The approach to a house sets its tone and the landscaping of the driveway needs meticulous attention to detail if the aspect of the house is not to be spoiled.
In a small suburban house or bungalow, a concrete or brick-laid driveway can be perfectly appropriate, provided that care is taken over the problem of water run-off. Since rainwater cannot drain away through the impermeable surface, the drive has to be laid with a camber which allows the water to run off either side, where a band of gravel should be laid to provide drainage. A solid surface such as this, if well laid
For those who are less concerned about a low-maintenance surface, gravel has many advantages, and for a large house and garden, is much preferable. Gravel has a pleasing appearance and water drains through it easily. A certain amount of weed growth through the gravel may prove to be a problem, but this can be dealt with, either by painstakingly pulling the weeds out as they grow, or by the use of a systemic weedkiller sprayed on the leaves.
When landscaping a gravel driveway, first decide on its proportions. If the house has two entrances, this is an enormous advantage since the drive can be circular, with separate entrance and exit. If there is only one entrance, and the drive is very long, a couple of passing bays should be built into its design. The width of the gravelled area must be wide enough to take any vehicles that are expected to use it, with enough space on either side for doors to be opened easily.
The edges of the drive need to be firmly defined. If the gravel merges into grass or soil on either side, there will be a constant problem with plant growth spreading into the gravel, and with careless drivers damaging the verges. The best sort of edging for a driveway is steel edging, which gives a sharp and permanent division between the grass verge and the gravel. Steel edging is very expensive, but will last several lifetimes. It comes in standard lengths of up to three metres, which are then locked together. The lower edge is serrated, with large tooth-like projections. It is designed to be thrust firmly into the soil with its top edge level with the grass verge. Plants cannot grow through it into the gravel and it is possible to mow the grass verge edge cleanly.
If steel edging is not possible because of its high cost, the next best solution is to use low concrete edging slabs or bricks. The latter will not provide as good a barrier against plant spread unless they are mortared together along the entire length of the drive. They are, however, much more aesthetically pleasing than concrete.
Once the drive has been laid and edged, the landscaping proper can begin. It should be possible, while driving up to the house, to see the surrounding parkland or garden. A tight belt of tall hedging along the drive will give a very forbidding aspect. If hedging is necessary, because, for example, the drive passes through another property, keep it to a height of three feet if at all possible.
The best way to landscape a drive is to plant it with an avenue of trees, choosing species that will only grow to a maximum height of about 20 feet. Flowering cherries or flowering almonds will give a blossom rich tunnel to drive through in the spring and spectacular foliage in the autumn. Plant the trees at least 30 feet apart â keep the planting very regular. Prune the trees as they grow, so that the trunks are kept bare up to an eventual height of six to eight feet. This not only gives a stunning visual effect but prevents low branches interfering with cars on the driveway.
Keep grass below the trees; it can be kept mown short or left to grow naturally. If you are letting it grow, sow wild flower seeds; campion, harebell, scabeous, oxlip, columbine, cowslip, and wood sage will all grow well in dappled shade under trees. The grass should be mown once a year, in early autumn once the flowers have seeded. If, on the other hand, you prefer a well mown approach to the house, sow spring-flowering bulbs thickly under the trees, to give a rich early spring enamelled carpet, which will have died down by the time the grass starts growing.