On a hot day, when struggling to break up compacted, weedy soil along a curb or another hellishly difficult strip of land, you may feel like you are descending into a horticultural inferno with a garden fork.
But take heart and drink lots of ice water, because the results of your work may prove divine in a year or two.
Some gardeners call these projects “parking strip” or “drive-strip" gardens. The most popular name, “hell strips,” was coined by garden writer and designer Lauren Springer Ogden, who introduced the term in her 1994 book The Undaunted Garden. She and her husband, Scott Ogden, have written a number of gardening books together, including Waterwise Plants for Sustainable Gardens.
One colorful solution to the hell strip is to plant short, tough sages (Salvia spp.) and equally drought-resistant companion plants. Based on plant resilience and USDA cold hardiness zones, we’ve organized four plant lists to help you create a heavenly hell strip garden from Zone 5 to Zone 11. But before making plans and purchases, it’s wise to take a look at the challenges and municipal restrictions faced by curbside gardeners.Challenges and Opportunities A shortage of rain, municipal watering restrictions and garden hoses that are too short to reach the curb all make it difficult to quench a hell strip. However, dry soil is only one of the problems that these gardens face. Here are some other challenges:
Almost all Salvias require good drainage, so soil compaction needs to be corrected. However, most of the other problems present opportunities for the genus to shine. For example, many prefer soil that isn’t rich. Also, all of the sages suggested here are drought tolerant. Some even need dry soil to thrive.
As to weeds, all plants in the Salvia genus tend to discourage weed growth, which may be due to terpenes in the sages. These same chemicals, which create the fragrance and flavor of sage that pleases people, also probably are what discourages animals from nibbling.
Finally, many sages not only tolerate heat but also do fine with a wide range of soils. Although salt from snow may affect the chemical composition of curbside soil, many Salvias adapt well to soil variations.
As a rule, in areas with grassy verges between sidewalk and street, homeowners don’t own but are required to maintain these narrow strips. They are part of the public right of way, which means that it is within a pedestrian’s rights to trod on your hell strip garden.
Before planting in a public right of way, many communities require you to apply for permission. Your municipality may also have zoning laws governing the kinds and heights of plants that you can grow. Ignore the rules, and you may end up having to tear out your garden.
Some municipalities require that gardeners maintain plants at a height no taller than 30 inches above the curb. This seems sensible to us, so the plants we have selected all have average heights no greater than 32 inches. Most are significantly shorter.
One last note: For each plant list, we’ve indicated the range of USDA zones in which the entire list can survive as a group. Yet some of the plants within a list may be able to grow in zones with colder or warmer average minimum winter temperatures.
Curbside Zen Zone: Zones 5 to 9
This list mixes up an array of soothing violet, lavender-rose and pink.
Sonoran Sunset™ Anise Hyssop (Agastache cana 'Sinning') Zones 5 to 9
Ultra Violet Hybrid Sage (Salvia lycioides x greggii ‘Ultra Violet’) Zones 5 to 9
Cold Hardy Pink Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii ‘Cold Hardy Pink’) Zones 5 to 9
Hot-But-Cool Hell Strip: Zones 6 to 9
A bit of lavender and blue-violet cools off the bright colors of this combo.
Pineapple Popsicle Hot Poker (Kniphofia ‘Pineapple Popsicle’) Zones 6 to 9
Mango Popsicle Hot Poker (Kniphofia ‘Mango Popsicle’) Zones 6 to 9
Redhot Popsicle Hot Poker (Kniphofia ‘Redhot Popsicle’) Zones 6 to 9
Cold Hardy Pink Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii ‘Cold Hardy Pink’) 5 to 9
Saint Isidro’s Sage (Salvia lyciodes x greggii ‘San Isidro’) Zones 6 to 9
Yugoslavian Cut Leaf Sage (Salvia jurisicii) Zones 6 to 9
More than Red, White and Blue Buffer: Zones 8 to 9
As the title indicates, this list is a patriotic yet diverse combination of colors.
Kudos Gold Hybrid Anise Hyssop (Agastache x 'Kudos Gold') Zones 5 to 9
Silke's Dream Salvia (Salvia 'Silke's Dream') Zones 7 to 11
Pilgrim's Rest Pink Sage (Salvia dolomitica) Zones 9 to 11
Marine Blue Sage (Salvia chamaedryoides x ‘Marine Blue’) Zones 7 to 11
How-Dry-I-Am Drive Strip: Zones 9 to 11
Here’s another cool grouping in varying shades of blue.
Snowflake Sage (Salvia chionophylla) Zones 7b to 11
Coahuila Sage (Salvia coahuilensis) Zones 8 to 11
Two-lip Spotted Sage (Salvia indica) Zones 8 to 11
Hairy Sage (Salvia villosa) Zones 8 to 11
Other Hellish Parts of the Landscape
Difficult growing conditions aren’t restricted to drive strips. They can occur along fence lines, foundation walls, driveways and other parts of the yard. They may even be hellish due to too much moisture. Whatever problems exist in your garden, there is a good chance that sages can help fix it. Please contact us, and we’ll be glad to share what we know.
This modified version of the article 20 Heavenly Sages and Companions for Hell Strips (published February 2, 2014) contains updated plant suggestions, including shorter species to keep you out of trouble with zoning rules.