The Driveway Garden

the driveway garden (1)
I have a whole lot of landscape surrounding my driveway. Why so?  I drive up and drive out of  it at least 2 times a day, maybe more. There are plenty of other places in my garden that I see only intermittently.  An example that explains how frequent visitation drives design-see the following.  As my house is on a corner, I drive by the front door every day. This is a drive by, not a visit. Until the hydrangeas come into bloom, I am only in that garden to water the pots.  Let’s go to the back door. Lots of traffic there. My driveway is a daily experience.  I suppose I could remove my driveway, as neither Buck nor I use the garage to house cars. I could do a narrow walk to the curb. But that makes getting groceries inside or taking the trash out a challenge.  A driveway makes the transportation of vehicles, and items in and out easy. Given its size and function, it is also easy for a driveway to be unsightly. By that I mean, untouched by a landscape. A great driveway landscape is a quality of life issue.  It should make you reluctant to leave home in the morning, and happy to get home at night.

the driveway garden (10)My landscape crowds my driveway, both on the ground plane, and overhead. I I have trees that arch over both sides of my drive.  This means I have birds singing here in the morning and evening.  New to the driveway trees this past week-a solitary catbird. I only prune when Buck complains he can’t walk by, or the branches scrape up against my car.  4 Parrotias, 3 magnolias and 4 dogwoods.  My driveway garden is congested.  Lots of trees over a drive minimizes a big utilatarian paved space, and goes on to celebrate the garden.  There are yews, both upright and spreading.  There are garden spaces too.  Hellebores, hostas and butterburrs.  In a sunnier spot, there are delphiniums, nepeta, adenophora and alchemilla early on, and phlox and white hibiscus.  It has a weedy and relaxed look.  The lime green of the alchemilla flowers is especially pretty right now.

June 23, 2014 (90)My driveway landscape is a big fluid mix of plants.  This is an effort to make the driveway the least important visual issue, in spite of the need for a car park.  The driveway is necessary, yes. Is the driveway the most important issue in the landscape?  I think not. I would suggest that a thoughtful and beautiful landscape could make the necessity of a driveway a treasured feature. To follow is my take on that driveway. Let’s get back to that expresion of lime green.  The flowers of alchemilla mollis- so beautiful. Other sources of that lime green come from variegated lily of the valley, hosta montana variegata, and gold drop hostas.

the driveway garden (4)What looks like a brick driveway is in fact a concrete brick manufactured by Unilock called Capthorne.  This material looks like it might have been original to my 1930’s home. Whomever designed this driveway in the beginning did a great job.  The drive to the street is in the top left of this picture.  The landscape completely shields it from the view presented by my deck. The parking area looks a lot more about piazza than parking.  I have planted the driveway pots with much the same color scheme as the landscape.

the driveway garden (5)Lots of green. And even more lime green. The driveway garden has a lot of old Sum and Substance hosta, which foreshadow the lime green Princeton Gold maples, and the lime sagina subulata in the upper level fountain fountain.

the driveway garden (6)The lime green in the pots is coming from Wasabi coleus, variegated white sunpatiens, creeping jenny, variegated licorice, and several lime green tropical plants whose names I cannot remember. I am not so concerned if I cannot name a plant.  I am very concerned if I cannot put together a garden that is cohesive.  So many great gardeners I know have no knowledge of the botanical names.  Sometimes, they have no names of any sort.  But they know how to make things grow.  That said, I have plants whose names are unknown to me in my driveway pots.

the driveway garden (3)I aspire to the making things grow group.  The design of my driveway garden pots needs to reflect the landscape all around. This means, to some degree, that I choose plants by instinct.  Plants that strike my fancy.  As this is my home landscape, I have no one to answer to beyond myself.

the driveway garden (7)I do strongly feel that container plantings are an opportunity for any gardener to express themselves in a seasonal way. My driveway landscape has been many years in the making.  The pots and annual plants in the ground is my opportunity to change things up. A chance to make a statement. Go in whatever direction suits me at the time. I have planted my driveway with lots of different schemes over the years.  I like the yearly chance to re imagine.

the driveway garden (2)This year, the lime represented by the green and gold plectranthus, the nicotiana lime, and the variegated sunpatiens, is enough lime green to please me.  The one nicotiana mutabilis in a sea of lime green is an outlier.  I try to design for that. The warm yellow wall looks so great, dressed in lime green.

the driveway garden (9)I have worked for years to make the driveway landscape more visually important than the driveway.  This year, I am pleased all around with the results.  Everything in the landscape takes years to settle in.  In  my mind, everything is working together.

Sept 8, 2013 (192)
Tonight,  both Howard and I have cause to celebrate.


  1. You must have been reading my mind today Deborah, as I was just thinking how so few people focus on making their driveway interesting. I very much appreciate your thoughts, ideas, pictures and inspiration! Just seeing this post is cause for me to celebrate with you and Howard.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Greg, if it were a place I never went to, it would be different. But I look at the driveway all the time! That Howard is a very shy dog. He sleeps under my desk all day. But when he gets home, he feels very safe and relaxed in the yard. Thanks, Deborah

  2. Marguerite Neuhaus says

    I love the symphony of greens. The lime green is especially highlighted by the inclusion of the silver grey-green of the licorice, and the matte silver of the second set of pots. The softness of the plants and peacefulness of the monochrome happens within the comforting stability, structure and geometry of the upper garden which is it’s background. What a beautiful sight to come home to. Hard to see how you get out of the house. I’d plunk my chair in the middle of it with a sunhat and my reading for the day. Is the Capthorne still available? In my driveway landscape is also a basketball net, and my teenage boys lobby against any surface which will not be smooth. Looking for something more visually pleasing than asphalt.
    Thank you for such a beautiful vista on my screen.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Marguerite, I would look up the Unilock site on line, and see if they still make it. Thanks, Deborah

  3. JoyceB in Atlanta says

    Nice – very nice! Love the description of driving out, hating to leave it behind, and then being welcomed home by it. I, too, have worked many years to make the pavement recede. This year was going pretty well, with the Hornbeams looking majestic and the Elm on the other side looking like a real shade tree. Salvia and Daylilies did their part at softening the edges. Large beds on either side are so ‘interestingly’ planted that no one notices the driveway. I keep order with low boxwood hedges holding in the blousy beds. Then, disaster!! 24 Leyland Cypress lining the driveway had to be removed. They were planted 20 years ago before we owned the house. The amazing thing to the tree companies that gave quotes is that the things had gotten more than 30 feet tall and lived in a 2 foot wide area between our driveway and the neighbor’s. Now comes the awful task of deciding with what to replace them. Though deer may nibble, we are planning on Emerald Arborvitae. I figure the deer will always prefer the poor daylilies anyway. It was a major loss, and has made the house seem so bare. Also, perspective has been destroyed and everything seems much closer together. Now it will be years of encouraging a new hedge to grow. I am trying to view it as a new opportunity – like you had to do with your boxwoods. I’m reminded that gardening is not for wimps. My neighbor, by the way, is elated with the ‘openness’!! Talk about perspective!! She is obviously not a gardener. Your driveway is a beautiful and restful sight – your use of mostly lime and white is interesting and restrained. I strive for restraint when I ‘design’ – sometimes I actually succeed!! I may not comment often, but I love reading your posts.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Joyce, as I said to Erin, you might want to look at the sweet gum slender silhouette. It isn’t evergreen, but it is very narrow in growth. I just planted some 3″ caliper trees for a client. They are 16 feet tall, but barely 30″ wide. Thanks for reading! Best, Deborah

      • JoyceB in Atlanta says

        Thanks for the suggestion of Sweet Gum trees. I had read about them while researching, and thought them very interesting. That tree variety is a favorite of mine. I also thought of Souerwood – Oxydendrum – because they are quite slim and yet would provide shade for the pavement. The best time for planting is fall in Atlanta, so now I am researching nurseries to see what they can provide. We’ve now had 2 companies come to quote, and frankly, the suggestions so far have been less than inspired. We live in a typical neighborhood of ‘meatballs’ and ‘boxes’, and the landscape men seem overwhelmed when they drive up and can’t readily identify the plants – like I’ve said, restraint is a goal that mostly escapes me!! Thanks again for inspiring me.

  4. erin bailey says

    I have loved your driveway garden ever since I first saw pictures on your blog. I so wish I could do something like that. Isn’t it more difficult on smaller lots where the driveways seem to always be on the border of the property? There is 4 ft total between house wall and the driveway concrete. There is a tiny strip of grass mostly belonging to my neighbor between my drive and his, and it only proceeds halfway to the sidewalk and street because our driveways merge. And all of this sea of concrete laps against a very tiny single story house. I am trying things out, but so far this is not something that brings me satisfaction. I love your assessment of your use of the driveway and how successfully you have made it beautifully green and meshed it perfectly to your house and gardens. Bravo! (I love the lime green theme, too!)

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Erin, there is an ultra columnar sweet gum that you might want to look at. Liquidambar “Slender Silhouette”. It would be fine in that 4′ space. Or you could plant a hydrangea “Little Lime” hedge. Thanks for writing, Deborah

  5. Jennifer Smith says

    I love your driveway. May I ask what material you’ve chosen? I am so tired of my asphalt! Also, it looks like your pots are elevated by other pots underneath. Do this help with drainage since they are sitting on your driveway? Your dog is cute too!!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Jennifer, as I said in the post, the drive material is a concrete brick manufactured by Unilock. The style is called “Capthorne”. My pots on the drive have plinths under them-they are not pots. I like the height it adds to the containers, since they flank a set of stairs. Best, Deborah

  6. Deborah, like Greg, I think you were reading my mind. I’ve been spending my weekend off work designing a master plan for a home I might build in the coming year. The home is drawn quickly, and then many hours have been spent pushing my imagination to draw the gardens. I’ve been restless trying to think of the perfect plant to fill very modern and massive planters around the driveway, inexpensively. Butterbur! Despite my best attempts to kill it, I grow lots of it…so I know it’s hardy! I just love how you use lime green for constant, lush punctuation. Thank you!

  7. OH MY goodness. It is all so beautiful, and interrelated and well thought out. I am once again in awe. At my company we have apprentices who learn a trade over 3 to 4 years. How i would love to be an apprentice at your company! 🙂
    Thanks for every one of your posts. I learn a lot and enjoy them all very much.

  8. sudie bercheck says

    Your delphiniums are magnificent! What cultivar? Are you using any from the Millenium series? Those seem to be the best choice for our uber-humid Cleveland area; hardly bothered by the heat & humidity & are bountiful bloomers. But your delphs– holy sh**t! They’re huge! What’s your trick, Oh Garden Goddess?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Sudie, I do not remember the cultivar name. I don’t do much of anything, except put a tomato cage over them in the spring. They are just happy where they are. Best, Deborah

  9. Once again I love your blog! I saw you the other day at DGW and mentioned that I look forward to your posts they are always informative and well written and I learn a lot! Thanks again!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Beth, of course I remember our exchange. It was a pleasure to meet you-thanks. Deborah

  10. brilliant points deborah and so beautifully executed.

    looks like my cardigan corgi as i write!

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