Gravel is a landscaping material that requires no water and little maintenance, making it an easier and more environmentally responsible alternative to "water hogs" like grass. Gravel is versatile, coming in different colors and sizes of stone, from large 2 to 3 inch chunks to tiny rounded "pea" gravel. Additionally, gravel can be laid out in interesting patterns, creating geometrical effects with a minimalist aesthetic or applied in a single color for a classic formal look.
Shady spots are ideal places for a picnic, but are often difficult locations to grow grass. The website Great Landscaping Ideas recommends turning a shady spot into a gravel-floored picnic area. Pull up any grass and weeds growing in the area and level the ground out. Then, create a rounded border with a flexible rubber hose or a square one with a series of wooden boards. fill in the area with gravel and place a picnic table and chairs, a picnic bench or other outdoor furniture there. You now have an nice spot to enjoy the shade on a warm summer day.
If you live in an area like the Southwest where it is difficult and expensive to maintain a lush, green lawn, consider creating a gravel cactus garden instead. Spread gravel over an area and include a few large, natural stones as focal points. Add a variety of cactii and succulent plants. Create a tile or stone walkway wending between the different plants to showcase the best views and most interesting specimens in your garden. If you do wish to grow some temperate plants, set up a few small areas in the garden for the lush, high-water specimens. This will allow you to only use water on those few plants rather than watering the whole garden.
Labyrinths are attractive geometric structures made out of a single winding path. Walking a labyrinth can be a profound and meditative experience and can give you the chance to take a long walk without leaving your backyard. Create your own miniature religious retreat in your yard from gravel and other stones. For a simple gravel labyrinth, create the "walls" out of thin lines of gravel on bare ground. Alternately, you can lay gravel over a whole area of ground as a base and create a path through the labyrinth using larger flagstones.