Some gardeners call them parking strip or drive-strip gardens. Others bestow the more genteel names of tree-lawn or boulevard garden on these attempts to beautify the scraggly, grassy, weed-ridden verges between sidewalk and street.
Then there is the most popular name of all, hell strips, which garden writer and designer Lauren Springer Ogden coined and formally introduced to horticulture in her 1994 book, The Undaunted Garden.
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 chemicals in the sages. These same chemicals, which create the fragrance and flavor of sage that pleases people, also may be what discourages animals from nibbling the plants.
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.
In areas with grassy strips between sidewalk and street, homeowners usually don't own these verges but are required to mow and otherwise maintain them. 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 your local government may ask you to remove the garden.
Four Plant Lists for Successful Curbside Gardens
Plant height restrictions are necessary to make sure that hell strips don't obscure sight lines for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists. For example, tall plants could make it hard for a child to see cars before crossing the street. Similarly, a motorist pulling into a driveway needs a clear view of anyone on the sidewalk. Overgrown shrubbery can also create hazards at intersections.
Portland, Oregon, is an example of a city that maintains height rules for hell-strip plantings. Excluding trees, it requires 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 30 inches. A few do have the potential to grow to 36 inches tall, but they can be pinched back easily to maintain legal height.
One last note: For each plant list, we've indicated the range of USDA zones in which the entire group can survive as perennials when planted together. Yet some of the plants within a list may be able to grow in zones with colder or warmer average minimum temperatures during winter.
Curbside Zen Zone: Zones 5 to 9
This list mixes up a rainbow of soothing blues and purples along with a bit of pink.
Prairie Sage (Salvia azurea) Zones 5 to 9.
Lilac Sage (Salvia verticillata) 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 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.
Norton’s Gold Oregano (Origanum x 'Norton Gold') Zones 6 to 9.
Diane’s Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii 'Diane') Zones 6 to 9.
Pink Preference Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii 'Pink Preference') Zones 6 to 9.
Saint Isidro's Sage (Salvia lyciodes x greggii 'San Isidro') Zones 6 to 9.
Red, White and Blue Boulevard Buffer: Zones 8-9
As the title indicates, this list is a patriotic combination of colors. In the first listing, diablo means devil in Spanish -- a plant name that seems appropriate for a hell strip.
Diablo Eyelash Sage (Salvia blepharophylla 'Diablo') Zones 7 to 9.
Orange Vanilla Popsicle Hot Poker (Kniphofia 'Orange Vanilla Popsicle') Zones 6 to 9.
White Transvaal Sage (Salvia disermas alba) Zones 8 to 10.
Mealy Cup Sage (Salvia farinacea 'Strata') Zones 7 to 9.
Marine Blue Sage (Salvia chamaedryoides x 'Marine Blue') Zones 7 to 11.
How-Dry-I-Am Drive Strip: Zones 9-11
Here's another cool grouping; the plants have varying shades of blue flowers.
Cedros Island Sage (Salvia cedrosensis) Zones 9 to 11.
Snowflake Sage (Salvia chionophylla) Zones 7b to 11.
Minty Kilimanjaro Sage (Salvia merjamie) Zones 7b to 11.
Thyme Leaf Sage (Salvia thymoides) 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 help.