In the first of a 12-part series on Designing a Large Country Garden we explore the importance of driveways and entrances and the challenges and design solutions associated with them.
DRIVEWAYS AND ENTRANCES – CREATING A SENSE OF ARRIVAL
There is something quite exhilarating about a tree-lined driveway gently winding its way towards a spectacular property. Whether a driveway is short or long, marked out with an avenue of trees or open to the surrounding landscape, it’s all about the journey and that all important sense of arrival. The best arrival experience is one that draws you in and entices you onwards with hints of what’s to come.
First impressions start at the entrance to the property, so it is important to get this right. On assessing a new landscape project, we always consider how the house looks on approach as these visual clues will often determine our design. If a driveway is already in place, we judge if the drive is appropriate for the style and atmosphere of the house and if it really rewards you on arrival.
We also look to see if the driveway leads you to the front door and how practical that entrance is for modern living. Sometimes the front door has been moved to what was originally the service entrance or it may be adjacent to the day-to-day entrance, leaving guests confused as to which door to use. In this instance, we look to see if a secondary approach should be introduced for the owners and if planting could be utilised to screen the day-to-day entrance and focus guests’ attention on the front door.
Parking is another major consideration. Too often, a beautiful façade is spoiled with parked cars at the front of the house. We always look to design a driveway where cars can be parked in an orderly fashion away from the house. Depending on the scale of the project, we might introduce a turning circle or create a walled courtyard for everyday parking. Even simple hedging or pleached trees can help to screen or soften cars from view.
We tend towards simple planting schemes for driveways and entrances. Here the planting should either be intriguing or discrete but, as a rule, it should enhance the appearance of the house without dominating it.
In a rural setting, planting can act as a marker to signpost an approach and indicate the direction of travel. Topiary or an avenue of trees planted either side of a driveway can be perfect indicators. This style of planting can also make a house feel grander and add a sense of formality, particularly to a symmetrical façade, whereas randomly placed trees can create a more informal atmosphere, which can sometimes be more desirable.
Although the planting palette should include evergreen elements, planting for seasonal interest and year-round appeal is important too. If a long driveway takes you through a woodland we might introduce a swathe of native Bluebells to create a splash of spring colour. Likewise, an orchard of Cherry trees will provide a seasonal display as it draws your eye to the front façade.
Planting should always feel part of the surrounding landscape. In a rural landscape, where a house might be located off a country lane, we might introduce native hedges and planting to blend with the natural environment. Whereas, in a more urban setting, we might specify more non-native elements, such as Viburnum tinus or Portuguese Laurel – classic planting for an historic property.
We also enjoy introducing wildflower meadows to driveways and entrances. They are a wonderful feature for a long approach and introduce a wildlife-friendly element to the planting scheme. For real impact, we create a mown verge, on either side of the driveway, with wildflower meadows flanking the verges. Depending on the project, you can run a wildflower meadow right up to a parking area, or use it to frame a more formal lawn area as you approach the property.
The choice of materials is very much determined by the style of the property and the clients’ need, but for most projects we specify gravel for a driveway surface. Gravel creates a more naturalistic feel in a rural environment and is a useful permeable surface in urban locations. It is also low in maintenance and often requires a simple top-up and rake over to restore it to its original crisp condition.
A change in materials will determine a change in direction or purpose in a landscape. For instance, textural setts or cobbles are perfect for creating an intimate courtyard feel or to indicate a parking area, while a stone threshold under an entrance gate will denote the boundary and announce the arrival at the property.
Overall, our masterplans are determined by our clients’ wishes. More discreet clients might prefer the initial approach to their property to have a country lane or field track feel, before arriving at a more formal entrance gate, while others might like a grander, more stately approach. Either way, we always aim to make the journey more interesting by opening up views and adding a sense of mystery and intrigue with sneak peaks of the property before the big reveal – all details that contribute to the ceremony of arrival.
Look out for our journal posts on large garden design covering: