Less Noise, More Green: To hell and back - planning my curbside 'hell strip' garden.

Monday, January 19, 2015

To hell and back - planning my curbside 'hell strip' garden.

Do you have a hell strip? Apparently, I have two. While researching ideas for the two pockets of grass I have growing between the street and the sidewalk (or the road and the pavement if you are British like me) I discovered that these patches are called hell strips! I think the name is perfect. Exposed to blazing sun, no irrigation, pooped and peed on by every dog in the neighborhood, and in my part of the world piled high with snow and road salt for months, it is not exactly prime gardening real estate. With the loss of  two trees to disease last year, we are left with two patches of dirt sprinkled with grass. Hell strips indeed.

Here is my initial plan to transform these areas into as welcoming a garden as possible!

This is the list of criteria any plants we put in these strips must meet:

  • Must be drought and heat tolerant
  • Must be low maintenance
  • Can survive being under a snow and salt pile all winter
  • Tough enough to survive the neighborhood dogs (including our own)
  • Native plants, if possible
  • Useful as well as ornamental, if possible

Hell Strip before new garden planted
Right now, this garden is an example of extreme minimalist design.

After making a list of potential candidates then crossing off the ones that didn't meet the above criteria I am left with the following:

  • Lavender - dry the flowers for potpourri
  • Daylilies - edible, but I don't think I'll harvest them
  • Iris
  • Certain ornamental grasses, plus they are native - bonus!
  • Comfrey - compost and fertilizer wonder plant!

I would love to do a wild flower garden but I would need to sow each year and I think it will look too messy. I need plants that require a minimum amount of work and will work with my design. Each strip is 15 ft by 4 ft with a pathway in between. Below is my working design.

Hell Strip Garden Design, Rhode Island
 I added a foot of river rock along the street edge for people to step on to as they get out of their cars. This also reduces the square footage I need to plant. Next is a layer of ornamental grasses, followed by a layer of daylilies and irises. Along the sidewalk edge is a layer of comfrey. The comfrey will grow in either sun or shade (once the daylilies reach full height, the comfrey will be in partial shade) and facing the house it will be less noticeable from the street when I cut it for garden use.

My only uncertainty is how deep I can dig and turn the soil and I wont know that until the early spring when the soil thaws.

If you are interested in seeing some of the images I pinned for inspiration for this project, visit my Pinterest board: Curbside Strip Gardens.

Do you have a hell strip? What have you planted in it?


Pinterest Pin


  1. Sounds like a good plan! I'm working on a similar project here in CT, and you're the first person I've seen mention leaving space to get in/out of vehicles on the passenger side. It's important! The river rocks are a good solution, and that part of the strip tends to get the most snow, so it's pretty inhospitable anyway.
    I've been exploring native plants for use in the hellstrip, and some of the ones I'll be trying are: yarrow, anise hyssop, milkweed, beebalm, prickly pear cactus, mountain mint, and sweet goldenrod - all of which have minor edible uses, and Baptisia australis, B. tinctoria and Lupinus perennis for nitrogen fixing. There are some nice native small shrubs too, depending on how much space you have: low-gro sumac, new jersey tea, sweetfern, beach plum "nana", and northern bayberry are all native and can be kept under 5 feet tall.
    Hope it turns out great!