California poppies growing on the sidewalk, or hellstrip.California poppies growing on the sidewalk, or hellstrip.

Hellstrip Gardening For Color, Ease, And Community

By Amanda Shepard, Staff Writer

Hellstrip gardening is quickly becoming a much-needed trend with city and suburban gardeners. In those hot, dry spaces between the sidewalk and the street, these spaces are also called inferno strip gardens, parking strip gardens, or simply sidewalk gardens. No matter the name, planting these often-overlooked areas is a great idea! It’s a fantastic way to add curb appeal to your home, easily add a new space for more plants, and eliminate the need to mow. Plus, it's a great conversation starter, and a garden that will create a space your community can enjoy.

What Is Hellstrip Gardening?

But first things first: what is a hellstrip? A hellstrip is the planting strip between the sidewalk and the road in front of a property, often found in cities and suburban areas. It’s usually planted with high-maintenance grass, a task that often falls upon the homeowner to keep up with. But recently, gardeners are realizing this space can be much more than that. It can be a colorful, low-maintenance garden filled with wildflowers, bulbs and perennials.

 

In the third season, my partner built a stone frame around the wildflowers in one of the hellstrips to let people know they should walk around the seedlings.

Even before I had heard of the term “hellstrip gardening,” I was practicing it at my city home out of sheer necessity. Nestled on the corner of a heavily foot-trafficked street, my two hellstrips were large, full of weeds, and unsightly. It become a daunting task to weed-whack every week and even when it was manicured, I wasn’t happy with how it looked. Because I was working at American Meadows, my first thought went to — of course — wildflowers. My partner and I rototilled the two hellstrips in early spring and spread our Northeast Wildflower Mixture. I picked this mix because I knew it would burst with blooms that season, offering up easy color through the fall, and it would come back year after year.

Hellstrip Gardening: Go With The Flow

Although at the time I thought this would be a “one and done” type of planting, of course this wasn’t the case. Come to think of it, this is never the case in gardening. It turned out that winter, the city plows pushed dirty snow on to my hellstrip gardens full of salt and who knows what else. This made it hard for my wildflowers to survive the winter. But, like every gardener who faces a challenge, I took it as an opportunity to give more to the space the next season. My partner happily (so he said) rototilled the areas again and this time I planted our All Annual Mixture, knowing I’d have to re-seed the next year.

Make your hellstrip garden a showcase of your style. Add perennials, bulbs, and wildflowers to create a season-long display of low-maintenance blooms.

As the years went on, I added more to the hellstrips. I was gifted several Hostas from my partner’s family which found a home underneath the large tree in one of the spaces. Daylilies that were divided from inside my tiny fenced-in garden also dotted the hellstrip. Come fall, purple tulips were added in clumps. The space ended up being an extension of my tiny city garden and I had so much fun talking to people as they walked by, watching me work.

Inviting People In

A mother and daughter who had grown fond of the gardens (and my dog, Ophelia) approached me one summer afternoon. They lived in an apartment building down the street that had no outdoor space at all. They asked if they could build a fairy garden amongst my wildflowers. The answer was a resounding, “yes!” It was so fun to see her play in the wildflowers and experience the joy of gardening. People would (usually) ask if they could cut some wildflowers to bring home, and I always told them to cut as many as they’d like. It truly became a space not only for me to enjoy, but for the entire community.

A colorful hellstrip planted with annual wildflowers, for bright blooms that require no maintenance over the summer.A colorful hellstrip planted with annual wildflowers, for bright blooms that require no maintenance over the summer.
A colorful hellstrip planted with annual wildflowers, for bright blooms that require no maintenance over the summer.
hellstrip garden with purple tulips and tete-a-tete daffodilshellstrip garden with purple tulips and tete-a-tete daffodils
A fantastic customer hellstrip garden filled with purple tulips and tete-a-tete daffodils.

Besides being a place for the community to enjoy, your hellstrip gardens can also be a meeting place for pollinators. Instead of grass, which offers pollinators nothing, wildflowers and other flowering plants in your hellstrip will give pollinators a much-needed oasis in the city.

Hellstrip Gardening With The Community

My hellstrip gardens weren’t the only (or even the most intricate) on my street. I was fortunate to live among neighbors who felt the same way I did about gardening for the community. A neighbor just across the way designed and maintained a fabulous perennial garden in her hellstrip. A hellstrip just down the street, at a home with a Little Free Library and chicken coop in the front yard, boasted large, cheerful sunflowers and a variety of herbs, tomatoes, and beans. The neighborhood eventually embraced the idea of hellstrip gardening fully, creating community vegetable gardens dotted throughout the community. Everyone was responsible for watering and weeding, and anyone could harvest what they needed.

 

My neighbor's gorgeous hellstrip garden filled with low maintenance echinops,bee balm, and daylilies.

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