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.



  1. Nella Miller says:

    Dear Deborah, I just spent the better part of the afternoon, reading your blog, post by post…it seemed fitting today after returning from a celebration of life of a dear friend, and the anniversary of my Mom’s passing..funny how things go…finding your blog today. Your writing is wonderful, and I love your connection to the soil, the earth. My Mom was a gardener, and taught me so much, the rest I learned from books, other gardeners and just trial and error…I have spent the last thirty years gardening our two acre parcel of land on the Niagara Escarpment…I love to garden and can relate to so much here…thank you for all of this today…it is just what I needed…

  2. Hi Deborah, I’ve searched your blog for pinus flexilis and came up with a good many posts, so I am assuming you like this tree. I couldn’t wait for spring to arrive so I could go to a local nursery and see what they looked like “in person”. I love them! We have a swale in our backyard of clay that I would like to put some of these in on the higher part of the slope where the drainage is better. They would not drown or sit in water, but in the summer when we have mini droughts (St. Louis), the ground turns into baked and cracked concrete. We want to put three of these pines in, but I am wondering if they will do okay. Should I amend the soil in a very wide hole? Thank you for any advice. Can’t wait for your next post.

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Karen, you should consult a nursery person local to you. Also, the Missouri Botanic Garden plant finder is an excellent reference that I consult regularly. Pines do like good drainage-for sure. It is a beautiful tree, isn’t it? best, Deborah

  3. Barbara Broerman/Barbara from Guelph says:

    Your work is jaw- droppingly-astonishing( not sure that’s really a phrase but it describes my feelings exactly) but what I love the most about your posts is they way you detail your approach to problem solving. I love seeing the process and reading your descriptions. Thanks again for a great post!

  4. Janet Connolly says:

    Phenomenal. Inspiring. Impressive. Imaginative.

  5. Gawd!

  6. What a beautiful property. The talent and creativity of all the individuals involved is exemplary. You wrote about the numerous large trees you planted near the driveway, I look forward to seeing the finished landscape. The driveway looks outstanding too. Also, beech is one of my favorite trees. Year after year, my copper beech never disappoints. Thank you for sharing this wonderful post with us. Susan

  7. Deb,
    What pavers did you use for the driveway?

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Susan, the client picked the pavers and the pattern with her driveway contractor-Soulliere Stone. I was not part of that decision, but I very much like the choice. I also really like the curb-this was a request from the client. best, Deborah

  8. What kind of beech tree is that? I love the shape. I wonder if it would do okay in the midwest, mid east Missouri.

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Karen, it is a tricolor beech-an old one. I would think that beech would do fine for you. You have a fine resource for information on plants in Missouri- Ther Missouri Botanic Garden plant finder is an excellent source of information on all kinds of plants. best, Deborah

  9. I include your posts among my very favorites–in which you include landscape design, including the hardscape design, gardening, plant selection and plant care, the arranging of holiday ornaments, wreaths as well as general flower arranging/bouquets, and so many other interesting ideas (too numerous to specify, remember the painted daisy floor?) under what I would say is the general description of nurseries and gardening and landscaping! I look forward to every one of your reports and once again vow that I will be making a visit to Michigan (and your business) within the near future. Deborah, I am extremely happy to receive something of this outstanding value at no charge!

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Well, thank you, trustee. I know I cover a lot of topics, not necessarily in any order other than what a weekly journal would reflect. I truly enjoy the writing. I was raised to share-I enjoy that too. I do hope you have a chance to visit some time. all the best, Deborah

  10. Jo Ann Marsh says:

    Ingenious! Can’t wait to see the next chapter…

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Jo Ann, sorting out all of the pictures from this phase of the project took a lot of time. I will be following up with a post about the landscape soon. best, Deborah

  11. O U T S T A N D I N G !

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Thank you Howard.I will confess I did not think any of it was outstanding, until it was clear we would finish before the winter season settled in. best, Deborah

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