The Driveway Garden

the driveway garden (1)
I have a whole lot of landscape surrounding my driveway. Why so?  I drive up and drive out of  it at least 2 times a day, maybe more. There are plenty of other places in my garden that I see only intermittently.  An example that explains how frequent visitation drives design-see the following.  As my house is on a corner, I drive by the front door every day. This is a drive by, not a visit. Until the hydrangeas come into bloom, I am only in that garden to water the pots.  Let’s go to the back door. Lots of traffic there. My driveway is a daily experience.  I suppose I could remove my driveway, as neither Buck nor I use the garage to house cars. I could do a narrow walk to the curb. But that makes getting groceries inside or taking the trash out a challenge.  A driveway makes the transportation of vehicles, and items in and out easy. Given its size and function, it is also easy for a driveway to be unsightly. By that I mean, untouched by a landscape. A great driveway landscape is a quality of life issue.  It should make you reluctant to leave home in the morning, and happy to get home at night.

the driveway garden (10)My landscape crowds my driveway, both on the ground plane, and overhead. I I have trees that arch over both sides of my drive.  This means I have birds singing here in the morning and evening.  New to the driveway trees this past week-a solitary catbird. I only prune when Buck complains he can’t walk by, or the branches scrape up against my car.  4 Parrotias, 3 magnolias and 4 dogwoods.  My driveway garden is congested.  Lots of trees over a drive minimizes a big utilatarian paved space, and goes on to celebrate the garden.  There are yews, both upright and spreading.  There are garden spaces too.  Hellebores, hostas and butterburrs.  In a sunnier spot, there are delphiniums, nepeta, adenophora and alchemilla early on, and phlox and white hibiscus.  It has a weedy and relaxed look.  The lime green of the alchemilla flowers is especially pretty right now.

June 23, 2014 (90)My driveway landscape is a big fluid mix of plants.  This is an effort to make the driveway the least important visual issue, in spite of the need for a car park.  The driveway is necessary, yes. Is the driveway the most important issue in the landscape?  I think not. I would suggest that a thoughtful and beautiful landscape could make the necessity of a driveway a treasured feature. To follow is my take on that driveway. Let’s get back to that expresion of lime green.  The flowers of alchemilla mollis- so beautiful. Other sources of that lime green come from variegated lily of the valley, hosta montana variegata, and gold drop hostas.

the driveway garden (4)What looks like a brick driveway is in fact a concrete brick manufactured by Unilock called Capthorne.  This material looks like it might have been original to my 1930′s home. Whomever designed this driveway in the beginning did a great job.  The drive to the street is in the top left of this picture.  The landscape completely shields it from the view presented by my deck. The parking area looks a lot more about piazza than parking.  I have planted the driveway pots with much the same color scheme as the landscape.

the driveway garden (5)Lots of green. And even more lime green. The driveway garden has a lot of old Sum and Substance hosta, which foreshadow the lime green Princeton Gold maples, and the lime sagina subulata in the upper level fountain fountain.

the driveway garden (6)The lime green in the pots is coming from Wasabi coleus, variegated white sunpatiens, creeping jenny, variegated licorice, and several lime green tropical plants whose names I cannot remember. I am not so concerned if I cannot name a plant.  I am very concerned if I cannot put together a garden that is cohesive.  So many great gardeners I know have no knowledge of the botanical names.  Sometimes, they have no names of any sort.  But they know how to make things grow.  That said, I have plants whose names are unknown to me in my driveway pots.

the driveway garden (3)I aspire to the making things grow group.  The design of my driveway garden pots needs to reflect the landscape all around. This means, to some degree, that I choose plants by instinct.  Plants that strike my fancy.  As this is my home landscape, I have no one to answer to beyond myself.

the driveway garden (7)I do strongly feel that container plantings are an opportunity for any gardener to express themselves in a seasonal way. My driveway landscape has been many years in the making.  The pots and annual plants in the ground is my opportunity to change things up. A chance to make a statement. Go in whatever direction suits me at the time. I have planted my driveway with lots of different schemes over the years.  I like the yearly chance to re imagine.

the driveway garden (2)This year, the lime represented by the green and gold plectranthus, the nicotiana lime, and the variegated sunpatiens, is enough lime green to please me.  The one nicotiana mutabilis in a sea of lime green is an outlier.  I try to design for that. The warm yellow wall looks so great, dressed in lime green.

the driveway garden (9)I have worked for years to make the driveway landscape more visually important than the driveway.  This year, I am pleased all around with the results.  Everything in the landscape takes years to settle in.  In  my mind, everything is working together.

Sept 8, 2013 (192)
Tonight,  both Howard and I have cause to celebrate.

A Miserable Affair

burned-boxwood.jpgThe boxwood hedge in front of Detroit Garden Works has been there 17 years.  This collection of buxus microphylla koreana were Canadian grown.  They had grown to a fairly uniform 3′ tall, and are every bit of four feet wide.   Though their winter color was decidedly orange, they were hardy as could be.  Just what I would want, given a southern exposure.  Until now, that is.  Though I was prepared to wait as long as it would take to determine the extent of the damage, dead boxwood is dead boxwood.

borwood-winter-burn.jpgWe have had an ongoing problem with the section for the past few years.  A fungal infection of unknown name that was stubbornly resisting treatment. This past winter weather was the last straw.  There was only one decision to be made.  How long did I want to look at dead boxwood?

buxus-microphylla.jpgIt was entirely fitting that the day we started digging out those old plants was cold wet and miserable. What made the situation even worse were those plants that were half dead.  Take them or leave them?

digging.jpgThere were 2 plants that were fine.  Those we saved.  It’s not clear yet, but we may have more dead plants.

digging.jpgGardening is not for the faint of heart.  There isn’t any way to run way from this level of trouble.  The loss of any major feature in a landscape is tough to take on a lot of levels. A big tree that dies or is blown may leave an established shade garden without any protection from the sun.  The loss of a focal point can leave a landscape with an aura of pointlessness.  Hardy boxwood the size of this hedge is just about impossible to find.  Or if it could be found, it would be astronomically expensive to replace.

digging.jpgReplacement may not be the best design decision.  I prefer to look at this situation as a call for a new design.  What will that be?  I am not in a hurry to decide, as I feel the decision is an important one.  The space will have something to say for itself, if I give that process enough time.

dead-boxwood.jpg
Today was only about removing dead plants.  Looking at dead plants is worse than looking at the void they leave behind.

cleaning-up.jpgA new design will have to consider the entire space, as this hedge was just about the sum total of landscape. There may be more losses to come, as the days get warmer.

branch-container.jpgA pair of Buck’s boxes from Branch were put in place, to cover the raw twiggy end of the last boxwood left in the row.

sunny-day.jpgI will be able to see the tulips blooming from the driveway for the first time.  Being able to step back from them is a good thing.  Shortly there will be a good reason to sit on that bench.  There are lots of gardeners in my area facing the same thing.  Every one of them will handle it in their own way. This day’s work was not my idea of getting out and working in the garden in spring.  But it is the hand I have been dealt.  Redesigning and replanting this space will be my pleasure.

 

A Big Loss

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASmall yards-don’t most people have them?  I would not ever describe my property in terms of its acreage.  I have a city lot, 105 feet on the short side, and 125.76 feet on the long side.  I am a steward  of 13,230 square feet.  One city lot and a half.  Just to put this in another perspective, the building that houses Detroit Garden Works is 9870 square feet.  The building that houses my manufacturing company Branch is big enough to easily house Detroit Garden Works, and plenty big enough to house my entire house and property – comfortably.  Though my landscape and garden has its overwhelming moments, it is not big.  as in sea to shining sea big.  The loss of a maple upwards of 80 years old in the front yard of the small urban property pictured above was a big loss.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe loss of a big tree that had organized, for better or for worse,  the entire front yard landscape of this small urban property, was a very big loss indeed.  The landscape had lost some of its reason for being.  Exposed for all to see from the street?  A pair of kousa dogwoods near the front door that were struggling from the shade of the maple.  A lack of any substantial landscape statement whatsoever on the right side of the front door.  A pair of yews flanking either side of the front door that tolerated the shade were all of a sudden overpowering and gloomy.  An architecturally noteworthy house looked lost at sea.  Unbalanced.  Utterly symmetrical architecture asks for an equally strong landscape.  The big bump in the front yard was asking for an answer.  The landscape-listing to one side.

pair-of-carpinus.jpgSmall properties advertise their problems in a big and graphic way.  It was not my idea to replace the tree in the front yard.  Why would I propose to repeat an idea that did little to enhance this small property in the first place?  I thought that a pair of carpinus that would flank and frame the front door, and a boxwood hedge on the right side that would answer the existing boxwood hedge on the left would bring some order to the landscape.  My clients were great gardeners, and keen about the landscape.  They liked informal, but orderly schemes.  They had long been retired, and were not so interested in a landscape that would require a lot of lifting and hauling.

front-door.jpgWe removed the struggling dogwoods.  They were so poor, I doubt anyone noticed.  The yews got transplanted.  In their stead, a pair of climbing hydrangeas.  The big leaves are a welcome leafy texture; they were not in any way bothered by the northern exposure.  Deep shade has few takers.  Hydrangea petiolaris is slow to get going, but it is amazingly shade tolerant.   The pachysandra may be the most ordinary ground cover on the planet, but it tolerates, and thrives, in tough conditions.  Lush and green on the ground plane is a good thing.

front-door.jpgWe kept the climbing hydrangea away from the front porch light fixtures-regular pruning keeps this climbing plant in bounds.  Few other vining plants can clothe a wall so elegantly.  We added a few pots to the front porch area-why not?  Though my clients were not able to handle big digging, they were able and willing to look after those pots.

winter.jpgThe columnar carpinus grew. They framed the view to the front door from the street.  They divided the the public part of the landscape from the private and personal part of their home-the front door.  Most happily, every other plant within their range was able to thrive.  The porch had a little light.  I do think that the nurturing of visually thoughtful relationships between shaded and sunny spaces in a landscape is crucial to good design. I believe it is even more crucial to small properties.  The sun and shade can provide lots of atmosphere in the smallest space.

view.jpgDirectly underneath the carpinus -dappled shade.  The pachysandra did not mind this irregular light.  It grew lush and thick. On the house side-a small sun zone.  Sun is inviting in a garden.  The light attracts the eye.  The interplay of sun and shade can provide so much interest in a very small space.  From the sun to the shade and back to the sun-this creates a visual rhythm in a landscape composition that lacks physical space.  Good design in small spaces asks for every base to be covered.  How long does it take to cover every base on a small city lot?  I am not there yet, so I can’t answer.

front-door.jpgThe loss of a very big and old tree presented an opportunity to celebrate a small front yard landscape in an entirely different way.  A change up in a small environment is a pitch no gardener sees coming.  I would encourage you to quit wringing your hands, and swing away.  As it turns out, my clients loved being freed from a maple that entirely dominated their landscape.  They were happy to have the opportunity to make the front porch details more important.

coleus-topiary.jpgI did plant their pots differently every year.  But no matter the scheme, I always planted non stop begonias.  Mr. B had a way with them that was extraordinary.  They grew for him.  I have never seen better.  Though he was always self effacing about his success growing them, I knew he brought his head, heart and experience to bear with them. The new landscape configuration was not maintenance free.  No landscape thrives without attention. But a thriving landscape gave him the go ahead to devote his efforts to growing on the plants in his pots.

yellow-begonias.jpgI want to say that his pots gave him immense pleasure and satisfaction. No matter what day I would drive by, the pots always looked perfectly tended and beautiful.  We took care of maintaining the rest.  I will say they had a rich and involved gardening life long before I met them.  I worked for them for many years, before they sold this property, and moved to the east coast to be close to their children.

walk-to-the-door.jpgThe changes we made in this landscape were over a period of twelve years.  I was happy for my part in this.  Their thoughtful thirty years gardening before me, and my twelve years of revisions made for an updated design that worked for them.

hornbeams.jpgThey sold this property several years ago.  Ill health and age triggered a change.  I understood this.  Landscapes and lives evolve.  They day they lost that old maple-a big loss.  The day they gave up this house and landscape, and moved away-a big loss for me.  Small properties, such as they are, have a big story to tell.  A big hearted landscape design on a small property- all about a story.

 

The Shape of Things to Come

landscape-plan.jpgAs Susan Cohan, a very talented and skilled American landscape designer would say, a great landscape design is about making a space work.  It works for the client.  It works for the plants selected.  And it solves problems. No where is that more evident than designing for a very small space.  A very small property means every square inch needs to work.  This very small front yard needed a decently sized driveway, and a graceful way to get to the front door from both the sidewalk, and the drive.  It needed to ground a house that was very tall.  It needed to provide a place to watch young children playing on the drive.  It needed to provide ongoing visual interest – every bit of which was exposed to the street. It needed to accommodate a client’s interest in a fountain in the front yard. ellipse.jpgI thought there needed to be a single strong shape which would organize every other element in the landscape.  An ellipse seemed a natural choice.  The shape of the front yard was a very shallow rectangle.  An ellipse would make the most of that natural shape in a more interesting way.  An elliptical shape that touched the north side of the driveway, and reached across to the south side would provide a means to reach the front door.  It would also permit a way to walk the garden that had no beginning and no end. aluminum-edger-strip.jpgFrom the driveway, one ring of the ellipse would be a gravel path that would lead to the front door.  That path would also encourage walking through the space.  The gravel ellipse was wide enough to accommodate a bench, wherever the client might want one.  An interior ellipse of grass would make it possible to view the garden, and the fountains from a number of different vantage points. landscape-design.jpgThe fountain Buck built was actually a pair of fountains.  Each was fabricated as a half-ellipse.  Anyone approaching the front door would walk through the fountains.  Anyone coming to the front door from the driveway could follow the gravel path, or take the fountain view route. Rows of boxwood and yews matching the curve of the ellipse would give the garden some winter interest.  As for the perennial garden, there are but a few plants.  The inner ring is a collection of peonies, faced down with alchemilla mollis.  Once the peonies mature, they will form a lustrous large leaved interior hedge taller than the boxwood.   landscape.jpgThe fountains are the center of interest to the design, and they are front and center.  We did eventually move them back off of the sidewalk a bit, just so the space would breathe better.  The interior garden would mature at the same height as the fountains. This height was a direct response to the height of the house.  I planted yews in the ellipse closest to the house-who would want to block the views from inside out with anything taller?  Eventually we would plant a DeGroot Spire arborvitae on either side of the from facade of the house. limestone-steps.jpgThe lower step to the front door needed to describe that ellipse that governed the shape every other landscape element.  Scott Albaugh from Albaugh Masonry did a great job of this.  In a very small space, the details matter so much. Our shapes were by no means perfect.  But they were accurate enough to be convincing.  At this stage in the installation, the ellipses read in a graphically strong way.  Once the landscape was planted, that shape became much more subtle. landscape-plan.jpgThe day a landscape is installed is just that-the first day.  Given some time for the plants to mature, that ellipse describing the horizontal ground plane will be softened by the height and the sprawl of the plants. landscape-plan.jpgThis design looks different from different vantage points.  Changing the visual channel is easy; there is a path. gravel-path.jpgAny guest getting out of the car in the driveway could find their way to the front door.  They might take the long way-or the short way, in bad weather.  This design is intended to make the garden accessible and friendly to people.  Though just about every idea can be seen from the drive or the street, the elliptical path invites a stroll through. new-garden.jpgWhat can readily be seen now will not always be the case. The outer ring of this garden will mature at a height of 4 to 5 feet. Roses, shasta daisies, Russian sage, Little Lime hydrangeas-the height of these plants will provide a little mystery and privacy to the inner ellipse.  The border on the sidewalk-moss phlox and lamb’s ear. landscape-design.jpgI will be very interested to see this garden when it has a few more years on it.  Hopefully it will be a small space that has something interesting going on.