Could You Dig Up Some of Your Driveway?

And why you might want to consider doing so.

yellow house with natural, plant-filled front yard and gravel driveway

Ivan Hunter / Getty Images

Many of us take great care over our back gardens, while the fronts of our homes are dominated by expansive areas of paved driveway. Spending some time and effort out front, and making brave decisions about a paved driveway area, could improve things on our properties no end.

When planning what to do with a front garden area, often we ignore the driveway, perhaps almost pretending that it isn't there. Driveways are problematic in a range of ways. They also cover large areas that could be used in more beneficial ways. 

Being brave and digging up some of a driveway is easier than you might imagine. It is also an excellent choice for you, your family, your community, any wildlife, the surrounding environment, and the planet in general.

How to Narrow an Existing Driveway

How easy it is to make your existing driveway narrower will depend on the materials from which it is made and the specifics of its construction. But sometimes it is perfectly possible to maintain access for vehicles while regaining some beneficial planting space along its edges.

Paved, concrete, or asphalt driveways are often unnecessarily wide. By reclaiming some of the space they cover, you can enhance the environment and reduce impermeable surface on your lot. 

Even if it is not possible to remove the materials along the sides of your driveway and make it narrower, you might be able to add raised beds along both sides. So, this is something else to consider, even if you cannot dig up the surface itself. (Note: This may not be possible in colder climates where you need to leave room for snow removal.)

How to Add a Central Strip of Planting

Even if you need an existing driveway for vehicular access and it is not too wide, you might be able to consider removing impermeable material in a strip down the center, so the wheels of a car can still roll on either side and low-growing plants can be added down the middle.

You will be able to drive right over this central strip as you drive onto your property. And when correctly planted, it could certainly help things feel less gray and improve curb appeal. 

Replacing Existing Driveway With Permeable Materials

If your driveway is old and tired and you are considering something new, you might think about getting rid of an existing driveway entirely. The reclaimed materials might even be used somewhere else on your property in eco-friendly ways or be recycled in your local area. 

It's a good idea to ensure that your new driveway does not have an impermeable surface. Reclaimed gravel or other such materials create a parking surface without stopping water from soaking through into the soil below.

an idyllic country house in Wales with gravel driveway

Photos by R A Kearton / Getty Images

The Problems With an Expansive Driveway

Making a driveway narrower, creating planting pockets down the center, or even getting rid of the existing driveway altogether are all very good ideas. Hard surfaces tend to be ecological deserts, which bring no benefits to people, wildlife, or the environment in general.

When rain falls onto driveways and other areas of hard paving, it cannot soak into the ground. Instead it creates runoff, which collects harmful toxins and pollutants from the surface along the way, rather than being filtered and cleaned by plants and soil.

Why You Should Dig Up Some of Your Driveway

Cars are unfortunately an important part of existence for many. But they don't need to rule us on our properties. Practicality does not need to be sacrificed, and you can still have a space to park. But you should think about cutting down space dedicated to vehicles to make space for more important things.

By removing at least some of such zones, we bring back biodiversity, keep things cooler, and aid people and the other creatures with whom we share our space. Your frontage will look much better, and the space you reclaim can be used for plants which bring a huge range of local and broader environmental benefits.

We can manage water more effectively on our properties by reducing areas of hard paving and driveway, and by adding features like rain gardens which keep water around, preventing runoff while allowing us to enjoy beautiful gardens with less water use.

Yes, there may be some expense involved if you need to get people in to remove areas of hard paving. But you might also be able to take a DIY approach if the situation is not too complex. And even when you do need to pay to have some hard paving removed, you might be able to recoup some costs by using the space you reclaim to grow food or other resources.

Financial costs are just a drop in the ocean when you consider the added value—the huge environmental and potentially social benefits that come from improving your front garden in this way. It's hard to put a price on the ecological and personal benefits of adding appropriate planting to your space in place of boring paved expanses.