Last week I was presented with a landscape challenge. I do many landscape consultations, and there are always challenges:
What plant will thrive here?
How can maintenance be minimized?
How can beauty provide a screen from ugly?
Most discussions start with the plants.
But last week’s landscape challenge needs to end with the plants. The homeowners want to use landscaping to change the main entrance of their home from the front to the side, and they want to use landscape design to accomplish the task.
It is helpful to walk through the design process, so let me begin by describing the property. After a long drive up a country lane, we arrive at a circle drive that comes right up to a large patio that covers the entire front of the stone house. The patio serves as a landing for two entries, but the homeowners want neither of these entries to be used for public access. Instead, they want the patio to be screened for privacy, the obvious entry to be made less obvious and the main entry to be moved down a path to the side. That side entry is currently deeply shaded by full-grown arborvitae trees, and is accessed by a crushed gravel driveway. It is also screened from view by a large Norway spruce planted at the right of the circle drive. So currently, the placement of the mature plants de-emphasizes the entry that the homeowners want emphasized.
How to begin? Cut down trees and plant new ones?
But I think that it is better to start by thinking hardscape. In other words, before we get to the plants, what do the non-living things, the structures, communicate about the entryway?
First, since most of the world naturally drives counterclockwise around circles, traffic will naturally reach the desired main entry first. The question is how to get the traffic to stop there. I suggest this can be accomplished in two ways. First, widen and decorate the pavement (for example, use Belgian pavers) only on that side of the circle and extend the decoration theme toward the desired entrance. This will encourage visitors to park in the widened area and walk along the decorated pavement to the new entry. Second, use higher maintenance plant features (boxwood hedges) to accent the pathway to the new entry. At this point, the homeowners should consider whether the mature trees should be removed to open up the vista to this side of the house.
As for the remaining entries, the driveway moved back from the patio, allowing a lilac screen to be planted in the newly created bed. The lilacs will only obscure the view of the first floor of the house but will visually reinforce the newly framed side entry.
So for success, good hardscaping design helps the plants do their job.
Joshua Arp is an ISA-certified municipal specialist, Clarks Summit’s municipal arborist and an operator of an organic lawn and landscape maintenance business. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.