Irish Association Of Self Builders The Representative Body for Self Builders of Ireland
Driveway design with practical appeal for both cars and plants.
In many instances the design and layout of front gardens has been largely influenced by the apparent but all important need to provide parking for the owner’s car(s). The needs of the car are dominant to the extent, that the garden has effectively become a parking space. But it doesn’t have to be like this, a well executed driveway design is good for the car, good for the garden and good for the pocket. But how does one resolve the apparent conflict of providing space for parking of cars as well as a garden?
The design of driveways might increasingly be subject to planning approval/permission, but if we are to avoid the ‘Shopping Mall car park’ look owners need to carefully plan and creatively consider both the car parking requirements as well as providing a garden area which incorporates a healthy and attractive environment for plants to thrive. Professional advice and assistance will most likely be required, but the opportunity is too important not to develop a driveway that is practical for parking cars but also providing an appealing garden that is easy or requires little effort to maintain. Good driveway design is all about being practical (car) and appealing (garden) which combined probably means improved asset value (pocket), which are all very important returns for the householder but there is also the prospect of some improved residual value even for the local community.
In recent years a number of factors, many beyond the control of householders, have critically influenced the design of the residential driveway. These trends ranging from changes in socio-economic demographics, work/life-style patterns, significant dependence (increasing in some respects) on the ‘car’ as the preferred or indeed the only practical mode of transport, architectural/town planning developments which are demanding increased population densities, reduced availability of ‘off-street’ parking options, smaller gardens etc. Meanwhile car ownership continues to grow but with less space available and many owners with busy ‘time poor’ lifestyles preferring a low/zero maintenance front garden solution, has seen front garden been replaced by nothing more than what is effectively an area for parking cars only.
In the course of determining allocation of spaces for parking, pedestrian, garden, services etc, first priority will most likely be given to parking. Type, size and number of cars will largely determine the area needs, but as an average rule of thumb, spaces in shopping mall car parks are typically 2.5-3.0m wide and 4.5m - 5.0m long. Most would agree such spaces tend not to be too generous and bearing in mind that parking in a car park can be easier given the wider access and generally better manoeuvrability options which are available. In a private residential driveway the situation is very different, frequently the approach is not straight but can be complicated by nearby junctions, bends etc. Therefore the space calculations must take wider cognizance of the local geography, site topography (sloping sites need careful attention), turning room, driver skill, age and even obstructions/potential hazards (such as post boxers, street lighting, narrow pedestrian pathways, driver visibility, refuse bins, screening trees/hedges etc all influence the calculations.
Where space is plentiful the calculations are generally straightforward, but frequently there is pressure on available space and compromises must be reached over priorities. Ultimately it is most likely a case whereby most of the space is allocated to the ‘car’ but no matter how small the residual area is, it is possible to develop a planting scheme that is lush, complementary and requiring little maintenance. In such instances where space is limited, I would advise that owners utilise as much evergreen plant material, and supplement this with bulbs or seasonal flowers for additional colour display. It is very important that the planting looks good and lush all year round. There is a wide range of plant style and sizes to suit practically every site condition.
In instances where planting beds are narrow but screening is required, owners might consider using standards/half-standard shrubs, essentially ‘mop head style shrubs which are eye catching, providing visual breaks/screening at eye level but attractive displays. Popular choices would include Olive, Photinia, Laurus Nobilis, and Camellia to name a few. This is a much more satisfactory solution than expecting a traditional shrub/hedge such as Viburnum or Grisellinia to grow to 6’ 0” (1800mm) tall in a narrow bed of 2’ 0” (600 mm) wide. This will involve considerable and continuous effort to maintain and frequently the results are poor despite all the efforts.
Smaller narrower beds can be planted up with ornamental bands of buxus sempervirens, and back planted with dwarf lavenders or indeed spring flowering bulbs which are perhaps up to 3’ 0” (900 mm) tall when in flower.
A critical aspect of driveway design will be the choice of the surface material; again here there is a wide range from which to choose, starting with cobblelock/concrete paviors and at the top end in terms of quality, durability and maintenance natural stone. Despite the additional cost natural stone is increasingly a popular choice, not surprising when one sees the quality and diversity of choice. Granite, sandstone and limestone are popular. In terms of wear and tear, granite is without question the best choice for some, in my experience sandstone of lighter tones are not ideal. Cars tyres tend to mark sandstone and in such instances regular maintenance/cleaning will be required. If you wish to use sandstone better to use a darker tone such as a grey.
For some who prefer to use a natural stone finish but wish to achieve a more cost effective result, the paving can be used in conjunction with coloured aggregates/stone chipping's. This can look very attractive and indeed in some cases reflect a more rustic and formal look. Chipped stone/aggregates are better than rounded stone, the latter do not compact very well, and are therefore awkward for stilettos shoes, wheelie bins, baby prams, buggies etc.
When selecting material, also consider the range of formats, for example for a more coherent and pleasing result, choose a stone which is available in various forms. Granite paving is available in various sizes and thick nesses (important for loading, i.e. pedestrian, light car, heavy traffic etc), colours, but it is also available as cobble sets, kerbing, steps threads and risers, bull nosed or flat edging, wall capping etc.
Lighting is also a very important addition to any driveway, good for security, illuminating parking areas and highlighting feature or specimen plants. Again choice would include bollards, adjustable spots, ground lights etc. Where possible use energy efficient lamps (CFLs or LEDs). More energy savings can also be achieved by using other controls such as photo electric cells, timers etc.
A driveway which has been well designed and properly installed is an important addition to any property. Not only is it a practical space for parking cars but also has an appealing garden irrespective of size, of which the owner can be rightly proud of. The driveway is a vibrant space of lush foliage and colour that appeals throughout the year but also facilitates parking cars.
Owen Chubb is a leading Garden Designer and Landscaper based in Dublin, Ireland. Many of his ideas and advice have been tried and tested through many years of professional experience as owner manager of a well established and award winning garden design and landscaping company which provides Private and Commercial clients a complete landscaping service including Garden Design, Construction & Planting.
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