Seven great uses of gravel or chippings in your garden

Gravel and stone chippings – known in the business as ‘decorative aggregates’ – are possibly the most under-rated of building materials!  They have so many uses we think every garden needs some.  The knack is picking not just the right colour but the type of stone to suit what you want to use it for.  Here is our summary of the best uses for decorative aggregates and the best choices for each use.

1. To use as mulch or top dressing around your plants

Mulching your beds and borders serves many useful purposes.  Not only does it look attractive but it helps suppress weed growth, it helps with water regulation and retention, and it can help prevent soil erosion.  There are many organic materials you can use to mulch – bark, straw, leaf mould – but all of these will eventually break down and need replacing.  Natural stones have the advantage of a longer life and a better choice of colours!

To mulch with gravel or chippings, plant as you would normally and level out your soil.  Spread a 2 inch (50mm) layer of your chosen aggregate over the soil, leaving a small circle around the base of trees and shrubs clear.  We’d always recommend using a weed membrane underneath your aggregate.  Not only does it help to prevent weeds coming through but also help to stop the aggregate sinking into the soil.  It’s still easy to plant into afterwards, just scrape back your gravel and cut a cross into the membrane.

Best aggregates for mulching:

2. To create a rockery or dry garden

Although rockeries have gone in and out of fashion over the years, dry gardening is becoming increasingly popular.  The latest buzz word is ‘xeriscaping’ – the practice of landscaping with minimal water use, to reduce or remove the need for irrigation.  Popular in desert locations like Las Vegas, there is much the English garden can learn to adapt to climate change.

If you fancy a full-on rockery, with big rocks, it’s worth consulting professional landscaping designers on how to build it to ensure it is structurally sound and has appropriate soil pockets for your plants.  However, planning a gravel or scree garden with perhaps the odd decorative boulder isn’t much different to using aggregate as mulch.  Level the soil after you have planted, lay the weed membrane and spread the aggregate) to about 2 inches (or 50mm) depth.

Best decorative aggregate for dry gardens:

3. For water features

Aggregate has multiple advantages if you’re planning a small pond or even a large lake!  Firstly, if your pond is dug into the soil, it can help prevent erosion.  A handful on top of any pots you plan to submerge will also stop the soil floating away. Aggregate is great for covering the base of recirculating fountains and at the bottom of ponds for plant roots to anchor to. Spread around the edges of a pond, water splashing on gravel or chippings can look almost glass-like and really set-off any marginal planting.

When choosing aggregate for use in water features, there will be several factors you want to consider, not only its colour.  We wouldn’t recommend using aggregate alone under the pond liner as there is a risk of it puncturing; use sand immediately under the liner so there is no risk of punctures and it’s easier to level out. For the bottom of ponds pebbles or small cobbles would help weigh the liner down while giving little critters and fish somewhere to hide, it’s also worth picking an aggregate that has been washed so your pond isn’t full of dusty residue (there may still be some residual dust on them); whilst this will settle eventually, it may leave your water cloudy until it does.  It’s also a good idea to choose ‘fish friendly’ aggregate, whether you intend to have fish or just wildlife visiting you, so it’s non-toxic.

Best ‘fish friendly’ gravel and chippings:

4. To improve drainage

If your garden is prone to collecting watering, either on paving or due to heavy, clay soil, the simplest solution may be to call in professional landscapers.   However, there are things you can do yourself to help with drainage issues.  Digging a mixture of organic material and grit/sand will help break up heavy soil (although could be a big job if you have a large garden!)  Other options are to add drainage trenches, such as French or Herringbone systems, that use cheap aggregate to move water away from the garden.

You could use almost any aggregate for this purpose as it is predominantly doing a practical rather than a decorative job.  There is perhaps an argument for going for the cheapest, most hard-wearing type, particularly if it’s going to be buried in a hole or trench.  However, if you’re going to see it, you will want to think about its colour and shape in your garden too.  If you’re laying gravel to help prevent soil erosion, something with angular edges may be better at catching soil particles.

5. For paths and patios

Decorative aggregate can be much quicker and cheaper to lay than paving slabs or bricks, provides better drainage and has that satisfying crunch as you walk on it.  However, we have all seen badly laid paths and drives, where they have become uneven and there are more stones in the gutter than on the drive!  The key is getting the foundations right first and then in your choice of aggregate.

As a foundation for a path or drive, dig down at least 6 inches (15 centimetres) below the level that you want the surface of the path to be.  Consider installing some edging, like cobbles or narrow bricks set in concrete, to help prevent your gravel spilling out.  Then, fill in all but the last 2 inches of your trench with some hardcore; either large stones, broken house bricks or similar (scalps (Type-1)).  Compact this down well.  You should add a weed suppression membrane at this stage, then add your chosen layer of aggregate.  There are many to choose from but a good choice can be chippings that lock together or are ‘self-bonding’.

Best aggregates for paths and driveways:

6. To edge or fill

A decorative border can add some real personality, texture and contrast to your garden, providing a foil for your plants or softening the edges of hard landscaping features. Using gravel or chippings can break up a large expanse of paving or flagstones, for example, and allow you to plant into it.  If you have a fire pit, chippings will provide a more stable, fire-proof surface for it, not to mention a great colour contrast.

Getting the colour and size of your aggregate right is perhaps the most important decision here.  Using an aggregate that’s the wrong size will stand out and look unsightly compared to the rest of the garden.  For example, choosing a smaller aggregate for a long thin border will work better then oversized cobbles, whereas a 40mm slate will give you more interest over a large area then 20mm slate would do.  

Best aggregate for edging and filling:

7. Aggregate as a building material

Gravel, sand or hardcore play an important part in the composition of concrete.  As well as being a filler to bulk up the mix, the amount of gravel will determine the strength and texture of the finished concrete.  Typically, aggregates like these form between 60% and 80% of a concrete mixture.  Concrete alone wouldn’t have as much structural strength.

Arguably, if you’re going to mix your gravel with concrete, you probably need quite a lot of it and you’re not going to see much of it, so perhaps the cheapest option is the sensible one here.  However, if you are going to polish the finished surface (something called terrazzo), you might want contrasting specks of colourful marble or onyx black showing through.

Best gravel or chippings for aggregate:




N. Haggard 20 September 2022

I just wanted to drop you a quick note to say how delighted I am with my new garden.

Jon, my designer, listened to my ideas and delivered on everything I asked for. I wanted something different to any garden I’d had before, no lawn, no landscaping but packed with plants. He designed such a lovely secret garden, around a statement tree. And I have to commend him for his unwavering patience! I changed my mind a hundred times but never did he give me the impression that he was losing patience with my endless indecision. And my confidence in him led me to place an order for over £10k.

My landscaping team, Blade and Tony, were exceptional, from their work ethic, skill and knowledge, to the way they dealt with me, the customer. My standards are very high and I couldn’t fault them.

All in all, a very professional team of people. And it showed that they all care. I’m over the moon with the finished result. I will send you a before and after photo. Thank you so much.

A delighted customer.

G. Gray. May 2022

My front garden has been transformed by Andy and Bradley who both worked incredibly hard and I am delighted with the result. Andy had the vision and skill to turn my idea into reality and I can't thank him enough.

C. Haig Sept 2021

We recently had our garden landscaped by Hambrooks and I just wanted to pass on my thanks, not just for the outcome - which is superb - but for the professionalism of all the staff involved on the job who are all a credit to you company. Mike, Dave, Les and Adam.

H. Sharp Sept 2021

I just wanted to let you know how delighted I am with my new garden. Melanie was a delight to work with and the ideas she had have worked perfectly. Also Sheldon laid the patio beautifully and him and Dave were a pleaseure to have at my house. Quiet workers and polite.

B. Rendell April 2021

I would like to say how delighted we are with the work carried out. Mel, Paul and Tony all worked very hard, they totally took on board the specific need relating to safety as well as the general garden issues. Paul and Tony were excellent at consulting and discussing with me what I felt best in terms of the brief and adjusting if and as necessary, constantly pleasant and polite to deal with. Mel had picked up on particular issues from the first consultation and offered valuable advice. The outcome means a great deal less worry for me going forward.
Altogether a very positive experience and outcome which I would not hesitate to recommend to others.

Stephen March 2021

Dom and Adam's work (garden maintenance) is greatly appreciated. Dom really listened to everything we discussed very carefully and went out of his way to understand and then act upon that discussion. We are extremely pleased with the work done - both to the pond and pyracantha.


We have been coming to Hambrooks for years and it's our favourite garden centre because of its friendly helpful staff and a great selection of plants and trees and the garden design ideas.

“We wanted to write and say how pleased we are with our low maintenance garden makeover. We are very impressed with the attitude of your staff who were prepared to listen to our requirements. Your team John and Rick brushed up and left everything tidy at the end of the day. We now have a garden we can manage and it looks great. THANK YOU HAMBROOKS.”

Mr & Mrs Venables, Southampton. April 2019

“Dear Josh & Mike We just want to say you both did a brilliant job of designing our garden along with the guys who did the work who were amazing. A few weeks on its looks even better now some of the plants are blooming. Thank you!!”

Mr & Mrs Gazzard, Winchester July 2019

“To James, John & Rikki. Thank you so much, we are delighted with our new garden. We really appreciate the attention to detail, the high quality workmanship and the standard of the finished project. We are amazed at how John & Rikki resolved the difficulties of the site and by the quality of their craftmanship. It was a pleasure to work with them and thank you for making our ideas into something we will enjoy for years to come.”