Front Walk: Garden Design

– Posted in: Front Walk, Hardscaping and Projects, New House, New Gardens

Having decided to create a walk from the kitchen door, the middle door in a house with three front doors, my next step was to run it past other members of the family. It’s not wise to embark on a major project without getting some feedback from your fellow residents. They may have an even better idea than the one you came up with, or they may see potential problems in the design. (Or they may be dead set against any change, in which case it is better to thrash that out before making significant expenditures of time and money.)

Plan A

My original plan was to have garden beds lining both sides of the walk, from the road to the house, giving the effect of walking on a path through a garden, that just happened to bring you to the house. Sort of like this:

This was my original idea for garden beds lining the front walk. Drawing is not to scale, and don't expect the plants to be realistic. Click to enlarge.

This was my original idea for garden beds lining the front walk. Drawing is not to scale, and don’t expect the plants to be realistic. Click to enlarge.

I brought a rough sketch of my idea to the head of Plant Facilities (hereafter known as PF). He is the guy we all turn to when a sink gets stopped up, the lights go out, or the lawn mower wheezes to a halt. He usually winds up heading most big projects around here, and I wanted his input. PF pointed out that the double doors at the far end of the house were mighty useful for unloading large items, because of the wide opening and because you could back the truck right up to the porch and slide the cargo over the tailgate, pretty much avoiding the steps altogether, like this:
unloading a pickup truck at a house

That is my current desk being unloaded. It is the easiest way to unload large items and get them into the house.

It’s not too hard to back up a truck, but sometimes the load won’t fit in the bed of the truck and the trailer must be used. It’s not very easy to back up a loaded trailer. It’s much easier to pull a trailer across and swing by, and maybe back up just a little. So PF said I had to recognize that in any month of the year, the truck could be driving across the lawn like this (more or less):
map showing potential path of truck across lawn

The truck towing a trailer needed to have access to those double doors at the end. It would need to traverse the proposed front walk to get there.

I had not considered this before. It was clear the truck would not be able to approach from the opposite direction, as the lawn drops off steeply just beyond the house. Because of the narrow road, and the ditches on each side, it would be pretty difficult to drive a truck pulling a trailer along the road and back it straight back to those double doors. I was pretty bummed. My fantasy garden went poof!

Plan B

Now I want to point out that PF never said, “No, you can’t plant a garden like that.” He just said, “If you do X, be prepared for Y.” I thought it would look pretty weird to have wide beds full of tall, ornamental grasses and small-to-medium shrubs and then have a thirteen-foot swath planted with low-growing plants. I thought it would be too much to watch a truck lumber over a carefully orchestrated planting where some of the plants might be four or five feet or even higher. I decided the truck path would remain lawn, and, at least for now, I would just plant beds along the house, like this:

Beds up against the house provide access for the truck and scope for the gardener's creativity. Beds not drawn to scale. Click on image for larger view.

Beds up against the house provide access for the truck and scope for the gardener’s creativity. Click on image for larger view.

After marking my proposed front walk with spray paint, I actually had PF drive his truck across the lawn exactly the way he would do it for a moving job, and then put markers at the intersection of the two paths. Allowing a little breathing room for the truck, I know it is eleven feet from the porch to where the truck path starts. The truck path is thirteen feet wide, and then the remaining twenty-one feet–from the stars down to the road–is fair game.

I spent most of last year’s gardening season planting those beds around the house. Of course I think they are an improvement over what used to be there (or will be when they grow in), and they will be the subject of another post or two. For now, I am not going to worry about how I will design the garden below those two stars, or even if I will have a garden there. Those are bridges to cross after the front walk is in place. Right now, the front walk exists only in my head.

Thank you for all the thoughtful comments on my last post about the front walk. Next time I will address the practical considerations of designing the walk itself.

This post is part of a continuing series chronicling how I am designing new gardens at my new (to me) house. Previous posts include my one year anniversary, an overview and map of the environs, and the initial front walk post.

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Nelson March 14, 2013, 12:13 am

Garden design is the art and process of designing and creating plans for layout and planting of gardens and landscapes. Garden design may be done by the garden owner themselves, or by professionals of varying levels of experience and expertise. Most professional garden designers have some training in horticulture and the principles of design, and some are also landscape architects, a more formal level of training that usually requires an advanced degree and often a state license. Amateur gardeners may also attain a high level of experience from extensive hours working in their own gardens.

Alexander March 13, 2013, 8:11 pm

Looks like you have undertaken a very interesting project and it will be fantastic to see how it pans out. One thing i do know from my experience is that most projects end up being bigger than expected.

A good piece of advice to everyone is do draw out a plan just as you have shown here with your sketches. When i first started new projects at home i never did this. After watching numerous DIY/Gardening shows I realised the importance of forward planning.

Good luck with the renovating, I also love the look of your porch. Bet you have spent many memorable hours sitting out there and enjoying life?

Corner Garden Sue March 12, 2013, 5:16 pm

I am not good at figuring out these drawings, and am not even good at visualizing things. Maybe that’s why even when I attempt to draw out plans, they look very primitive compared to these, and I don’t think I’ve ever actually followed one very closely.

It’s good we each have our own ways of doing things, and that we end up appreciating the beauty each has created, however they get there.

commonweeder March 11, 2013, 11:34 am

I find the design process fascinating because when well done, many things have been taken into consideration. And I agree it is always a good idea to collaborate with family or others who may have valid concerns about implications.

Teresa Marie March 8, 2013, 9:59 am

I redid my front walk last year. There was no way to get a path out to the street given large trees, rocks, and other obstructions. So we created a very japanese style pathway with 90 degree angles to the driveway. It goes under a large evergreen – and is wonderful. I don’t mind that you can’t even see the path from the road. I think it’s part of the charm!

Cindy, MCOK March 8, 2013, 8:54 am

I’m impressed with how carefully you’re thinking this out. I’m more like Leslie, I tend to jump in with both feet!

Kathryn/ March 7, 2013, 10:12 pm

I love your front porch. 🙂

Alison March 7, 2013, 11:58 am

At the risk of sounding a little crazy, I would like to suggest a second driveway, from the road to those double doors, rather than trying to leave a way clear for a truck to drive over the grass every so often. It doesn’t have to be a wide driveway, in fact, it could be one of those ones with parallel paved areas for the tires, with soil in between for planting. That would let you have the original path to plant along the edges and a second one to also plant up. (Hope that makes sense).

coriander garden shops online March 7, 2013, 10:50 am

I like your original idea for garden beds lining the front walk. Your garden path can still become a reality with the proper plant selection and siting.I like the Plan A rather B..

Donalyn March 7, 2013, 9:34 am

Ah – how many of my well-laid plans have run into the stone wall of reality from my very own head of Plant Facilities? Still, when I consider his ideal of a lawn which he can mow in straight rows with nothing in his path [like a golf course, but without the holes] and the reality I have created for him, I get the better end of the deal.

Tami March 7, 2013, 6:36 am

Hm. I don’t understand why you *must* have a straight path out to the street. They’re boring, and as you’ve pointed out, you don’t get any pedestrian traffic where you are. (They’re even bad feng shui they say!) Why not just move the mailbox up next to the driveway where you can either drive or walk to it? Then install a nice wide flagstone path/courtyard along the front of your home, uniting all the various entrances and giving Mr. PF a place to drive without leaving dents in a grassy lawn.

Pat Webster March 7, 2013, 12:40 pm

Tami, what a sensible solution. Straight paths don’t have to be boring — they can be wonderful in the right setting. But a straight path from the mailbox to the house — not necessary. The mailman may not like the change, but moving the box seems a good idea. Assuming there are no restrictions that rule that out.

Donna@Gardens Eye View March 7, 2013, 6:24 am

Fascinating how design ideas come about…loving the progression as well…looking forward to the next steps!

Frances March 7, 2013, 6:23 am

Onward, Kathy! My experience has been that most ornamental grasses can be driven over with little permanent damage, unlike woody shrubbery. Your garden path can still become a reality with the proper plant selection and siting. You can do it! This is so exciting!

Deirdre in Seattle March 7, 2013, 2:54 am

Don’t forget the truck will compact the soil. I’d forget growing anything in it’s path, including grass.

How about a a nice paved terrace?

Leslie March 7, 2013, 1:05 am

I love seeing the progression and thought process. You make a good case for planning and thinking of possibilities which is not my strong suit. Can’t wait to see the next installment!