Before and After: From Driveway to Gravel Garden

Sometimes it takes years of thinking before making a big change.

The area of disappointment was supposed to be a guest parking area separated from our concrete parking pad with an island garden bed. On the other side, there was just a narrow strip of garden due to the installation of a dry stream, necessary after torrential rains washed out all of the original driveway gravel in our first year.

No matter what we planted on either side, the area just never looked inviting because the plants struggled. It's a difficult site for plants. A hot, southwest exposure, but too wet in winter for drought-tolerant plants, led to losses every year. Replant. Repeat. Something else had to be done!

BEFORE: (View from driveway)
Starting in 2005, we tried plantings on either side.
Photo is from 2008 and the third iteration of failed plantings.

In 2010, we began removing plants in preparation for this big project. We weren't sure exactly what we would do. We drafted many ideas on paper and I searched through volumes of garden and landscape books and magazines. We thought about raised beds and a formal parterre, but that would eliminate the parking area. 

Out of our 2010 ideas, we decided to extend the row of hollies (ilex cornuta 'dwarf Burford') along our garage wall to form a hedge along the concrete side of the island bed. When the new hollies reach the size of the existing hollies, we'll have a nice "green fence" to serve as a backdrop.

Throughout our travels to Europe, we realized that in many areas, unable to grow lawns due to lack of rainfall, gravel is used throughout garden areas. Drought-tolerant plants were "mulched" with gravel. There is often no separation between garden/yard, parking areas and entertainment areas. The gravel covers the ground, integrating all the elements. The result is a simplified design.

Gravel is permeable, allowing rain water to reach the soil beneath. With land properly graded, the gravel doesn't wash away during rainstorms. Selecting a locally quarried gravel reduces the cost as well as making the selection "green" since it is not hauled in on trucks from long distances.

Garden inspiration:
Gravel used to integrate garden, path and patio.
Tractors drive on the gravel for tending this garden
at Chateau Val Joanis in France.
April 2011.
Returning from France on April 17, we decided to tackle this project once and for all. I pulled out an English garden magazine that had more photos of gardens mulched with gravel. We hopped in the truck and drove a few miles to our local provider of gravel. We decided to use the same driveway gravel that is standard in our neighborhood so that we wouldn't have to seek approval from our Homeowner's Association. The blue-beige gravel works well next to our sidewalk flagstone and the river rock used in the dry stream and French drain. Our French drain, installed in March 2010, was necessary to prevent erosion of our driveway gravel.

We arranged for screenings, a finely ground gravel, to be delivered (by dump truck). We used the screenings to build up the grade and level the area (with slope for drainage) to prepare for the blue gravel.

BEFORE: (View from front sidewalk)
Gravel parking area after plants
removed from each side.
 Landscape fabric pinned to the ground for patio installation.
April 20, 2011.
For the area to be welcoming, we installed a patio made of pre-formed concrete squares (16 inches square) on top of landscape fabric (to prevent weeds) and the graded screenings.

Opposite the patio, across the "parking area" section, I planted a row of rosemary to make a fragrant, low hedge. Rosemary is often used in xeric settings and can take the sun. The gravel will actually help prevent rotting of the drought-tolerant plant. I dug a trench, mixed in soil, gravel and compost before planting the rosemary in their biodegradable pots.

Once the patio was installed and we had graded the rest of the area with the screenings, we had a dump truck deliver the driveway gravel.

We raked the gravel around the new rosemary and the existing buddleia, hollies (future hedge backdrop), crepe myrtle and large, oakleaf holly.

This project solves a number of problem for us. It reduces maintenance of the area while unifying the garden, driveway and guest parking area. The simplicity of the design cleans up the entrance to our house, making it apparent that guests should enter at the front of the house instead of the side door. Finally, the materials used minimize plant watering while allowing rainwater to soak into the soil below the gravel.

AFTER: Gravel used to integrate parking with garden.
Small patio installed for a welcoming bench and containers of xeric plants.
Space to park a car.
Just waiting for the holly hedge to grow to full size.
April 28, 2011.
AFTER: (View from driveway)
Note the hollies against the garage wall.
The same hollies are planted behind the bench area and
will eventually create a green hedge.
April 28, 2011
With all of this gravel, there needed to be a "welcome" area. We moved an existing bench to the patio and collected our spare containers. We had two matching containers for each side of the bench, so we purchased two more to make a trio of planters on each side of the bench. We used a square stepping stone (on hand) to elevate an existing container to make it higher than the urn container. (I will pick up a round stepping stone on my next trip to a garden store to make the elevation material less noticeable.)

In the largest, elevated container, I planted blue point juniper (juniper chinesis 'Blue Point') because it is drought-tolerant and does well in containers. Since the juniper is suitable for zones 4-9, it can handle our cold winters in zone 7b, without being taken indoors. Someday, the juniper may outgrow the containers, but that will be many years. Juniper is deer resistant unless there is a shortage of winter food. Being evergreen, I don't expect a problem with regrowth if there is any nibbling.

The urn containers were planted with English lavender (lavandula angustifolis). Again, for drought-tolerance and cold-tolerance, this plant is suitable for zones 5-9. Lavender is deer resistant.

Finally, the low "bowl" containers were planted with succulents. I used "hens and chicks" (sempervivum) and sedum as my experience with these for container plantings in 2010 were quite successful, having wintered well and required minimal water and no replanting for 2011.

This project took about 8 hours of time with two of us working. Raking screenings and gravel was tiring, heavy work, but easily a DIY project. We used four yards of screenings and five yards of gravel because it extends onto the driveway. We will use another five yards of gravel to finish dressing the entire driveway.

The patio, made of pre-cast squares, didn't require special skill beyond leveling. We minimized the expense by using existing containers and bench and using local sources for the all materials.

While I would like to paint these containers and bench in colorful colors to hide the bland brown, that idea was vetoed by my husband! I think a deep purple, matching the lavender blooms, would look great on the urns, don't you?

Containers of drought-tolerant plants
include 'Blue Point' Juniper, English lavender
and sempervivum with sedum.

Words and photos by Freda Cameron, Defining Your Home, Garden and Travel. All company or product or patented names mentioned are registered trademarks, copyrights, or patents owned by those respective companies or persons.

Lilacs are Here, There and Everywhere

Lilac 'Miss Kim' in full bloom in my home garden.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina; April 2011.
Fragrant and beautiful, lilacs are perhaps among the most romantic of the spring-blooming shrubs. There are modern offerings of this old-fashioned shrub that make it possible for me to grow lilacs here in my warm, zone 7b garden in North Carolina. Lilacs perform much better in the cooler northern zones. This shrub has been reliably deer and rabbit resistant in my garden. No munching, even though the deer walk right past the shrub year-round as they sneak through my shrubbery to drink from our water feature!

It has taken four years for my 'Miss Kim' to bloom abundantly. I first planted her in full sun and she toasted in summer. I transplanted her to a space between two tea olives (osmanthus fragrans) to give her some shade. Between the fragrance of the lilac and the fragrance from the tea olives, the combined perfume is very heavy and can be enjoyed from all area of my garden. Not unlike walking into a department store and being overcome by the scent of hundreds of perfumes!

Another reason why I squeezed 'Miss Kim' in between the evergreen tea olives is because she gets to be a bit dowdy looking when not in bloom. So, I let her bloom. Take her photo while she is stunning, then cut the panicles of perfume to bring indoors.

Lilac 'Miss Kim' (syringa pubescens susp. patula)
zones 3a-7b
4-6 feet
full sun (partial sun is better in the warmest zone)

While visiting JC Raulston Arboretum in mid-March, I found 'Miss Kim' blooming along with a cutleaf lilac (syringa x laciniata). The cutleaf lilac has an open, airy form and is taller and looser in structure.

Cutleaf lilac (syringa x laciniata)
zones 4-8
6-10 feet
full sun

Cutleaf lilac at JC Raulston Arboretum.
Raleigh, North Carolina; March 2011.
Blooms of cutleaf lilac.
Nearly everywhere we went in Paris—tucked into city streetscapes and along the River Seine; or growing in full glory in the parks, such as the Jardin des Plantes—lilacs were in full bloom for the first week of April.  While the shrubs were not labeled, there was no doubt about the fragrance! By the time we reached Provence, I had stopped taking photos of lilacs, but they were still blooming in abundance, especially in our quiet little neighborhood in Aix-en-Provence.

Lilac in full bloom in Jardin des Plantes.
Paris, France; April 2011.

Words and photos by Freda Cameron, Defining Your Home, Garden and Travel. Deer and rabbit resistance varies based upon the animal population and availability of food. All company or product or patented names mentioned are registered trademarks, copyrights, or patents owned by those respective companies or persons.

Home Again (from France)

Notre Dame
Paris; April 2011
After seventeen glorious days in France, we are home again. I am sorting through hundreds of photos and tons of information to share. The weather was gorgeous and the people were friendly. We had only 2 1/2 days of rain. The other days, it was sunny and warm—highs ranged from 60°F up to 80° F! We met "virtual" friends, from travel blogs and forums, in person. A great time! Stay tuned...

As for writing about the garden here at home—after I do a lot of weeding...

Words and photos by Freda Cameron, Defining Your Home, Garden and Travel

Don't Blame the Deer, A Rabbit Ate that Flower!

This is repeat of a story from 2010. A few updates have been made—the rabbits chopped down tall zinnias in the summer of 2010. In March 2011, the voles ate my Dutch iris bulbs and the roots of some of the coneflowers before the rabbits had a chance to eat the foliage.

There have been times when I have blamed the deer for eating one of my "deer resistant" perennials. After all, deer tracks around the hardy geraniums provided clear evidence. So, I moved those geraniums inside the cottage garden fence, out of reach of the deer.

And, the geraniums were munched! To the ground. So, let's be fair in our accusations. Deer will munch on many wonderful garden plants, but sometimes the culprit is a rabbit.

How do you tell the difference between deer damage and rabbit damage?

If you are a gardener, you probably own a good pair of sharp, hand pruners to use for plant cuttings. The teeth of a rabbit are razor-sharp and the damage will look as though someone expertly cut the plant stems. A perfect, clean cut.

Deer will pull and tear at the plant, so the cut will be ragged. Like cows, deer are ruminants and have no upper incisors. They chew their cud just like a cow. Fawns have only four little milk teeth. As they learn about foods to eat, the little ones will try out different plants in the garden. I can tell when deer have tried a plant and rejected it, because they spit it out on the ground. Sometimes in their pulling, they will completely uproot a plant.

Not rabbit resistant

Among the many deer resistant perennials in my garden, there are several perennials that I've found to be consistently preferred by rabbits.
  1. Aster
  2. Dutch iris
  3. Echinacea (coneflowers)
  4. Rudbeckia (black-eyed susans)
  5. Daylily foliage must be protected until bloom
I gave up on asters completely (although they appear on many rabbit resistant lists) and I no longer try to protect the rudbeckia. I use rabbit repellent on the echinacea until the plants grow above rabbit nose height. By the way, I use no deer repellents in the unfenced gardens.

My favorite rabbit repellent, I Must Garden, has no bad odor, lasts a long time and is earth and pet friendly. The product is made locally, but I have no affiliation with the company.

Was it just luck that the rabbits didn't eat my Benary's Giant Zinnias in 2009? Yes, because in the summer of 2010, a young bunny chopped down tall zinnias like a lumberjack with a chainsaw! From now on, I will spray rabbit repellent at the base of tall zinnias!

Dutch iris foliage emerges in January and February, but it will be the bud formations that will need spraying as we approach March and April.

The rabbits can easily go under the cottage garden fence where they have eaten more Dutch irises, scabiosa and annual gomphrena. I suspect they are nibbling a bit on the dianthus (cottage pinks) and phlox sublulata (creeping phlox) and leucanthemum (shasta daisy).

I know that they will eat phlox paniculata 'David' but they ignore phlox paniculata 'Robert Poore' and 'Eva Cullum'.

The rabbits devour geranium 'Rozanne' but they never touch geranium 'Brookside'.

This selection among varieties is a mystery to me. My only hypothesis so far is that the rabbits didn't find my garden until after the uneaten phlox and geraniums had matured. They found my garden when the 'David' phlox and 'Rozanne' geraniums were newly planted and not established. Tender little plants should be protected!

Rabbit resistant plants in my garden

There are many more plants on rabbit resistant lists. However, I'm including only those that I have personally tried in my garden. Of course, rabbit damage may vary in your garden.

Ageratum (some nibbles)
Allium (ornamental; some nibbles on culinary chives)
Amsonia hubrichtii
Asclepias (milkweed)
Balloon Flower
Helianthus (swamp sunflower)
Heliotropium amplexicaule (creeping perennial heliotrope)
Herbs - basil, fennel, lavender, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme
Hypericum (St. John's Wort)
Ice Plant
Iris (Japanese - foliage nibbles)
Lamb's ear
Monarda (Bee Balm)
Russian Sage
Salvia (elegans, nemorosa, greggii)
Spanish Bluebell
Verbena (perennial 'Homestead' and bonariensis)

Rabbits and deer can do a lot of damage. The loss can be discouraging. Although there are no guarantees in growing plants on rabbit resistant and deer resistant lists, you can minimize the disappointments. You can have a beautiful garden in spite of rabbits and deer!
Words and photos by Freda Cameron, Defining Your Home, Garden and Travel. Deer and rabbit resistance varies based upon the animal population and availability of food. All company or product or patented names mentioned are registered trademarks, copyrights, or patents owned by those respective companies or persons.
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