden makeover with the addition of prairie plants and gravel. Native plants bring the birds and butterflies to downtown, and the red-dog and pea gravel scree bed complements the geologically inspired sculpture.

Modular Sedum and Scree System

Trays of succulent plants and engineered soils make up a modular green-roof system. Lightweight expandable clay aids in stormwater retention, as well as drainage and it also helps insulate the building. As long as there is existing support, modular roof trays are a good solution for retrofitting flat commercial roofs.

Craggy Curb Appeal

Cool blues stand out amongst creeping thyme, rosemary, and silver foliage. This front yard has absolutely no turf grass whatsoever, the homeowner opting for a rock garden to mimic the views of a coastal Californian scene instead.

Dry Creekbed

Rocks are upturned and arranged to create a dry channel. When rain falls and water flows, it is slowed and directed away from the house. Rain is allowed to percolate through the gravel and be absorbed close to where it falls. Drainage can easily be incorporated in aboveground design for interesting appeal in the garden.

Herbal Remedy

Stoneshovel designed a niche sensory garden between the driveway and sidewalk at the entrance to the Sims EcoScape. Rose campion and tickseed flowers mix well with fragrant creeping thyme, lavender and rosemary. Sedums add succulence and textural variety to the composition. Hues of sandstone, limestone, and pea gravel provide a beautiful backdrop to the silvery tones and bright blooms.

Mighty Microclimate

Botanist, Wayne Barger, has a serious obsession with succulents. He created this microclimate for agaves, cacti, sedums, and aloes in his garden in Auburn, Alabama. Growing in sandy soil and gravel and in front of a south-facing brick wall, the plants stay dry and warm during rainy seasons and winter months.

Beautiful Blooms

Echinopsis (over 100 different species with varying shapes, forms and blooms) are native to South America, where they grow in scree fields and rock crevices. This cactus blooms and thrives in the environment Wayne (see the previous slide) has created. Gravelly soils provide good drainage and a top dressing of pea gravel keeps the plant from resting on wet soil.

Lush Layers

Mimicking an alpine setting, the gravel paths, stone piles and planter boxes set the scene. Layers of plants spill over from the edges. Dianthus, phlox, sedum and thyme varieties bunch and creep to fill all the crevices.

Succulent Splendor

A quadrant of raised beds, made of stacked sandstone and filled with gravel and succulents, makes an inviting entrance to the Iris Garden at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Xerophytes included in the scree beds are species of Agave, Nolina, Euphorbia, Yucca, and Opuntia.

Stacked Stone

Sandstone walls give this scree bed at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens a formal aesthetic. Silver-foliage plants of varying textures are grouped together for dramatic effect. The height of the walls gives room for deep root systems to grow, and good drainage allows these desert plants to survive cold and wet winters.

Spectacular Vernacular

Raised beds ensure good drainage for succulents, and top dressings of pea gravel keep the plants high and dry to closely mimic the plants' natural habitat or origin. Pipes and DIY hypertufa planters become quirky vessels in a funky vernacular garden and give cold-hardy agaves and sedums center stage.

Limestone Triangle

A parking lot median on the campus of Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve was turned into a limestone scree garden to mimic the glade-like conditions of the nearby limestone quarry. The rocks, native grasses, false aloes, and limestone-loving wildflowers and shrubs help tell the story of the mountain's mining history and the resilience of nature.

Wildlife Friendly Streetscape

A niche rock garden was created between the sidewalk and street-side parking in Homewood, Alabama, bringing a little nature to the city and breaking up the vast concrete and asphalt-covered landscape. Gardens like this one are being used more and more by municipalities to help mitigate heat island effects and stormwater runoff.

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