Need help restoring Victorian front walkway

cpageApril 25, 2010

Last year we moved into this fabulous 110 year old Victorian home. My husband and I have been restoring the exterior. We happened upon a stone walkway leading up to the front of the house that was hidden under the lawn of Bermuda grass. We are in the process of removing the sod and using it in the backyard. But I'm not a gardener, per se, and I have no idea what to plant in the approximately 3-4 foot wide beds on either side of the walkway. I will try to post photos so that you may have a better visualization. I'm new to this site so I'm not sure how to do that.

I would like something low growing with visual interest during different seasons. The walkway gets a good bit of sun during morning to noon time and then becomes shaded by a 100 year old willow oak during the afternoon. I am in Zone 8 and would like some Victorian appropriate plants and or traditional southern plants that do well with a novice gardener.

I purchased 4 Knockout roses in yellow and am considering planting them along the path. Does anyone have ideas they would share with me?

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Photos of the house and walkway. The two obelisks are remnants of a wrought iron fence and gate.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2010 at 12:04PM
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I don't think that walkway is original to the house. It's random chunks of stuff. The brick drains, on the other hand, are likely to be original.

I would re-lay the walkway stones to get rid of the gaps. buying more (if you can) or make squarish shapes of the stone alternating with red brick squares to match the house. Widen the walkway to match the width of the steps, making the wide spot big enough to look planned.

Floral choices - you don't say exactly where you live (Zone 8 covers winter chill, not summer heat and humidity).

A mixed border of flowering perennials that thrive in your area, and a selection of annuals and herbs ... no sense wasting the space when you could be growing basil, sage and other pretty plants.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2010 at 2:54PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

I bet if you dig a little farther you'll a concrete sidewalk that matches the pillars on either side of the front walk. Concrete would have been period...or large slabs of slate. I'd excavate a little farther just to see.

Is your space shady or sunny? It's hard to tell from the pictures. I know the victorians did a lot with mass plantings of annuals in sunny spots. Mass plantings of hostas along walks were also common in the period. Ferns too...though they usually got placed in " fern grottos".

Have fun!

    Bookmark   April 25, 2010 at 4:20PM
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Thanks for the feedback. I really don't know whether or the walkway is period. The width of the walkway matches the oblesik pillars where the iron gate would have been. If we widen the walkway to the width of the porch steps, there won't be much room for plantings and I'm not sure how that'll look with mostly walkway and narrow strips of bedding. We do think the brick drainage is period though... more of this extends around the entire perimeter of the house as a kind of "gutter" system. We've already thought about pulling up the stone and regrading, buying something similar and adding to the stone. We just want some ideas about what would be visually appealing with the color of the house.

We are in the SC midlands, zone 8. The yard has mostly sun until mid afternoon when the huge willow oak to the left shades nearly the entire walkway except for a small portion close to the house.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2010 at 5:17PM
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Hi Cp,

I agree with the other posters. A wider more formal walkway would match the scale and magnificence of what you have done to the house. Beautiful. Now it time for framing the picture. Aloha

PS: not a big fan of the two obelisk gate posts. Probably because there so prominent the way the photo was taken.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2010 at 5:21PM
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holleygarden Zone 8, East Texas

Beautiful house!

Here's my vote: Plant yellow knockouts, with gardenias (there are regular and dwarf kind - I'd use both) along with provence lavender as a mixed bed. The yellow of the roses, with the lavender against your house will be striking, and the gardenias (very southern) will scent the air beautifully. The gardenias and lavender will stay evergreen for winter interest. And these plants are easy to care for. If you want, throw in some yellow coreopsis. :) Mix up the plantings, but mirror the image on both sides.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2010 at 7:10PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

Gardenias WOULD be a nice thought...the dwarf kind are Gardenia jasminoides 'radicans'. I find the standard green to be tougher than the variegated.

Gardenia jasminoides 'Chuck Hayes' is a tough, winter hardy taller (4' x 5'-6') gardenia that would do well next to the pillars. but I'd still dig down and see if the original walk is still there...

    Bookmark   April 25, 2010 at 7:28PM
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Hollygarden: Gardenias are lovely. I love that idea with the knockout roses. I've never grown lavendar. Will it really stay green in the winter here in SC?

mjsee: I don't think there's another concrete walk under the stone. My husband has pushed a screw-driver down in between the stones up to about 5 inches without hitting anything.

Lazygardens: The porch stairs width is 11 ft 2 inches. The width between the two brick drains is 13 ft. How much would you widen the walkway and still keep beds on either side? Or are you thinking of varying the width but making sure it matches up at the far end of the walkway nearer the steps?

I'll add that the house has a semi-circular driveway that passes between the end of the walkway and the front steps, as pictured in the photo below. It is not paved currently but we're thinking about doing that as well. We've spent a great deal of time on the house itself. Below is a before pic taken 12 months ago.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2010 at 8:22PM
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I'm not much help, but I just wanted to compliment you on the beautiful work you have done on your home. It's outstanding, it reminds me of some of the old homes in Newton, MA. I like the obelisks.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2010 at 9:21PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

You are to be commended for the restoration. And what a difference a proper paint scheme makes!

I think probably none of us noticed the driveway was there until you mentioned it. That does complicate the issue of the walkway.

Yes, the area in front of the steps should be paved the entire width of the steps. If the driveway weren't there, you'd want that wider area (i.e., wider than the main part of the walkway) to be several feet deep -- perhaps as deep as the width of the steps. But it looks as if there are only a few feet between the driveway and the steps....

    Bookmark   April 25, 2010 at 9:22PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

Couldn't see the driveway until the before photo...angles are tricky things.

Does your town have a local historical society? Might be able to find some SERIOUSLY before photos that will give good clues. Wouldn't surprise me if the walk originally went all the way to the brick gutters...heck, it might have been a mown grass path and not paved in the least...

    Bookmark   April 25, 2010 at 10:19PM
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CP - I didn't mean widen the whole walk, just widen the part nearest the steps to match widths, then taper or curve to gate width.

Because of the drive, I'd make the wide part big enough that you can get out of either side of your car and still step on pavement - a landing pad that won't get muddy. Then taper fairly abruptly to the gate width, and have some sort of a barrier plant so people don't fall into the flower beds.

Lookming at the brfore, that was a BRAVE purchase.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2010 at 11:37AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Most important item of information to me here is that you're not a gardener.

So I would suggest you find some slow-growing shrubs that you like and plant a nice row of them on either side of the walk... I'm always quite taken by a row of little boxwoods or slow-growing round conifers, but if you want flowers there (will usually be faster-growing plants) then by all means something else. That drainage makes an excellent edging!

Count me among those who don't think this walkway is either original or even very nice. Even if it is, I live in a Victorian too, a much smaller one, and I am of the firm opinion that things are not worth saving just because they're old - only if they're nice! If that's slate or stone, you could maybe relay it as a nice patio out back.


    Bookmark   April 26, 2010 at 1:20PM
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Lazygardens: Yes, we've talked about doing a concrete drive with perhaps a section of some kind of paver material, brick or stone, that comes off the stairs (maybe a pattern) and continues across the drive to the walkway. So I think we're on the same page.

Karinl: I'm not married to the stone path that's there, I do want to revive the "walkway" from the sidewalk to the house. The stones are odd and we weren't sure what to do with them, now thinking about removing them. I would like to create some beds on the sides leading to the house for some drama. I'm a novice gardener, a wanna-be gardener, of sorts...I just need some mentoring from others that have the knowledge. :)

    Bookmark   April 26, 2010 at 1:59PM
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I will attempt to be straight forward. Dig up those broken stones and uproot the obelisks. You may be able to use the obelisks elsewhere in an eccentric way but the stones go to the dump.

It seems likely that the brick drainage channels were there to keep water off the entrance path that would have been that wide and possibly made of some kind of gravel/soil mixture. The obelisks came later I would guess.

For some reason we always see the postman's view of a house rather than an impression of how the occupant sees their garden.

Boy, did you ever do a good job on that house so we don't need no steenkin Mickey Mouse landscape around it..

    Bookmark   April 26, 2010 at 6:14PM
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Fabulous restoration!

The hanging ferns (or Jacob's ladder?) are a good Victorian touch. Victorians were crazy about flowers, feathers, and gew-gaws of all types. (Imagine shaping a flower out of a lover's hair and keeping it in a locket.) Although a pair of boxwood hedges would be stately, it would not carry a Victorian feel. Too staid, not exuberant enough. Get wild!

I think paired hedges of hydrangeas would be gorgeous, fun, and in the spirit of the Queen (Victoria that is). Cream, white, pale green--not the ones that show pink or blue according to the ph of your soil. Check out the hydrangea forum on GW and maybe post your photo there.

Ditto ink on ridding yourselves of the broken stone pathway. Someone on freecycle or craigslist will be thrilled to get the stones. Your home deserves better. Personally, I think a deep layer of shells would be in the Victorian spirit. But maybe a bit too crazy for those of us in the real world of today.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2010 at 9:02PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC) really think the obelisks are a later addition? There's a house in downtown Chapel Hill with just those obelisks...and a similar architectural style...and I'm pretty certain they are original to the Chapel Hill house...

    Bookmark   April 26, 2010 at 9:46PM
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Very nice job! This is what I might do. You have a sweeping porch so make sweeping beds along the porch then line the walkway with boxwoods, trimed and symetrical. Under plant with some perinnials. As far as the walkway goes I would do one of two things; flagstone or a stamped concrete path. Keep the obelisks or widen them some to give more depth to the rest of the area. This could be done by adding the element of flagstone to match the walkway. The bones are there. Just follow the natural line of the home and you win. Good luck I really love what you have done here.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 2:52AM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

Actually...the more I look at it...the walk wants to be as wide as the brick drainage runnels. I think Ink might be right about the gravel bit...but you DON'T want a gravel walk. They are a PITA unless one has a gardening staff. I did a little research, many houses of this era had brick walks in a herringbone pattern. Not certain if you want to/can invest in that. Wish I were better at mock ups. I'd do a picture for you.

Are you wedded to the existing driveway? Perhaps what you REALLY need to do is step back and rethink the whole front yard. You've done such a lovely job with the would be worth the time and trouble to get it right. It's getting late to be planting shrubs and such in zone 8...I'm getting anxious about people planting them here in zone 7b...fall is really the better time to plant here in the south. (I'm up in North Cackalacky.)

If you could sketch a rough overview of your plat...where the house sits etc...we MIGHT be able to help you come up with something. Or at least figure out dimensions and such. In the meantime...I'd finish pulling back the sod to the driveway area. I'd plant annuals in the earth you've exposed and mulch it. Then it will look intentional, and you'll be happier. ARE deer an issue? It will make a difference as to what annuals you plant. I work in a garden center. I'm no designer...but I DO know how to help people make things "pretty" until they get their bones in place. If you came in "my" gc the first thing I'd suggest is hiring a landscape designer or architect...and then I'd help you figure out a way to live with it until you could get your plan in place.


    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 8:12AM
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It is the width of the path that has me doubting the obelisks mel. The word 'gravel' means different things to different people and I use it loosely. It seems likely that the path was something similar to the 'hoggins' Gertrude Jekyll used around her house. 'Hoggins' is a mixture of clayey soil and small stones that compacts well but can be messy when it rains, hence the drainage channels. Only a theory.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 8:35AM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

Ink...I agree. I wonder if the obelisks were originally farther apart...and got re-seated to their current width later? But perhaps they were a "architectural find." With those obelisks I'd have expected a bit of concrete retaining wall or somesuch...though on further examination they look like they MAY be limestone. Clearly had an iron (probably wrought iron) gate in them at one time or another.

Got you on the path neighbors put in a pea-gravel path and it has been nothing but trouble. Gotta run to work...I may be back on later with my own query. Goddess help me...I'm FINALLY ready to deal with my backyard. (Primarily because I'm running out of places to plant Japanese Maples in the front's dreadful being an Acer Addict!)

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 8:48AM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

I like Ink's conclusions about the width of the walkway.

Re mjsee's I wonder if the obelisks were originally farther apart...and got re-seated to their current width later?, my question is: would the obelisks have been used without a fence and gate? Do the obelisks at the Chapel Hill house mjsee mentions show any signs of having been attached to a fence or gate?

IIRC, many old wrought-iron fences were sacrificed for WWII scrap iron drives.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 11:56AM
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I'm not sure how hardy they are because I live in a milder climate but I think some of the scented geraniums like Pelargonium graveolens or different color varieties of heliotrope Heliotropium arborescens would look wonderful and the fragrance is a bonus too.


    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 3:12PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

obelisks have been used without a fence and gate? Do the obelisks at the Chapel Hill house mjsee mentions show any signs of having been attached to a fence or gate?

To answer your question...yes, the Chapel Hill obelisks show places where hardware was attached for a wrought iron gate that no longer exists.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 3:37PM
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Just to settle the subject of the obelisks: I feel fairly confident they're original. There's another pair of these in front of another house in town which still has a gate and fence attached. I've seen a photo of this house from 1895 and those obelisks are there. Our house was built in 1894.

Now, the reasoning behind the brick drainage placement is that they match the width of the portico/steps in the front because there is a continuation of this drainage system around the house. The brick drainage extends out to the front of the house to carry the water away from the house not the walkway, like gutters do today. So I don't believe that the existence of the width of the drainage necessarily meant that the walkway was originally that wide...but visually it makes sense.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 7:12PM
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