After Gretchen and Ethan built an addition to their home in Burlington, Vermont, they knew that they would be over the town’s required 'lot coverage', which factors in paved driveways. The easy solution was to rip out the pavement and replace it with an environmentally-friendly grass driveway, built with permeable, grow-through pavers.
“Both of us liked the look of the grow-through pavers better with more green space, and as far as runoff, it’s nice to have it feel a little more environmentally friendly than concrete,” says Gretchen.
Installing & Planting The Grass Driveway
After local stonemasons installed the permeable pavers and an excavator dropped a huge pile of dirt, Gretchen had the daunting task of evenly moving and spreading the dirt over the driveway and raking it in. For the best results, she explains that it's recommended to only fill the pavers halfway before planting, so cars won’t impact the grass when they drive over it.
After the dirt was raked in (and they gave the leftover topsoil to friends), Gretchen and Ethan planted our Low Work And Water grass mix in the sunny areas and our No Mow grass mix in the shadier spots.
When I stopped by they had only planted a few weeks ago so not everything had grown in yet – but the grass driveway still looked absolutely gorgeous. “I can’t tell you how many times someone has driven by, or walked by and stopped,” says Gretchen. “Everybody comments on how good it looks.”
To protect the newly planted grass driveway for the winter, they will add straw on top of the entire driveway.
Getting Ready For Spring Planting
They added annual rye grass to the bank next to the driveway where they will eventually add shade plants in the spring. “We planted it to stabilize the soil and to avoid the area becoming a complete mud pit,” says Gretchen. “I was amazed at how fast the annual rye grass grew.” In the spring they’ll till the area and add a mix of columbine, trillium and groundcovers.
In this sense, Gretchen and Ethan used the Rye Grass as a cover crop or 'green manure', taking advantage of its ability to prevent erosion and become a grow-in-place fertilizer, which will release important nutrients after it's been tilled back into the soil. Now the columbine, trillium, and groundcovers will have nutrient-rich soil to help get them started. You can learn more about using green manures here.
So what’s next for the grass driveway? Gretchen says she is planning on adding a variety of colorful groundcovers this spring in between the paver strips, where cars won’t drive over. “We just love how it looks; it’s so nice to have green out there,” she adds.
Why Are Grass Driveways Environmentally Friendly?
Permeable paver driveways aren’t just for looks (although it is a nice bonus), but are also an environmentally-friendly alternative to paved or blacktop driveways.
As Gretchen mentioned above, one of the main reasons people install these types of driveways is the reduction of runoff water, especially in a city. Permeable pavers allow for rain water to pass directly through them and get absorbed into the ground, which helps keep pollutants that can be found in storm water (collected as the water races over paved roads) from entering the water system and contaminating streams, lakes, and other waterways.
Gretchen and Ethan’s grow through paver driveway is also environmentally friendly because it creates habitat where it would otherwise be a wasteland. Even the small patches of grass and flowering groundcovers they plant in that area make a big difference to their local pollinators.
Permeable paver driveways help reduce runoff, create a habitat for wildlife and require little water.
The grass mixtures they chose are low water and low maintenance, meaning that only natural rainfall will be required for these grasses to grow and they'll only need to be mowed a few times each year. This helps reduce emissions from lawn mowers and conserves water.
The Cost Of An Environmentally Friendly Grass Driveway
Looking at Gretchen and Ethan’s driveway, I figured that it was an expensive project, but it turns out I was wrong. “Originally we were going to do cement strips and then when we started pricing it out we realized it wouldn’t be that much more expensive to do the grow-through pavers,” she says.
A driveway that has gorgeous curb appeal, that you can garden in, is environmentally friendly and fairly inexpensive – what more could you want?
Have you had any experience with permeable pavers or environmentally friendly driveways? Please share in the comments below.