Hardy plants bring new life to hellstrips

Those strips between the sidewalk and street are prime real estate for plants

  • September 2, 2010
  • Wall Street Journal
Gardeners call it the "hellstrip," that skinny bit of often-neglected grass sandwiched between the street and the sidewalk. Now, some are sprucing it up, transforming it from perennial eye-sore to showpiece.
Homeowners in cities and towns across the country are seeing opportunity in these plots—also called "parkways" or "tree beds." They occupy choice real estate in front of a home, potentially contributing to visitors' first impressions, not to mention a resident's own view beyond the edge of a well-tended lawn.
Even diehard gardeners find, though, the strips of land—surrounded by concrete and asphalt—are subject to challenges including road salt and snowplows, foot and bicycle traffic, sniffing dogs and wayward trash.
Betty Sanders has lush gardens on two acres in Medfield, Mass., but every time she pulled in or out of her driveway, the strip in front of her house gnawed at her. "It just looked ratty all the time," she says.
So, she and her husband recently used compost and shredded leaves from their own property to plant flowers in similar shades of blues and yellows that echo the rest of her garden. Now, "it's a garden that introduces the rest of my property," she says.
Whether or not they are technically part of a homeowner's property can vary from city to city, even neighborhood to neighborhood. Homeowners are typically responsible for basic maintenance, like mowing, whether or not they legally own the property. Regardless of ownership, the strips are typically in the "public right of way," meaning that homeowners have little recourse against passersby who trample on the petunias, says Eduardo M. Peñalver, a Cornell University law professor who specializes in property and land use issues.
See the Wall Street Journal story for more before and after stories and pictures.