Gardening where the sidewalk ends

On the Proper Use of Daisies July 19, 2010

Filed under: flora,summer — greenwalks @ 9:52 am
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A parking strip garden in the Meadowbrook neighborhood of Seattle showed off some great possibilities for that somewhat prosaic and often weedy member of the plant kingdom, the daisy.

I have these in my own garden, in clumps and singles, mostly I think as a self-sower that came over from the neighbors’ to the north. (After having mis-named them twice, I now think they are the Shasta daisy hybridized by Luther Burbank – see what you think, more info here.) I like them okay but they would probably be better if I paired them intelligently with other plants, as this gardener has.

Picking up the daisy center with the bright lemon flowers and bronze foliage of Lysimachia ciliata ‘Firecracker’? Brilliant.

Daisies and Lysimachia ciliata 'Firecracker' (?)

(I am guessing on that plant ID – it is a form of loosestrife so I would need to do more research before planting it myself, as that name sends chills down my spine, invasive-weed-wise. Anyone know if this one is safe?)

Letting them snake in a line through iris foliage and hot pink lychnis? Genius.

English daisy 'snake'

But my favorite – achieving the ultimate country-in-the-city look of a tall meadow while simultaneously covering up the mailbox post: divine!

Mailboxes and daisies

(Thanks to Grace for pointing out my inept plant ID, which I have since changed! Grace knows all!)



Tidy May 30, 2009

If there is one thing I’m not, it’s tidy. Not in the garden, not in the house, not in my life. I’d like to be, and I try sometimes, but I always fail. Maybe it’s lack of organization, forethought, or energy. Or that given the choice between reading a book/going to the beach vs. putting the junk mail in the recycling/making sure all the nursery pots are cleaned out and stacked, I’ll always choose the former.

My neighbors probably cried real tears when we moved in – “Oh no, here come the Beverly Hillbillies!” I feel kind of bad for them, it’s probably the first time in their lives that they had to look out their windows at plastic mulch bags and actual weeds (the previous owner was pretty fussy and also had a professional gardener who used herbicides and never let a single poppy go to seed).

When I see tidy parking strip gardens like the one below, I kind of admire them on the one hand but on the other I wonder how the person planning it had the restraint to leave so much bare ground (or were they just being cheap?). I also wonder if it will stay tidy, or if it was put in by a landscaper and will be left to go wild. I kind of hope to see self-seeding flowers showing up to mess up the design a little, is that evil of me?

Tidy new parking strip garden

It is just a baby garden right now, and I walk by it at least once a week so I will be interested to see it grow. That one yellow sedum in the corner is a known spreader, so maybe the whole thing will be filled in with a nice mix of gold, purple and green before too long and I’ll be satisfied with the plants’ tendency to resist, along with me, the tendency to be too neat around the edges.


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


Greenwalking Queen Anne March 11, 2009

Every time I visit a different neighborhood in Seattle, I try to remember to take my camera along to record what gardeners have got going on in their parking strips (aka hell strips, planting strips, tree lawns, or nature strips).

When I met the other blogger in the family for a lovely Thai lunch on Queen Anne Hill on a sunny day last week, we made sure to build in enough time for a postprandial stroll so that I could check out the neighborhood’s late-winter gardens.

Queen Anne is one of Seattle’s oldest and most beautiful neighborhoods. We walked around its northern reaches, which are full of stately (and pricey) homes that mostly feature very manicured gardens. I’m guessing that quite a few folks in this neighborhood hire out their gardening tasks, but it was a pleasant surprise to find as many street gardens as I did in just a quick survey, including many planter boxes that look like they’d be full of edibles come summer.

This well-constructed, multi-level raised rock bed was just off Queen Anne Avenue, the area’s main drag.

Parking strip raised rock bed

Raised beds with drip systems:

Raised beds

Parking strip flower garden, beginning its run with crocus and daffodil bunches:

Spring bulb fiesta

Funny gumdrop shrubs (very old-school):

Sheared shrub gumdrops

Hell strip rose garden!

Parking strip rose garden

This looked like it might have been a recent design/install job. I had to resist the urge to test out to bridge to see if it was “real”:

Bridge to nowhere

I’m going to try to put up a second post about the trees I encountered, as this neighborhood has a wide variety of mature species. I also want to go back when things are a bit further along in the planting/blooming cycle, and see more of the inventive ways people have carved out a little more garden space.

150 years is the blink of an eye in some parts of the world, but around here it counts as incredibly antique! To learn more about the neighborhood’s past, visit the Queen Anne Historical Society site.

Thai restaurant botanical window decoration

(Curly branch window screen at the next table over.)


Top 9 Objections to Gardening in the Parking Strip – Exploded! January 10, 2009

(Yes, I know, 10 is the traditional number for lists of this sort. But I chose 9 for our new year, 2009, so sue me. Actually, please don’t, otherwise I’ll have no money left for buying plants.)

Have you been aching for some more space to garden, perhaps even a blank canvas to cover with your very own entirely self-determined plantscape? Are you staring longingly at the last un-colonized patch of ground in view but are worried to touch it for one of the following reasons?

9. I’m not sure where the sewer and water lines are out there and I’m afraid to dig and hit one.

Before you start digging anywhere in your garden, you should know where your underground utilities are. Call your local municipality or look at their web site to determine how to contact them to get the lines marked. In Seattle, it’s 1-800-424-5555  for the location of your water, electric and gas lines. For the side sewer, call the Department of Construction & Land Use at 206-684-5362. Shallow digging for planting veggie seeds is probably pretty safe, but if you plan to dig and amend your beds or plant a tree, it’s safer to get this checked in advance.

8. The soil quality out there is terrible.

The issue with parking strip soil is often more that of compaction than soil quality. One way to address this is by building raised beds to house your favorite new plants. Another is to try lasagna gardening, sheet mulching, or berms.

7. It would be hard to water a street garden.

Planting a mostly water-wise garden in this area is a good bet. Or, for things that need a more frequent drink, add an extra section attached to your front hose or, better yet, a drip watering system.
6. I don’t know what plants would survive out there, much less thrive.

It’s true that conditions in that space can be tough. The plants you select need to be able to withstand greater heat due to refraction from surrounding pavement, in addition to any soil quality or compaction issues. Then again, the whole reason I started gardening in the parking strip to begin with was that it provided the single sunny spot in my previous garden. Even a small raised bed with some decent soil in it can help you raise things that might not get enough light in another spot, such as peppers, tomatoes or squash. Xeriscaping is a hot topic for gardeners these days, and some cities offer lists of suggested plants (for Seattle, click here for a list of recommended street plants.)

5. Animals and people might trash my plants.

If you’re worried about this, you can always group your edibles in one spot and enclose it with a low wire fence (that has worked for me so far, with dogs at least). People often respect a friendly, nicely painted sign asking them to refrain from picking street produce. Cats sometimes like to use freshly dug soil as a bathroom, so I’ve sometimes covered newly spaded or planted beds with chicken wire for a while until the soil settles and it’s no longer so attractive to them. Alas, there is no way to keep the squirrels at bay, that I’ve found anyway! They’ll take whatever they want, when they want it. But that applies to all areas of the garden.

4. Any edibles I plant and harvest might have contaminants.

A soil scientist I contacted said he felt the parking strip was no more likely to have contaminants than any other part of an urban garden. In fact, lead particles may be more likely to be found near the house, at least in areas where construction predates the 1970s, when lead paint was discontinued. If you are concerned about this, have your soil tested by one of the many labs offering this service. Or keep your plantings ornamental and your edibles somewhere else.

3. Nobody else on my street is gardening out there.

Well, every positive movement has to have a vanguard. Consider yourself a pioneer! You may soon have others on your block taking your lead, or at least asking you for advice on how to transform their own spaces.

2. Eek, I might actually have to meet and talk to my neighbors if I garden in such a public space.

True, gardening on the street does usually result in increased contact with neighbors. In my case, I have either met for the first time or gotten to know better quite a few folks from their visits to or strolls past my parking strip plot when I’m out there laboring away. Some ask questions, others offer the occasional compliment, and I also try to share what I can even if it’s just a taste of a nasturtium blossom or an unfamiliar herb, especially with the local kids.
1. The city owns it and I’m not allowed to plant anything out there.

Again, this is one to check with your local municipality about. Here in Seattle, the property owner is responsible for maintaining the parking strip but the city considers it a right-of-way. So, you are free to garden there but are supposed to plant it within their guidelines. This usually means observing height and offset limits for intersection visibility, keeping trees of an appropriate height and type to avoid power lines, and not causing tripping hazards for pedestrians. Even within this framework, there’s an almost infinite number of possibilities for replacing a strip of tired turf with something a lot more exciting.

Well, now that that’s settled, what are you waiting for? Get out there and green it up!



Freakishly Fabulous Fall Foliage November 10, 2008

I had been thinking the fall colors here in Seattle seemed more stunning than usual this year, and it turns out I was not wrong. Whenever there’s a noticeable change in how the plants behave, I start to worry and fret about global warming, but in this case it’s aprobably just a minor pattern shift, nothing to worry about.

Fiery fall leaves

The Seattle Weekly had a squib in their most recent issue about this local phenomenon, an unseasonably dry fall with warmer days and cooler nights than usual, plus fewer early-season windstorms to knock all that gorgeous foliage to the ground. Since there is no link to the article on the Weekly’s site, I will quote a portion of it here for those interested in the science behind fall leaf color beauty:

“The brightest foliage colors come when the nights are cool and the days are warm, explains atmospheric sciences professor Mark Stoelinga. This “diurnal effect” stimulates the chemical process that turns leaf color. Clouds, which we usually have plenty of this time of year, hamper this effect because they act like a blanket at night, stopping heat from radiating upward, and a barrier during the day, preventing the sun from permeating downward.”

Starting to turn

Of course, now that we’ve had a few of those wind storms, I’m regretting not having spent more time walking around looking at and taking pictures of all the lovely leaves. Oh well, even on the ground, they’re quite something.

Leaf carpet

Who knows when we’ll get a fall like this again, but I’m glad to have seen the beauty that it produced. Did anyone else notice any odd weather changes this autumn in your region?