Rethinking The Hell Strip On Hell Night


SullyI try to like Halloween, particularly since I have three little kids who find it so exciting.  I like helping them put together their costumes. 

But Halloween on my street is borderline scary, thanks to a collection of Victorian houses that might be slightly less spooky if I could find the money to paint mine, a density of housing that appeals to every little efficiency expert within a 20-mile radius, and a collection of neighbors who decorate their places to the hilt. 

For example, I live next store to an animatronic figure named Sully who obligingly rips open his chest and shrieks every time somebody claps.  My neighbor Greg, who drags Sully and half a dozen other equally ghoulish pals out of his basement every year, told me that he gave out candy to a thousand kids two nights ago.

So that means I did, too.  And while the kids were collecting the candy, their parents were tromping on my hell strip.

This wouldn’t matter if the hell strip were grass, but two years ago, I got tired of dragging my mower out of the garage just for that dumb strip and was greedy for more places to plant.  So I ripped the sod up and planted daylilies and two peach trees there, as well as an assortment of spring bulbs.

CrowdsThe bulbs are doing well, as are the peach trees, but the daylilies are really struggling.  As I mentioned, they are ground into the dirt every Halloween.  They also don’t seem to be growing much in my super-sandy soil, made even drier by the blazing southern exposure, the giant street trees on either side of my hell strip, and this year’s drought. 

Also struggling is everybody who gets out of a car on my side of the street and doesn’t quite know where to plant his or her feet.  The gardener herself is struggling, having restrain herself every Halloween from shouting, "Offa the plants, would d’ya?" while passing out candy and smiling through her teeth.

I’m suddenly thinking, my God, maybe a hell strip ought to be …lawn?  Grass does serve a purpose after all.  It allows people to walk on it.  But since I so LOVE my purple crocuses and tulips tardiva there…well, write-in suggestions for the toughest possible ground cover for dry sun would be very welcome. 


  1. Thyme? I haven’t been able to kill that off. It seems to be invading and displacing my grass now.

    Or maybe you could naturalize the tulips and crocuses in grass?

  2. Wooly thyme is great. However, if it were me I’d probably knock in some posts at the corners of the hell strip and put caution tape around it for that one night.

    I have no hell strip since our misused street has hardly enough room for a sidewalk, much less public plantings. However, I made sure I moved my front porch plants to the back porch just in case someone decided to play a trick.

  3. Get some plants that are upright enough to be noticed. That seems to help in my boulevard (that’s what we call the hellstrip in Minnesota).

    I’ve experimented with incorporating paths into my boulevard, and I like the results so far. The paths are cedar wood chips, four inches deep. They’ve held up well, with a lot less debris kicked into street or sidewalk than with the pea gravel I tried previously.

    As for lamium, I am using some as ground cover in my boulevard beds. Like Amy, I’m growing the variety with yellow flowers, and I can report that it handles deep freeze, road salt, and a little foot traffic.

  4. I wrap my Entry Garden in bright yellow Caution tape on Halloween to discourage “shortcuts” to my front door. Ugly as hell, but works like a charm!

  5. Interesting that no-one has questioned the reason for “hell strips” – I always thought they were a buffer between pedestrians and the road, not a landscaping challenge!! Before planting, please remember, if parking is allowed, please plant so that people can park and then allow children and passengers to exit on the sidewalk side – ie plant steppable type plants. People near us planted a strip with some low bushes, resulting in visiting families ( small driveways!) having to let their kids out into the street side – very dangerous as this is not a side street! Also, please think about drivers sight lines – a beautiful, tall planting can obstruct on coming traffic, and prevent drivers from seeing children and dogs on the sidewalk!
    Now, I can add that I wish I had a sidewalk – yup, small town massachusetts, where sidewalks are rare, and susually only on one side of the road! And I live on a busy main road, where the speed limit is 35, but drivers seem to think it says 55mph, so just going for a walk is a risk, and in 6 years we have had zero trick or treaters :-(.

  6. Maybe a few strategicly placed flagstones along the curb would help with folks getting out of their cars. The sandy soil, blazing sun (and I’m guessing heavy salt load) why not try some tough, drought-resistant Mediterranean plants in additon to the thyme.

  7. Sorry, don’t know the latin name off the top of my head, but how ’bout “snow in summer”.
    E-mail me back and I can look up the proper name if you need me to.

  8. Stepping stones. Lots of stepping stones, with low plants between them. I like a beautifully-planted hell strip as much as anyone — until I have to get out of the car and we’re parked alongside one.

  9. As much as I love gardens full of beautiful plants, I’m a stickler for pedestrian needs coming first.

    Can’t visualize this particular area too well, but a suggestion for hell strips in general: add short rectangular “paths,” a couple of feet wide at least, that completely bisect the hell strip and connect the curb and sidewalk. Place these every so often, one per parking-space-length or so, whatever seems reasonable.

    Think about visibility and inviting people to traverse the hell strip–in situations ranging from from parking a car along the curb, to neighbors walking around on Halloween. If the paths are wide enough, they should be visible in both situations. People will invariably choose to use them, and they’ll add a sense of comfort and safety.

  10. I was going to suggest a knee-high victorian-looking plastic fence with white ghosts and cotton “spiderwebs” strewn about. But the caution tape would be easier, I guess.

    By the way, I can’t help but laugh at the comments about making sure that the hell strip is navigable for those getting out of a car. Why am I laughing? Because around here the cities like to plant a tree (usually a variety that shouldn’t be growing in a tiny strip of ground anyway) smack dab in the middle of a hellstrip. Which only has space for one car to park in anyway. So just guess what the car door opens up into when you park there?

  11. Since it sounds like a problem only on Halloween, why not mark off the area with pumpkin lights on stakes? You could even put a few decorations in there (or ask your over-decorated neighbor to share a few of his) so that people will look, not tromp.

    The 37th Street neighborhood in Austin has a similar problem at Xmas, when droves of people walk through to view a spectacle of lights. Many people string colored lights around their gardens, which both adds to the festive look and makes it clear where people are welcome to walk and where they are not.

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