This is why it's boring

You know that narrow strip of ground between the sidewalk and the street? It's often called a "parkway", or in gardening circles, a "hell strip" (or "hellstrip") because of its tough growing conditions. Heat from the street, pollution, road salt in winter, foot traffic, and possibly blazing sunlight can make it a challenging site for plants. Around 99% of the hellstrips in this area contain just scraggly lawn and trees. I've been thinking about planting something more interesting in my "hellstrip" for a couple of years now, but every once in a while I'm reminded why this might not be a good idea.

You see, this ground is owned by the city, and is the right-of-way for many of the utility companies. They can dig here whenever they need to.


In this case, it's the cable company that is having a line replaced to fix a dead circuit a few houses down from me.

This has been sort of a crazy, confused ordeal since my neighbor's cable went out a week or two ago. First I was told they would need to bury a cable through my back yard (um, no?), then they told me they would just need to run an above-ground temporary cable back there. Then they buried a cable in the front -- where they should -- but now these guys showed up with their horizontal drilling machine and seem to be running a new main line under here:

That's the drilling machine, down at the corner. (These machines fascinate me.)

Makes me wonder why they buried that other line a few days ago.

Whatever the reason there's some hellstrip digging going on. Just in this small area between the two driveways, but it's enough to remind me that if I had planted this spot I would be very upset right now.

For a second I had an impulse to run out there and grab a new shovel while they were down at the corner taking a break:

But I really don't even use my own shovel that much -- I prefer a square spade -- and the impulse passed. Besides, this wouldn't really have stopped them from digging, and the damage is already done. It would have resulted in some great photos though, as they stood around trying to figure out where their tools went. (Of course I'm joking about grabbing the shovels. It was funny in my head though.)

I'm still wondering what would have happened if my hellstrip was fully planted. Would they have talked to me before digging? Would they have just jumped right in and let their hungry archosaurian machine feed on my plants?

Although when I look at the flags and spray paint markings, I can see that all of the utilities (water, gas, cable) are on the house side of the sidewalk, in the one-foot strip between the concrete and my property line.

It's dry down there isn't it? Not easy digging at all.

So maybe it's not too much of a gamble to plant in the parkway after all. I'd only be putting some rugged groundcover bamboos there anyway, which can take some abuse.

Maybe I will do it...

...but then again, maybe not.

I still need to think about this for a while.

(Some cities require approval or a permit to plant in the parkway, with height restrictions and other conditions based on the specific conditions. Make sure you check into this before getting too carried away!)


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Gerhard Bock (Succulents and More)  – (August 10, 2012 at 11:04 AM)  

I love watching those guys work. Sometimes they're very efficient, sometimes....not. But I doubt that preserving plants is foremost on their mind, LOL.

Alan  – (August 10, 2012 at 11:32 AM)  

Update: they're digging again today in the same spot, but the hole is MUCH deeper, with a bigger mound of soil. They were taking some pretty big tree roots out of that hole too.

sandy lawrence –   – (August 10, 2012 at 12:31 PM)  

Now that they've dug the area up for you, it may be the year to plant your ground cover bamboo!

TBay –   – (August 10, 2012 at 1:21 PM)  

Since it's a contained space between barriers it might be an opportunity to experiment with something that is very invasive that you wouldn't want to plant in your garden... Mint or horseradish for example

Gardener on Sherlock Street  – (August 10, 2012 at 2:39 PM)  

I plant "extras" of some perrenials and a lot of annual self seeders in our alley to give it some beauty and know that they can dig it up with out losing anything serious. They dug part of our alley up last year. Made it easy to plant new seeds this spring. If you can make it prettier, go for it. Just plan for this mess.

Christine  – (August 10, 2012 at 4:32 PM)  

I have a hell strip too (we call them "verges", I don't know why). Mine is in deep shade and I've been trying for two years to get something growing ... but all that seems to grow here is the rubbish people throw there - so rude!

I loved the scenario of stealing their spade - that idea had me giggling too. I might have done it ... just for fun :)

Katie M  – (August 10, 2012 at 8:17 PM)  

I've been planting into our verge for the past two years. It's a bit of a gamble, my babies tend to get trodden on or bins are rolled over the top of my plants, but I'm trying desperately to cover up the awful grey dolomite there. It's not an easy spot: very hot, with awful compacted clay alkaline soil, but it's starting to finally take shape. All the plants I've put there are native small shrubs or groundcovers.

Alan  – (August 11, 2012 at 7:26 AM)  

All of you who plant in this area -- thanks for the ideas! I should point out that mine is heavily shaded so not suitable for many of the "extra" plants I have.

I'm really leaning toward planting those bamboos... soon!

scottweberpdx  – (August 13, 2012 at 5:07 PM)  

Oh yes...I worry about that constantly now...since I planted my hellstrips last fall and and this spring. I don't have much choice, however, since I'm out of room on our actual I just hope they ASK if they ever need to dig. At least I'd have the chance to salvage the plants and re-plant them after the ordeal.

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