Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Freeway-side Gardening September 18, 2009

Filed under: flora,veggies — greenwalks @ 8:43 am
Tags: , , , ,

Often, the urge to garden in the city despite lack of an ideal site is just overwhelming. Waits for P-patch slots can be years-long, so sometimes people just get out their shovels and dig wherever they can, whatever the challenges may be.

A few years ago, I saw a guy working on a steep, brush-covered hillside at the corner of a very busy freeway on-ramp here in Seattle. I couldn’t actually believe he was making a garden there, but he was. He cleared the brush and weeds away, tilled the soil, and started planting. And not just tough, easy-care plants, but veggies and flowers. Lots of them.

I used to pass this garden several times a day but hadn’t for a while, and I was delighted to see that it is still thriving despite the daily dose of exhaust it must get from all the passing cars. And despite being at a kind of hard-scrabble crossroads where a lot of down-and-out folks hang out, nobody seems to have raided or vandalized the plot. I don’t know how many people notice or enjoy it as they hurry past, but for me it’s a true testament to the creativity and tenacity of the urban gardener.

(These photos were taken from the car on a blasting sunny day, so are not ideal.)

This is the view you see from the street – sunflowers, amaranth, marigolds, kale, cabbages, rosemary – the works! Red, orange and yellow to brighten a dull stretch of road – what’s not to love?

Streetside Seattle garden by I-5 onramp

In this one, you can see the simple wooden retaining wall the gardener built to hold in soil and maybe keep folks from wandering in from the sidewalk.

Seattle urban garden

The onramp retaining wall is visible in this next shot – no joke, it’s right there!

Farm in the city

Have you ever gone to great lengths to establish a garden in a non-ideal site?


Goodbye to Summer Sun(flowers) September 17, 2008

While the rest of the country has been either pummeled by hurricanes or inundated with extreme heat, we in the Seattle area have been enjoying one of the loveliest, driest, warmest Septembers in memory. I think it has yet to rain a single drop this month, which may not be so great in the long run but, after our weirdly rainy and cool summer, is a welcome relief at the moment.

In theory, this should have kept my (volunteer) sunflowers going long into the fall. In reality, a hungry squirrel climbed them all and broke their necks, resulting in my street garden looking even more like a crazy person’s than usual.

My garden looks crazy

Okay, so the flowering/bent over leeks, empty snap pea teepee and general look of obvious neglect didn’t really help either, so I can’t really blame it all on the squirrel. I’ll just go ahead and admit that I didn’t do much in the way of garden maintenance this summer!

I finally decided it was just getting too embarrassing, though, so yesterday I went out and pulled up all the sunflowers, as well as the leeks (the latter make nice dried flowers).

In progress

(The green weed container at the top of that photo is an old pickle bucket my mom bequeathed to me – she used to get them from McDonald’s for free! No idea why they used to give them away – they don’t anymore. So it’s kind of like a treasured family heirloom. It’s sturdy as heck and doesn’t rot or rust if you leave it out in the rain.)

There were a couple of seed heads that hadn’t been completely devoured yet, although one had been partially consumed.

Decapitated sunflower heads

The entire time I was working, I could hear the squirrel up in the neighbor’s plum tree, probably doing the usual one-bite-and-drop-then-on-to-the-next routine. It was chattering and I imagined its little rodent brain wheels turning as it thought “what is that moronic woman doing with MY #%*&! LUNCH?!?” I left the decapitated flower heads out, so they’ll probably be finished by tomorrow.

Now there’s not much left in my veggie patch besides some very sad, yellow basil (I was out of town during a 90 degree hot spell, right after they were planted, so no amount of watering when I returned could bring them back to health), a few other herbs and the crazy fennel that refuses to bulb. Gotta get my winter veggie starts in before they get eaten by a snail!

Mostly cleared

The rains are supposed to begin this weekend, and Seattle will return to its normal, semi-gloomy self. We’ll all put on our Gore-tex jackets and hide indoors with our library books until next… July?! Until then, I’ll be dreaming of next year’s sunflowers.

All that's left


R.I.P. September 11, 2008

I didn’t even realize it was 9/11 until about halfway through the day today. I was feeling kind of crummy anyway, so I decided I needed to go for a walk and maybe take myself to lunch to cheer up a little.

Even my sunflowers seemed to be bowing their heads to mark the day.

Sunflower Hanging Head

First stop, Nana’s Soup House, a popular neighborhood soup/sandwich joint that draws folks of all ages, has decent food, and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. We used to go there more often when our kid was smaller, she loved the grilled cheese and always had a smile on her face when we left. We hadn’t been there in a while, and I was shocked to see that the place is closed and is moving across town to Fremont. That brings our walkability score down a notch, unless something else useful goes into that space.

Bummed and hungry, I decided to walk on, hoping to visit and photograph a favorite parking strip garden I hadn’t passed by in a while, since my daughter outgrew her stroller and we stopped heading that way on our walks. The owners had sold it a few years ago, and I was hoping to find that the new folks had decided to care well for the established and wonderful garden, which had been designated a Certified Wildlife Habitat. To my great sadness, here is what I found:

Garden Death

The perfectly charming 40’s house had been ripped down, along with most of the street garden, in order to build this totally-out-of-character-for-the-neighborhood monster:

Monster House

What even IS that? A huge house? A condo development? A hospital annex?? It’s hard to see in the photo just how immense it is. I have nothing against modern architecture; it just seems like a huge waste of resources to rip down something functional to build something else that doesn’t even fit into the landscape. Not to mention all the plants they killed with the trucks, gravel, etc.

There used to be a huge stand of bamboo that ran halfway up the block. My daughter and I would stand next to it, listening to the lovely sound the wind made while rustling through, and thinking about pandas. Here’s all that’s left now, someone probably had a field day with their chainsaw:

Last of the Bamboo

One of the last things standing is this New Zealand Flax. It will probably be run over by a bulldozer next week.

Last Flax Standing

The trumpet vine is still there too, I guess that one’s pretty hard to get rid of once you have it:

Trumpet Vine

I felt physically sick when I saw the devastation. It was a big reminder, on this day of all days, that gardens are ephemeral, as is all of life, and we should enjoy what we can while we have the chance.

Nana's Sign on Snow Day


Seed Snarfer August 31, 2008

My family looked out the window this morning and saw something pretty funny. A big, fat squirrel, perched precariously on top of one of my parking strip sunflowers, was scarfing down all the seeds s/he could reach. I had noticed yesterday that some of the flowers were leaning over and thought it was due to a windy day we had earlier in the week. Guess it was the squirrel’s climbing expeditions instead.

Sunflower Squirrel

One of the stems had snapped off halfway down, so I hacked it off and brought it up to our house level so that we could watch the fun from a closer vantage point. The squirrel soon reappeared and ate the entire huge head of seeds. “It’s like it’s a big feast!” was my daughter’s comment. Guess fall must really be here.

Squirrel Things Sunflower Seeds Are Yummy


Volunteer Sunflowers August 23, 2008

Three years ago, I planted some sunflowers in the parking strip. I can’t even remember what variety they were, I think they were some dwarf hybrid Mexican type, petite and bronze and cute. The following year, I didn’t get around to planting any but noticed some familiar-looking volunteer seedlings in the same part of the garden so let them stay to see what would happen. They shot up over late spring and early summer to become 6 ft. and taller volunteer sunflowers!

Nodding sunflowers

They aren’t really true to type anymore, but that’s fine by me. Now I no longer bother with seeds from a catalog, just let the squirrels and birds have at them in the fall and see what comes up again next year. We can view their happy heads from the house and they seem to attract a lot of attention from neighbors and passers-by, even though they require zero effort to cultivate.

The big one