Most landscapes have walkways of one sort or another. It is a vehicle by which people are able to get from one place to another. Anyone who has even bought a pair of shoes or a car knows that there are vehicles of all different sorts. This particularly long and thin property has been owned by my clients for a good many years. They decided to build a new house on the street side of the property, the landscape of which has been an ongoing project for me since last fall. This informal stone walkway to the barn would remain intact.
My client asked that a matching stone walk be installed from the driveway, and connect with the existing walk in the back. It was not so hard to find flagstone that would match. Matching the rustic pattern took some attention to detail. A walkway dead center in a corridor space makes the corridor visually stronger.
The distance from the garage to the lot line was not not very wide. This landscape would always look like a corridor. In a space that has a very strong personality to start, it makes more sense to amplify rather than transform that personality. We placed that stone walk dead center in the space, and constructed it at a generous four foot width. The soil here is very heavy clay-it never gives up its water. You can see that this corridor has been graded as a swale, the idea being to drain the water away from the landscape beds.
This walkway will get my client, her garden cart, and her tractor to the back yard. It will also serve as a drainage ditch. The gardens, espaliers and arborvitae will to tolerate too much water. Better that the water lurk beneath the walk, where it can drain away over time. This particular walk has a bed of gravel and sand underneath it. Sand has the properly of settling instantly. Implacably. It will not move. Setting the walk slightly high is important. No one wants standing water, or soil washing onto their walkway.
Between the flagstones-slag sand. It settles quickly, and hardens up. But truly, we selected this material as it matched the existing walk. The idea is that eventually, given enough time and weathering, there will be no discernable difference between the original walk and the new one. The walk will look all of a piece.
Once the walk was laid, we installed aluminum edger strip all around. In this instance, the order of events is good. The idea was to make the walk rustic. We did not cut any stones. The edger installed after the walk will keep the flagstone where it needs to be. This walk is not just for foot traffic. There is a tractor that will travel this walk.
The walk from the front yard, and the walk from the terrace meet in a big lazy Y. Barely visible in this picture, a drain set where the two walks come together will direct rain water into the natural clay walled pond. Great care has been taken to direct the rain water from the street, the landscape beds, and the roof into the pond. The rear yard will be seeded with a sun/shade grass mix, and covered in straw to help retain moisture during the germination period. We covered the big storm drain to the right of the walk with fine netting-to keep the frogs out! Given the prediction of a mild August to come, we will seed this tomorrow, rather than waiting until the end of August.
A walkway is a means by which to get from one place to another, yes. But it can also be a beautiful landscape feature. It can help to organize a landscape. It can be built over a swale designed to drain water away. It can be strong enough to provide a roadway for a tractor. Or slight enough for occasional foot traffic. I can be formally designed, or rough and ready. I can provide a beautiful edge to a garden. The materials and construction style chosen can say much about the personality of the place, and the eye of the gardener. It can be narrow in those places to pass by, and wider in those places designed to invite a visitor to linger. A walk can be brisk, or slow. A great walk is a way to make a great garden better.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tonight, both Howard and I have cause to celebrate.
The 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.
We 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?
It 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?
Gardening 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.
Replacement 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.
I 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.