Hellstrip Redemption

A little touch of heaven borders the sidewalk in Ravenna.

What’s brown, fried, and crackles when you step on it?

If you answered the grass next to the sidewalk, then you might be the not-so-proud possessor of a hellstrip. That arid strip of exposed soil between the sidewalk and the street can be a living hell for tender plants. The parched patch in front of my house is never a thing a beauty, but right about now, after baking through another August drought, the so-called grass looks about as inviting as a cactus bed.

Sedum, ornamental grasses and sun-loving perennials give a full look to this sidewalk border.

From time to time I have considered taking on the challenge. I’ve sketched plans, gotten books from the library, seen some thrilling ideas on the blogosphere, but my energy flags whenever I try to do battle with the entrenched hordes of dandelions. I haven’t totally abandoned the idea, though. Here, in a city known for its vibrant gardening community, it comes as no surprise that many thrive on the challenge of tough terrain.

Lavender basks in the heat of the hellstrip.

The City of Seattle encourages people to get creativeĀ  on their strips (although they prefer that you get permission and advice about what sort of trees to plant, and access to city utilities, power lines, trash pickup, etc. all factor into the equation). You can even pave over your hellstrip if that’s your idea of a good time.

A sidewalk sunflower display adds perspective to a mini.

If I ever get up the energy and vision to follow through with my ideas, I’d be inclined to follow the example of some of my neighbors. Or the fine gardeners in Buffalo.

That’s right. Buffalo. New York. The place we usually associate with three feet of snow or more, kind of the way people associate Seattle with endless rain. Yet, although the rain here is more or less constant for nine months, there’s never a whole lot of it. Washington, D.C., gets more rain annually than Seattle. And judging by the photos of the “hellstrips” in Buffalo as posted by Art of Gardening, in spite of their brutal winters, the lucky gardeners in that northern city enjoy a lush and verdant summer, the likes of which Seattle rarely sees.

Just goes to show, I guess. One man’s hellstrip is another man’s horticultural bonanza. I’m rethinking Buffalo, that’s for sure.

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