driveway/hardscape materials suggestions for a fixer-upper?

Fori is not pleasedJune 12, 2012

My recently purchased house is a low 1950s ranch located on a court with a pie shaped lot. The back yard is big (for the area), the front is small. I like this, but the driveway is visually a huge part of the front yard. The previous owners thought it wasn't huge enough and threw down even more paving.

We need to redo this. The driveway is cracked and painted blue. And it's sort of awful anyway.

Exposed aggregate is common in the subdivision as is brick. Original drives and walks were plain concrete, with the walks curving into the drive. Due to the angle on the house and drive, I think I'll have to keep this feature because you can't go from the door to the sidewalk without hitting the drive. The front of the house is brick and wood--my picture doesn't seem to show that. :)

We do need to keep the pavement on the right side through the gate (the shared fence and gate there been replaced since this image was taken) but instead of having lanes outlined in brick, there's got to be something more tasteful.

The yard ends at the power pole on the viewer's left and the jagged aggregate on the right. Behind the tall camellia bushes is a porch.

We would like to do a bit of a low brick bed on the left to enclose and perhaps resize the bed that is there. The lawn, well, it has to change. Its original boundaries are visible. We were thinking of unpaving at least to that area and doing a small lawn and fill in the rest with plantings beds. A tree is needed somewhere too.

I dunno. We want to have the walk and driveway work without being all ugly. We want it to be appropriate for a CA rustic-style ranch house. We don't want it to look like we need lines to make it into the garage. :P

Can we sort of pave it across so that it is more like a giant patio instead of a driveway? Would doing it all in aggregate lessen the feel of the slab? Brick square patterns across the area? Brick the whole entire thing? Stone? I do need to be able to drive a heavy vehicle through the gate on the right so nothing flimsy there.

If relevant, I am in the SF east Bay area. No freeze issues. No ice. Little rain. Budget whatever. No stamped concrete and none of those paver things (they just aren't right with this style house). And if you think this is bad, you should see the back!

I appreciate any suggestions (or landscape designer recommendations). I think I need a better idea of what I think will work before getting someone out here. I could go the easy route and simply remove the excess aggregate that was filled in over the years, but I hope I can do better.


(No, I can't do anything about the pole.)

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Brad Edwards

I am guessing the blue looks worse in real life, because it looks from the picture like a light grey blue, not horrific. Though coupled with that insane red fence I can see it. I can't see the color of the home, but don't think the landscaping is that bad at all.

I would definiatly be painting that fence black though, google some black fences before you think "black" :).

The telephone pole stands out heavily to me as well, its ashame it has that box on it, or I would say find a 5-8 foot japanese maple or Camila, and prune it to hide the design. Knock out roses might be a nice touch on an older ranch house.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 1:51AM
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Brad Edwards

I would also kill the grass in the front unless you need a play area for kids or a place for pets/are planning on reselling, or don't have any grass in the back yard. Its to small to logistically play on as a kid. I would plant a couple of purple Bouganvillieas on a trellis in front of the red fence on the right, but only after painting it black.

I think your yard needs color, you have the hard scape and evergreens. Any mix of annuals would work well in the front bed by the street, coleus and sweet potato vine have nice foliage as well.

To be quite honest your plan seems like a ton of work without that much payoff, though I could be wrong.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 1:55AM
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Could plant a vine to cover the power pole.plant two landscope trees on the both side of the driveway to soft the could sort of pave it across so that it is more like a giant patio instead of a driveway and plant some combinations of shrubs and flowers along the border line,don't too close more match each other than a bed.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 4:56AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Am I just stupid that I don't understand why the house (at least, I presume it's the house) is, um, wrapped?

Re the lawn, unless you really like edging, I think I would either make that all lawn or all beds. What do you like doing more, weeding or mowing?

I'm not sure that everything else that is beds now needs to be. Maybe make an exuberant bed in what is now the lawn, and just mulch or groundcover over where the beds now are. Do you need those camelias at the porch?

Karin L

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 10:38AM
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Took me a second, but it appears to be the ultimate in fumigation procedures - for wood eating insects and other pests.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 10:55AM
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Fori is not pleased

Karin, the house is shy. Actually it's being fumigated for termites in the photo but it's the best photo I've got available.

The red fence has been replaced. Nothing can be planted there because it is all gate and the drive needs to be paved to the property edge on that side (as it is in this photo) to allow access to the back yard. That plus driveway plus walkway ends up with lots of concrete. I'm mostly trying to figure out a way to get all that pavement down without it looking like as much pavement as it is.

Oceandweller, is there a thornless variety of bouganvillea available yet? I'm not messing with the real thing once I pull out the one I already have. :)

We are looking into going lawnless in the front. We do have to conform somewhat with our neighbors because they are very nice.

We do need the camellias at the porch--they could be shrunk a bit but I have a hard time ripping out gorgeous maintenance and irrigation-free shrubs. And something needs to be there. I will try to get a better photo without the tent.

Anyway, yes this will be a ton of work with not much payoff except that the condition of the concrete and aggregate is so bad that it absolutely has to be done. I just want to do it better than before (which is the buildup of several years of additions--not all well planned).

Thanks for the suggestions! Do y'all think I can do the driveway (and next-to-driveway) in a paving material that isn't the traditional driveway shape?

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 11:39AM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

It looks to me that the driveway is rather deliberately designed to provide off-street parking for the maximum number of cars - 4. If you don't need that much, I don't see why the driveway couldn't be changed to more of a Y shape.

From the point of backyard access, could you put a tree in the lower right hand corner of the lot?

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 11:53AM
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Fori is not pleased

Absolutely correct, Mad G. Before we moved in, the place was a parking lot. The old Google satellite image has 5 cars in the driveway. I like the idea of putting in a tree down there. It would make maneuvering a little more challenging and I don't know if the spouse would go for it, but it would soften it up a bit. The drive isn't quite as long as it appears in the fisheye photo. It's only about 2 cars long.

There is a tiny planting area around the lamp post which we were planning to enlarge and add more green to. It once was part of the camellia bed I think. Perhaps we should plant all that again.

I apologize for the lack of decent overview pictures. I'll try to get some tonight.

I do have available a few closeups of the brick and siding on the house. If we do a brick drive, we would try to match it (except for the yellow ones that are in the mix--I don't like them). The "used brick" look is quite common around here and would at least keep the driveway light. Maybe? Please be aware that this house needs paint and it will NOT be this color for long. I don't like it either.

There's my bogie, hacked back after a frost but back and already plotting to injure me. This is in front of the "lawn".

This is a little of the original raised bed which is between the garage and camellias. Must have a leak from the kitchen here because I don't water it. Eek.

The roof is heavy cedar shakes if that is relevant.

I'm not overly concerned about plant choice at this stage. We're pretty good with that and will have an irrigation system installed as part of the project. Even the details as to bed design on the "lawn" side aren't ready to be ironed out until we figure out what goes on the driveway. I am probably overthinking it but I want a nice driveway that doesn't say "We Worship Cars". The prominent garage says that already. :P

Thanks all. It helps to bounce ideas around!

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 12:26PM
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Fori is not pleased

(As an aside, this house tenting procedure seems to be standard around here. You have a house inspected before buying. The termite inspector will invariably find "termites" and the house will have to be fumigated before one can get the mortgage. A "SOLD" sign is always followed by tenting in this neighborhood. I suspect it's mostly a crock.)

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 12:30PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

OK, thank you... When we see wrapping around here it is with scaffolding for doing building envelope work, fixing "leaky condo syndrome." Not seen a lot on ranch homes :-)

I think it is not being able to see the entrances to house (for people) or garage (for cars) that is stymieing (sp?) me on being able to see a more logical layout. The logical way to start drawing the lines is to say, OK, where do the cars and people need to go? Whatever is left open can be beds, or can be added to the paved areas to improve lines, flow, shape, what have you.

If you are open to stained concrete, perhaps you could delineate walks from drives. Or, so sue me, I like the brick outline!

Both for aesthetics and for termites, it is not always ideal to have foundation plantings or mulch at the foundation. Even if you must keep the camellias (which I suspect are in a not-aesthetically-ideal place), maybe paving at the foundation (assuming you need to walk that way at all) would get you more planting area out by the road?

Is there even a public sidewalk there? I just can't see the parameters/constraints, so am spinning my wheels here.

Any hope of using a porous surface?

Karin L

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 12:37PM
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Fori is not pleased

I love the brick outline! We were initially planning on redoing it. Then I started to think, which is always bad. The problem is that the pavement has spilled over the outline leaving it in the middle of things. And since I now need the extra pavement by the former red fence, where does the brick stripe go?

I'm not a fan of stained concrete. It just seems wrong with the style house (and I don't want to modernize it). Obviously you aren't privy to what the house looks like. Hehe. I will try to fix that. It is not a beautiful house. OOh maybe I have some Realtor photos I can locate....

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 12:57PM
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Fori is not pleased

Here we go. The Realtor's photo. Hope he doesn't mind me using it. It's that good. :P

When you drive up the street (a very short court), at the middle of the end is the property line and utility pole.

The window right next to the garage is a bit of a bumpout; just to the (viewer's) left is the covered porch area.

The nose between the eyes is the dreaded bougainvillea. There haven't been any relevant changes since this photo except that since I'm not keen on dumping gallons of Roundup on the driveway, we have much more greenery.

The downspout in the middle of the garage will be moved, of course!

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 1:10PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

There are a ton of talented landscape designers in the East Bay. It is like an overflowing jewel box of talent over there !

By far one of the most talented is David Feix, located in Berkeley.
If you received Flora Grubb's most recent newsletter they highlighted David's work in the June 13 newsletter - eye candy !

If you are looking for creative landscape solutions , this is your 'go to' guy in the east bay.

He also has a Flickr page of impossibly beautiful gardens from the east bay.

Here is a link that might be useful: Flora grubb newsletter with David Feix

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 8:43PM
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Of what I understood fori, you seem to have a problem with the driveway being way more than what was required. How about cracking the sides off a little and getting some plants in it's place instead? Just a suggestion because this is the most reasonable way of improving the aesthetics of this place. Best of luck. :)

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 2:01AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

House looks much better unwrapped - the door isn't even where I thought it would be. In fact, it's quite cute!

Seems to me that your objective is partly to get some of the driveway or garage screened behind a veil of plants. Instead, it is the house that is hidden behind a veil of plants and by default lets the garage have centre stage. Fori, we know each other from other forums, where I'm usually rational, but I have to confess that here I am a bit fixated on foundation plantings and their ubiquitous application where they are not needed and contribute nothing (in my opinion). I sympathize with not wanting to take out healthy established plants, but at the very least I would try to de-emphasize/minimize the plantings that hide the house, in addition to whatever else you do.

I can't quite get an image of the plan view but I wonder if some variation on a circular or cross-yard driveway/walk combo would allow you to put plantings across the front that the driveway could scoot in behind. It all depends on what angle you want the driveway to be less prominent from. Is it for other people from the road, or for your own satisfaction from the front door or windows? I guess it also depends on where the driveway entrance is and whether you could change that.

Karin L

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 11:04AM
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Fori is not pleased

Thanks for the rec, D-D. I will definitely look him up, if not for this job then certainly the back yard which is much more, well, much more everything.

Andrew, that's the sensible thing to do and I'm sure how the house was originally landscaped, but we need to be able to drive through that area between the garage and neighbor's yard so it needs to be paved or at least driveable. I should mention that the neighbor has replaced that bit of grass with a tidy river-rock based planting bed and will be putting in a low decorative fence there.

Love the U shaped driveway and wish I had my own satellite or at least a helicopter for photos, but this might help with why there's no room:

The yellow is the walk from porch to driveway. The red is the edges of the property. It may be possible to move the apron of the driveway (city property) but I'm not sure that would get me anywhere.

Karin, we were going to do some sort of path between the lawn and front foundation planting (hehe!) like the aggregate stripe that is there now, but much smaller. It actually makes perfect sense to do a strip of pavement between the house instead and I'll try that out. The plants on that side are two large jade plants and the bougainvillea nose (which IS too close to the house, and is also a bougainvillea which is a fabulous plant in the right place and this is not the right place). The rest was plastic covered with rocks which have been mostly removed.

I think the driveway has to be where it is. Doesn't matter how I want it to look from where. It sort of is what it is, much as I hate that expression. So I want to make it look nice. So does a (relatively) stubby driveway need to be driveway shaped or can I pave it all (with something nice) and treat it (from a design point of view) as a large paved area with no area delineated for cars? I might not be making sense here.

But if I return the unpaved (grass or beds) portions to the original locations with just the addition of the bit on the side, maybe it wouldn't be that bad.

Now, if there is something green that I can drive on to put in front of gate access...the previous owners would have used paint...

O yeah, paint color suggestions welcome, you know, if there's some color that can make a landscape sparkle. ;)

I'm going to take some measurements and dig out my vintage landscaping books. I'd love to get that 1950s ranch look but since my house is bent, it's not all long and low-looking. Some of the homes in my subdivision have the original owners and very retro landscaping, much of which is wonderful and of course very mature.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 12:36PM
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Brad Edwards

I honestly really like the large parking area. Its low maintenance, great if you have kids, and even better if you occasionally throw a party. I see what you mean by the color, the blue/grey doesn't entirely go with the neutral brown nor the red brick inlay.

If I were doing the house, I would take out the white column top, replace with a solar flicker candle, repaint it with a spray oil rubbed bronze for the base. I like the bouganvillas a lot for old fences, I don't know of any thorn less varieties, but the ones with thorns are great for areas near the backs of fences/areas where you might have an intruder or don't walk directly past. They also do very well in full sun.

I'd probably go with a black door, and would see about removing the bricks that are in the driveway path that are red, and trying to find some with the exact dimensions that are greyish to pull the mortar from the brick of the house and the blueish driveway. Though, You might even want to check into stained concrete for the blue driveway, something neutral would solve a lot of the color scheme differences. I am not feeling the blue driveway, red brick pavers, red brick base, and blue door. Throw in the tan and neutrals and it looks jumbled, its why i would paint the front door jet black.

Spend the extra $ in paint,

I personally like the georgian brick and tuscany if your going with the orange theme and changing the blue drivway via stain. I also would probably look into an antique white as I think that will neutralize the color pattern even more, and goes insanely well with the aged white/red brick and even the blue driveway. You could always paint the garage doors like stable doors and paint some fake handles on them, to me that always looks pretty cool and its pretty original, especially in that antique white, with slight wood detail showing through would compliment the brick. Also, I would have to kill the man that painted the bright color trim. Its almost like somebody half did making a comfortable cali cottage into a semi modern home.

I am not feeling the 3 taller shrubs in the house, to me something more uniform, like a grouping of boxwoods or holly would look nicer. Be wary of planting a vine as mentioned by the telephone pole. I was thinking a couple of 7-8 foot heirloom sunflowers would be pretty there.

Maybe its just me, but I would get a bag or two of manure/compost and raise the bed along side the house, and have a field day planting basil, thyme, chives, possibly even a dwarf citrus like a key lime, and would edge it with old brick.

If you like hydrangias, they do go well with the house style, I would do a grouping of them along the side, with variegated monkey grass as an edging.

Those italian cypress are going to need pots twice that size and probably then some, not to mention you could plant trailers, like sweet potato vine or wandering jew coming out the sides.

In the front left, I would either create a evergreen row, use a trellis and climbing vine in the middle, use a dual hanging basket wrought iron, or plant a 3-4 foot Japanese maple.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 3:54PM
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Fori is not pleased

Thanks, OD. The large parking area is great. I just don't want it to look like a large parking area. :) And we rarely park there because we do have a garage and keep the other vehicle banished to the side yard. Keeping up appearances and all that.

The potted plants aren't there anymore. I think they were part of the house staging. Where the one in the right was is a small patch of dirt that is now inhabited by a Bambusa multiplex which is doing well. It is potentially too big for the spot but is easily trimmed or redirected. It also flops out of the way if something drives too close to it.

Anyway, the driveway is going to be removed, as is the walkway and all the aggregate surrounding the relic of lawn. My main concern at this point is what to redo the driveway and walkway WITH? All aggregate? All brick? All concrete? A combination?

Would a 4' deep pergola in front of the garage with something growing on it be absolutely nuts? That window closest to the garage is in the kitchen's breakfast nook with a lovely view of...actually an overgrown hydrangea at the moment. I'll cut it back after it's done blooming.

The trim isn't as bright as it looks in the photos. It's sort of that dusty French country blue you found paired with geese in 1980s kitchens. It's icky. There are lavender and dark pine green patches in the back, too! Paint is absolutely on the agenda, probably before doing much planting.

And yes, the bed in the front needs improvement! We're planning on something with brick edging, probably a bit larger. We'd like to keep the lawn small but present in deference to neighborhood norms. We can shrink it in the future as it becomes more socially acceptable with the ultimate goal of lawnless.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 4:47PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

If a tight budget isn't driving all your intentions, there are many possibilities for scaling down the paving, updating the paving choices, add an architectural scaled trellis across the garages, remove all that newer concrete adjacent the lawn and lawn gone. Add some privacy walls/ fences to form private patio at entry with nice gate, and a generous 8 foot deep planting strip at the street. I'd easily see a couple of smaller trees or palms, one to screen your view of the pole looking lwards the street, and another repeating tree/palm at the walk light. I personally think paving stones in combination with grass-crete for access to sideyard gate would be compatible with the house style. I might also give the same plug for red bougainvilla splashed across a fence or over an arbor can be quintessential California if it doesn't freeze there.

Browsing through past home/landscape ranch remodel articles in Sunset Magazine might give you ideas. That front entry could be a nice place to enjoy the garden if redesigned with these ideas.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2012 at 12:42AM
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funkyamazon(Los Angeles)

Have you thought about DG for the area you need to drive over instead of concrete near the driveway? You can easily drive over it and even use it in other areas later, as you phase out lawn. It looks great with neutral colors and will make it look like less concrete but still give you functionality when driving over.
If I were redoing this driveway, I'd go with concrete with antique brick edging to keep it traditional. You can then add more bricks as raised beds or in the walkway. I like the idea of dwarf citrus, fits nicely with 50's, I think.

You could always do that white crushed rock ;)
A bit of geriatric Arizona for ya!

    Bookmark   June 15, 2012 at 12:56AM
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Fori is not pleased

Thanks for the suggestions.

Bahia, as much as I love the idea of a courtyard, I don't know if I can pull it off. I have an HOA! An innocuous one, but fencing and walls are discouraged as being incongruous with the bland vision of the developers. (Actually the camellias are in front of a porch that is pretty darn private pending a much-needed pruning job.) That said, I don't have a tight budget. We purchased this place knowing it needed a some work so we expect to spend a bit. I don't want to be stupid about it of course but we don't want to have to do it again.

The grasscrete stuff--is there something besides grass one can put in it? I don't want to water my driveway. I know it sounds trite, but I really don't.

What's with all the bougainvillea love here? Kidding of course--they are gorgeous and do pretty well here. They seem to get frost damage once a year which is when it's safest to prune them--the leaves fall and you can see the thorns. I find them too unpleasant to maintain. Wish it weren't so. (There is worse stuff--on the back fence there is a Mermaid rose that sends up shoots 30 feet away. Even the thorns have thorns!)

Amazon, if you edged the drive in brick, would the edging on the gate side just be along the property line or would you redo the runway look that it's got now? Concrete with brick bits is the lowest risk option for the drive. :) The driveway is the part that is too big a job to change later if I get it wrong. I can add and remove brick beds (and sort of expect to do so over time). But driveway is beyond my skill set!

Is there a reason dwarf citrus is preferred to standard sized citrus? I love citrus and don't know why one would want it small. I can live with citrus thorns.

The white rock? Ha! We have a bit of that around here, in front of the houses that are still painted green. Ours was yellowish and jagged.

I'm not very familiar with DG. It does look nice I think but I'm not sure it would hold up to the heavy truck that needs to be tucked back there. I'll investigate further.

I think one thing that bothers me about the front yard, maybe even more than the driveway, is the lack of tree. I'd love to get an actual shade tree out there that could sort of shade the house some day. This subdivision (~1600 homes) was originally planted with southern magnolia or camphor (and a few avocado) trees which at 60 years really do soften the feel of the yard. It's just stark and naked without a proper tree!

Thanks for the suggestions. I am running them by the spouse. I should add that we don't spend a great deal of time in the front and our main goal is something that looks good from the street and doesn't require a ridiculous amount of water.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2012 at 12:03PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Your original idea to pave the whole area as a patio would overcome the runway impression, as per some of the photos at the link below (there is one with a diamond on it that scrolls across the homepage ...). But if pavers won't hold up to the truck and you say no staining and no stamping, you might be painting yourself into a corner :-)

The other thing you probably have to sort out is whether you want to stay true to the 50s or not. For me, 50s says lawn, but Senor Bahia (aka David Feix) is probably right in suggesting there are other options within the style. Perhaps hedging of sorts could stand in for walls or fences and still comply with your HOA (or, agitate to change the rules). Your house is also not extreme MCM, so you could get away with several different gardening styles.

Karin L

Here is a link that might be useful: paver manufacturer

    Bookmark   June 15, 2012 at 12:25PM
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Fori is not pleased

Thanks for the link, Karin. That does sort of help picture overall paving. Perhaps concrete is just too white? And maybe the brick edging should be avoided altogether. It says "THIS IS THE DRIVEWAY!!!!!!!!!!" when I just want it to say "here is a hard place you can put your car on if you must". I noticed the one with the diamond--the car is ignoring the garage and looks like it's about to head in through the front door. And oops I like the one that looks like plain old concrete squares!

I think pavers would hold up to the traffic--I just have a sort of hangup that I think they look like fake bricks which is why I was thinking actual bricks. Is there an advantage to pavers?

My HOA isn't a threat (although they managed to get the city to enforce their second-story ban which is good seeing how close these houses are), but I do want to be somewhat respectful of the period. It's definitely not MCM. It's ranchy rustic ranch, not atomic ranch.

A wide planting bed between the sidewalk and lawn (future herb garden!) would ideally have midsize stuff in it to be hedgelike, but I'd rather avoid anything that requires sculpting. There are some vintage gardens in the area with the topiary junipers and trees with balls all over them and they are so totally wonderful! But they do require a bit of attention. Same problem with the "Japanese" gardens which of course aren't Japanese but have that 60s Japanese inspiration. Look great. Lots of work.

I have trouble getting inspiration from my neighbors since most homes in the subdivision are on rectangular lots 80' wide so they have a much better dirt-to-pavement ratio.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2012 at 2:07PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

I feel that pre-cast concrete pavers are not out of character with the house.
There are some very attractive styles on the market. I would suggest that you visit one of the best stocked landscape supply shops and re-examine the many diffferent patterns, colors and textural finishes,

Another thing that you might consider is panels. Seeing how that you have a brick wainscotting on your house you might consider using panels of concrete with brick banding. This is a very classic look that really never goes out of style.
And when you think of the banding detail think outside of the single row of bricks and consider a band of several bricks in a pattern.

Using this technique is particularly nice with joining a sidewalk from the driveway to the front door.

You'll probably find some good examples of driveways on Houzz. type in the word ' driveway' in their search box and pages of driveway styles will pop up.

attached is a photo of a motor court where we used exposed aggregate and inlaide black pebbles for a more artistic look :
and a motor court that ran right up to the front door - using black honed granite inlay strips, pebbles, colored concrete and exposed aggregate. From R E D

    Bookmark   June 15, 2012 at 2:11PM
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Fori is not pleased

I like those. A little too artsy for my low-key house but certainly worth looking into.

I'm sure there are better pavers out there than what I've seen, but they seem to belong in front of McMansions or at least newer houses.

Would "panels" be something like this (laugh at my leet paint skillz!):

    Bookmark   June 15, 2012 at 2:20PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

You know, I am a dyed-in-the-wool design-it-myselfer and I usually don't mind making the compromises that come from my failings as such. Partly that is because I do my problem solving in patches, and I often can't even make one decision before I've made three others. It's less stressful for me (especially with spouse involved) to deal with both decision-making and installation one project at a time even if, as we are currently considering in the back yard, it means taking out something we did earlier to get a better big picture.

Furthermore, there are constraints on what a designer could do for us because there are so many things that would be needed to achieve "stunning" that we simply do not plan to tackle, raising the house, changing where doors are, removing a concrete pad, build a new garage, and so on. In fact, no one can help us - that's why I rarely ask here for help :-) Also, we have a relatively high capacity to both design and install, and so sometimes we don't compromise that much.

Your situation has two important differences. First, you ARE planning on doing the whole yard in one go. Second, you are not planning on installing it yourself ANYWAY. So I'm betting that even if you design it yourself, the person you hire to pour your concrete is going to give you some design input... whether you ask for it or not, if only because without knowing the installation constraints, your design might not encompass them.

Contrasting your design - which is a pretty good start, notwithstanding what I'm saying - with the two that DD posted is a good illustration of the difference between what a DIYer can do in patches, and what a designer can do with the big picture. I sometimes forget the actual heights that a good design can scale because I am so firmly rooted in piecework and DIY. (also a lot of photos one sees are of those magnificent estates that one can barely conceive of as homes. These photos by DD are different in that regard, one by virtue of having no context...).

I don't think the issue is at all whether those designs would suit your house. I think the point is they match the settings they've been placed in perfectly (at least the one we can see). Also, I would not undersell your house design-wise. Perhaps you don't get into suburbia often enough :-) It's worth putting something nice in front of. And it doesn't have to outshine the house; it just has to be something that you step onto every morning and think "perfect."

I am not saying "hire a designer" because there is a certain mindset to doing that that sometimes, people just don't have. And I don't often say it to posters here because a lot of projects that get run by us here have only so much potential for "stunning," and so much of what potential there is CAN be realized on a DIY basis.

What I am trying to say in my characteristic maximum number of words is that you should be aware that a designer such as DD or David could take this particular project to a level that most DIYers can't achieve.

Karin L

    Bookmark   June 15, 2012 at 3:02PM
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Fori is not pleased


My house is fine design-wise. It's simple, unpretentious, and well built and there's nothing so bad that a paint job and concrete removal can't fix it. There are some really ugly ranches out there.

We aren't really planning on doing the whole yard at one go, just the hardscape (or at least the larger elements) and the irrigation part. We're happy to put in plants and create beds at a leisurely pace.

The big thing is the driveway. That has to be there no matter what our plan is. So just picking out the best material for that is crucial at this point. Everything else can be pieced in afterward.

People don't really DIY driveways do they? (Okay, my grandfather had his very own grader just for that.)

Before I look at pavers, do they get weeds? I refuse to be the guy out there with a bottle of Roundup. I still can't see them looking right though. They look! There. I said it. I think they look like a cheap knockoff of whatever they're trying to look like. Yeah I live there and I'm a snob. :P

    Bookmark   June 15, 2012 at 4:57PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I think I meant a professional design only, as opposed to a full design and install, so something that you can install at your leisure, or a design of just the hardscape but the whole hardscape, so that it does not end up being a patchwork of "figure that part out later" and "oh darn this isn't working" as it presently is. Hardscape shapes your beds. Figuring it out later can lose you the aspect of "line" and integration that can elevate a design to "stunning." Little details like those integrating black lines of DD's first photo have to be planned in from the beginning. Focussing on only the driveway at this point will get you a compromise. So I meant to say, CONSIDER hiring or at least consulting a designer. And with that, enough said :-)

Pavers get weeds if you don't sweep them regularly or if you let dirt accumulate on them. I know this because I have some and don't do careful enough maintenance.

At our local landscape supply yard you can get pavers/bricks of various sizes, tumbled and not, made of solid granite and other stone as well as of concrete. But even concrete pavers I don't think look cheap. But I would be concerned whether they can take the weight of your truck - good underlayment very important I think so that ruts do not form.

But I like your sketch of panels - possibly better here than pavers. But at what angle?

Karin L

    Bookmark   June 15, 2012 at 5:39PM
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Fori is not pleased

Ah I see. I agree.

And the front yard would be a good test run for the back. Some weird stuff going on back there...

Getting the panels laid out properly would involve lots of playing with chalk I think. But the weather is nice and I have children who are skilled with chalk. Uneven rectangles might bother me though.

As far as pavers not appealing to me, I guess I was thinking the cast concrete ones. I'd never turn up my nose at Belgian block or anything like that. And even the concrete ones can look decent in the right setting. But they ain't ranchy!

    Bookmark   June 15, 2012 at 6:41PM
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Brad Edwards

I would stamp the driveway to look like pavers but still be solid concrete, thats just me.

I am all for larger citrus, but was just thinking a dwarf key lime might be a really cool thing in that side bed, you wouldn't want a large citrus there because they thorns could get you/scratch a car "it looks like there is a driveway there? Not to mention many lemons etc get 15-20 foot and there really isn't enough room. A nice 4 foot lime would look pretty cool there IMAO, surrounded by a herb garden, but thats just me. Something like purple basil.

I do love bougainvillaeas, wish we could grow them here adequately, still working on that one. They make a great privacy screen are low maintenance, water, and come in a myriad of colors. I guess that is why I enjoy them so, I also think they go with your home style.

You know, some birds or paradise might look really cool in the front bed somewhere.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2012 at 1:20AM
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Fori is not pleased

Bougainvilleas do very well here and are extremely undemanding but anything but low maintenance if you ever want to see your yard again. You're familiar with the thorns on these things, right? :) They take the fun out of pruning.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2012 at 7:22PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

I've never understood why some people love their roses, but think of other thorny plants such as bougainvilla as a completely difficult plant. I find that bougies trained flat against a wall or fence don't require much actual pruning, but do avoid the purple form which is a much more rampant grower more akin to Wisteria or Kiwi vine growth rates.

I'm not a fan of single brick bands across such a wide driveway, it is too little detail for the scale. Grasscrete as a driveway material or banding can also be planted out to no-mow ground covers such as Dymondia or Ophiopogon.

I would still recommend eliminating that additional concrete around the lawn, and if not fencing to create a courtyard feel, at least some cobination of mounds, screen hedges or raised planters to repeat the long low horizontal lines of the house. The house elevation is just a bit bland, and could really benefit from updated landscape treatment in combination with new driveway treatment. I would understand if this doesn't appeal style wise because
it departs from the neighborhood norm, but it would be
the approach I'd propose. It just seems like this front space could be greatly improved by designing outside the box.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2012 at 10:53PM
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Fori is not pleased

Thanks Bahia. This is similar to our original plan and we will use it as a starting point.

Back to my original question which I've definitely veered away from, we are thinking perhaps going with a solid undecorated expanse of something for the drive and not trying to pretty it up or draw attention to it with patterns or accents. Put the attractive interesting stuff where I actually want interest.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2012 at 3:16PM
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Brad Edwards

I am with bahia, I didn't mean putting it out in the landscape, I was using it as a vine as most people do. It makes a horrendous shrub, unless used for security.

I stepped on one at a pool in south Florida one time, trust me I know bougainvillaeas quite well. Just as I wouldn't plant one near a walk way, or next to a driveway, they go great along a back fence or in between a home with neighbors you don't like much.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2012 at 7:36PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Ah yes, I guess that was your original question. I would say that having surface interest is essential because an large undecorated expanse of something is not invisible, even if it is empty. We get lots of queries here from people whose driveway is exactly that and it is really hard to overcome its impact.

Karin L

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 1:30PM
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Fori is not pleased

Don't misunderstand me--I have benefited greatly from the entire discussion! I do want to have a rough idea of what I want before consulting with a pro. If I don't, I tend to get bad results. But if I go in with a sort-of-plan I won't end up walking away saying "what the h*** is this? This isn't what I asked for!".

Whether it's kitchens, overall house remodel, or yard design (this isn't my first yard that's needed professional help), I'm always disappointed in professional notetaking abilities. I'm sure it helps them if I have what I think I want on paper because then they have to say what does or doesn't work instead of me seeing nothing I wanted included in the plan. It's not that I'll be tied to my plan--it's just I'd rather start with MY plan that has the features I want than someone else's plan that might be gorgeous but leaves out things. Um you know what I mean!

SO anyway this has been very helpful and given me many things to consider and if it went beyond the scope of my original query, good!

Thanks all!

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 11:12AM
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Brad Edwards

Fori, you seem pretty smart, I would honestly avoid a professional and normally I would advise quite the opposiste. Just measure what you want, then draw it out to scale as much as possible, from trees, to hardscape, beds, etc.

Of course you'll need a professional to do the drive way, but I don't see any reason you can make a plan and stick to tackling one small section at a time. Its not like the yard is that big "compared to what I am used to". Try landscaping 2 acre lots :)

If you work hard me and you could do 90% of the work in two/three weekends.

Have you ever seen yard crashers? Its a fairly interesting show and might give you some ideas.

Personally I would talk to and become friends with a local nursery, that will go 10x further than just about anything, and leave yourself a couple of options for plants on crazy deals. EX in the east some people are like I want only a dogwood, but pass on a beautiful redbud, ann magnolia, or crabapple that are on sale at 1/4 the cost and would look just as good in that location :).

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 3:44PM
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Brad Edwards

Fori, you seem pretty smart, I would honestly avoid a professional and normally I would advise quite the opposiste. Just measure what you want, then draw it out to scale as much as possible, from trees, to hardscape, beds, etc.

Of course you'll need a professional to do the drive way, but I don't see any reason you can make a plan and stick to tackling one small section at a time. Its not like the yard is that big "compared to what I am used to". Try landscaping 2 acre lots :)

If you work hard me and you could do 90% of the work in two/three weekends.

Have you ever seen yard crashers? Its a fairly interesting show and might give you some ideas.

Personally I would talk to and become friends with a local nursery, that will go 10x further than just about anything, and leave yourself a couple of options for plants on crazy deals. EX in the east some people are like I want only a dogwood, but pass on a beautiful redbud, ann magnolia, or crabapple that are on sale at 1/4 the cost and would look just as good in that location :).

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 3:45PM
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