Blog by Beebe Cline

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6 Driveway Looks Take Landscapes Along for the Ride

Driveways are often the most overlooked part of garden design, considered more utilitarian than something worthy of our attention; yet we usually travel along them at least twice a day, and they are often both the first and last thing visitors see. What impression does your driveway give?

Certainly designing gardens that flank a driveway or service road can have its challenges, but there are always solutions that will add the necessary style and color to this important area. Slopes, watering issues or just the sheer length of a driveway can all seem daunting obstacles when you're creating a garden. Then there is the question of how to connect the design and plant palette to the home itself.

These inspirational designs show how to meet such challenges and create an approach to your home that will be both inviting and memorable.
1. The Sweeping Driveway

The challenge: How to make the approach interesting and set the scene for what is to come.

Solution A: Create a park-like feel with a tapestry of plants and lawn that meets the paving at intervals along the way.

Many of us would approach the idea of planting a driveway by digging a border on either side and adding plants. This design goes beyond that by incorporating areas of manicured lawn to give the effect of driving through a park.

Since the plantings are all low, they seem to meld with the greater garden, while the soft color palette and plant selection suggest wonderful, billowing, romantic gardens ahead.

Each vignette is unique, making this drive a wonderful garden tour. I doubt visitors will be rushing in either direction with so much to enjoy en route.
Solution B: Establish a rhythm with regularly spaced trees on either side of the driveway, interplanted with a modest-height hedge.

This glorious mass planting of white Annabelle hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle') sweeps out of sight, enticing visitors to see where it leads. Although one can still see over these shrubs, there is a sense of mystery since the ground plane is not immediately visible on the other side.

Zelkova trees flank the driveway and set up a pleasing rhythm while adding height to what otherwise might become a monotonous design. Both the trees and shrubs add structure to the garden in winter as well.

This elegant garden lends itself perfectly to classic architecture such as colonial or Cape Cod styles. Yet its elegant monochromatic scheme would work well for an approach to any traditional-style home.
2. The Large Driveway

The challenge: The driveway dominates the property, taking up a significant proportion of the front garden.

The solution: Rather than using solid paving or poured concrete, add a center strip of grass or drought-tolerant ground covers. Flank this with large pavers separated in such a way as to create a checkerboard with plants growing in between.

This gives the effect of another border within the front garden and extends the visual green space, making the driveway less obtrusive.

Although grass could be used for this, I would opt for a tough, low-maintenance, drought-tolerant ground cover, such as elfin thyme (Thymus serpyllum 'Elfin', zones 7 to 9) or miniature brass buttons (Leptinella gruveri, zones 7 to 9). Both of these withstand heavy foot and vehicle traffic, are evergreen and need neither mowing or fertilizing. Dymondia (Dymondia margaretae, zones 9 to 11) is a good choice for warmer climates.
3. The Long, Straight Driveway

The challenge: How to prevent this straight driveway from feeling like a runway when the house is not even in sight.

The solution: Create an allée of trees to set up a rhythm and provide vertical interest to distract the eye from the road itself.

Regularly spaced ornamental pear trees (Pyrus sp) act as mile markers down this long gravel driveway, each pair taking you one step closer to the destination. Without these trees the driveway would feel more like a road; their addition creates a more relaxed atmosphere.

This crunching gravel driveway approach suggests a formal or perhaps Mediterranean home and garden style, with simplicity being the key.
4. The Sloped Driveway

The challenge: Creating planting pockets that are easy to manage.

Solution A: Combine a stepped pathway to one side of the drive with a series of built-in planters between the two.

This design almost makes me wish I had a sloping driveway. It not only solves the problem of planting, but by incorporating a series of wide, shallow steps, the designer has made the journey on foot much more comfortable.

The square and rectangular planters tie in with the motif used for the garage door and windows.

If you build raised beds, you can keep the soil surface level, avoiding the problem of erosion after a heavy rainfall as well as allowing for deeper soil to support trees and larger shrubs. For added interest these could always be brightened with seasonal color, yet this simple approach is in keeping with the overall planting theme of the home.
Solution B: Create a shallow raised border following the slope and fill it with an abundance of seasonal color.

The greatest challenge with this particular border is preventing the soil either from spilling onto the driveway or being washed downhill. A simple cobblestone edging provides an easy boundary to plant against, while the dense planting creates a mat of roots to keep the soil in place.

Weeding sloping gardens is not an easy task, but one way to reduce this is simply by covering the soil with more plants. Clearly this homeowner understands that and has created a delightful cutting garden that provides months of color while also covering the soil in such a way as to reduce the ability for weeds to take hold.
5. The Sunken Driveway

The challenge: The driveway runs parallel to a slope.

The solution: Build a retaining wall to create a raised terrace and a level driveway.

This beautiful design is likely to have drivers really taking their time. Since the plants are elevated, they can be enjoyed from within a vehicle much more easily than if they were at ground level.

Tiers of shrubs and perennials in a rich color palette set the scene for this Tuscan home; they include blue African lilies (Agapanthus sp) and purple fan flowers (Scaevola). The retaining wall is capped with flagstone to provide a sitting ledge — obviously the designer knew that this part of the garden would be revisited after the car was parked.
6. The Contemporary Driveway

The challenge: Bring a sense of contemporary design to the space while keeping the planting varied yet drought tolerant.

The solution: Create a strong geometrical theme, with irregular planting areas dissecting the driveway.

I find the design of this driveway especially appealing because of its strong linear theme. Wide strips of concrete are interspersed with crushed limestone. These strips are offset, adding a softness to the design and breaking away from the expected straight route to create subtle curves.

By stepping the materials in this way, planting pockets of varying widths and lengths have been created. These have been filled with an assortment of drought-tolerant shrubs, perennials and grasses with a crushed rock mulch being applied as a finishing touch. This mulch connects the plants seamlessly to the driveway itself while continuing the contemporary style and reducing weed growth.

Take a look at your own driveway with fresh eyes. Perhaps what you considered an insurmountable problem is now more manageable after viewing these inspirational designs.