Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Parking Strip Gardening in Portland? October 5, 2008

A friendly commenter pointed out here that there may not be as much parking strip gardening going on in Portland (the proverbial “City of Roses”) as I seem to have found in Seattle. I’d love to do a fact-finding field trip to P-town about this subject, but in the meantime I was curious to see if there are different rules, as well as perhaps different attitudes, about utilizing this space.

In Seattle the parking strip is owned by the property owner, and the City expects it to be maintained according to certain guidelines. Of course, there is not a huge amount of enforcement, and I’ve never heard of anyone’s garden being condemned or ordered to be altered for any violation. Most people leave it alone but a growing number are using the space in a more creative fashion.

It interested me to read, on the City of Portland site, that in their city the parking strip is considered “part of the public right of way” but the adjacent property owner is responsible for maintaining it. Perhaps any hesitation by Portlanders to get into digging in this part of the dirt is partly attributable to this, and also to the fact that planting, pruning, or removing a tree out there requires a (free) permit from the city. The site doesn’t give much information about what kinds of plantings are permitted or encouraged – they mostly seem concerned about keeping tree limbs from blocking visibility and signs (hence the site’s depressing picture of a rainy day street scene with an offending tree branch keeping a school crossing sign from view).

Here is a blog post about starting a drought-tolerant parking strip garden – maybe this is just the tip of the iceberg. This one near Reed College sounds like a beauty, too bad they only put in one tiny picture. At least there are lots of plant names and great advice on soil amendments for making it drought tolerant. I think that one’s going to have to go on my field trip list. And one of my fav blogs, Nest Maker, has a funny post about goings on in the parking strip.

Wondering what your city’s regulations are about getting going on a parking strip garden? Check out its municipal web site, sometimes listed under the Department of Transportation, and if you have an Urban Forester or City Arborist, that’s another good place to start.

'Brandy' rose


9 Responses to “Parking Strip Gardening in Portland?”

  1. Georgia Says:

    I don’t know the rules that govern sidewalk strips in Berkeley but it’s a popular form of gardening here. Read a Walking Berkeley blog post – Also, San Francisco has an ecological sidewalk garden program –

  2. Racquel Says:

    I know in my area I just see grass, trees or weeds growing there. Such a shame to not utilize that space for something more interesting.

  3. Megan Says:

    Thanks for the link and kind words.
    I had no idea what our parking strip laws were, to tell you the truth. There are so many bad tree choices and bad pruning going on in parking strips around here, I doubt most people follow through on the permit requirements. I do know we have a city forester you can call to come out and make recommendations, but I didn’t realize that was the rule.

  4. Katie Says:

    Here in Seattle, parking strips are also a part of the public right of way and technically “belong” to the Seattle Public Utilities. But gardeners being gardeners, they just can’t help themselves. Some beautiful parking strip gardens adorn the streets of my neighborhood of Ballard. These gardens embrace the sidewalk and positively contribute to the experience of just walking down the street. Seattle does have some guidelines about planting, but the city realizes the importance and ecological function of these tiny tended plots of land, so they encourage the colonization of parking strips by plant communities.

  5. greenwalks Says:

    Georgia –

    Thanks for the links. Berkeley has such great street gardens, I hope to visit some of them while we’re down in the Bay Area next time.


    Racquel –

    Well, maybe you can be in the vanguard and start your town off on a parking strip gardening frenzy! 🙂 I think if one person does it, then people can get inspired – good ideas spread that way sometimes.


    Megan –

    I think most people don’t really bother with permits or really know the laws that govern the parking/planting strip. I think they are rarely enforced unless the plants are causing a hazard or, as you say, the city gets chainsaw-happy to protect power lines.


    Katie –

    Actually, I contacted the city of Seattle early on in the life of this blog, since it’s about parking strip gardening specifically, and the law is actually that the property owner does in fact own the parking strip but is required to maintain it in a fashion that conforms to city code. If you want to take a look at my earlier post, here is a link to it:

    – Karen

  6. ann Says:

    well, I’ve actually seen lots of ‘hell strip” plantings in the NE side of Portland, from veggies like corn to ornamental. Don’t know how the numbers compare to Seattle, though. If you do visit check out the Irvington neighborhood for gardens a plenty.

  7. SusanO Says:

    I live in Portland – we own our parking strips here. The sidewalk too – it’s just that the city essentially has a public access easement. So homeowners are liable for broken sidewalks that might hurt somebody, that kind of thing. I got dinged once when I was away for a long while and the grass and weeds grew up.

  8. SusanO Says:

    I also meant to say that there is plenty of parking strip gardening in PDX. I walk my dogs in North Portland and there are some lovely places.

  9. Lately, I’ve been in NE Portland quite a bit, and see many nice gardens / landscaped areas in the planting strip between the curb and sidewalk.

    We live in Beaverton in a neighborhood where there is no requirement for street trees, although that’s optional.

    Since I planted 3 purple beech in the front yard, as well as 3 vine maples and a Japanese maple, I put shrubs in the streetside planting strip.

    Rather simple though – Variegated Boxwood spaced about 7 feet apart, with one flagstone between each. The Boxwood choice was due to the flexibility of it’s branches. Car doors can open against it gently without breaking the twigs and branches.

    We would have planted more floral, but there a plenty of children and dogs going by that seem to wander off the sidewalk. A little girl was hopping over the boxwoods day before yesterday.



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