Planting & Seeding our Green Driveway

by Franke James

Photo of Franke James by Lucas Oleniuk, Toronto Star, under license from Torstar

If someone had told me one year ago I’d be seeding a driveway in September I would have been extremely skeptical. “Seeding a driveway? What are you talking about? Who seeds driveways?”

Little did I know, that one year later I would be able to say “I just seeded our driveway. It’s a wonderful thing to do for the environment and it’s going to look gorgeous. We used this special drought-tolerant grass that has roots up to 14″ long! It was fun and the easiest part of this whole adventure.”

So if you’re interested in learning how to build your own green driveway, please read on. Think of it as an affordable way to help the environment, and beautify your property. The grand total for our entire landscaping project was $10,500, with the costs for the driveway portion being 10% of that – about $1,500. Take note that we saved thousands by doing most of the installation and the design work ourselves. If you want to take personal action on climate change, and enjoy getting exercise, building a green driveway may be just the project for you!

The Seed of our Dream
Designing our Green Oasis
Our Garden Guru
Patience is a Virtue
Christmas in September
Views of the New Landscape
Seeding the Driveway with Eco-Lawn
Fescue to the Rescue

The Seed of our Dream
The seed for our green driveway idea germinated after we sold our SUV in February. We rationalized that we didn’t need a driveway if we didn’t own a car. We wanted to get rid of our 34-ft wide driveway and replace it with green space which would help fight climate change and be aesthetically pleasing.

Photo of Franke James by Michael Stuparyk, Toronto Star, under license from TorstarBut the City thought otherwise. For those of you who are just joining this adventure – in May we contacted City Hall for the right to build a permeable driveway. That’s me on the driveway holding a shovel – looking like one half of a modern day American Gothic portrait. It was featured in the Toronto Star article “Eco-friendly driveway is rejected by the city”. That story kicked this whole green adventure into high gear.

Thankfully we eventually talked to City officials who agreed that our green driveway could be a good thing for the environment. In June we secured a permit to be the 1st Pilot Project for a Green Driveway. Over the course of the summer, we went to work making our dream a reality. benefits of green drivewayYou can read the six step-by-step articles. Or you can jump in cold now. We’re at the planting and seeding stage — something we’ve been dreaming about since May when I was holding that shovel on our 34 ft. wide interlocking brick driveway.

Designing our Green Oasis
Just when I thought we’d sailed over all the hurdles, we banged smack into another City bylaw! Advice from well-meaning friends rang in my head, “Don’t talk to the City! Just go ahead and do what you want.”

But I don’t know. I didn’t want to get in trouble and have to undo things. That could get expensive. So I opened my mouth and asked questions…

The City inspector met us on-site about our plan for a small grove of trees in our front yard. He immediately pricked our balloon saying, “You’re only allowed one tree on city property.”

I said, “What? But you don’t understand. We’ll pay for them and we’ll plant them, too. The City wants homeowners to plant trees.”

The inspector shook his head, and repeated firmly, “No. You’re only allowed one tree on city property and we’ll tell you where it goes.”

*It’s important to know that legally, what looks like a homeowner’s property may actually be owned by the city. In our case, the first 13 ft. from the sidewalk is city property so they can have access to city services like water and sewers.

We tried pointing out other properties (e.g. the 50ft wide lots of Lawrence Park) where there are multiple trees on properties.

But it was a ‘no-go’. Their rationale is that tree roots complicate repairs of city services. Which does make sense. We quickly threw in the towel. But we didn’t give up the dream. I said, “Fine. We’ll plant trees only on our property.” And that was the beginning of the unique design we’ve created.

Now if you’re reading this because you’d like to landscape, but have wondered how to get the ‘look’ you want, here’s my tip: Consider your unique needs and let them guide you to the right design.

Our unique needs were:
We wanted privacy from the street.
We didn’t want our property to look like there should be a car sitting on it.
We wanted to have trees, shrubs and plants which would be good for the environment, and provide natural beauty.
We weren’t ready for ‘xeriscaping’ but we did want plants that would not need excessive watering.
We wanted the design to echo the modern feeling of our interior design.

For months now I’ve been pouring over garden design books by landscape designers like John Brookes, George Carter and Jamie Durie to figure out our plan. They were a big help, but I also needed someone who really knew plants, and would be willing to act as a sounding board for my ideas…

Our Garden Guru
Enter Tim Murphy, horticulturalist and designer. When I said things like, “I saw this amazing shrub in the neighborhood and its got these crazy twisted contorted branches that look great in the winter — I’m thinking it will work as a focal point in the center of the yard. It could balance the linear lines of the boxwood and hornbeams. What do you think?” To show him, I drew a picture of wiggly, squiggly lines intersecting chaotically.

Scribble drawing by Franke James

Tim listened carefully and said, “Now I see what you’re thinking. I like your scribble drawing. I think it can work. That twisted shrub is a Corkscrew Hazel. You could consider the Corylus Avellana Contorta Red Majestic variety. It will have beautiful purple color and it won’t grow too large. And you can surround it with Festuca Ovina Glauca Elijah Blue (blue fescue grass to you and me). You could also consider Juniperus Squamata Blue Star which is an evergreen ground cover that mounds to about 13 inches.”

I laughed at all the complicated words. But Tim wasn’t trying to show off by using those long Latin names. I gradually understood that he used Latin because it was far more accurate than the common names we toss around. They are like a family tree, telling in an instant the origin, parentage, offspring, and even tracking the bastard children grafted onto the family. As you’ll see, Tim has actively coached us through the whole process and earned his nickname ‘garden guru’.

Patience is a Virtue
Patience is a virtue in many things but especially in gardening. We had dreamed about planting in early August as soon as we’d laid the PermaTurf for the driveway. But Tim counseled us to wait. He said, “This run of 30 degree Celsius weather is much too hot, and it’s not just the air temperature. It’s also the soil. The plants won’t do well. You’ll be wasting your money if you plant now. What’s your hurry?”

So we waited and waited and waited. Our neighbors must have wondered what was taking us so long. Where before we’d had interlock, now we just had dirt from edge to edge, and a couple of flagstone paths. It was not an inspiring sight. People must have thought, “They got rid of the perfectly good interlock for this yard of dirt?”

Christmas in September

4 Collage photos by Franke James

By mid-September the temperatures had dropped to the mid-20’s, with nights as cool as 14 degrees. Finally we got the go-ahead from our guru. We called up the nursery and ordered the plants. Connon Nursery was a great help to us in choosing the right stock. When I contacted Terry Vanderkruk at Connon’s about our green driveway project, he was enthusiastic, “What you are doing is admirable, and I hope that this pilot project is a larger success than anticipated. If we can help you spreading the word about building Green Driveways in any way, please let us know. What a great ‘stepping stone’ towards becoming more environmentally conscious and really making a difference!”

On September 21st, the Connon Nursery truck pulled up, loaded to the max with everything we’d ordered: Dozens of green velvet boxwood, English hornbeams, corkscrew hazel, red twig dogwoods, Taxus and Hicks yews, blue star junipers, euonymus, and even some Virginia creeper. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning.

So, the plan was to plant everything in one day. I looked at the sea of plants and wondered if it was possible. But Tim said it could be done. So the three of us (Tim, my husband Bill, and me) got to work. We placed each plant in its selected location to assess whether my design, which looked good on paper, would work in reality.

Many of the gardens in our neighborhood are ‘natural’ with rocks and curving shapes to make it look like nature has created it.

Of course I had to be different.
My garden design is very geometric and formal – a style where we humans pretend to be the master of nature, imposing restraint and order on the growth of plants. Geometric hedges, clipped cones, topiary in spirals are all part of this design vocabulary.

But with all the design experience I’ve had in various media from graphic design, to illustration, photography, and even interior design, I’d never designed a garden! So, the big question running through my head was: Would my design, which looked great on paper, make the leap to the real world? Would it really work?

We measured. We debated. We made a few tweaks… By the end of the (long) day we had planted everything. It looked very close to what I had imagined. With a little patience, we’d have the green oasis we’d dreamed about. Tim’s wise words came to mind, “You don’t plant a garden for yourself. It’s for future generations.”

Continue reading article…

Views of the New Landscape
Seeding the Driveway with Eco-Lawn
Fescue to the Rescue

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