April 28, 2011

Before and After: From Driveway to Gravel Garden

Sometimes it takes years of thinking before making a big change.

The area of disappointment was supposed to be a guest parking area separated from our concrete parking pad with an island garden bed. On the other side, there was just a narrow strip of garden due to the installation of a dry stream, necessary after torrential rains washed out all of the original driveway gravel in our first year.

No matter what we planted on either side, the area just never looked inviting because the plants struggled. It's a difficult site for plants. A hot, southwest exposure, but too wet in winter for drought-tolerant plants, led to losses every year. Replant. Repeat. Something else had to be done!

BEFORE: (View from driveway)
Starting in 2005, we tried plantings on either side.
Photo is from 2008 and the third iteration of failed plantings.

In 2010, we began removing plants in preparation for this big project. We weren't sure exactly what we would do. We drafted many ideas on paper and I searched through volumes of garden and landscape books and magazines. We thought about raised beds and a formal parterre, but that would eliminate the parking area. 


Out of our 2010 ideas, we decided to extend the row of hollies (ilex cornuta 'dwarf Burford') along our garage wall to form a hedge along the concrete side of the island bed. When the new hollies reach the size of the existing hollies, we'll have a nice "green fence" to serve as a backdrop.


Throughout our travels to Europe, we realized that in many areas, unable to grow lawns due to lack of rainfall, gravel is used throughout garden areas. Drought-tolerant plants were "mulched" with gravel. There is often no separation between garden/yard, parking areas and entertainment areas. The gravel covers the ground, integrating all the elements. The result is a simplified design.

Gravel is permeable, allowing rain water to reach the soil beneath. With land properly graded, the gravel doesn't wash away during rainstorms. Selecting a locally quarried gravel reduces the cost as well as making the selection "green" since it is not hauled in on trucks from long distances.

Garden inspiration:
Gravel used to integrate garden, path and patio.
Tractors drive on the gravel for tending this garden
at Chateau Val Joanis in France.
April 2011.
Returning from France on April 17, we decided to tackle this project once and for all. I pulled out an English garden magazine that had more photos of gardens mulched with gravel. We hopped in the truck and drove a few miles to our local provider of gravel. We decided to use the same driveway gravel that is standard in our neighborhood so that we wouldn't have to seek approval from our Homeowner's Association. The blue-beige gravel works well next to our sidewalk flagstone and the river rock used in the dry stream and French drain. Our French drain, installed in March 2010, was necessary to prevent erosion of our driveway gravel.

We arranged for screenings, a finely ground gravel, to be delivered (by dump truck). We used the screenings to build up the grade and level the area (with slope for drainage) to prepare for the blue gravel.

BEFORE: (View from front sidewalk)
Gravel parking area after plants
removed from each side.
 Landscape fabric pinned to the ground for patio installation.
April 20, 2011.
For the area to be welcoming, we installed a patio made of pre-formed concrete squares (16 inches square) on top of landscape fabric (to prevent weeds) and the graded screenings.

Opposite the patio, across the "parking area" section, I planted a row of rosemary to make a fragrant, low hedge. Rosemary is often used in xeric settings and can take the sun. The gravel will actually help prevent rotting of the drought-tolerant plant. I dug a trench, mixed in soil, gravel and compost before planting the rosemary in their biodegradable pots.

Once the patio was installed and we had graded the rest of the area with the screenings, we had a dump truck deliver the driveway gravel.

We raked the gravel around the new rosemary and the existing buddleia, hollies (future hedge backdrop), crepe myrtle and large, oakleaf holly.

This project solves a number of problem for us. It reduces maintenance of the area while unifying the garden, driveway and guest parking area. The simplicity of the design cleans up the entrance to our house, making it apparent that guests should enter at the front of the house instead of the side door. Finally, the materials used minimize plant watering while allowing rainwater to soak into the soil below the gravel.

AFTER: Gravel used to integrate parking with garden.
Small patio installed for a welcoming bench and containers of xeric plants.
Space to park a car.
Just waiting for the holly hedge to grow to full size.
April 28, 2011.
AFTER: (View from driveway)
Note the hollies against the garage wall.
The same hollies are planted behind the bench area and
will eventually create a green hedge.
April 28, 2011
With all of this gravel, there needed to be a "welcome" area. We moved an existing bench to the patio and collected our spare containers. We had two matching containers for each side of the bench, so we purchased two more to make a trio of planters on each side of the bench. We used a square stepping stone (on hand) to elevate an existing container to make it higher than the urn container. (I will pick up a round stepping stone on my next trip to a garden store to make the elevation material less noticeable.)

In the largest, elevated container, I planted blue point juniper (juniper chinesis 'Blue Point') because it is drought-tolerant and does well in containers. Since the juniper is suitable for zones 4-9, it can handle our cold winters in zone 7b, without being taken indoors. Someday, the juniper may outgrow the containers, but that will be many years. Juniper is deer resistant unless there is a shortage of winter food. Being evergreen, I don't expect a problem with regrowth if there is any nibbling.

The urn containers were planted with English lavender (lavandula angustifolis). Again, for drought-tolerance and cold-tolerance, this plant is suitable for zones 5-9. Lavender is deer resistant.

Finally, the low "bowl" containers were planted with succulents. I used "hens and chicks" (sempervivum) and sedum as my experience with these for container plantings in 2010 were quite successful, having wintered well and required minimal water and no replanting for 2011.

This project took about 8 hours of time with two of us working. Raking screenings and gravel was tiring, heavy work, but easily a DIY project. We used four yards of screenings and five yards of gravel because it extends onto the driveway. We will use another five yards of gravel to finish dressing the entire driveway.

The patio, made of pre-cast squares, didn't require special skill beyond leveling. We minimized the expense by using existing containers and bench and using local sources for the all materials.

While I would like to paint these containers and bench in colorful colors to hide the bland brown, that idea was vetoed by my husband! I think a deep purple, matching the lavender blooms, would look great on the urns, don't you?

Containers of drought-tolerant plants
include 'Blue Point' Juniper, English lavender
and sempervivum with sedum.



Words and photos by Freda Cameron, Defining Your Home, Garden and Travel. All company or product or patented names mentioned are registered trademarks, copyrights, or patents owned by those respective companies or persons.

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Defining Your Home, Garden & Travel

Home, garden and travel tips by Freda Cameron

Freelance travel writer. My current fiction writing projects include a completed manuscript and several works in progress.

By the way, my name is pronounced fred-ah, not freed-ah. Thank you.

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