Ironically, it is often the most visible part of your property that seems to offer the least hope for a successful garden planting.
It might be an inhospitable area along the fence or by the driveway. Typically, it’s the forsaken parkway strip—that trampled, parched ribbon of no-man’s-land between sidewalk and street.
Yet with the right palette of plants, you can transform this wasteland into a floral oasis.
These plants should fill in quickly and, once established, remain low enough so that they don’t block traffic views or run afoul of height ordinances.
Look for plants that possess these traits
- Unfussy about soil
- Persistent (bulbs, perennials, low shrubs)
- Compact height (under 3 feet)
- Attractive foliage
- Tidy growth (little pruning and primping needed)
- Variety of textures and shapes
- Flower colors to suit your taste
- Varied bloom times
Easy steps to reclaim a strip
- Remove weeds and unwanted plants. Dig them up, smother with black plastic, or spray with a glyphosate-based herbicide.
- If the strip is long, put a strategic path across it to guide pedestrians; steppingstones, bricks, and mulch all work well.
- If soil is compacted and lifeless, dig or till in 2 to 3 inches of well-rotted manure or compost. Otherwise, dig or till the native soil to at least 8 inches deep, avoiding areas within tree drip lines.
- Pick a dozen or fewer species and plant in drifts for a simple, classic look.
- For faster coverage, space plants a bit more closely than normally recommended. You can remove some later if needed.
- Spread a 1-inch layer of small-diameter mulch—such as pea gravel or crushed shells for sunny areas, shredded leaves or coarse compost in dry shade—around plants. Avoid growth-stunting organic mulches such as bark or wood chips.
- Water weekly for the first few months unless there is regular rain. After that the plants should manage with little irrigation.
- Keep up with weeding, which should be almost nil once plants fill in.
- Cut back spent flowers. Remove any dead material from the previous season as new growth resumes.
Next: Planting for a long bloom time
PLANTS FOR EARLIEST BLOOM
Find your Sunset Climate Zone
- Crocus species. Yellow, gold, white, purple, pale blue flowers.
- Iris reticulata (snow iris). Blue, purple. Hardy to Sunset zone 3.
- Tulipa species (tulips).
- Alyssum montanum (mountain basket of gold). Yellow.
- Veronica pectinata, V. x ‘Blue Reflection’. Blue.
LATE SPRING–SUMMER BLOOM
- Babiana species (baboon flower). Blue, lavender, purple, crimson, white. Hardy to Sunset zone 4. Find your Sunset Climate Zone
- Brodiaea species. Blue. Zones vary.
- Iris species. All colors. Zones vary.
- Achillea species (yarrow). Some evergreen. All colors but blue and purple.
- Dianthus gratianopolitanus, D. ‘Allwoodii’ (pinks). Pink, crimson, white flowers.
- Nepeta x faassenii (catmint). Lavender blue; ‘Snowflake’ has white flowers.
- Papaver atlanticum. Orange.
- Penstemon species.
Low evergreen shrubs
- Cistus species (rockrose). White, pink, magenta. Choose compact species or hybrids. Hardy to Sunset zone 6.
- Eriogonum species (wild buckwheat). White, cream, yellow, pink, rose, or red. Zones vary.
- Helianthemum species (sunrose). All colors but blue or purple.
- Lavandula angustifolia, L. x intermedia (hardy to zone 4). Purple, pink, white.
- Salvia dorrii (desert sage). Blue.
- Santolina species. Yellow, cream. Zones vary.
LONG AND/OR LATE BLOOM
- Agastache species. All colors but white and yellow. Zones vary.
- Callirhoe involucrata (wine cups). Magenta or white.
- Gaura lindheimeri. White or pink.
- Limonium gmelinii. Purple.
- Caryopteris x clandonensis (blue mist). Blue.
- Perovskia (Russian sage). Lavender blue. Ornamental grasses
- Carex tumulicola (Berkeley sedge).
- Festuca californica (hardy to Sunset zone 4) and F. glauca, F. idahoensis (to zone 1).
- Nassella species (needle grass). N. tenuissima is one of the hardiest, into Sunset zone 2B.