Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Knock-out Parking Strip Garden October 25, 2008

Early to pick up my daughter at school the other day and happening to have my camera along, I decided to amble around the nearby streets to see if I could find any parking strip gardens to photograph. It’s become sort of an obsession for me, and I get the same satisfaction when I spot one coming into view as I imagine a predator might when sighting its dinner.

I could tell this one was going to be a little out of the ordinary, especially for the neighborhood. This photo shows where the previous property ends (spindly tree and plain grass at right) and the amazing one begins (fully planted parking strip and banana trees next to the house, in Seattle!?!).

Garden is focus, not house

It was a bright day so these photos will not do the garden justice. It is a riot of colors, textures, and shapes, all harmonious and contrasting at once. It’s one of the most impressive parking strip gardens I’ve come across since I started looking for them, and I’ve seen a lot. It was either designed by a pro, or the person living there is a master landscaper. I might have to sneak a note onto their porch and ask if I can come back for more photos and an interview. I want to go back anyway, since my camera ran out of memory card space before I even got around the bend to look at the other stretch of plantings (it’s a corner lot, so twice the space for parking strip glory).

Walking down the sidewalk, it was like taking in a botanical garden on both sides:

Sidewalk "botanical garden"

I’m not good enough at plant ID to get even half of these, feel free to call out any you know and especially admire (or despise) for their looks or habit. What I found literally breath-taking was the amazing combinations and the sheer variety. Let’s see, just the ones that I know off-hand in this one small section: lavender, purple coral bells, senecio, penstemon, red-twig dogwood, bergenia, and at least a few others. None of those so amazing on their own, but the grouping seemed unique, and so densely planted.

Fabulous foliage

An apple tree provides scale (note the pest-protection footies!) but is under-planted with perennials such as lungwort, sedum and euphorbia.

Apple tree underplanted with perennials

I think I literally let out a gasp when I saw the grouping of variously colored pitcher plants:

PItcher plants

I grew this orgage-y coralbells variety in my previous garden but it was in the shade and always looked floppy. This one was really healthy-looking, and placed so that the striking color and wavy texture would stand out:

Orange coralbells

Zany green and yellow striped canna foliage contrasts well with bright red dahlias, pale cream-yellow phygelius, and what looks like a bamboo in the far background.

Dahlias and cannas

Garden art-haters (and I found out there are definitely some after my previous post!) will be happy to see that there is not a single non-plant item in this landscape. Well, with one exception:

Hiding hydrant

I have many more photos of this garden and may put up another post later to show the continued marvels of plant pairing creativity the designer has come up with. If even a square yard of my parking strip looked this good, I’d be a proud gardener. That they’ve got 60′ X 5′ and it all looks perfect… I’ll try to focus on being inspired rather than jealous!

Crazy good

(Bonus thanks to anyone who can ID the yellow-leafed plant with blue-purple flowers in the last photo – it’s crazy bold!)


Parking Strip Garden in Progress October 18, 2008

Taking a stroll in the Wedgwood neighborhood of Seattle the other day, I found very few parking strip gardens. It’s a very tidy-yard part of town, with most gardens featuring heavily fertilized grass, tightly clipped shrubs, and very little wacky innovation.

So I was pleasantly surprised to come upon this corner lot, with twice the space for taking over the street with something a little different. It’s obviously a work in progress, and a narrower strip than those in my neighborhood, which to me made it even more interesting. The first step, taking out the grass, is done, but the plantings are still going in.


I’m partial to the slow phase-in too, although maybe just from laziness. I think it takes a bit of courage to leave the blank spaces for a while until the right plant enters your life.

I noticed some Pacific Northwest natives like this small vine maple (acer circinatum), and in the distance you can see that they are also using small berms of soil and mulch and planting into those.


This red-twig dogwood (Cornus stolonifera, another NW native) is getting its lovely fall colors. I also like the sawn tree branch as an accent.


Sword ferns (Polystichum munitum) are ubiquitous in Seattle but somehow seeing one by itself instead of the usual massing makes it seem more unique and kind of sculptural. Not sure what the buried milk jug is for, slug traps or ?? Wouldn’t think that would be necessary near a fern but who knows.


I couldn’t resist a peek over their low fence into the front garden. I felt like a spy so didn’t look too long, but a prominent feature of the front yard is a chicken coop, with three lovely ladies (Buff Orpingtons, I’m guessing, only two were out but you can see the shadow of the third) clucking and pecking the grass under a twirling rainbow wind ornament. They looked like really content birds.


Proceeding around the corner, I saw this grouping of an aster (boy, only one aster? My garden needs to come over and learn something about aster restraint next year!) and senecio. My asters did that icky bottom-leaves rot thing too, so I just ripped them all out because looking at them was making me ill.

More nursery babies waiting to go into the ground, just like at my house… at least these ones are in place and all that’s left is to dig the holes. Looks like drip irrigation is getting put in, or at least a soaker hose – good idea for a parking strip garden.


This is not a showpiece garden, or at least not yet, but I thought it was a great example of a work in progress that will grow and evolve as the gardeners have the time and interest to spare. I think that sometimes people are afraid of such a large and blank canvas, and of the special requirements of gardening on the street, but we can see here that an unfinished plot can provide enjoyment and interest too.