Help with my circular driveway island design.....

by Mark
(Upper Makefield, PA - USA)

Hi there:

I've included a picture of my contemporary ranch here in Bucks County, PA. This is our third year in the house and I've decided to re-do the front circle. Before I began the demo, it had a 6' weeping Cherry tree in the middle (and it was not very happy). The previous owner intended to plant boxwoods on each side but bought and planted the wrong plants apparently.

I just cannot decide what to do and don't want to make a mistake. I've considered a fountain (6 feet tall) with a small circle of white stones and grass, a tree that flowers but also will grow to some size eventually (in the middle; perhaps with ground cover instead of grass underneath), a Japanese garden (some kind of water feature, a bench, plants, etc., some kind of concentric circles (pavers, plants, grass).

The circle is 40' in diameter. You will be my hero if you can suggest a design that works.

Dear Mark,
You have a beautiful home & I particularly like the front door. It is an impressive focal point that I wouldn't want to hide with planting, but frame and accent. You may be finding the circle difficult because it is off center from the front door. This positioning of the center circle is always more challenging to design, but not impossible. I can see a few approaches depending on the amount of maintenance you are able to do. The contemporary design of the house coupled with the natural stone lends itself to a waterfall type water feature with masses of low plantings for color, texture and interest. I would position the waterfall to the right side of the circle where it would also soften the long blank wall to the right of the front door. The organic shaped pond for the waterfall would extend across the center island to the left side of the front door. Plantings would be around it. A waterfall is the most expensive option and does require routine maintenance of cleaning filters and taking care of the water. Water plants like water lillies can add another dimension of beauty and interest to the front of your house.
Let me know what you think about the waterfall idea. You can also use just plants in this area and I can give you my thoughts, if the waterfall idea is too much.
Thanks so much for submitting your questions. Nancy

Many thanks Nancy. Do you have contacts in Bucks County, PA who might be interested in doing the work?

I don’t. I can do some talking around and see if anyone I work with does. I’m glad you like the waterfall idea. I think it’ll look spectacular. Keep in touch. Nancy PS Let me know if you need a sketch for the contractors. I can do a concept sketch for a small fee. Thanks again!!!

Hey Nancy:
I just may need that sketch. I've contacted two people so far and sketched something myself. That being said, I guess I'll see what happens (do I get called-back, do they have ideas, etc.). The good news is that I've finished the demo work so the site is prepared (at least it is a blank canvas) and I have a pile of rock leftover from building the house. I think that using it for the waterfall will help to tie the whole area to the house.


Good Morning Mark,

They should call you back and schedule an appointment to meet you at the site to look at the project and more importantly talk and LISTEN to you. There should be a design that needs to be the basis for the work. Often, especially with a water feature, there are field changes because you can’t draw it exactly. A good designer should take your thoughts, make it work and make it WONDERFUL. The design also is how they price the job. Good Luck! Visit my waterfall page by pushing the button to the left, if you haven’t already. It may give you more insight.


Hi Nancy:

I thought I'd send you a brief update on my project. It is scheduled to begin next weekend and be done by June 1st. I'm doing just about exactly what you recommended. To the left will be a waterfall; emptying into a free form 11 x16' pond to the right. Around the waterfall/pond will be mostly natural plantings (dwarf Japanese maples) and ground cover. Finally, a stone path and small seating area should complete the project. It's costing me a bit more than I expected ($15,500) but I don't think it is way out of line. I'll be happy to send pics when completed if you're interested. As always, many thanks for your help.


Thanks so much for the update! I’m so glad it worked out and I think it is going to be a striking addition to your property and really set off the front of your house. Water features are expensive and for what you are describing to me, the cost does not sound out of line especially if it is someone that knows how to do water features well. Keep it as natural looking as you can. Feel free to send pics during construction, if you have a question.

Best Regards,


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May 05, 2010
Thanks for the fast reply....
by: Mark

Thanks Nancy! I will look into the waterfall idea (mostly to see what it might cost). I like the idea very much and will be sure to get back to you either way. Thanks again.


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