Garden in the Hell Strip





Introduction: Garden in the Hell Strip

My SO and I made a garden in the hell strip (the space between sidewalk and street) at the front of our house.  It was full of weeds and sparse grass, and it looked absolutely awful.  Most of the weeds couldn't even make it through a full summer, and whatever organic material was there would blow away.  We dug it up.  We dug it all up, added weed barrier, added fresh dirt, repurposed a felled cedar tree, added plants, mulched, and crafted a cool new mailbox

We dug down 4-6" and moved probably 60 wheelbarrows full of the worst "dirt" I'd ever seen.  It was probably 70% limestone rubble original to when the neighborhood was built in the late 70s.  We pulled some of the larger pieces of limestone for borders, but the rest is still in the backyard waiting for some sort of purpose (probably a base layer for a new patio considering the consistency).  Filling it back up wasn't as painful as moving the rubble, but it was multiple trips to a local garden supply store and lots of heavy lifting since we don't have a flat bed truck and don't know anyone with one.

My favorite weed barrier has to be old phone books because they're very, very difficult to recycle and there are absolutely tons of them.  I rip a few sheets, dunk them in a pail of water, and clobber them on the ground.  I did about the same for shredded paper which can't really be recycled around here - there's a special site but this stuff had broken CDs and other crap in it.  Laying down the weed barrier probably took 4 hours on its own.  Mulch is just regular old pea gravel.  I don't want to replace mulch there, and I'm happy to just blow all the leaves out of the bed.  It retains a lot of moisture and was the right choice for that bed.

Most of the plants I found on sale and divided.  I also rehomed some plants from other garden beds on my property.  All are native or well-adapted without being invasive here in Central Texas.  There's Swartburg Beauty Iceplant, Purple Sage, Variegated Sage, Silver-and-Gold Chrysanthemum, Trailing Rosemary (forgot the variety), Santolina (forgot the variety), unknown daylilies (maybe Happy Returns), Lamb's Ear, Wavy Prickly Pear, Spineless Prickly Pear, Purple Fountain Grass, Lace Cactus, Thimble Cactus, Bulbine, Gopher Plant, Slipper Plant, and Bluebonnets.  I picked plants for their durability in the heat, drought tolerance, mature size, usefulness, beauty/cool factor, and ability to take full, blazing sun.

We're slowly removing cedar trees from the property as they're a threat to Texas water supplies, and they're just plain horrible.  We have a lot of trunks and managed to repurpose 2 as the mailbox post and the walkway.  All were cut with a chainsaw and carefully installed.  The mailbox post is probably 3' below the sidewalk and could kill a car if one hopped the curb.

I'm originally from the Tennessee Valley and have a sad twisted little soft spot in my heart for Rock City.  The mailbox took me about 4 days after weeks of procrastination.  I coated the entire thing in white spray paint, waited 24 hours, applied the vinyl lettering for the "SEE ROCK CITY" (which you should and be absolutely horrifed) and faux door tape, sprayed on the black spray paint, taped off for the red paint, did a coat of red, and then finally did a couple clear coats.  After each paint color, there was a 24 hour waiting period.  Someone in my neighborhood is from Northern Alabama and stopped by to congratulate us on our crazy mailbox.  It's a conversation piece at the very least and probably cheaper than the large mouth bass mailbox I saw at Cabella's which has another sick twisted little soft spot in my heart...

Hopefully next spring, it will look amazing.

If you are considering doing this yourself, check into your local laws governing this space since many cities do not allow this.



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    I have never heard 'Hell strip' before. It sounds kind of exciting and wicked! I only know it as a boulevard, and I also think in most of Canada you are only supposed to mow it. Some people pop flowers around the tree, if there is one, and some folks put little borders in, but, sadly, a glamorous project like that would get you in trouble, rather than be gratefully appreciated, like it ought to be.

     I now know what to do with those stinkin' phonebooks! Thank you! Great iBle!

    the phonebook idea is wonderful.  I have been keeping some japanese knotwood at bay for years using various products but nothing like the phone book idea.  I like a row of them as they are a wonderful sound barrier and almost completely block out the sound of the interstate but they would rival kudzu if the winter weather did not kill them.. the hell strip in MA is called the treebelt whether or not trees are planted there. And yes, as the canadian member, zertyOn stated the strip does belong to the city but they have no problem with abutters improving the look of the strip. thank you for a great idea.


    i would check with your local laws before commencing this project i know where i live in Canada that land in between the road and sidewalk is considered government property and you can be charged for doing any work in this area ( i also know there a HUGE fine if the curb is damaged)

    2 replies

    Similar thing in Michigan. The sidewalk and the space between the sidewalk and the road is considered a utility easement, where utilities go. This area can be ripped up by the city or utilities at any time, though the workers generally give you a week or 2 of notice before doing so.

    If they are in a bad mood, however, you'll be lucky if they throw your mailbox on your porch.

    Very true as someone already mentioned and as I'm already aware prior to starting this project.  I added a note about this to the Instructable.

    Rock City ? been a longtime since ive heard that mentioned, lmao

    Any recommendations for climates outside of a temperate zone like Texas?  I live in Minnesota, so in addition to all the same problems you face I have hundreds of pounds of road salt to deal with every year!

    1 reply
    The Horticultural Department at the University of Minnesota has published a list of salt-tolerant plants as part of their Sustainable Urban Landscape Information Series.  You can also call your local horticultural extension office and ask for advice in your particular climate/situation.  If you are trying to source a particular plant, try Dave's Garden, local botanical/garden society fundraising sales, public garden fundraising sales, local nurseries (not just the big box stores), etc.  Local sellers and fundraisers will typically sell plants that are sought after and perhaps a bit harder to find - basically, they often sell "useful" plants that people want and need.  I've done plant exchanges and sourced plants on Dave's Garden, and it's also great for double checking how "good" a nursery/source is and have lots of helpful articles.

    Sorry if that sounds a bit cut-and-dry.  I'm recovering from last night.  :-P

    Nice job! I can't wait to see your spring pictures.

    1 reply
    I'll definitely update when I get a nice show of daylilies!  Unfortunately I didn't take any this year when they were in bloom.  Such a dummie.

    Nice job, I like the pathway, and your mailbox reminds me of one I did:

    1 reply
    Awesome!  I knew I wasn't the only one with one, so huzzah for us!

    This is going to look great when it all fills in. One word of caution, though. We tried to put a rock garden into our hell strip in Portland, OR a few years back and wound up getting a ticket for "obstructing the public right-of-way" and having to take the big rock out. So make sure you're legal.

    (One thing I will never understand is how the hell strip can be both the "public-right-of-way" which I can't put a decorative boulder in, and my lawn, which I get cited for if  the grass gets too high. If it's the public right-of-way, let the city mow it.)

    1 reply
    Very true!  I'm also VERY VERY confused by how the city can demand the property is theirs and yet not pay for its upkeep?  Wha' dah hell??  I want a check.

    I designed the plot to not interfere with pedestrians or motorists.  There are other hell strips in the neighborhood with full bushes and VERY sharp, very large cacti growing in them which I don't think is a good idea at all.  Gaging from those, I figured I was in the clear so long as I curtailed the growth on the prickly pears which is easy enough to do.  Of course there are some more moderate hell strips with garden plots in them.  I didn't actually call in and check because of how many people around here garden in those plots, but I would have called if very few people were doing it.  Honestly, I should have called the city to see what the exact regulation was and would recommend others to do so.  If I get a ticket, then I'll probably take it to court and see what happens.  At least I don't have an HOA to worry about.