Landscaping Driveways

An Introduction to Design Considerations

Don't skimp on driveway-entry plantings (image). They are the public face of your landscaping.
This driveway-entry planting was newly planted in the spring. It will fill out in years to come to form an impressive "welcome sign". David Beaulieu

Landscaping driveways can entail installing both hardscape and softscape features. Hardscape options consist mainly of walls, fences, and the like, while your softscape options include the following:

The possibilities for landscaping driveways are greatly enhanced if you plan on including walls. Walls (for instance, stone walls) can either parallel the driveway along its whole length, or meet it perpendicularly, at the entrance.

The latter scenario, in particular, opens up a number of possibilities. For example, some people attach driveway gates to the wall, while others span the opening in the wall with an arch.

Meanwhile, variations on the softscape side of landscaping driveways are practically endless. Again, the decision often comes down to whether your intention is to create a grand driveway entrance or have plants running the length of the driveway (of course, some people choose both). Accenting the entrance can certainly be cheaper (because there is usually a smaller area to cover), which is important if your budget is small and your driveway large.

If budget is not the primary consideration in narrowing down your choices for landscaping a driveway, then what you need to think about is where you want the viewer's gaze to be drawn, and what features of your property you wish to emphasize. This rationale applies equally to the use of hardscape and softscape.

Planting beds of colorful annuals along the sides of your driveway, for instance, will draw the viewer's gaze into your property, to the final destination of your driveway. If that destination is a rather ordinary-looking garage that is in plain view from the street, then you may not wish to draw attention to it.

Likewise, if you find your property is already dominated by straight lines (straight house walls, straight driveway, straight decking, etc.), then you may not wish to emphasize the straightness of the driveway by planting its edges with straight flower beds.

By contrast, if your driveway curves around a focal point, such as a fountain, and gracefully disappears out in back of your house, then flower beds paralleling the driveway will draw the viewer's gaze conveniently to the fountain. Examples of such focal points are the following:

From an aesthetic standpoint, there is little reason not to draw the viewer's gaze to the driveway's entrance either with hardscape, softscape or both. However, practical considerations may dissuade you from employing softscape here in the way that you would like to, ideally. Theft and vandalism are two liabilities for landscaping driveways at the entrance, close to the street. Depending on your neighborhood, children passing by may traipse carelessly through a roadside flower bed in which you take a lot of pride, a bed built with your labor and your dollars. Worse yet, shrubs planted too close to the side of the road have been known to disappear overnight thanks to thieves, a gaping hole left behind in their absence.

I touch on this problem further in my article on landscaping around a mailbox.

In the North, the challenge presented by the severity of the winters is also a consideration in landscaping driveways at the entrance to a property. Not all shrubs and perennial flowers stand up well to the menace of road salt (but here are some examples of salt-tolerant plants). Shrubs can also be damaged by plow drivers who stray just a bit either to the left or right when entering your driveway. Consequently, landscaping driveways with plants so as to accent the entrance is best left to annuals. Annuals are inexpensive, a fact that offers some solace, should they be damaged or stolen. Plus they have to be replanted every spring, anyhow, so winter damage is not an issue.

Why Bother Landscaping Driveways, at All?

The entrance to your driveway is also the entrance to your yard, as a whole.

How your driveway entrance is landscaped, especially when a property is bordered by a fence or wall (thereby focusing attention on the entrance) sets the tone for the viewer's perception of the whole yard.

Moreover, in terms of square feet (relative to the rest of the yard) and visual prominence, a driveway can be a major component of a yard. Under the right circumstances (see above), that is a good reason for landscaping a driveway along its entire length. Passing up the opportunity to do so relegates the driveway to the status of a long scar running up and down your yard, a scar that you are just trying to forget about.

Landscaping driveways with attention to detail and with creativity is a cornerstone of successful curb appeal, which becomes especially important when you put your home on the real estate market.