Making a yard and a community more beautiful begins at the curb. But that narrow space between sidewalk and street — sometimes called a boulevard, median, hellstrip, parkway, verge or tree belt — is a gardening challenge.
For starters, it’s probably owned by the municipality but falls to the homeowner to maintain. So the first step in caring for it is to sort out what local rules allow.
“You need to go to the city’s website if there are any questions about who owns what,” said Evelyn Hadden, author of the new book “Hellstrip Gardening” (Timber Press). “The zoning laws should be posted online.
“Some cities have regulations where there can only be lawns there. Some say there can’t be vegetables, but allow some kind of lawn alternative,” she said. “Some communities change their rules when people start growing gardens and the community gets behind them.”
Curb appeal can increase property values for the whole neighborhood, Hadden said. “Curbside gardeners are pretty generous that way. ”
Here are some tips for creating a well-tended “hellstrip”:
Talk with neighbors before getting started. “The tension will come when somebody complains,” Hadden said.
Be aware of sight lines, especially at intersections. Drivers may have trouble turning safely if something is in the way.
Go with perennials rather than annuals, said Fred Rozumalski, a landscape architect with Barr Engineering Co. in Minneapolis, Minn. “Then the soil is only worked once and it’s more secure.” clogging gutters and storm sewers.”
Tree planting is the city’s job, he said. “I’ve seen people make bad choices, planting trees like sugar maples that are difficult to maintain and push up sidewalks. Shrubs should be kept low, no more than 18 inches in height.”