Whether you’ve just moved house and inherited a bit of outdoor neglect, or you’ve simply been in your present home so long that the passage of time has taken its inevitable toll, sooner or later most of us come up against what you could call the ‘part damaged drive dilemma’.
In the midst of an otherwise perfectly serviceable drive, path or patio, in one or two places, some of the surface is cracked, chipped or broken. Not really enough on its own to justify the expense of re-doing the whole thing, but conspicuous and unsightly enough to annoy you every time you catch sight of it.
So what do you do? Bite the bullet and stump up for a complete renovation job? Risk a repair – knowing before you begin that it’s likely to show and annoy you every bit as much – or just try to ignore it, knowing full well that you’ll probably never be able to, no matter how hard you try?
If that’s beginning to sound familiar, then there’s another option that you might like to consider – and that’s the little known and often overlooked technique of plant patching. Chief amongst its virtues are that it is quick, easy and cheap to do, and can soon change a real eyesore into an attractive feature that adds some instant and uniquely quirky kerb appeal to your house.
The Art of Camouflage
The basic idea behind plant patching could hardly be simpler. It’s all about creating a focal point of carefully chosen, and usually low-growing, attractive foliage plants to replace and effectively camouflage the currently broken surface. That said, there is a bit of an art to the process – the last thing you want to do is turn a chipped and missing section of path into something that looks like a chipped and missing section that’s now started to sprout weeds!
The trick is to do a little bit of research, plan your planting regime carefully to blend in with the surroundings, get a little artistic – but above all else, make it look as if it was intentional all along, and not as if a bunch of wildflowers just happened to germinate in your tired old concrete.
The first thing to do is to examine the damaged area to see how extensive the problem is, and consider whereabouts on the drive or path it is located.
There are no hard and fast rules to decide whether plant patching is the right solution because it largely depends on the particular site and the overall look of the surroundings – not to mention how you as the householder feel about your own domestic environment. As a general guideline, it works best for relatively small areas, positioned away from the centre or any main thoroughfares, but there’s absolutely no reason why it couldn’t be used for a two-metre square patch right in the middle of your drive if you want to – always assuming your drive is big enough to let you drive round it!
Making the Planting Pocket
You’ll need to remove any broken or cracked parts, going back as far as necessary until you come to good, solid surface. Once that’s been done, unless you’re very lucky, you’ll almost certainly be left with a ragged, irregular hole, which will need it’s edges cleaning up and smoothing to produce something that makes a more aesthetically pleasing shape.
Next, dig down a little, removing any underlying ballast layers, until you reach soil underneath. Generally, drives that are most in need of this kind of damage repair often tend to be made up of a rather thin surface coating, laid on fairly skimpy foundations, and sometimes none at all, so little actual excavation is usually required at this point.
Having now created your planting pocket, it’s time to add the plants, and some compost or soil, if necessary.
You can, of course, use any kind of plants you like to make your patch, and again, much of the decision will be shaped by the specifics of each individual case. Factors such as the look of rest of the outdoor space, any pre-existing planting scheme, the use of the area – what works for a sheltered patio, for example, wouldn’t necessarily be appropriate for a front path or driveway – and so on.
In the end, however, it mostly comes down to a matter of personal taste, although the usual considerations that apply to any kind of gardening will still hold true; you’ll still need to pick your plants to suit the conditions.
Low-growing plants with interesting foliage are popular choices, especially evergreens or those with coloured stems to inject some all-year-round visual appeal. Many of the alpines are perfect for this, not least because their natural homes share a lot in common with the dry and hot summer surface of drives, but for the best results, you need to read their labels very carefully. While most of their kin will thrive in full sun, fewer like partial shade, and almost none will tolerate a life lived almost entirely in the shadows. Bear in mind too their overall shape, size and habit – some of them do grow surprisingly tall, so unless you have a particular scheme in mind, it’s often most effective to group plants of a similar overall height together.
The finishing touches can make the difference between it making a deliberate focal point and adding to the overall appearance of your driveway or path, and looking like a badly weeded accident, so it’s worth taking a bit of time to think things through carefully.
As always, a lot depends on personal taste and the surroundings, but adding gravel, slate or some other kind of top dressing is a popular and very effective way of setting the whole thing off, as well as helping to stop weed problems from developing. Remember that the golden rule is to make sure it looks intended, so unless you are aiming to create a particular effect, it’s best to pick gravel that will compliment the rest of the drive, but isn’t too similar to it.
Good plant patching can rescue a tired drive – or at least buy it a bit of a reprieve – and save you from a lot of expense, but obviously, it has its limits. The good news is, however, if your drive really has gone too far, there’s plenty of advice to be found elsewhere on this site to give you all the help you need.
Plant patching isn’t a permanent fix, but it’s one of the best (and easiest) ways to make your drive look better. The overall effect is delightful, and once established, you needn’t do any more work on it for years. All told, it’s a very worthwhile way of keeping your outdoor space looking its best.