Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Gardening to the Curb

I first became interested in “gardening to the curb” during the perusal of a GardenWeb chat on the subject. Although I can no longer find that original discussion, I recently managed to find several other conversations on gardening in that area between the sidewalk and the street, also referred to as the hell strip, the easement, or the boulevard. There is even a website devoted to gardening in this strip, the Guelph Boulevard Club. I was sold on the idea after seeing a house in “downtown” Alexandria, Kentucky where the easement had been landscaped. Just a few plants in a 3’ x 25’ area made a tremendous and gorgeous impact.

It’s a difficult spot to garden in. In the winter, the area is subject to being sprayed with salt and piled high with snow. In the summer, it can become very dry. It takes abuse from passengers exiting cars parked curbside, kids on bikes, and dogs looking for a toilet. If the area is an easement, the city can dig it up without warning to access utility lines. Some communities prohibit its members from planting anything more outrageous than sod along the curb.

However, the area has potential. If it is bounded by concrete on all four sides (curb, sidewalk, and two driveways), it is the perfect container for aggressive plants. As the first thing people see when they approach the house, attractive landscaping can dramatically enhance curb appeal. If your neighbors don’t mind, it’s often far enough from the rest of the house and landscaping to be used as an experimental bed.

It is this last quality that appeals to me. My neighbor Mary gave me 40 tulip bulbs and I was at a loss as to where to plant them, until I considered the bit of easement on either side of the driveway. Our strip contains one tree and a scrubby mix of grass and weeds, punctuated by mole hills. Anything I plant there can only be an improvement, so I feel free to try new ideas.

My only rule is that the plants be free or almost free. The $1 perennials I recently found at Moeller’s qualify as nearly free. I plan on begging a bit of Tim’s ditch lilies next spring. Perhaps the tulip bulbs will rot, the perennials will shrivel from the salt, and the sewer line will need replacement, prompting the city to destroy it all, but I won’t have invested much more than my hard work.

I’m ready to experiment. My results might be nice enough to get me into the boulevard club or inspire my neighbors to try something similar. Finally, the thought of being greeted by forty tulip blooms as I turn into the driveway this spring makes me smile.

*If you are considering gardening along the curb, be sure to call your utilities hotline before you dig.


Blogger Kristin said...

A few months ago, the great city of Eutaw came through and dug up water lines along our curb. The grass is just now coming back. I'd be afraid to invest any effort in that area now. Of course, I'm also lazy.

12:25 PM  
Blogger Takoma Gardener said...

Great topic, and if you have any success getting your neighbors to join in the beautification, let me know, because I've utterly failed so far to inspire. Or they're all really lazy. But I'll be highlighting curb gardens on the new local gardening site I'm working on and hope to drum up some interest citywide.
My own street garden consists of really tough stuff like sedum, daylilies, phlox, groundcovers, 3 cherry trees, ornamental grasses, carex and liriope, and a beautyberry that's now in bloom (like you, I've refused to spend any money, so they're all extras or discards). It's the last photo in my photoset "My Garden." Susan

6:50 PM  
Blogger Jocelyn said...

we're planning to landscape the ends of our block with neighbors. We just have to organize it and have been waiting for all the new condo owners to move in-hopefully they'll be get involved types like us!

3:59 PM  

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