Nov 062015
Penstemon canescens/ Howard Edward Price

Penstemon canescens/ Howard Edward Price

To the Editor;

If I were not a very experienced gardener, I wouldn’t know from reading Kate Bowen’s otherwise excellent article (“Garden in Your Sidewalk Hell Strip” BCF Newsletter, September 2015) that hell strips are called hell strips for a good reason.

Growing conditions in these areas are as a rule hellish! Only a few tough-as-nails plants can withstand the salt, CO2 pollution, and tree root competition that characterize these strips.

It would have been great if the article had acknowledged these challenges, and also provided a list of top 10 hell strip plants that have passed the long-term survival test.

Thanks for the good work you do!

Your loyal reader,

Victoria Thatcher

The Editor responds:

Yes, hell strips are difficult places to garden. But they’re not hopeless, and a little work and careful plant selection can make a huge difference.

First of all, you can change the soil. Mixing in compost rich in organic matter will help the soil retain water. You didn’t mention dry soil in your letter, but lack of water is an even bigger problem for most hell-strip plants than salt and pollution (and plants are very happy with increased CO2!) Adding a thick layer of mulch around plantings also helps keep plants’ roots moist.

As for a list of Top Ten hell-strip plants—There are more plants that will thrive in a hell strip than you might think. Remember, plants evolved to survive on Cape Cod sand dunes and Mount Washington. In general, though, the plants that survive best in hell strips seem to be prairie natives that evolved to live through dry summers.

Many, many lists of hell strip (or parking strip) plants are on the internet. Plants that turn up often include fescue and  buffalo grasses, salvias of all sorts, penstemons, sedums, Kniphofia (red-hot poker), and California poppies.

For even more ideas, look at what Belmont Garden Club members have planted in traffic islands—locations that are just as tough for plants as a hell strip!

Here are a few web sites to get you started:

Resilient Plants for Hardy Hellstrips

Taming the Hell Strip

Pinterest Hell Strip Gardening board

Evelyn Hadden’s 2014 book Hellstrip Gardening: Create a Paradise between the Sidewalk and the Curb is available at the Belmont Public Library, and lists 108 plants adapted for curbside conditions. Enjoy!


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