Full slideshow adapted from (Timber Press, 2014; $25) by
Its visibility means that a curbside garden will contribute disproportionately to your property’s look and feel. Imagine how visitors might relish walking through a garden to get to your front door, or how your mood would lift driving into your garage past a specially designed “welcome home” garden.
A well-designed curbside garden can also cut your chore load. To make it thrive without the mower or trimmer, put in plants that stay the right height, stay in bounds, and stay up year-round. You might end up making a maintenance visit just once or twice a year instead of weekly.
For additional savings in time, effort, and money, make it water-wise. Include only plants that will thrive without supplemental water, or invest in an automated irrigation system to further reduce the resources your curbside landscape will demand every day, every week, every year into the future. Your water bills will drop even as you contribute to the solution.
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Hellstrips are best planted with bulletproof beauties that can withstand tough conditions with little water or care. This Portland planting, designed by Lance Wright, mixes textures and colors to transport a touch of desert vibes into the heart of the Pacific Northwest. So long as they’re given decent drainage, these plants will thrive in this locale. From left to right: variegated yuccas burst into white bloom, a palm stands tall as a dark green backdrop. Against the house, pink blooms of Hesperaloe poke their heads in the distance, while California fuchsia (Zauschneria) puts on its late summer show, erupting in bright coral flowers.
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Working together, the residents of this San Francisco neighborhood applied for permits from the county to replace concrete sections of public sidewalk with bite-sized gardens. Swapping pavement for plants helps absorb runoff in times of flooding, improves air quality, and adds a cozy feel to an otherwise urban part of the neighborhood. Smartly, residents stuck to a planting palette from Mediterranean climates, including graceful acacia trees, colorful Leucadedron, dark-leaved New Zealand flax (Phormium), and a mix of playful succulents. These tough beauties are perfect fits for San Francisco’s dry summers and mild winters, needing minimal maintenance and providing optimal beauty.
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The gifts of a curbside garden are disproportionately large. Natural scenes, even minutely glimpsed in passing, distract us from worry. Garden fragments purify and freshen air, absorb and filter water, and foster biodiversity with associated services and benefits, not to mention lowering crime and raising property values. Giving a gift to their Seattle neighbors, homeowners Dan Corson and Berndt Stugger planted their hellstrip (and adjacent border) with symmetry, vibrant colors, and—best of all—sweet-smelling lavender to relax anyone who moves through the foliage and flowers. In the mix: ‘Grosso’ lavender, white sage, black mondo grass, and lime-green ‘Angelina’ sedum.
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Growing the rainbow
With just a single type of plant—in this case, yarrow (Achillea millefolium)—you can achieve a low-water, low-maintenance patch of intense color. Yarrow rules—it comes in almost every shade under the sun—pink, red, yellow, and white. It handles being mowed or walked on and does best in poor soil, full sun, great drainage, and minimal irrigation once established—just the type of conditions in your average hellstrip. 'Moonshine’ is one of our favorite varieties. Deep yellow flowers blooms on 2-foot-tall plants. But go with whatever color moves you, or do what’s been done in the Evanston, Wyoming patch pictured here—grow them all!
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Berkeley, CA artist and avid gardener Marcia Donahue has creativity to spare, as is evidenced by the spillover of her home garden into the adjacent sidewalk. This lush passageway is a mini vacation for neighborhood residents, adding whimsy to any walk. In the hellstrip itself, bulletproof plants hold their own, despite the rough conditions, car doors, and inadequate irrigation. Variegated agapanthus makes a colorful mound where sidewalk meets driveway. Next to it, a flowering jade takes dust and dry conditions in total stride. Behind it, a spiky-leaved cabbage tree (Cordyline australis) has been holding it down in this hellstrip for over 100 years.
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Located in San Francisco, this urban hellstrip sees a lot of traffic, including school children, dog walkers, and tourists alike. Rather than leave it as an ignored wasteland, opted instead to integrate the hellstrip into the design. They selected steppable beach strawberries (Fragaria chiloensis) and purple-leaved coral bells (Heuchera ‘Crystal Spires’) to grow thickly around tinted concrete stepping-stones. A similar treatment to the driveway offers a unified look to the property. The homeowner trims the ground cover by hand to preserve the geometric design. Super sweet bonus: This fun-loving hellstrip doubles as an impromptu hopscotch game for neighborhood schoolchildren.
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Unsure on what plants thrive in a hellstrip in your region? Coloradans, listen up: You have 350 feet of hellstrip inspiration waiting for you along the south perimeter of the in Fort Collins. Designed by the master garden designer Lauren Springer Ogden (she’s also the one who coined the term “hellstrip”), this extra long and narrow planting showcases an array of tough groundcover plants, including profusely blooming native wine cups (Callirhoe involucrata) and equally bold mat-forming ice plant (Delosperma ‘Table Mountain’). With hundreds of feet to peruse, this public patch shows off Lauren’s artistry with its diverse plantings.
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Hotter than hell
Here’s another shot from Lauren Springer Ogden’s 350-foot-long hellstrip on the south perimeter of the in Fort Collins, this time, highlighting a hot color palette. Sedum middendorffianum sports golden blooms on a compact mound in the top left corner. Behind it, tall coral flowers of scarlet bugler (Penstemon barbatus) grow from silvery leaves. Moving forward, variegated leaves of striped beared iris (Iris pallida 'Aureovariegata') offer structure and fabulous green and yellow striped leaves. In the front right corner of the photo, Salvia cyanescens adds more gray-green color. In the foreground, pineleaf penstemon(Penstemon pinifolius) explodes into hot orange blooms. Tucked between it are two purple bloomers: Corsican pansy(Viola Corsica) along the sidewalk and Great Plains skullcap (Scutellaria resinosa) in the bed.