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I have recently moved to a ground floor apartment that comes with a small backyard (so far I have always lived without any). The backyard is covered in pebbles. I have asked the landlady if I can have permission to replace the pebbles by grass, but she has declared that she does not want the stones removed and replaced by grass.

In the long run, I would like to have a mixture of grass and plants. Is it possible (and realistic for an amateur) to have grass and non-potted plants on top of pebbles, in a way that is possible to remove prior to moving out? I know there exist houses with rooftop gardens and so, so in principle I imagine it should be possible, but I have no idea if that solution is realistic and affordable for a tiny studio backyard.

I am in southern England.

  • How deep is the gravel layer, and what's underneath it? I ask because it's common to put landscape fabric underneath gravel beds to prevent weeds from growing up through the gravel, or for your grass seeds to send roots down to the soil below. – Niall C. Jun 19 '15 at 15:20
  • I will check that when I get home. – gerrit Jun 19 '15 at 15:52
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I'd be surprised if the law for tenants over isn't the same as the US but over here you have to abide by the landlords wishes when it comes to making improvements to the property, period. This includes not only any renovations/modifications to the structure but also to the landscaping. Some landlords will be happy to have a tenant willing to improve the landscape, others want to keep things the way it is.

She could have a very good reason not to want grass. Maybe it's not an ideal environment for a lawn. Or maybe since it's a small space then it's not practical to keep the equipment around to maintain a lawn such as mower, trimmer spreader etc. and in the past tenants had let it go to crap.

Trying to plant grass through the gravel will make a mess of it and she probably won't be happy.

I think one option you may want to consider is artificial turf. It's widely available these days and not too expensive. The appearance and feel has improved greatly. No need to fertilize, mow, trim, etc. Often sand or some other topping mix is brushed into the artificial turf to help it stand up. This may not be a good idea in your case because you don't want to fill her gravel bed with sand. Look for shorter types of artificial turf that will look good without topping. It may be labeled as non-infill artificial turf.

Artificial turf can be laid over gravel though I'm guessing the gravel is mostly larger pebbles and doesn't include finer rock and stone dust. That may result in a slightly bumpy appearance but it will be better than looking out at a gravel field.

For other plants go with containers. That way you can take them with you if/when you move to someplace that allows you to garden more.

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  • although the artificial turf doesn't need to be cut, it generally does need to be groomed. – That Idiot Jun 22 '15 at 14:51
  • @ThatIdiot but grooming equipment doesn't take up much space. A rake or small push broom sized tool is sufficient for small areas. – OrganicLawnDIY Jun 22 '15 at 19:02
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Couple of things - you've said 'pebbles' in the body of your question, not gravel, which suggests the stones are much bigger than gravel. Grass will not readily grow over the area because there's nothing to root into even if it is gravel; if its pebbles, it'll also be impossible to cut, being lumpy. Artificial turf won't work either if they are actually cobbles or pebbles. Second, does the area get any sun, or is it very shady? If its shady, then grass will do very poorly, even if you were allowed to remove the pebbles. If you were able to grow grass, do you have room to store a mower and edging shears anyway?

If it isn't shady, another option is to remove the pebbles, lay some lawn and do a bit of planting, in the sure and certain knowledge that you will need to restore the area to its previous condition before you leave. If you can't store the pebbles anywhere, that means you'd need to buy new ones, just the same as the existing, and have them laid - if there's a membrane beneath, you will need to replace that as well.

In the UK, 'small' means very small indeed usually - if the area is, say, 3 metres squared or less, having a lawn just isn't practical if you want to grow some plants, so you could forgo the lawn and remove pebbles where you want to plant in the soil, again knowing you will have to remove the plants and replace the pebbles later on when you leave.

If you intend to carry out either of these suggestions, it would be wise to run it past your landlady first, maybe sign an agreement saying you will restore the garden post your occupancy. If she still doesn't agree, then you can't change the area at all, and you will have to resort to potted plants only, arranged on top of the stones. Whether its shady or sunny is something that needs to be taken into consideration when choosing plants too.

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