Drought tolerant plants

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Low maintenance, high impact! Using drought-tolerant plants is one way to enjoy a beautiful and stylish garden in our changing climate and still be ‘waterwise’.  You may have heard of Xeriscaping, the practice of landscaping with slow-growing, drought tolerant plants to conserve water and reduce garden waste.

A gravel garden is a great option to create this look. It lends itself to Southern European (or as in this garden below, Antipodean inspired) drought-tolerant planting. Things like LavenderEuphorbiasCistus, Eucalyptus and Olives are ideal. They cope well in drought conditions.

Drought tolerant characteristics include silver or grey-green leaves to reflect the sun.

Choosing the right plants

There are many suitable plants that will cope in full sun and look good in a gravel setting. Drought tolerant characteristics include silver or grey-green leaves to reflect the sun. Some have a coating of fine hairs on their leaves or stems, helping to trap in moisture. Plants will look best arranged in natural drifts of 3’s and 5’s and allowed to self-seed. We have put together a selection of useful plants with drought-tolerant properties to get you started.

Miscanthus sinensis

Important: Even plants with drought tolerant characteristics will require regular watering after planting until they are fully established.


Hardy Exotics

Herbaceous perennials


  • Anemanthele lessoniana
  • Carex testacea ‘Prairie Fire’
  • Miscanthus sinensis
  • Pennisetum
  • Stipa


Adaptability is a hallmark of Erigeron karvinskianus, thriving in various soil types and displaying remarkable resilience to drought conditions.

Creating a Gravel Garden 

Choosing the spot  

An open, sunny, well-drained spot is best for most Mediterranean style plants. Sandy soil with relatively low fertility is ideal. Dig in organic matter before planting to help improve soil structure and water retention, but avoid adding fertilizer as this encourages too much lush growth which will require extra watering.

Weed Suppressant

Lay landscape membrane over the soil before planting to help suppress the weeds. It allows the water through, and keeps the gravel from mixing with the soil. If you plan to install a ‘drip line’ irrigation system this would lay on top of the membrane and be easily hidden under the gravel mulch.


Arrange plants in natural drifts of 3’s or 5’s and allow plenty of room for growth and space between groups. This allows the gravel mulch to set the plants off nicely. Cut crosses in the membrane large enough to insert each plant into the planting hole, firm in and water well at the root. 

Gravel Mulch

Once watered, add 2” to 3” of gravel mulch to help retain moisture and suppress the weeds. Perennial weeds may still come through but at a slower rate making it much easier to keep on top of them. As plants increase in size they too will help suppress weeds. For a more natural look we recommend using a local gravel to blend with the house and environment. In Berkshire for example, this is often a gravel pea shingle and in Oxfordshire a warmer Cotswold aggregate or Oxford gravel could be used. There are of course other options available such as slate.


Before planting, lay a timber, stone or brick edging to retain the gravel, particularly if the gravel garden is adjacent to lawn where a brick mowing strip of at least 200mm is recommended. Brick or terracotta is effective with this style but ensure your choice also blends well with the house brick for a complementary and effective design.

Add the finishing touches

Large terracotta pots, a bird bath or sculpture carefully placed will create a focal point.

For larger projects, our Creative Landscape design and build team can help you create a low maintenance gravel garden.

Contact us by email or call to discuss on Tel: +44 (0)118 934 1500

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