Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Raised Bed Cover and a Couple of Crows January 11, 2010

The uncharacteristically deep and long freeze Seattle endured in December subjected winter veggie gardens to a real beating. Many unprotected plants, including some that were hurriedly swaddled in floating row cover, did not survive. Even some carefully shielded by a pro gardener under the warming embrace of a hoop house just couldn’t hack it after days in the 20sF or lower. This was one mean frost!

That’s why, when I saw this plastic tent-like structure in a parking strip recently, I wondered if its contents had made it through okay.

Hoop house for winter greens

Looks like it might be a pretty easy DIY project, just a few lengths of PVC and some heavy-duty plastic. I wonder if the low and compact shape, as compared with a hoop house, trapped warm air inside more effectively and helped to keep things alive? The lettuce seems to have survived:

Lettuce through hoop house cover

Are the crows just decorative or do they deter potential pilferers? I took them as a warning and didn’t poke my camera inside for a closer look.

Crow guards for raised bed

Later, some real corvids were spotted on a house’s rooftop. They like to look in rain gutters for tasty tidbits.

Crows on roof


Still Shining November 10, 2009

This is one for the flower-lovers (you know who you are, and aren’t).

A year or so ago, a simple raised bed appeared in the parking strip a few blocks from my house. Good soil went in, things were planted, I didn’t go past for a while, but when I was out for a walk the other day, we’re talking almost-mid-November here, I almost fell over when I saw this.

Parking Strip Flower Explosion

What are they feeding those things? The good stuff, obviously.

My cosmos are long gone, at least I think they are – maybe I should look again! These ones are not only still blooming, they are forming new buds even as the evening temps dip toward freezing.

Cosmos and Zinnias

Massive orange dahlias abound:

Lion-ish Orange Dahlia

Guess I’m not the only one who plants stuff and forgets what it’s called (this was attached to one of the massive dahlia stalks):

Dahlia Tag

I loved this tattered but still-glowing zinnia, its charms a bit faded but still cheerful on a cold fall day:

Aging Zinnia

My sunflowers are long gone too, and yet here are these, still standing proud and topping out at probably 11 ft. How they survived the previous night’s wind storm, I have no idea.

Towering Sunflowers in Mid-November

Well, mostly survived:

Broken-necked Sunflower

This gardener chose not to rip up the entire parking strip, just a small patch of sod for the raised bed. But man, you can fit a lot of loveliness in a small space if you get it right. I can’t wait to see what they get up to next year!

Just one house over, strange things are growing in the lawn…

Skeleton in the grass


Streetside Potato Farm June 22, 2009

A couple of weeks ago, I took a stroll to the public library to return some overdue books and on the way I saw a raised bed in the parking strip I hadn’t notice before. It was a biggie, most of the width of the property, and pretty much a monoculture.

Potato/rhubarb planter box

As of a few months ago, I might not have recognized this crop, thinking it looked a bit like tomatoes but not quite (they are both members of the nightshade family, along with tobacco, peppers and eggplant). Now that I am a potato farmer myself, on a much smaller scale, I realized right away that this gardener is gunning for a really big crop o’ spuds.

They were all planted in nice neat rows and hilled up (the new potatoes form between the original seed potato and the top of the hill).

Potato farm on street

Potatoes do take up a bit of room, so I can see why the streetside planter box was tempting to build. OK, it wasn’t quite a monoculture – there were some really massive rhubarb plants at the end of the rows.

Rhubarb forest

I’d seen rhubarb on the street before but not potatoes. Urban farming is really catching on in Seattle, as is parking strip gardening. I love it when I see people combining the two!

(Oh, that whole signing off for the summer thing didn’t last long, did it? I guess I must be addicted to blogging. Not going to be a daily thing but when I can get to it, I will.)


Raised Beds Sprouting in the Parking Strip May 23, 2009

I saw this while driving home from the school run last week. I had to stop and take photos, the sight warmed my heart so much.

Parking strip raised beds with fresh soil

This is a corner lot on a fairly busy thoroughfare, but the beds are located on the side street. Five of them! No idea what’s going in but I’m going to be keeping a close eye on them to see how they are planted.

Looks like the sod was maybe smothered with cardboard and then stripped and turned over in the spring.

Parking strip raised bed with busted sod

Then, in with the black gold!

Shovel in fresh soil

The guy who made them was in his garage, headphones on and table saw blazing. I didn’t have the nerve or heart to hover and stop him to ask about the raised beds, but it looks like either he or someone else there is already an avid structure-builder and gardener, judging from the house-side street garden.

Streetside trellis and Mexican feather grass

Pot of coleus, black mondo grass and ?

Spirea &  hydrangea?

Purple flowered vine

Forget-me-nots & ?

Golden perennial

A little leftover good soil, dumped into the arterial side of the parking strip. Guess maybe something’s going in there too!

Compost piles on parking strip

Extra wood, board ends or fodder for the next garden building project?

Extra wood

I know, I’m a freak, but stuff like this just sends me over the moon. There are so many folks in my neighborhood adding raised beds, ripping up sod, and otherwise making more space for gardens right now. It’s a revolution!


Agent 0001 May 10, 2009

On the way home from the Tilth plant sale last weekend, I made my family do a pull-over so I could go back and photo a planter box on the street that I’d spotted. It was in a rather sad and lonely stretch of cemented-over parking strip, just placed on top with a square-foot-gardening overlay. I thought it was pretty brave of whomever had put it out there, they must really really want some extra space!

"Square Foot Gardening" raised bed on concrete

Of course, once I was out of the car, I had to look across the street and see what was going on over there, where the cement was confined to the sidewalk and the parking strip was completely planted up. I was admiring this kind of naturalized-looking garden on the corner…

Nicely naturalized parking strip garden

when the biggest parking strip planter bed I’ve yet to see in my entire life caught my eye, just one plot over:

Mondo giganto raised bed in parking strip

I didn’t do a very good job of capturing the immensity of this thing – it’s easily 20 feet long, and probably a good 18″ high, fully planted with a tree, flowers, veggies… like a mini farm right there on a semi-busy street.

Long and deep raised bed in parking strip

Basic but super sturdy construction, using 2 X 6es and posts, nailed together. This is quite a pea patch for a street garden! Collards too.

Peas galore in parking strip raised bed

Salad greens galore, plus marigolds to keep the baddie bugs away:

Lettuces and marigolds in parking strip raised bed

The iris, tulips and tree are permanent residents, with veggies and annual flowers rotating in and out with the seasons:

Veggies and flowers in big raised bed

Looking down the street, it seems the neighbors have gotten into the act too, with similar, although smaller, beds.

Raised beds in parking strip

While I was out there admiring and photo-ing, the owner happened to walk by. I always feel a little funny when my stealth missions turn out not to be so stealthy, but this fellow was friendly as could be and actually seemed excited to talk about his street garden. Turned out his story was pretty interesting, so I’m really glad I happened by at that exact moment and met Gary.

When I asked him about his really impressive raised bed, he said it used to be even bigger, and stretch all the way from the sidewalk to the street. This was many years ago, before planter boxes in the parking strip were anything but extremely rare. Someone from the city saw it, didn’t like how cars couldn’t open their doors if they parked next to it, and cited him and requested it be removed. He said okay, how can I get a permit and do it right? The city didn’t have a permit for sidewalk raised beds at that time, only some rules which weren’t so easy to work within. So Gary helped get the permit process shaped up and ended up with Seattle parking strip raised bed permit # 0001. To me, that makes him a legend.

Why does he garden on the street? To get more space and sun, to make something beautiful, to have more home-grown edibles, to meet neighbors and passers-by, to spread the word on gardening in this way. How cool is that? I hereby dub him Agent 0001, Licensed to Till!

Parking Strip Raised Bed Gardener #1


Cherry Trees in Planter Boxes December 6, 2008

Walking around my neighborhood the other week, I saw these relatively mature ornamental cherry trees in the parking strip.

Cherry tree planter boxes

I was curious about the planter boxes, which are a bit weathered and coming apart at some of the corners. I imagine the intention was to help the trees get a good initial start in an area where soil compaction is usually high. There is nothing (at least currently) planted underneath, so that doesn’t seem to have been the plan.

The trees, bare of their leaves, had been recently mulched and seemed to be tucked in snugly for their winter nap. Some of the claims to fame for mulching include insulation, nutrient supply, weed control, water conservation and disease suppression (per Linda Chalker-Scott’s “The Informed Gardener.”)

Cherry tree planter box with mulch

When mulching trees, I have read that it’s a good idea to keep the mulch away from the root crown. What do you think, did this gardener do it correctly or is it too close to the crown? I have to admit in advance that I don’t know the answer! Do you mulch your trees? If so, what material do you use? How have they fared?


San Francisco Street Plantings November 30, 2008

Part of our recent vacation to the Bay Area of California was spent in our old stomping grounds of San Francisco. We lived there from 1992-2000 in a never-quite-gentrified part of the city that was equal parts noisy, diverse, crazy and wonderful. We are lucky to have family members who live just a few blocks from our old apartment, so when we come to visit, it feels like coming home. Surprisingly little has changed in the past eight years, and the grocery store folks even remember us!

We were only there for about 48 hours this trip, much of it spent shopping for Thanksgiving fixings and then making the various dishes we were bringing to the feast (two kinds of stuffing, a sweet potato puree with pecan/brown sugar crust, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin ravioli in sage butter sauce for the vegetarians), but I tried to take a few photos of street gardens in the neighborhood. There aren’t really parking strips, at least not in that part of SF, so trees and any other greenery are forced to live in small containers or other gaps in the concrete. This row of trees in small, square planter boxes was installed by the builders of a spiffy condo complex a few years ago:

San Francisco street trees

I’m sorry not to know the tree variety. Any guesses? They have been nicely underplanted with succulents:

Box o' succulents

Further down the same short block is a thriving bottle brush (Callistemon), in full bloom here in the last days of November:

Bottle brush tree

That tree really says California to me (even though technically it’s from Australia), as does this one, Angel’s trumpets or brugmansia, located directly across the street:

Trumpet flower tree

There were Bougainvillea vines in full bloom everywhere in the city right now – I didn’t get a good shot of any but a purple one is visible peeking out from under the spectacular tree in this next shot (I should know what the tree is but have forgotten – again, any guesses?):

SF streetscape

I love that their pumpkins are still out and spiffy – ours all had to be dumped due to gigantic black rotten spots and/or squirrel destruction. The only wildlife we saw on the street was pigeons, and I guess they are not interested in eating squash.

Ah, SF… we love and miss you, but it was good to come home to Seattle too.


More Planter Box Ideas November 2, 2008

If one of the items on your winter project list is to make a raised bed planter, here are a few more design options, all spotted on one street’s parking strip in my neighborhood.

This simply constructed but fairly deep (approx. 2 ft. high) bed has plastic webbing strung across attached supports and acts as a trellis for climbing veggies, not sure if it was peas or beans, since they were all done by the time I saw this.

Planter box & trellis

A second, identical planter box was just down the hill. Note that these are deep enough for root crops like the carrots that were still growing in this one in early October.

Planter box & trellis II

There was also room enough for some mini squash plants next to the carrots, or maybe they were cucumbers?

Deep enough for carrots

One gardener favors veggies, another likes flowers. This low bed was full of fall bloomers such as dahlias and penstemon, and surrounded by wood chips with nary a weed in sight.

Low raised bed for flowers

Tidily tended flower planter bed:

Tidy raised bed

I really need to get myself organized and make something similar, especially for carrots. My soil has a thick clay layer underneath the compost I’ve added and root crops are just not happening for me right now. What about you, any construction projects in your near future?


Small and Square September 10, 2008

Making a raised bed for your street garden doesn’t have to be a huge project. I saw this option in my neighborhood, two small, square planters with a nicely edited selection of veggies and flowers.

Square planter boxes

One plant each of squash, alyssum, tomato and marigold per box. They looked so sweet and tidy, and probably take less than 10 min. per week to care for. Each box couldn’t have been more than about 3 ft. across. So cute!

The marigolds were just kind of glowing.

Glowing marigold

Alyssum and marigolds are both edible flowers, although I find that the marigold taste is a little too intense for me. The flowers attract pollinators for the veggies, so everyone’s happy!


Towering Tomatoes August 25, 2008

Man, there are some really tall tomatoes growing in the parking strip gardens of our neighborhood! Not sure if it’s the wonky summer Seattle’s been having (cooler and rainier than usual), or just the variety. Even though the scale is a kneeling 5 year old and they’re in a raised bed, I’d still say these guys were at least 6-footers.

Peeking under the tall tomatoes

They took up an entire raised planter bed on the street and really looked like some kind of fairy-tale forest. I hope the fruit ripens, it must be a lot of work to stake, cage or otherwise contain such monsters!