Paving with Pebbles; Timeless Inspiration

There is a picture of me in the gardens of the Alhambra, in southern Spain, many years ago. There are multiple elements of classic design in the photo, although my permed hair and leashed sunglasses certainly don’t qualify. The view of this iconic hilltop palace and garden contains, among other things, an arched hedge to serve as a visual frame, an elaborate water feature and a focal point to draw you in. But, I would have to argue that the most versatile element, for gardens both large and small, is the patterned pebble paving just visible at my feet.

Joy at the Alhambra

Patterned pebble garden path at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain

Creating beautiful but durable patterns with stones is an ancient technique that can be applied to many types of spaces. The limiting factor is generally the time for the labor rather than the preciousness of the materials.  I was amazed by the intricate and multi-colored patterns that still survive in some Roman ruins.  I had the privilege to take a particularly close look at beautiful examples in Ephesus, in modern day Turkey, a few years ago.

Ephesus paving middleground

Ancient and intricate pebble mosaic at Ephesus

For a simplified and contemporary approach, I love the use of a single colored pebble, laid in an alternating pattern of squares, in a recent Italian-designed display garden, created as a gift for the King of Thailand. The monotone pattern gives presence to the piazza-like space, while contrasting with the red brick path that bisects the classic design.

Italian Garden in Chiang Mai

Geometric pebble paving in the Italian Garden at Flora Ratchapruek

In the same public garden, Chiang Mai’s Royal Flora Ratchapruek, the display from the people of Japan shows another way that a single color stone can be used alongside a contrasting paving material to add visual width, texture and movement to a functional and graceful design. The sinuous path imitates a stylized water course that leads the viewer through the garden to a traditional Japanese-style building.

Thai Japanese Path

Sinuous pebble pathway in the Japanese Garden at Flora Ratchapruek

The Ottomans used pebble paving to great effect, creating beautiful and symbolic patterns, especially in exterior spaces and heavily used pathways. Existing examples can be seen in the Topkapi Palace, home of the Sultans, in present day Istanbul.

Topkapki pebble mosaic with bench

Contrasting black and white patterned pebble path at the Topkapki palace in Istanbul

An inventive and contemporary use for colored pebbles is a whimsical “carpet” created to add style and framing for a “garden bed” in a pun-intended garden display at a sea-side lodge along California’s central coast. I love this one because it doesn’t take itself, or the space, seriously.

Cambria Pebble Carpet

A light-hearted pebble carpet for the Garden “bed” at Cambria Pines Lodge on the California coast

I think my current favorite use for pebble mosaics are the ones I saw on my recent trip to Bali. The Balinese are certainly known for adding ornament and meaning to all possible objects as part of their way of life. But I was particularly charmed with the grace and beauty of the fine, flowing pebble mosaics that were incorporated into many paved and utilitarian surfaces. Stairs and pathways seemed to be particularly popular for adding delicately colored motifs meant simply to be stepped on.

pebble design Bali street

Multicolored floral motif for a pebble mosaic driveway in Ubud, Bali

The smaller the pieces and the more intricate the patterns, the more time and skill are required to create effective pebble mosaics, but basic patterns are well within reach of the average DIY aficionado. A number of new products can make the creation of this kind of paving much easier such as pre-made pebble panels, ready for application and grouting,  available at most tile stores. There are also a number of new epoxy products, for the application of smaller pebbles to a variety of surfaces, which can be used by a more experienced hand to create  textured and patterned surfaces. At its best, pebble patterns are a fine example of making the most of simple materials and deserve a closer look for the beauty that they bring to functional spaces.

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Categories: Garden Inspiration, Places to See

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2 Comments on “Paving with Pebbles; Timeless Inspiration”

  1. Tony
    November 18, 2013 at 7:16 pm #

    Cute! The first two pictures remind me of similar work in Rome and other Italian cities.

    • November 19, 2013 at 9:33 pm #

      Yes, lots of great stone paving in Italy. Thanks for the comment Tony!

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