Van Chaplin

Sometimes a simple perennial border can solve all your problems. Well, almost ...

Driveways and cinder block walls aren't usually the stuff of spectacular gardens, but sometimes these unsightly elements lend themselves perfectly to growing something beautiful. Barbara and Rob Wolin's perennial border is a glowing example.

Leaving the Trees
When this Dallas couple finished designing their house around the large, old oaks that shaded their property, they found that the front of the house would need to face the driveway. Unfortunately, the neighbors had already put up a tall cinder block privacy wall along the property line, directly in view of their house. They called on friend and horticulturist Bill Seaman to see if their plan could be saved. 

"I love a good puzzle," says Bill, "and I'm convinced that the more constraints there are on a project, the more my imagination is pushed, and therefore the better the result becomes." So Bill began to work and found that there were plenty of constraints to inspire the design. "We had some pretty strong feelings about letting the existing landscape drive the plan," Barbara says. "We didn't want to take down any trees, and we wanted the house to work with the landscape. So I guess the design was an evolution of sorts."

Creating Solutions
The first thing Bill confronted was the view from the front of the house. "Because the house sits sideways on the lot, facing the driveway and the cinder block privacy wall, I had to figure out how to turn these elements into an attractive front yard," Bill says. The other challenge was giving the Wolins a sense of destination when they drove down their long driveway. "They wanted the entrance to their house to be a pleasant experience," he says. "So why not make the driveway border the best part of the garden?"

Bill first considered stuccoing the wall to match the existing house or planting a tall hedge, but because the driveway is the only sunny part of the yard, it seemed more natural to cover the wall with colorful perennials. "We ended up just painting the wall and then putting in a combination of plants that would thrive in the sun, giving a long show of color," Bill says. The real challenge, however, was to use plants that would cover the wall and look good year-round. Both sides of the driveway are now filled with bright color: narrow-leaf zinnias (Zinnia angustifolia) and autumn sage (Salvia greggii) in full bloom, a butterfly bush sending bright flowers over the wall, and aromatic asters (Aster oblongifolius) cascading in the back. Even in the winter, Gulf muhly (Muhlenbergia filipes) and other ornamental grasses create a striking look. The combination of these plants gives the Wolins a textured view from their house. In the foreground, colorful perennials mask the driveway, and then the taller grasses hide the wall, leaving the neighbors' existing trees to complete the view.

"This garden really is my joy," says Barbara. "The perennial border is constantly changing, and I'm always surprised by it because I forget where I plant things. Then they just pop up and start to bloom, and I'm wondering 'Where did that come from?' "

"Driveway Color" is from the October 2004 issue of Southern Living.

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