Good Hell Strips make Good Neighbors


Proponent of curbside gardens that I am, I’ve walked enough sidewalks to know how easily they can add to the jungle of vegetation that makesJungleweb_2 the damn things impassable, or at least a menace to the hapless passerby.  People, what does it take to prune those trees and shrubs – 10 minutes a year, maybe?  If you see a branch going in the wrong direction, remove it completely; it’s that simple.  Plants on people’s own property encroach so egregiously over sidewalks around here that I’m afraid to suggest to the average boob they add them to their right-of-way.  Readers here would never do that, so plant away.  For the clueless and inconsiderate boobs of my town, my next column in the local paper is a rant about this and other threats to walkability.  As if they’ll ever read it.

Given the chain link fence surrounding my front yard
when I bought it and the abundance of more pressing places to spend my
money, I decided to keep it but cover it with the ivy growing along it,
a solution that cost me nothing but time.  Suburban planners have
traditionally deemed fences around front yards to be unneighborly but
on the contrary! Mine keeps me from having to scream at kids who would
otherwise run through my garden and at dog owners who would surely let
their dogs crap in it.  So like the familiar adage says, the fence
lets us be better neighbors.  And though people passing by in cars
can’t see my front garden, people walking by can.

Front porches are the friendliest little pieces of real
estate ever created.  While I spend lots of time on the very private deck off the back of the
house, porch-sitting is what I do when I want to say hi and watch
kids playing.  Feels like the very essence of neighborliness,
second only to paying social calls on new arrivals, casserole in hand.  Like I’d ever bake a casserole.


  1. “the average boob”
    “For the clueless and inconsiderate boobs of my town”
    “[My fence] keeps me from having to scream at kids who would otherwise run through my garden and at dog owners who would surely let their dogs crap in it.”

    Holy cow! Maybe I AM an extravert after all!

    This post was priceless — thanks for the laugh. I’ve noticed that the people on my street who are most vocal about “community” (the daylily hell strip folks) also have shrubs cleverly planted about their yard that aren’t exactly a fence, but definitely discourage any kind of pedestrian stampede.

    As a Garden Rant alumnus, I solemnly promise I’ll work on my front yard next year, especially the hell strip!

  2. No one plants hellstrips in my town because most of the town doesn’t have sidewalks. But everyone observes the right-of-way and doesn’t plant all the way down to the street leaving huge green strips across their front yards. It’s very odd looking but I guess if the town ever got around to actually installing the promised sidewalks, it would save the homeowners a lot of money and aggravation in lost plantings.

  3. I walk my dog every evening, and it’s amazing the obstacles that I have to go through just to travel the sidewalks of an average suburb. I have almost taken loppers with me to take care of low-hanging branches, but I guess I haven’t quite turned into that “crazy lady” yet.

  4. I really do have a hellstrip…no sidewalk, on the road-side of a hemlock hedge, along a road where, exactly at my house, the speed limit goes from 25 to 45 mph. It is hardpan and gravel,full of weeds. I literally must close my eyes, it’s so bad. Plus the road is so busy and dangerous I really wouldn’t be able to tend this patch without risking my life. Total hell! Any ideas?
    Signed, Clueless

  5. I’m with you on the hellstrip plantings! In Canada, it’s called a “boulevard.” Sounds fancy!

    I’ve been amassing plants all year to populate my shady hellstrip. I can’t wait to tear it up this fall and then plant in it next spring!

    Your cherry tree sounds divine. We have a nondescript tree in ours. I dream of chopping it down and planting something more ornamental.

    One note for others planning on planting their hellstrip: check your local ordinances first. Some have height or other requirements on what can be planted there.

    Check out The Undaunted Garden (book) for a great hellstrip planting.

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