A New Gravel Driveway

landscape under construction (8)I admire people who buy old homes, and sign up for all that it will take to renovate them. That is a huge commitment in every regard. An undertaking such as this demands lots of time and even more patience. I cannot imagine the expense. This gorgeous English Tudor style home is 95 years old. Very old homes like this one are remarkably sturdy and well built. I own a house built in 1930, and I can attest to how rock solid it is. I can barely drill a hole in my steel mesh reinforced plaster to hang a picture. That plaster and brick set over concrete block walls means that my house is incredibly quiet and structurally sound. This home features a virtually indestructible brick fired from a clay body featuring a big mineral content – manufactured with the idea of longevity and service in mind.  A good bit of the trim is hand carved limestone, all of which is excellent condition. The new roof is slate; slate roofs last just about forever. But great age exacts a toll on the working parts of an old house. Every house is a small city. It needs electricity, heat, air conditioning, weather tight windows, plumbing – this is a short and not comprehensive list. What got updated here is just about everything, and took a year and a half to accomplish. A kitchen and bathrooms that worked well in 1920 were reworked from the ground up. The interior renovation of this house is finished, and is finished beautifully.

a new driveway (1)My client’s interior designers introduced me to them and their property.  Eventually they would turn their efforts towards the landscape. Last year’s landscape efforts were concentrated on a pool, terracing, a spa, and an astonishing pergola built and installed by the Branch Studio. Screening trees, and a large collection of small spring flowering bulbs got planted late in the fall. This year, we hope to plant the front, side, and rear yard landscape. The property had been neglected for decades. The gravel driveway, all but invisible under a thatch of compost and weeds, was lined in concrete curbing that went 24 inches below grade.  A number of trees grew up, and spent decades thriving. Many of those trees were now were in serious decline.  Disease and fierce weather had taken their toll. The roots had grown over the curb, reducing the width of the drive to just over 8 feet.  A new driveway design and installation would need be the first part of the installation of the landscape.

a new driveway (13)Once the front yard landscape was agreed upon, there was a lot of work to do. Once the dying and diseased trees came down, the stumps were loaded into a 30 yard dumpster – almost 12 tons worth. That is a staggering number, and it explains why so many large machines are parked in the front yard. Taking apart an old landscape and driveway is a shocking experience, but bare dirt that is asking to be regraded is a big breath of fresh air. It is never an easy thing to abandon what was, and go on.

a new driveway (12)Once the drive curbs and the trees were removed, the ground had to be graded.  In this case, there was quite a bit of what I call balancing to do.  The land which was high on one side was lowered, and the low side needed to come up.  From the street, the land would look balanced, left to right.

a new driveway (4)The grade of the driveway would determine the final grade of all of the land surrounding it. A large motor court some 56′ feet wide by 32′ deep would be a dominant feature of the landscape. This would permit off street parking for clients who entertain regularly. But most importantly, a gravel drive and motor court seems appropriate for a house of this age and architecture. It interests me that many very old homes with motor courts were built before the advent of motor traffic. It can be a beautiful feature in and of itself. The accompanying landscape would in a simple way feature the house and gravel court.

a new driveway (2)In many respects a gravel drive is simpler and somewhat less expensive to install than concrete, asphalt, or stone.  One of the biggest expenses is the cost of the edging. The gravel must be contained.  A hard boundary is what keeps the gravel in place.  Gravel that has crept away from its intended location can look great in a very informal setting. It would look messy and untended in a house of this architectural formality.

a new driveway (3)
Both the drive and motor court are edged in 1/4″ thick steel.  That steel edges is secured by steel stakes that are driven into the ground through steel loops welded to the back of the edging. The steel has to be this thick to withstand repeated vehicular traffic, and stay in place.

a new driveway (6)The gravel motor court will be bordered in concrete paver brick, three bricks deep.  The border will help to visually reduce the size of the gravel area. It will also recall the brick on the house. This brick will be dry laid between parallel bands of steel edging.  Concrete brick can better withstand compression weight of a vehicle. Pictured above is a base layer of compacted road gravel.  The finished crushed stone will be added at the very last, at the height you see indicated by the top of the steel edging.
a new driveway (5)A large new blue stone front walk will make beautifully clear the location of the front door. The house is not symmetrical in its footprint.  The walk which is large enough to feel like a terrace is a centering gesture. There is plenty of room for containers out away from the front door. This exterior entry way echoes the scale of the spacious foyer just inside.

a new driveway (9)An important element of designing any driveway is to check if it is driveable.  My clients drove it a number of times when the scheme was painted on the ground. One little but significant change was made to help anyone backing down the drive stay in the lane. A driveway that doesn’t work well always shows where that pinch point is. Curves and changes of direction need to be gradual and sweeping.

gravel drivewayThe drive at the back will be installed as concrete aggregate, rather than compacted gravel. This will make it easy to shovel a path from the detached garage to the back door. The forms are being set for this portion of the drive. An iron fence and gate appropriate to the architecture is to come soon.

a new gravel driveway (3)The bed lines near the gate to the back yard were specifically set to allow my clients to back out of the garage, and turn around.

a new gravel driveway (2)As of late yesterday, the finish gravel has been put down in the motor court. The concrete brick is due to come in today.

a new gravel driveway (1)At the last of the day, a pair of 25 foot multitrunked katsura trees were added to frame the view of the house from the road. The landscape will be underway shortly.

 

Part 2: The Landscape

October 31 2015 022The previous owners of this property had done some work on the landscape. Notable were the evergreens planted one after another, in zig zag rows, on the long sides of the lot. I understand the need to create privacy, but that can be accomplished in a number of ways, not all of which involve a wall. The problem with rows of screening trees on a narrow lot is that they can make the property feel boxed in. There is no opportunity to borrow beautiful views from the landscapes beyond that evergreen wall. This landscape would have to generate a sense of depth from these arbitrary edges in. A design beginning with the perimeter trees that would move in varying degrees towards the center of the property seemed appropriate. That center was the driveway, which curves multiple times before it reaches the house. The distance from the road to the house was considerable. I wanted to offer any guest a chance to slow down and enjoy the view. My client was interested in a park like landscape that would feature a group of unusual or specimen trees. We were in agreement about a landscape concept. We began by transplanting a group of maples that had been dotted along the drive to the street side of the property.

October 9, 2015 047From the driveway, this massed group of red maples will define the eastern front edge of the property in a non linear way.  The maple in the left  foreground of this picture was eventually moved into that grouping.  It will be replaced by one of a pair of large caliper London Plane trees to be planted this spring that will flank the driveway.  The stakes in the pachysandra indicate homes for three new Norway spruce.

November 21 2015 025The long driveway culminates in a drive court immediately adjacent to the house. I did opt for a more formal and contemporary landscape here. This is a very contemporary house that I felt would benefit from masses and architectural shapes created by just a few species of plants. I did detail in a post last fall the planting of 15 pinus flexilis “Vanderwolf’s” and 18 pinus flexilis “Joe Burke”. The flexible pines we planted to screen a large generator, and provide screening to a lot line that came within 6′ of the drive court. All of the large evergreens in this picture are on a neighboring property. Our plantings are all under 12 feet tall.  Generous numbers of boxwood “Green Gem, the columnar taxus “Nova”, and taxus cuspidata spreaders would fill out the landscape.

November 21 2015 019 The round center island was planted in spreading taxus capitata, 24″, 30″ and 36″ tall.  The tall yews were planted on the perimeter, and the shortest group in the center. The whirling rhythm of all of those descending taxus branches was all about sculpture. Standing on the porch, there is a view to the distant landscape.

December 5 2015 062 - CopyVery late this past December, I drove over to take a look. Standing at the gate, a sizable tricolor beech is central to the view.  The old and thinning Norway spruce to the right-I could not bring myself to take this old tree down. Big and old, and of considerable scale is beautiful. Plants with age so greatly endow any landscape. A landscape with old trees is weighted, and can anchor new plantings. I planted a row of tall and massive American arborvitae in a large curve behind that old spruce. This adds a lot of green weight to the old spruce at the ground level. While the driveway angles sharply to the right, this simple collection of plants holds the eye. The leading edge of another old Norway spruce in the right foreground of this picture directs the eye into the composition.

December 5 2015 063The view from inside the gate pleases me. The new drive swoops right, and then left.  From the gate, the presentation of the house is all about a suggestion posited by the roof lines. The house sits down in the landscape.To the right of the drive, a single large columnar sweet gum answers the more substantial planting on the opposite side. Visually successful driveways appear as though the garden came first, and the driveway second.

December 5 2015 060The American arborvitae were planted rather high, and the ground in front was graded down to a drain. This view to the house is circumspect. This grouping of trees provides interest in the mid ground space, and partially screens the upper portion of the property from the road.

mud and guts (25)Three of the big beech we planted are seen in this view. 2 on the right of the drive, and one on the left. The spruce in the center back of this picture were existing, as were the evergreens planted near the lot lines on both sides of the drive. Bringing the landscape closer to the drive in select spots creates visual interest.  The rolling of the ground down to the drive is equally as interesting.

mud and guts (24)Halfway up the drive, the house is still only partially within view.  The roof lines are low and wide. I greatly admire how the house was sited. This was an architect who gave as much thought to how the house would sit, as its architectural quality.

 

mud and guts (6)Near the house, the driveway forks.  Right, for service.  Left, for company. The large evergreens to the left in this picture belong to the neighbor.  Here, we are borrowing views from an adjacent property. The low dome of grass in the middle of this picture, and grass sloping gently to the center on either side, sets the stage for the drive court garden. A large European green beech was planted in from of a group of three spruce.

December 5 2015 059 - CopyOn the right side of the driveway, we added a fastigiate hornbeam, a large multi-trunked kousa dogwood, several columnar Norway spruce, and a columnar Colorado blue spruce. Barely visible behind the beech is a gingko. I rarely plant blue needled evergreens in the landscape, unless there is an opportunity for them to be viewed at a distance. Blue needles up close can be a little jarring. But there was plenty of blue, suggested by the drive, and the flexible pines.

December 5 2015 050 - CopyAt the top of the drive, we added 3 large Serbian spruce. In the middle, a blue needled columnar Colorado spruce.  At the far right in this picture, the bluest of the blue needled evergreens, a Canadian white concolor fir – abies concolor “candicans”. There is a second white fir, on the opposite side of the drive.

mud and guts (21)The view from the front door is all evergreen. This is Michigan.  We have as many winter months as we have growing months. The idea was to install a landscape that would look good every month of the year, and be relatively low maintenance.

mud and guts (22)the taxus capitata spreader vortex, in a frosty winter state

December 2015 278The walk from the garage to the drive court.

mud and guts (2)The masses of boxwood on either side of this walk from the drive court to the garage sink the walk down. It is not visible at all, coming up the drive. As this is a service walk, I preferred that it not be prominent in the landscape.

December 5 2015 043 - Copyview from the service walk towards the road

 

December 5 2015 028The hedge of Hicks yews were moved here from the front of the house. At the left end, a columnar mugho pine. The deciduous trees are katsura, and gingko.

December 5 2015 031the drive court

December 5 2015 025looking across the service drive

mud and guts (4)view from the service drive

mud and guts (7)The landscape views going down the drive are so much different than what is seen on the way up. Only one columnar sweet gum is part of the view going up.  Going down, it is possible to spot the other one on the right side of the drive. There was plenty to see, despite the winter.

 

 

Part 1: The Mud And Guts

paver drivewayYou may remember my post late last fall about the installation of 33 pinus flexilis. These trees were 10 feet tall, and had 36″ diameter root balls. We had to push them uphill with the help of an electric pallet jack, as the new driveway was not ready for vehicular traffic.  The driveway you see in the picture above was slated to be replaced at the same time that the new landscape we designed would be installed. This sentence sounds benign, but the actual logistics were anything but. The installation of a landscape and a new driveway usually means a driveway first, and the landscape to follow.  There are good reasons for this order of events.  Any hard structure needs to come first.  The grade of the driveway, terrace, or walk sets the grade of all else. The grade of the ground can be changed. The grade of a hard surface is a given. Decisions would be made about the proper planting level in advance of the drive being finished. That is a dicey proposition, especially when planting big trees.

mud and guts (12)The installation of driveways, walks and terraces involve the placement and staging of lots of equipment and materials, none of which are so friendly to plants. We planted 5 large caliper beech just prior to the old drive removal. The new drive would be installed in 4 phases, and would take better than a month to complete. The rest of the large tree plantings would be worked in and around the phases of the drive. I knew there would be a limit to how long we could work outdoors. The long range forecast was calling for a very mild fall. I was hoping I could take that prediction to the bank.  I had never installed a project of this size, in such a short amount of time, under such daunting circumstances.

mud and guts (13)At this moment in late October, giant piles of old asphalt were waiting to be loaded up and hauled away. Pallet after pallet of new pavers were lined up along the side of the old drive. The lower portion of old driveway was still intact, so we hauled as much plant material to the top as we could. We coordinated with the driveway contractor.  Wherever he was working, we would be working somewhere else.

mud and guts (16)What these pictures do not show are the countless pieces of equipment and people involved in the project. Work was being done on the interior of the house. There was drainage work to be done.  The irrigation system needed revamping. The landscape would be lighted, meaning there would be lots of conduit to be dug in.

October 29 2015 098Removing an old driveway and installing a new one is a huge job. It turned out to be an incredibly good job.  They were as organized and speedy as they could be. The job itself is beautiful. I will say that the day we could no longer use the drive presented serious challenges to our landscape installation. By this time, I was no longer able to drive my suburban to the job. I had to park on a sidestreet a block away, and walk up. Later on, I would hitch a ride with Dan. Her is a great landscape superintendent.  He works along side his crew all day long, and has an unfailingly genial personality. He was able to sort things out with other contractors, even when tempers flared.

mud and guts (20)Once we were in to November, we had rain, and more rain. It became increasingly difficult to get from one place to another. You can barely see in the rear right of the above picture the new pale blue paver driveway advancing towards the road.

mud and guts (19)Mud and guts were the order of the day.  I have never had to work someplace, in spite of having no way to get there. The project manager from the general contractor overseeing every aspect of the work both inside and out had a very big job. He is young and resourceful.  His focus on moving every aspect of the project along in service to the finish was amazing to watch.  From him I learned something new about the power of saying yes. And I told him so.  A little appreciation can go a long way to mitigate a difficult situation.

Dec 2 2015 049After Thanksgiving, the job has become a mud spectacle the likes of which I have I have never seen. The weather was bearable, but moving steadily towards the chilly side. The lowest spot in the yard had a series of drains installed. With a project like this, it is better to plan for the worst case, than wait and see if a problem develops. The big beech you see here had only been in the ground 2 months. The grading around the tree, and the attendant drainage system would protect the tree.

Dec 2 2015 059
Eventually the driveway was finished. The task of repairing all of the collateral damage to the property that came with rebuilding the drive was just beginning.

Dec 2 2015 050Regrading sopping wet clay based soil is next to impossible. Rather than make a bigger mess of what was already a hopping mess, the sod contractor brought in truckloads of sand.  Sand gives up its water instantly, and can be graded and smoothed out. The old sod was stripped off at least 30 feet either side of the finished drive.  Sand was added to produce a smooth surface and graceful slope to the drive that was not too high, nor too low.

Dec 2 2015 047By late November, the only vehicles that could navigate the ground were track powered machines.  Anything with wheels would sink in up to their axles. Luckily, these areas that had sustained such heavy and frequent compaction to the soil from machines would be planted with grass.

Dec 2 2015 046All of the landscape machines had to use an alternate route into the yard, since the driveway was unavailable. This is the scene at the road on December 2nd. A scene it was. Plywood was covering a staging area for trees. A truckload of gravel had been delivered to fill the drainage ditches.  And of course, the many yards of sod waiting to be put down. Needless to say, the general contractor had the street cleaned every day for several weeks.

Dec 2 2015 064It was a happy day indeed, when the driveway reopened in mid December.  By this time, most of the large trees and evergreen shrubs slated for the landscape were in the ground. The last of the grading and sod would go quickly. As it turned out, we finished the last of the mulching and gravel the first week of January. I was just there this past week. All of the plants look great. I owe it all to a very long fall, and a mild winter. The landscape portion of this project-I will post about that part next.

 

Planting the Pines

November 6, 2015 162My last post about the 34 limber pines had to do with getting them off a truck, and transported some 450 feet up hill to the place where they would be planted. The first set of 14 Vanderwolfs would be planted around this generator. Building codes in this community specifies that a generator must be completely screened.  These old existing yews were several feet too short, and too thin. It is a very large and tall generator. I ordinarily would not think to screen with trees, but in this case, I felt that Vanderwolf’s pines would do more than provide a screen. They would be a feature of the landscape.

planting the Joe Burke's (4)It is essential to preserve access to the generator for service. A flexibly stemmed soft needled pine is perfect for this function.  A yearly pinching of the spring candles will keep these pines dense. Though shearing long needled pines is common in the landscape and Christmas tree industries, we will not shear these.  We will take a branch or the new growth (called a candle) back to the main stem. We were easily able to co-mingle the branches from one tree to the next, as those branches are indeed very flexible. We set these columnar pines 4 feet apart.  In the spring I will pinch out those wild hairs at the top, and lower the overall height about 18″.  We will keep those trees below the overhang.

planting the Joe Burke's (4)That giant generator is no longer part of the landscape. Landscape designers regularly have to take the placement of outdoor structures in to account. Telephone poles, electrical lines, drain and manhole covers, generators, fire hydrants and transformers are all part of the urban landscape.

KP 015The landscape on this side of the circular driveway was a random mix of spruce, viburnum, and yews, backed up by the neighbor’s old junipers and spruce. It would not be long before the spruce would engulf the yews, and hang over the driveway. In the center island we had planted four circles of spreading cap yews.  The outside ring is 36″ tall.  The inside ring is 24″ tall.  The mass will be kept loose, but in heights descending to the center.  Perhaps some day they will add a sculpture there. Between the yews and the existing landscape is a group of Green Gem boxwood sitting on the driveway, which will be planted in front of the Joe Burke limber pines. And yes, there is a transformer there.

planting the Joe Burke's (8)Once the spruce and most of the viburnum were moved, it is easier to see the issues that would need addressing.  The tall trunks are on the neighbor’s property.  My clients driveway comes within 6 feet of the property line.  I did consult with the neighbor and her landscape designer, and got permission to plant several of the dwarf pines a little over the property lines.  I did explain that these trees would not impact her old trees like the spruce would have. Once we had her permission, there was still the issue of the transformer and cable box. The pines would be added on either side of the box.  We would pick specific trees that seemed like they would handle that placement.

planting the Joe Burke's (19)We were able to determine that a tree could be planted behind the box. We dug this hole very cautiously, and a number of lines, sprinkler and otherwise, traverse this area. Since we could not plant a tree in front of the transformer, behind would be the next best way  to add that foliage and texture to that spot.

planting the Joe Burke's (18)Dan did the initial dig, and transplanted the viburnum.  His was a fishing expedition. He did find sprinkler lines, which were rerouted out of the way of the root ball.

planting the Joe Burke's (6)The curb of the new drive was protected by 4″ by 4″ timbers set on each side, and plywood over all.  We needed our front end loader to set the trees, as the trees were much too heavy to lift. Once each tree was set in the trench that had been dug, they could be rotated in the hole for the best fit with the tree before. This area, where some of the juniper branches were low, each tree had to be carefully fit in to what was existing.

planting the Joe Burke's (21)Planting the tree behind the box came last.

planting the Joe Burke's (22)This tree had a slight crook in the trunk.  When the ball was pitched forward, the branches came very close to the box. There is that perfect tree for every spot. That proximity was not a problem. The service would always be done on the front side.

planting the Joe Burke's (1)These irregular growing pinus flexilis “Joe Burke” fit right in with the background landscape. As they grow, albeit slowly, they will meld in a friendly way to what is there.

planting the Joe Burke's (11)Once the trees were in, the wood, plywood, tarps and soil could be removed.

planting the Joe Burke's (10)The last task was to back fill the trench with soil, and make sure the trees are straight.  They will be getting a thorough soaking, which will help with the insult of being dug, moved, and replanted.

the transformer garden 2The trees will be faced down with Green Gem boxwood that is 15″ tall. Green Gem is very slow growing, and can be kept short.  As the ground is rising here, the boxwood will have a slight bank.

screening the transformerTaller Green Mountain boxwood were used to screen the front of the generator. Once the flexible pines grow, there will be some melding going on here as well. Those big boxwood are not an especially graceful gesture , but they are a better look than that green box.