Many front gardens are essentially a driveway, maybe with the odd tree or shrub in a pot, but with little in the way of wildlife-friendly greenery. I totally understand why you might prefer to park your car off the road. What I don’t like is the way these driveways become desolate, lifeless spaces. With bee and wild bird numbers declining, it’s more important than ever to create wildlife havens in our cities, and driveways are a significant space that many of us neglect. Happily, there’s much you can do to green up your driveway.
1. Throw away your weedkiller spray!
(Do this in a responsible way, obviously.) There is no need to nuke every single green shoot that pops up between your paving slabs or in the cracks between your fence and the drive. Wait. Watch what grows. It might be a wonderful little wildflower. Even if it is something you consider a weed, it likely won’t do any harm until it seeds. If it does turn out to be a plant pest – for me, these include grass, green alkanet, nettles, garlic mustard, chickweed and thistles, but each to their own – you can just fork it out, or pour hot kettle water on it to kill it without harming the environment.
2. Create space for plants to grow
Consider lifting the odd slab or a few bricks here and there, to actually encourage plants to self-seed. If you commute to work by car, the area underneath your car will actually be open to the fresh air and light for most of the day, five days a week, making it a great growing space. Consider having a long, central strip of gravel that runs the length of the driveway. This could be a perfect environment for many wild flowers.
3. Get growing
Sow some seeds – simply scatter and water – or put little plug plants in the gaps, so you don’t have to wait for nature to find its own way to green up the space.
4. Stick to your guns
Lastly, and most importantly, don’t be put off by worrying about what your neighbours might think. Let them have their perfect, spotless, lifeless stretch of paving. You will have the joy and satisfaction of seeing beautiful flowers being enjoyed by bees, butterflies and umpteen species of creepy-crawlies, which will in turn be enjoyed by wild birds.
Low-growing plants for the centre of your driveway
- Forget-me-nots, Myosotis sylvatica – you’re bound to know this one, with its azure-blue flowers, with white or orange centres, it flowers between April and June, and is a prolific self-seeder.
- Primroses, Primula vulgaris – these can flower as early as December in mild years, through the spring until May, and the flowers are a lovely creamy-yellow.
- Dog Violets, Viola riviniana – purple flowers similar to those of pansies and heart-shaped leaves, it self-seeds around with huge enthusiasm.
- White Clover, Trifolium repens – one of the food plants of the Common Blue butterfly, flowers appear from May to October and are popular with bumblebees.
- Red Dead Nettles, Lamium purpureum – not at all like a stinging nettle, it has heart-shaped, toothed leaves, and reddish, square stems, with whorls of pinky-red, hooded flowers. It’s a great early source of nectar for red mason bees and bumblebees, plus some moth caterpillars feed on the leaves.
- Sconecrop, Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ – evergreen, low-growing, mat-forming succuent, with bright yellow leaves in the spring, yellow-green in the summer, and orange-red in autumn. The small, yellow flowers are loved by bees. This is one you’ll have to plant, but once you have, you’ll never need to buy it again. It roots easily from cuttings – I don’t even bother using a pot, just pull a bit off and bung it in the ground where you want it, easy!
- Common Daisies, Bellis perennis – you know the one, “He loves me, he loves me not…” and daisy chains, obviously. It will probably just appear, at some point, if you let it.
- Wild strawberries, Fragaria vesca – okay, so I don’t recommend eating the fruit that has been sitting at exhaust pipe level, but the leaves, flowers and tiny fruit are pretty, and the plants will spread freely.
- Yellow Corydalis, Pseudofumaria lutea – often found growing out of cracks in old walls and pavements, its leaves are much-divided and yellow-green, forming compact, fern-like mounds, and the flowers are small, yellow trumpets.
Taller plants for the edges/sides of your driveway
- Honesty, Lunaria annua – heart-shaped, blue-green leaves with toothed edges, and pink, purple or white flowers, followed by oval, papery seed pods that look good in flower arrangements.
- Fairy Bells, Campanula persicifolia – delicate, nodding pale purple or white, star or bell-shaped flowers between July and September, it’s regularly visited by bumblebees and honeybees for its valuable nectar source in autumn.