Tips for planting an unused space: the ‘hellstrip’ between street & sidewalk

hellstrip with flowers in Buffalo NY view from sidewalk
You can plant lots of things, including herbs, in your hellstrip. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

People call it the “hellstrip.”

It’s that section between the sidewalk and street where people generally grow nothing but grass.

It’s where the plows deposit the heavy, salty snow from the street. Garbage cans get tossed there. Dogs do their business there.

What in the world could you grow there?

Flowers and herbs.

That’s what Elaine Clutterbuck of Buffalo grows in the three-season garden she has established in her hellstrip. This past summer her garden was on the Parkside Garden Tour and on Open Gardens.

She told me then that her hellstrip garden was in its third year and filling in nicely.

“Everything is very hardy and durable,” Clutterbuck said. “People can get in and out of their cars and trample it and it’s fine.”

If you like the look of grassless yards, you might want to try gardening in your hellstrip.

Clutterbuck’s hellstrip has interesting plants from spring through fall. In spring she has grape hyacinths, tulips and squill, a plant that gets little blue flowers.

These photos are from late June 2014. In bloom are Margaurite daisies and lavender.

ellstrip in Parkside  area of Buffalo NY
Here’s the view from the street. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

What’s especially¬†interesting to me is the golden oregano around the tree. It’s a low-growing groundcover, but it’s edible. I worried about things splashing on it from the street, but Clutterbuck pointed out that in summer there’s no problem with road salt, and she washes off the oregano before using it.

In July other perennials bloom, such as globe thistle and day lilies. There are three kinds of rudbeckia, including rudbeckia maxima, which gets five feet tall. Clutterbuck said the finches like the seeds.

In late fall, she has hummingbird vine or Zauschneria, which gets an orange tubular flower that attracts hummingbirds.

Ornamental grasses also add interest.

Adding a garden to your hellstrip can improve the looks of your front yard. And if you don’t have a large lot, it gives you more room for garden beds.


5 Comments on “Tips for planting an unused space: the ‘hellstrip’ between street & sidewalk

  1. The Town of Amherst allows it, if it’s not too high. The wife of a town councilman has her whole front yard gardened. I plan on doing this myself. I live in Williamsville.

  2. Anyone considering this should check their town’s zoning codes for green space. Some towns simply do not allow this, mandating certain percentages of “green” space. It would be an incredible waste of time, energy and money to have to rip it out if a housing/building inspector were to cite you. Also, another major consideration is choosing plants that DON’T get five feet tall for the “hell-strip”, or “boulevard” as it’s properly termed. Plants/flowers this tall would obstruct a driver’s view pulling in/out of the driveways that may be on either side and it appears from this picture there are driveways. You may not see children approaching the driveway, you may not see cars coming down the road and vice versa. The results of this could be tragic. I’m a firm believer in gardens over lawns. I have replaced three quarters of my front lawn with gardens, with the exception of the boulevard, and nearly half my yard as well. Each year I add another garden with the goal of not having to mow a lawn ever again!

  3. I’ve always admired Elaine Clutterbuck’s garden. The front yard is abloom spring through fall– even the ‘hellstrip’ as mentioned above.

    Her side and backyard are even more impressive! She knows her stuff and makes good use of the space she has for growing flowers, vegetables and herbs. We could all learn a lot from her.

  4. These are good ideas, but I’d try the herbs solely as ornamentals. I’d be wary of actually eating any of them, even if they’re washed. The soil in the hellstrip is bound to be contaminated with oil, gas, etc., that’s deposited there by the contaminated snow from the streets.

  5. Yes it can add to a property, but it also can be a great inconvenience to people parking or even walking past a property with too tall or too spreading of plants. When creating such a garden, there are many considerations to take into account from a planting and design perspective, especially the use of hardscape materials. There is no denying that Buffalo does this type of gardening very well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Name *