If given the choice, would you rather have this (above) or this (below)?
Not so fast. If you picked the second option, you might be in big trouble with your neighbors, and—more important—your neighbors might be able to do something about it.
The terminology varies depending on where you live (I’m glad we still use different words), but where I live, this strip of land is called the easeway. It’s the land in between your sidewalk and the road. It doesn’t belong to you but, in most cases, you’re responsible for its maintenance. This too may vary according to local ordinances, but I suspect many are in the same boat as me and both my urban and suburban gardening friends, and for us the problem has been made more complex by recent tree losses and damage.
In a northern suburb, one ambitious gardener planted an explosion of colorful perennials on his strip—and was blown in to town authorities for having plants that were too tall. Another was forced to remove a big stand of sunflowers; neighbors complained it blocked their view of oncoming traffic. I think the worst case I heard of was when one do-gooder was actually given an appearance ticket for simply mowing his neighbor’s easeway, to help spruce up the neighborhood for Garden Walk. The fact that this is technically city-owned land makes it easier for problem neighbors to wreak their havoc.
I have seen many different easeway treatments. Just one block in the Elmwood neighborhood in Buffalo yielded a partially paved easeway, one part-bare/part-covered with ragged grass, one with a small ornamental tree and surrounding perennials, and one completely paved (as was the former front yard behind it). Boy, I sure can understand why people pave their easeways, as awful as that is for a plant geek to say.
Tree roots, road salt, pets, cars, and foot traffic all conspire to make this one of the inhabitable places to plant anything that you could imagine. My personal hellstrip is solid maple roots, with some tough violas and lamiastrum hanging in there for dear life. But I have dreams of somehow installing sweet woodruff; if I can get it in, I’m sure it would spread. I would be happy if it could simply be covered with a carpet of leaves; I don’t demand color.
But I’m not sure what some people resent about an easeway that isn’t simply carpeted with green. Is it unsettling? A jarring note in the serene streetscape?
Is anyone else out there struggling with an easeway? Have your neighbors complained? When everybody kills their lawns, will they kill their easeways too?