From Hellstrip to Heavenly

We all have challenging areas in our landscapes, but perhaps one of the toughest is the proverbial "hellstrip", that narrow planting bed sandwiched between the road and the sidewalk. To passers-by and visitors alike this appears to be part of YOUR landscape simply by virtue of its proximity. It has to tolerate foot-traffic, swinging car doors, and inquisitive, bladder-heavy dogs. It rarely has irrigation and invariably the surrounding concrete and asphalt reflects so much heat that it truly earns its devilish nickname.


A multi-species, low-growing succulent tapestry will tolerate light foot traffic, although a flagstone landing makes it clear where to cross to the sidewalk.

Homeowners have two basic options:
  1. Ignore it (and hope you are not seen as the responsible party…) or
  2. See this as a fun challenge – within certain parameters.
What parameters? Usually the City owns these hellstrips and has right of way over them. So should they need to dig it up to access pipes or cables they are entitled to do so. Rules vary but the City of Berkeley for example states that "…an easement is granted to the adjacent property owner for "permitted" uses. Permitted uses include planting shrubs and flowers. However, written permission is required to plant, prune or remove City trees (as provided by the Berkeley Municipal Code, chapter 12.44). By default, all trees growing in the City right-of-way are property of the City of Berkeley whether or not they were planted with a permit. The city assumes responsibility for the trees and has an active program to ensure they are properly maintained." In other words call or email your City to find out your local regulations but in most cases this is prime real estate hat is avaiable for improving the curb appeal of your home.

Salt Lake City Solutions

Burgundy Bunny fountain grass adds wonderful fall color and texture.

I was at a garden writer's conference in Salt Lake City, Utah last week and had the opportunity to explore many neighborhood gardens. This hellstrip in the Daybreak community really caught my eye as it was
  1. Low enough so as not to be in the way of car doors
  2. Drought tolerant
  3. Wonderfully colorful
  4. Diverse both in species and texture
  5. Could withstand occasional foot or paw traffic (or worse)

The flagstone landing repeats the materials used in the adjacent landscape.

It was also thoughtfully designed to provide easy access to the sidewalk by virtue of a broad flagstone landing (much more efficient than stepping stones).

Curb Appeal

A well-designed front garden is enhanced and visually expanded by thoughtful inclusion of the adjacent hellstrip

Perhaps the most important bonus was the curb appeal it added to the home. By visually connecting the style, colors, plant palette, and materials to the adjacent landscape this median planting strip now blended seamlessly, blurring the property boundaries, and giving an immediate sense of pride-of-ownership.

Resources for More Ideas

Hellstrip Gardening: Create a Paradise between the Sidewalk and the Curb   by Evelyn Hadden (Timber Press, 2014) Pinterest (search for hellstrip gardening)   P.S. Remember that success will mean matching your plant selection to your geographical location in terms of soil, climate, and light conditions.

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links

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