Ah, the hell strip. That little piece of yard sandwiched between the sidewalk and the street. No man’s land. Notoriously hard to grow plants of any kind and subject to the city’s harshest conditions: trash, short-cutters, salt from winter snowmelt, never ending Public Works projects and let’s not forget dog crap.
Lucky homeowners that we are, we have not one but two hell strips to maintain. One facing west with almost 100% shade and the other facing south with almost 100% sun. Over the years we’ve tried to beautify these spaces in a number of ways only to be disappointed. Our latest attempts have left us with periwinkle ground cover and mulch in the west strip (about 50% of what we planted survived – I’d consider this a success) and straight-up mulch in the south strip (not as big of a success). It’s not that there’s anything wrong with having a hell strip filled with mulch, it just doesn’t have that welcome-to-my-home curb appeal, which I prefer over barren, uninviting and even a little abandoned looking (or maybe that’s due more to our overgrown weeds).
So after some cajoling of the hubs and some bribery of my parents à la “all I want for my birthday is for you to help plant the hell strip,” our curbside makeover began. My mom is an amazing gardner. The kind that when you see her yard the heavens open and birds start to sing. My dad is her sidekick and quite often the landscape artist. Together they make a great team. Hence my birthday request.
My parents chose the plants with a good understanding of the conditions and a quick sketch of the area we were trying to fill. The plants needed to be extremely hardy, love the sun and come back year after year. Bee Balm, Purple Aster, Coral Bells, Black-eyed Susans, Astilbe and of course everyone’s favorite – Hostas – fit the bill.
A recent addition to the hell strip was a tree of some unknown variety that the city planted (after we put in a request for it 3 years ago), so we made sure to choose some plants with height to help balance the height of the tree. We also wanted to add a few square pavers leading up to the front door for some visual interest. And what says welcome more than pavers?
Our first step was to arrange the plants. Once we were satisfied with the layout the digging and planting began. Since the dirt in the hell strip is really more like clay it was critical to dig the holes deep. We then filled them partially back up with potting soil and watered the soil. After it had a nice soak we planted the flowers, laid fresh mulch and gave everything a thorough watering.