Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Streetberries, Winter Edition January 27, 2009

Filed under: neighborhood gardens,winter — greenwalks @ 9:41 am
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These bright red berries, still clinging to their vine in mid-winter, were hanging over a retaining wall near my house when I walked by the other day. Does anyone know what they are?


It seems odd that they would have been left by hungry birds and animals – maybe they can’t reach them (they’re halfway down a very high and otherwise bare cement wall). Or are they poisonous? I hope they’re not Deadly Nightshade berries – this garden is quite close to both a preschool and an elementary school which many kids walk to and from every day. Eek.

In any case, I did enjoy seeing a bit of color on an otherwise gray and frigid morning. It’s snowing here again today for the umpteenth time this winter – I guess we’re just going to have to get used to it (or move back to California!)


Sidewalk Scene November 15, 2008

Filed under: neighborhood gardens,trees — greenwalks @ 11:05 am
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I’ve been frantically working (like a squirrel in late autumn? Hm, maybe Dr. Destructo and I have more in common than I thought!) on a couple of bigger posts but nothing is quite ready to put up yet. Today is busy, no time to write, so all I have to offer is this photo from a recent walk.

Maple leaves on fence

I hope this weekend brings you time to commune with your garden, or at least a moment to think about it and plan for next year!


Sidewalk Seating November 7, 2008

Strolling around my neighborhood on errands, for exercise, or just to see what’s growing in people’s gardens, I seldom go so far that I need to stop to rest. My daughter, however, despite her seemingly boundless energy inside our house (usually manifested in racing around or jumping on the furniture), does have the miniature legs of a five year old and therefore sometimes need to stop for a break if we walk somewhere. She’s usually fine to just plop down on the sidewalk, but when there’s something more interesting to sit on, we are both happier about it.

None of the bus stops near where we live have benches, but occasionally a kindly neighbor has built or placed seating on the street for others to use. I find this very touching, the thoughtful and considerate act of providing a nice resting spot for passers-by.

We’ve tried them all out many times. This one is particularly useful, and was perhaps built for our annual 4th of July street party, which has been going on for over 50 years. It seats quite a few! Or just one, in this case.

Bench rest

Just a few houses down is an incredible garden that I keep meaning, but forgetting, to feature on this site. Their bench looks like it belongs in a princess’ castle rose garden, but it’s just on the sidewalk for anyone to sit upon.

Sweet sidewalk bench

I wasn’t sure if this was meant to be an actual bench, or if it was more of a sculpture, actually useful sawhorse, or ?? You’d have to be pretty tall and skinny-reared to find it comfy.

Skinny bench or sawhorse?

My daughter and I used to sit on these stump chairs when she was smaller. I remember watching the “big kids” play on the elementary school playground from this vantage point when she was two – and now she’s one of them (at a different school)! The stumps aren’t exactly level but they’re perfectly irresistible to kids, which is why I imagine they were put there.

Stump seats

This gardener has a whole “fairy garden” set-up, including this adorably tiny bench complete with flower pots and straw hat. There’s also a little house with a hinged lid and a sign on it that says “Please Open.” It’s way cute.

Fairy bench

What about you, have you ever put out a seat for strangers? Or enjoyed one that someone else (besides the city) built?


When Good Trees Go Bad September 15, 2008

This beautiful old apple tree is planted in the parking strip in my neighborhood.

Street apple tree

It’s lovely for most of the year, with its spreading branches, silvery bark and gently fragrant spring blossoms. Unfortunately, it’s grown to tall for its fruit to be picked easily, even with a stepladder, so during the fall, most of it drops to the ground.

Street apples

The owners put up this sign, hoping someone would cart away at least some of the mess, which is no doubt attracting some fun critters (Seattle is a water city, and where there’s water, boy are there a lot of rats!):

Apple tree sign

Um, I don’t know about you, but rotten-apple pie is not exactly tops on my list of favorite baked goods…

Rat food

I think this is a pretty good advertisement for dwarf varieties. (Obviously, I’m not blaming the tree for growing to its proper size! It’s just in the wrong place.) Fruit trees take a lot of work, pruning, thinning and so forth, and once one gets away from you it’s hard to get it back in check. Across our back alley, some folks had a neighborhood heirloom apple tree bequeathed to them years ago as a smallish transplant – now it’s a great, huge mess to deal with but they’d feel horribly guilty if they cut it down.

What about you – is there something in your garden that needs offing but you just can’t bring yourself to do it in?


Funky Trellis September 14, 2008

This bamboo-cane trellis with an interesting shape is constructed in a small raised bed on a major street near my house. Not sure what type of tree it’s supporting, but I really liked the simple, elegant form and it seems like it would be really simple to put together.

Interesting trellis

For more information about the art of espaliering trees and shrubs, click here.

Another creative trellis I saw a while ago but don’t have a photo of at the moment – two sets of old downhill skis, one pair at each end bolted together at the tips, supporting a wire-line raspberry trellis. Genius!


Street Squash September 13, 2008

Walking around my neighborhood the other day, I saw this ingenious use of the tiny amount of space left over at the base of a privet (?) hedge:

Street squash

The squash, whatever type it was, is blossoming up nicely and maybe they’ll even have some to eat by the end of the season. It’s right there on the sidewalk, goes the full length of their place, and provides such a surprising and pleasant contrast, rambling along under the formally trimmed hedge.

Green Zone had this post recently about squash and other veggies growing in a very urban area of Prodidence, RI. It’s so nice to see food crops sprouting up in unlikely places!


Raise High the Planter Beds, Carpenters August 28, 2008

(Sorry, gratuitous Salinger reference there…)

In my previous (and very first) garden, the only patch of ground that was free of summer-long shade was on the street, in the parking strip. So, if I wanted a few veggies, herbs and strawberries to nibble, I had no option but to garden out there. Not being too handy, but feeling like a raised bed was the best way to contend with tree roots and crummy soil, I pondered the options. My mom ended up getting some friends to build me one as one of my all-time best ever birthday presents. I got a lot of fun and use out of it, and was really bummed to drive by our old house recently and see that the new owners had dismantled it for some unknown reason. Maybe I should ask if I can have the pieces back, to rebuild it (by myself, this time) in our current place…

Here are some links for building raised beds. I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here, just providing some options.

Sunset Magazine has a fairly simple design, and they claim it can be built with redwood or cedar for under $200. Does require a table saw, though.

Here’s a really spiffy one, from This Old House. Pricier too, though, and probably needing someone pretty handy to put it together.

Prefer a video? This is kind of goofy (bonus for dog-lovers, cute labs co-star, chasing sticks and a frisbee), but shows how to make a planter bed with untreated 2 X 12’s, coated at home with linseed oil. Tells you how to mole-proof, too.

This is a Texas A & M University (Ag school) article, ” In Praise of Raised Beds,” with advice about how big to build yours and how to prepare the ground, what soil to add, etc.

Treated wood is icky. Nobody knows for sure what it leaches into your soil, so try to avoid it if possible!

Here’s an example of some raised planter beds in our neighborhood:

Raised beds

Small crosswise ones allow you to reach in and not have to step on and therefore compact the soil.

This one is a small square bed, great for a vertical crop like beans or peas plus whatever you want to plant around the edges.

Small raised bed

You can also forgo wood altogether and make a bed out of paver bricks or broken concrete (scroll down in the latter link to see a nicely formed herb bed using this method). To be legal with the city, at least in Seattle, raised beds in the parking strip require a permit, and bricks or stones must be fixed in place, not removable for easy hurling.

Raised beds make root crops like carrots and beets much easier to grow, and in an urban setting, adding your own soil from a known safe source is a plus too. Before you set up your bed, be sure to double-dig or rototill the existing soil to help with drainage. And don’t forget to add lots of compost! Anyone have a favorite? Mushroom compost? Something containing bat guano, perhaps? Or just home-grown?