By Mel Bellar

It seems appropriate to talk about arrivals in the first column of the new year, as I am still basking in the glow from my trip to Japan where the Japanese devote a lot of attention to their entrances. This Japanese tendency made a big impression on me, even though first impressions and the arrival experience have always been one of my major concerns in a landscape design. The entrance, whether it be to the property via a driveway, or a path to the home, always makes a statement. It can be inviting and warm (“ya’ll come on in”) or imposing and chilly (buzz, if you must enter) and everything in-between.

Of course, in our warm and friendly Catskills, we rarely encounter explicitly unwelcoming situations, unless it is intended for the dastardly deer! However, there are a whole range of issues regarding privacy, aesthetics, perhaps security, and ease of access when it comes to entrances. This is completely dependent on the size of the property, length of the driveway, proximity to the street and type of establishment. Regardless of the situation, it is something to think about and warrants trying to create an appropriate treatment and feeling.

If you live in a village or close to the street you may want to consider curb appeal, while maintaining elements of privacy and a welcoming feel. When you are out in the countryside with a larger piece of property you may want to point out the driveway entrance, or not! However, when getting from the parking court to the house, you should make the experience as comfortable, pleasant and unambiguous as possible.

The Japanese have a cool concept when it comes to entrance design; it involves a very clear and inviting entrance like an arbor or open gate (torii gate) that does not reveal the destination. Instead, arriving at the intended location, usually a structure, requires the experience of walking through a beautiful garden with a turn or two before unveiling the temple, home or whatever. I love this idea and think it is an enchanting way to provide privacy in the friendliest manner. In my opinion, it is a totally appropriate way to consider the journey from the driveway entrance to the home. While you may not want your home to be readily visible from the road, the driveway entrance can still be obvious, and yet not reveal the house until the visitor has journeyed a little more.

I will use my house as a curious example. We live in a somewhat remote location and our house is quite a way off the road. It is a bit embarrassing, but our driveway entrance is not particularly well-marked, nor anything remarkable. It would benefit from spicing up with cool plantings or some stone work to make it more dramatic and obvious. Simply put, it just hasn’t bubbled up to the top of my priority list yet (shoemaker’s child?). Oh, and it doesn’t help that it is so darn far from the house that anything I plant needs to survive without getting watered. Early on I planted some blue spruce to help screen the house, because I did not want it to be clearly visible from the road. That was unfortunate, because after only 16 years the spruce have the crud (Cytospora canker), look terrible, and now I am taking them down.

A successful aspect of our driveway is that the house is not visible from the entrance and remains hidden until rounding the first curve of the driveway where it is partially revealed. Even after the parking court is finally reached and the house is fully visible, you still can’t see the front entrance. There are two inviting ways to enter. One is a Garden den Therapy (Continued from page 4) that leads into the garden along a pea gravel path. The gravel turns to a stone path that requires backtracking a little to reach the front steps. The second, more direct, way is via a set of stone steps that join the stone path heading directly to the house. Both entrances draw you in and offer a good experience. It is a little ambiguous but not too confusing; you do get to the right place either way!

What I find disconcerting is when folks have an obvious front door and façade yet no comfortable way to get there. Oftentimes in these cases the “real entrance” is on the side or in the back. This is frustrating to visitors and not so great for the homeowner either. It is also very difficult to successfully direct guests via landscaping to an entrance that is not obvious when there is another one in plain view.

Take a thoughtful look at your entrance and consider this: Why not make an attractive and comfortable experience to move from the car to your preferred home entrance and do the same for your guests, whether it is the same entry point or not. Don’t make it a slippery slope or past the garbage waiting for delivery to the transfer station. Plant something that looks good most of the time, and maybe something that smells nice. Add an arbor or a pretty path. Treat yourself to an “ahhhh” every time you arrive home.

Mel Bellar is the owner of Zone4 Landscapes and a passionate Andes gardener.~