Curbside Gardens

You know what’s a hot topic these days? Veg gardening, of course, but after that?  The evils of conventional lawns.  And a subset of that (stay with me here) is how to make better use of our curb spaces than planting turfgrasses.  These curbside gardens go by lots of names, including hell strip, median, parkway and boulevard.  And I say by whatever name, it’s all goooood.

My curbside garden where there’s no parking

My town replacing the sidewalks and curbs on my street was a great opportunity to turn turfgrass into garden, but it took some hovering on my part to make sure they filled the new spot with the full three inches of topsoil called for in the contract.  (Neighbors who didn’t hover were rewarded with a mere sprinkling of topsoil over construction debris – good luck gardening in that!)

It also helps that parking isn’t allowed on my side of the street, and also that my property’s not on a corner, so I didn’t have to worry about plants limiting drivers’ visibility.  I just had to make sure the water-meter-reader had access, and then I created a couple of cross-over places with stepping stones.  Other than that, I could go high, but not wide.

Plant choices for this space followed one simple rule – spend no money.  I just didn’t trust anything to survive the conditions.  Think about it:  salt spray, piles of snow, kids, dogs, reflected heat, and trucks backing up badly.  So I filled the space with extras from elsewhere on my property, all happy in sun.

Shrubs and trees: Crape myrtles, Yoshino flowering cherry, beautyberry (Callicarpa).
Perennials: Day lilies, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ and the much shorter S. linare as groundcover, purple coneflower,  Rudbeckia, garden phlox, and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’.

It’s been five years now and I can report that everything has survived all the hazards of curbside life, except disease – one of the cherries died of beetle infestation.

To see more photos of my tallish curb garden, plus ones in Portland and Buffalo,  click here.

Shorter plants that accommodate parking

On the left, in a sunny spot along a busy street with parking are the silver-leafed Licorace plant (Helichrysum petiolare ‘Silver Mist’), some of the new petunia varieties that bloom like crazy without dead-heading, plus some liriope, not shown.  They’re super drought-tolerant – well, except for those petunias.

And for shade, how about good old hostas with liriope (for evergreen color) and strategically placed flagstones for human passage?  You don’t get much lower-maintenance than these two workhorses.

What to Avoid

  • Multi-branched shrubs or trees that impinge on the sidewalk space.  Well-meaning curbside gardeners who create hazards for passers-by on foot or in baby strollers are – sorry but it’s true – being really inconsiderate neighbors.   On the other hand, reporting these hazards to the authorities for enforcement of the local safety code is a neighborly act.
  • Breaking local laws limiting digging or the growing of tall plants.  Seattle’s guidelines allow for plants up to three feet in height, shorter at intersections.  Also to ensure visibility by drivers, trees must be limbed up.
  • Forcing people who are getting out of their cars to step into a jungle.  Paths and stepping stones solve that problem.  Quoting Dole from the New York Times article:  “When people are getting out of their car, they don’t want to have to realign their car with a stepping stone, so they’ll get out and just walk on it. So you don’t want to have a mound right next to the curb where they can’t get out.”