Archives for April 2011

A Driveway


For good or for ill, most of us inherit a driveway that comes with the home we buy.  They are a necessity of life-most of us drive any number of places in a given day.  There is a need for space for multiple cars, a place for company to park.  Plenty of driveways are designed by exuberant contractors that love their hard surfaces better than they love anything else.  This accounts for diveways like the one pictured above.  It looks big enough to host a pair of UPS trucks side by side, and it is.  19 feet wide, that is.    

Sometimes you get lucky; this driveway was 28 years old, and deteriorated.  It needed to be replaced, which meant it could be redesigned.  A new material might be considered.  A giant concrete landing pad in front of the garage doors had doubled as a basketball court for quite a few years.  The kids are grown now; a client’s use of their landscape can change over the years. 

My first idea was to make it smaller.  I pull my chevy Suburban in and out of my driveway every day; at one point the drive is but 8 feet wide.  This drive will have a finished width of 13 feet.  Less is more, and less is nice-unless you have different than average requirements.  Some streets do not allow parking on the street.  Some families are big families.  Some people entertain a lot, or have 4 drivers going in and out at different times.  Should you have a very wide driveway by default, or need a wide drive, there are ways to minimize the impact on the eye.  The use of several materials, and the color of the surface can make a world of difference.  

As this house has a contemporary feeling about the architecture, the drive is being poured in concrete that will have an exposed aggregate surface.  A grid of steel rebar will be laid in-this gives the concrete considerably greater strength.  Portland cement, water, and an aggregate are mixed together prior to the pour.  I am sure you have all seen a concrete truck, the barrel of which turns constantly.  Concrete will begin to set up very quickly; the motion keeps the aggregate evenly dispersed in the cement cream until it is poured. 

The mixture is released from the chute as the contractor requires.  This is a lot of batter to look after.  The forms that hold the concrete have been set up to insure that the finished surface pitches away from the house.  The driveway being replaced had little pitch; my client would have ice in her garage on occasion as a result.  Much the scale of a grading rake is a concrete screed; it helps the contractor to smooth the mixture to the level set by the forms.   

He tells me this mixture is a little soupier than he likes, but the finished product will be fine.  Once the mixture is poured, it will be covered with plastic, and allowed to rest until the lower level firms up.  Though the curing process is a chemical reaction, the cool and rainy weather will slow the initial hardening process.  At precisely the proper moment, the concrete cream which has risen to the surface will be washed away, leaving 1/3 of the stone exposed, and 2/3 of the stone securely embedded in the concrete.  Beautifully executed exposed concrete aggregate is an absolutely beautiful surface.  It is a difficult surface to do well.   This driveway is being done by Albaugh Stone and Masonry; they are well known for the quality of their work.     

You can see from this picture that the basketball court where I am standing at the end of the old drive is no more.  Once the drive is done, a decision will be made about how to l;andscape the space.  This photograph says everything about what my client sees when she comes home every day.  The driveway landscape is a very important one-most people visit it every day. 

How the transition between the garage and drive gets handled is important to the functionality of the drive.  Water has to drain away.  The narrow transitional strip of garage upon which the garage door sits will be removed.  The sand strip you see here, and the garage strip will be repoured as a single piece; this piece will drop 3/4 of an inch from the floor of the garage.    

Exposed concrete aggregate is a very sturdy and strong driveway surface which survives our harsh winters quite well.  The textured surface from the exposed stone is visually lively, but very clean and uniform.  The crisp surface will compliment the architecture well. 

Once the concrete is poured, washed and sawcut, I will write again about the design of the surface. Any beautiful material asks for a thoughtful design.

At A Glance: Spring

Bare Bones


This landscape under renovation is at an even more bare bones stage than it was when I posted about it early in the week.  Over the past few days, all of the boxwood surrounding the walk got transplanted to the east and west property lines.  All you see left are large and irregularly growing patches of sedum.  Sedum does a decent job as a groundcover in full sun, but a plant in this prominent a spot needs to be better than decent.  It needs to be stellar.  Few very short groundcovers for sun are better than lawn.  No living material better describes the sculpture that is a large piece of ground or land.  How little could I live with in a landscape?  Grass-whether it be mowed or left rough, and some trees.     

In addition, a very large bed to the east had been mounded quite high with soil.  A pink horsechestnut had been planted very high; the bed surrounding it had been built up to the grade established by the crown of the tree.  Most of the tree was dead-the living part derelict.  The grade would need to be lowered.  Cleaning out and regrading takes a lot of time and hard work, but it is the foundation upon which everything to come is built. The shape and grade of the beds and lawn play as important a part in the design process as the plant material.  

I posted this picture of the house from last October several days ago; there were 15 trees in the front yard.  9 Japanese maples, 1 amelanchier, 2 red horsechestnuts, 1 sugar maple, and 2 red maples.  Of the 15, 7 were in an advanced state of decline; I doubt they would have survived but another year or two.  Lots of landscape asks for lots of maintenance; the two go hand in hand.   

I took this picture yesterday; all of the boxwood has been moved to other spots in the yard.  12 that were heavily damaged by leaf miner and who knows what else were pitched.  The ground was regraded to match the grade of the sidewalk and the paver landing at the street. 

I do have a thing about how a driveway is landscaped.  Everyone drives up and down their drive every day. This arrangement is particularly jarring.  On the left, lawn, boxwood, a very handsome hemlock, and some hollies.  On the right side, a field of ornamental grass intersected with one lone serviceberry, and a blob of hydrangeas.   

kkTransplanting boxwood to line the drive reveals a particularly handsome and well kept yew hedge which happens to belong to the neighbor.  This arrangement which respects that hedge makes it seem as though the yews belong to this property.  Borrowing this view helps to visually set the drive within the landscape more gracefully. 

This picture says much about the relationship of the lawn to the landscape beds.  The small piece of lawn that runs from the sidewalk to the street is in stark contrast to the giant lawn bed on the far side.  Conversely, the landscape bed in the foreground dwarfs the bed on the other side of the walk.  This speaks to visual balance.  I like asymmetrical compositions, as long as they are balanced.  Sometimes it is a good idea not to press a hard boundary too hard. This little snippet of grass next to the curb is all but overpowered by all of the pavers. 

So here we are, on the verge of something new-always a daunting proposition.  A landscape renovation of this depth is also a luxury; my client decided to just about start from scratch.  Landscapes ordinarily need renovation.  Plants fail to thrive or die.  A storm can take a giant tree down.  A small area may need to be reworked.  But this is a large scale renovation.  The best of what it has going for it at this moment-a very beautiul house 

This is a very important and exciting moment-there is a spirited conversation going on.

The English Horse Troughs

In my possession at this moment, a pair of English cast iron horse troughs dating back to the late 19th century in England. When Rob sent  me this picture-I fell head over heels-instantly.  They are beautiful objects in their own right.  Even more important, they have presence.  A big and considerable presence.  Rob’s photograph of the morning sun shining obliquely on a freshly plowed English field, and this 12 foot long trough set in rough grass makes one thing clear. Some objects come with an aura that just won’t quit. This picture with no horse trough-adrift. 
See what I mean?  Could you not have everything that this place, and these troughs imply?  You may also be wondering about how Rob came to shop next to a field.  This particular person buys and sells garden ornament as a side line to his primary business; he is a farmer by trade.  The objects he he has available are not so many, but always of a certain caliber.  Located close to the Cotswolds, I would guess these troughs were locally made. They were built with a specific function in mind-making fresh water available to horses.  I would further guess draft horses.  Horses who did the heavy lifting, the big work, on farms pre the industrial revolution.  The cast iron is very thick and substantial, as are the legs.  There is an inlet for water, and an outlet.  The feet have holes which would have permitted bolting the troughs to a hard surface.  A draft horse is a very heavy and powerful creature; no doubt they could upend these troughs, should they have a mind to.  Our farmer/antiques dealer thought circa 1880-1890.   I have no idea how much they weigh, but we were only able to move them with a loader. I can still smell the farm on them.  

They are massive, simple, and handsome. I can easily imagine a lineup of draft horses getting a drink.  The cast iron is of very fine workmanship; lichens and mosses have colonized the rusted steel on the outside.  At the water line and below on the inside-lime deposits from the water.     Should you not have a crew of draft horses, I could see an entire collection of meadowlike flowers growing in them, as in dwarf cleome, hyssop, angelonia, verbena bonariensis and annual queen anne’s lace. Oh yes, this list could be expanded; the troughs are big. What about nasturtiums, sweet william, basil, juncus-and what else?   I could as easily see a giant rosemary hedge underplanted with curly liriope.  Heartstopping.  I could see it stuffed with lavender, or Tuscan kale.  I could see something different planted in them every year, for years and years to come.   I could see schemes for more years than I have left.  This, I like.  

It would be a fairly simple matter to outfit them with 3 or four fountain jets that would recirculate water.  They would be great set on gravel, or in a garden bed.  Do not be afraid of ornament of great scale, age, and presence.  This kind of beautiful is a good think for a garden-it gets the old blood moving. 

Would one not look great in a formal vegetable garden with raised planter boxes-planted with herbs?  I think I could draw a scheme a number of different ways.  The trough perpendicular to an arrangement of four boxes. Four parallel boxes, interrupted by a trough.  These troughs are tall and solid enough to provide a wall, broad enough to house an entire community, beautiful enough to enchant.  Can you tell they are my most favorite thing to come off this last container? 

Each trough has a small section at the end-called a baffle.  The hose in the early days, and the pump for the water much later was housed here.  The baffle slowed the flow of water to the trough-so not one drop would be wasted from splashing.  A means to slow the flow.  I see a lot here.  History, utility, agriculture, gardening, landscape-everything that means something to me.  My advice?  There are those things you can manage without.  There are those things you cannot live without.  Shop for your garden accordingly.