Hellstrip Gardening Highlights and Give-away

One of many fabulous hellstrip gardens on Buffalo’s Garden Walk.

How could I NOT love Hellstrip Gardening?  The subject is fun and inspiring, and I’m a long-time fan of the author, too – the Rant’s own Evelyn Hadden  (whose earlier book about Beautiful No-Mow Lawns I reviewed here.)


But this isn’t a “review.”  (They’re usually so boring!)  Instead, I offer highlights of the book based on my own adventures in hellstrip gardening.  Scroll down for how to win a copy.

– I love the book’s thesis, that “such small places can change a home, a neighborhood, and a community.”  Hellstrip gardening is a particularly generous form of gardening, “bringing nature’s beauty to the street where we can all appreciate it.”  Thank-yous from passersby prove that point, and are wonderful to hear.

– Evelyn is encouraging and enthusiastic, never preachy.  Thank God!  So she’ll say “Give that left-over a make-over” or encourage us to convert “unused, unloved lawns” to “appealing and useful gardens.”  Carrot, not stick.

Hellstrip Gardening tells stories of real gardeners across the country.  My favorites may be the couple in Seattle who practice “extreme gardening” by wearing headlamps to squeeze in more work hours after dark.  Hey, where can I buy one of those?

– The book is honest, particularly about the maintenance involved in, say, turning sod into a perennial-filled garden.  (It’s more work, not less.)  So, providing accurate information trumps advocacy.

– All the essential how-to bits are covered – like dealing with local ordinances and the best way to remove sod.

– The book’s lists of which plants to include and which to avoid are right-on, based on my experience.

My former home and hellstrip garden.

– The hellstrip garden I created is shown on page 163!  All the plants there were freebies – extras from the large back garden – so I didn’t worry if they were stolen or destroyed.  Turns out, no plants were ever taken and there was only one tall Sedum was damaged by a construction truck.

– Loved finding out about Seattle’s Pollinator Pathway project that uses curbside gardens to create pollinator corridors between public green spaces.

– Great examples from the two powerhouse cities of hellstrip gardening – Buffalo and Portland, OR!

Win a Copy

Edible kale and raspberries mingle with decorative coleus, fleeceflower, gazania, and grasses in a hellstrip garden alongside the parking lot of the Seward Co-op in Minneapolis.

Just leave a comment about hellstrip gardens and you’ll be eligible to win a copy of Hellstrip Gardening, chosen at random.  Entries close next Friday May 2 at midnight.


  1. Hell strips are tough spots, and turning them into ecologically active sites is a tremendous addition to any community. I would love to learn more about the practical side of removing turf and amending the soil there!

  2. What dropped into my head as I was reading this is: why remove the turf, just add species. I have put in Lilys around a tree in the middle of my hell strip (I resisted the temptation to put quotes around hell strip) . The plan is to keep adding rings of massed varieties as the turf and mowing shrinks.

  3. My hellstrip is also a bus stop. I’d really love to do something with it…although goodness knows my town likes to restrict things. I NEED this book!

  4. I first heard about gardening hellstrips when I was living in Colorado and was reading stuff by Lauren Springer. Everyone has a hellstrip, even if it is not on the street. However, the best ones are right in the front yard so you can convert the rest of the neighborhood to your way of thinking. But I haven’t built mine yet, so that is why I would like to win this book.

    Radical Gardeners Unite!

  5. Oh, HELL YES. I’m so glad there’s a book dedicated to this. I have one outside my house that the village decide to spend thousands of dollars to “landscape” with stupid rocks and fancy grass.

  6. Looks like a great book! I don’t have an official hellstrip, since I live in a rural area, but I have a similar, odd stretch by my mailbox and near the beginning of my driveway, both of which could use some attention. Would love to learn from Evelyn!

  7. Is there a chapter in the book on how to cope when the utility company comes in and rips it all up while replacing cable? That hasn’t happened to me yet, but I expect it to happen one day. (That’s the day it starts getting called something stronger than “hell” strip.)

  8. Would love to see how this deals with irrigation issues, as someone in a summer-dry climate with a hellstrip that faces full west and is covered with river rocks (so far…).

  9. I *almost* planted some extra tulip bulbs in my hell strip last fall and now I regret that I decided against it. I need this book for guidance and confidence!

  10. I’m currently without a hell strip of my own to plant in. I thought about doing planting there in my old place (but didn’t because I was afraid of logistical difficulties). This seems like a good book to have on-hand to get ideas for when we move out of our current apartment into something more garden-friendly.

  11. Love seeing your pics of hellstrips, Susan!

    And for those of you asking if the book covers your situation, YES, you will find help inside. Contents include:

    _Foreword_ by Lauren Springer Ogden (my hero too, Grace), author of The Undaunted Garden and Plant-Driven Design

    _Part 1: Inspirations_ showcases 12 inspiring curbside gardens from around the United States (including a Buffalo garden, Jim, as well as one designed by Lauren Springer Ogden, and a couple who replaced the lawn in their entire front yard with the blessing of their HOA, and anne, the book is pertinent to all kinds of curbside spaces including alongside driveways and alleys).

    _Part 2: Situations_ tackles challenges posed by street trees (you are not alone, Lisa), too much or too little water, poor or contaminated soil, restrictive regulations, foot and vehicle traffic, desirable and undesirable wildlife, piled snow and road salt, utility lines and unsightly equipment, and more.

    _Part 3: Creation_ addresses choosing a style, choosing plants (because someday they will come, Alan), earthshaping, watering wisely (covering a variety of strategies including irrigation, Anne At Large), shrinking the lawn, trimming waste, designing the edges where paths meet plants, building healthy soil, and more.

    Part 4: Curbside-Worthy Plants profiles over 100 plants that can help transform your hellstrip to a curbside paradise, highlighting plants with showy flowers, plants with showy foliage, plants with edible or medicinal uses, and plants with four-season structure.

    Can you tell how thrilled I am that the book is finally being released out into the world? 🙂

    Good luck, everybody!

  12. Thanks for the giveaway! There are definitely plenty of hellstrips on my property – I am planning to get the book in the very near future. I love Evelyn Hadden’s other book – can’t wait to see this one!

  13. I am new to gardening and this book sounds like the perfect inspiration for getting started. We just bought a house and I can’t wait to get started on the garden.

  14. My whole front lawn to 25 feet deep is overrun with dandelions and other weeds and could be stripped.

  15. This would sure help me. My berm (as they’re called here in North Dakota) needs to function as a repository for loaders full of snow that get dumped on them throughout the winter. I’d love to know what plants can take a beating and how to get/change/fix around municipal codes about planting on the hell strip.

  16. I love hellstrip gardens, and I’m trying to convince some of my neighbors to install them! I started mine a couple of years ago, and it’s slowly coming into its own. I try not to plant anything too “precious” there in case it gets dug up by the city.

  17. I’ve a corner lot. The hellstrips on both sides were filled with bricks and weeds. I’ve ripped out the bricks in the front hellstrip and done some planting, but I haven’t tackled the side (shady, lots of parked cars) yet. This book could help!

  18. I’ve got a hellstrip that needs a beautiful planting, and may 2 is my birthday. I’d love to have this book.

  19. I would love one of Evelyn’s books. Period. And I do have a hell strip started and under development! It first appealed to me since I have mostly shade in the yard but hell strip is full sun, so allowed my tall meadow perennials to thrive. It was glorious last summer and fall! But! It is not established yet so still needs some inspiration and TLC 🙂

  20. I think this is evelyn’s best yet. And i love them all. Couldn’t believe the table of contents and all she covers in this book. Out west here in the high desert it seems like this really shows us how to manage our nice sun but scarce water with drought tolerent and native plants.
    I was inspired to get more plants and really fill my welcome garden even though we are more used to scarcity. With the right plants, hellstrips are beautiful!!

  21. This is great! Just what I need to shake up the condo board :). I’ve been working on the downstairs planter area with mixed results (unspoken “you plant it, you take care of it” policy) I really want to make it pop. Count me in!

  22. I find hellstrip gardening fascinating and believe the principles could be applied to that part of my weed collection/former lawn that meets the road. I would love to add this book to my collection.

  23. My own hell strip is on the Outer Banks of NC, it’s the sloped east side of my driveway. I’ve been removing St. Augustine grass and replacing it with plants that can tolerate dry conditions. Well drained is an understatement when describing this area!

  24. This book looks terrific! I don’t have a hell strip, per se, but I do have a difficult area between my driveway and my neighbor’s side yard that is probably a first cousin to the traditional hell strip.

  25. Street plantings make people happy. Think of an entire block of homes with hell strip gardens. Wow.
    I had a rose garden in the front garden of my house which was on a street used by morning commuters going into town. I received a lovely thank you note from a commuter thanking me for making her day each morning.

  26. Here in Corvallis, Oregon we have an annual Edible Front Yard Garden Tour, which of course includes hellstrips (aka parkways or parking strips or boulevard strips, depending on where you live). This year we have someone who is working to develop gardens in some very wide hellstrips along a boulevard and give the produce to the hungry via the local Plant A Row organization.

  27. Found this through my google reader feed. Great blog! And I absolutely LOVE hellstrip gardens! I’d be curious to read the book and see how to get around or alter ordinances!

  28. Dumping snow loaded with snow/ice melters has resulted in a barren area because I have no sidewalk as a buffer. Need help because this problem is sure to happen again.

  29. Here in Ohio we call them devil strips, but its a dead area that needn’t be.
    I’d love to have a copy of this book to gather ideas for brightening up a satanic piece of ground.

  30. This is my life. We do hell strips between sidewalk and street at the Port of Ilwaco (at the mouth of the Columbia River). I love reading about this subject and I look forward to this book.

  31. LOVE the idea of hellstrip gardening. My husband and I are about to move into a new house and planning out the garden: the hellstrip will be included!

  32. My issue are the ones on corners that do not permit proper sight lines to check for traffic when entering an arterial.

    A neighbor who lived across the street on a triangular lot did put some lovely plantings on his strip. But he moved away to a house with a bigger lot for gardening, and the new owners are letting the plantings get out of hand.

    They did cut it back a bit so we can see the cars coming, but now as spring has arrived the rosa rugosas are filling out and we have to creep out very slowly because we literally cannot see the traffic to the right of the intersection.

    • Someday I’ll remember my right from my left:

      “cannot see the traffic to the left of the intersection.”

    • Check your cities code for visual clearance and let your neighbor know. Don’t report him to the city if you want to stay on good terms…just give him the info.

      • Actually we did that. He did cut it back, but now it is a maintenance issue. Plus, we should not have had to do that in the first place.

        The city did go after a house on the other corner that had planted English laurel on either side of the wheel chair ramp from the sidewalk, and next to fire hydrant. It had essentially blocked the ramp, and was totally concealing the fire hydrant.

        I just want those who are putting in these strip gardens to think before planting about sight lines, and access to certain utilities. Don’t make it impossible for the meter reader to read your water meter, nor difficult to get to the garbage/recycle containers on garbage day, nor impossible for someone parking on the street to get to the sidewalk.

  33. We call ours the mailbox garden (that extends to the speed limit sign). My favorite part is the big 3′ by 3′ patch of angelina sedum as well as peonies, daffodils, and bright pink phlox that are growing great there, more summer plants to add soon! Would love to hear about what others have tried!

  34. I had a hellstrip garden in the late 90’s when we lived in Pottstown, PA. I planted garden sage, lavender, sedums, thyme and other tough plants that could take the heat in between the asphalt road and the sidewalk. My hellstrip was barely a foot wide, but we lived at the end of the street so it was a long, long strip stretching from the back alley to the front curb. In early summer when the sages and lavender bloomed, it was really lovely. Now I live in upstate NY (Oneonta) on a farm a few miles from the nearest sidewalks. Asphalt in front of the house is a treasured ‘feature’ as it transitions to gravel just down the hill where the road enters the next township. I have no hellstrip here, but have learned more about “ditch” gardening. That’s the art of planting (some might say flinging) your more exuberant perennials and shrubs amidst the weeds across the road. Now we can admire forsythia, physotegia, Campanula ‘Cherry Bells’ and white wood hyacinths from afar.

    • I threw seeds for years across my gravel road into a vacated RR yard and nothing grew for years until one day 96 student housing units grew up and a new asphalt road.
      Careful where you throw your seeds and may they always prosper in that soil!

      • That’s a scary thought! We wouldn’t get student housing up here on our mtn, but I do worry about a trailer park. I’d love to buy the couple acres right across from us, or at least get the development rights to it. It’s part of a parcel of 80 acres, so not affordable.

  35. Sarah, “mailbox garden” sounds so much nicer to me than “hellstrip,” although hellstrip certainly describes the conditions these plants have to endure. The idea of turning this area into an oasis is very appealing, and my little space sure could use some love!

  36. I’ve wanted to add something pretty in my hell strip, however concern is about all the salt infested snow that gets sprayed on this patch during the winter months in Michigan

  37. Really enjoying reading about all of your gardens in hellstrips, around mailboxes, and in other tough curbside spaces. For those who want to find salt-tolerant plants, yes I included info about salt tolerance in the plant dictionary of the book, and here is a searchable database that might help if you have specific plants you wonder about. Just click on one of the searchable categories to bring up a list of plant names. http://www.ussl.ars.usda.gov/pls/caliche/Halophyte.query

  38. My entire property is without grass and after 25 years looks really natural. The area between the “old” sidewalk and street is 38 ft.( the outcome of good planning 110 years ago and part of a vacated street returned to me). The “strip is about 150 ft. long.
    This is the urban farm and it attracts my new neighbors (students at Or. State) and gives me a chance to share food,flowers and knowledge. Many students are from other countries with no nature around them and we talk about sustainability, soil, plants etc. It makes me feel I am helping to nurture the soil and soul of future generations.
    Your local county Master gardener ext. service is a good source of info also your area may have an Urban Forester(local parks dept.). Cities usually restrict height of plants to 2 ft.
    Plant a row for the hungry and keep this revolution going……

  39. Since I live on a corner lot with an alley behind this looks like a very applicable book which I’m eager to check out. I’ve worked to create a sense of privacy and get past the always on display feeling. I’m fortunate not to have a sidewalk on the side of my house (which is also the longer side of my lot) and there in some sections I’ve extended my garden to the curb. I’m always in the market for more ideas so hope to find inspiration in this book.

  40. Hell yeah! I’m working on planting my hellstrips now – I have two since I’m in a corner lot, and they’re currently hardscaped with gravel (my own personal version of hell). Would love any and all tips on how to make it gorgeous.

  41. There are no sidewalks around here, but I have a big chunk of land next to the road, which desparately needs to be something other than lawn.

  42. Getting some ideas on how to deal with hellstrips under big old street trees would be interesting–they’re a special challenge. Looking forward to reading this book!

  43. I’ve planted a few ‘hellstrip’ gardens but could definitely use some additional inspiration!


  44. There is a sad neglected hell strip near my place and I’ve often wondered about the legality of just starting to plant something there. Its a very depressing hunk of land. Maybe there is a bit of guerilla gardening in my future?

  45. I got rid of my front lawn and replaced with bayscape and natives. Love it but it is more work! Love the idea of digging up the strips on other side of sidewalk. Would love this book!

  46. We have the fortune of living on a corner site. One side has a nice long hellstrip between the street and a concrete sidewalk. When we bought the property, this area was a sun-scorched patch of parched weedy lawn; my hell was the clouds of dust that mowing stirred up and the sand burr stickers that proliferated there. In the years since, we have converted it to what I now think of as our ‘heaven strip’ since it’s my favorite place to garden–the wildflowers, succulents, ornamental grasses and perennials that we’ve installed have become something of an ever-changing gift to passersby throughout the seasons. I look forward learning even more with Evelyn’s newest book! It promises more creative ideas and the opportunity for more fun.

  47. I’ve wanted a hellstrip garden for years. I allow my gardening desires to run wild in the backyard, but I keep the front more or less normal looking. Perhaps this book will give me the inspiration I need to break free.

  48. This book looks awesome! A hellstrip garden is one of the best things in a neighborhood for people that walk daily. Makes the walk more fun and the flowers are right there, up close and yours to marvel at.

  49. Have done most of mine on my corner lot, but still have some extra area to go. Wish that I had this book before planning it, just put in a number of dwarf shrubs that will fill out the weird stretch below our retaining wall.

  50. As a one-time Hellstrip gardener would love to find more inspiration for further midnight escapades with my gardening buddy in crime. It was a thrilling experience as strangers actually thought we were city workers planting on overtime!

  51. How about the neighbor’s Southern Magnolia roots (as wide as telephone poles, and so out-of-the ground you trip over them) running throughout the area? Oh, how I need this book!

  52. How about the neighbor’s Southern Magnolia roots (as big around as telephone poles and so out-of-the-ground you trip over them) running throughout the area? Oh, how I need this book!

  53. I’ve been dreaming about planting a hellstrip garden on my ugly front strip. I could definitely use some help and inspiration! The book looks amazing (and very topical).

  54. I’m curious if the book addresses the names that people give that strip of land? It seems to be a topic of conversation lately.

    I love the idea of changing that piece of land into a small garden. I watched a couple in my neighborhood recently rip out their sod and amend the soil. I was so excited for a garden! Then they put down grass seed. Boo.

    • Yes, I go into it a little at the beginning, tropaeolum, just because there is not one consistent term for this type of ground; it varies geographically. In fact, I learned a new one (“devil strip”) from Pat’s comment above. Then there are the public areas that have similar challenges and conditions, like roundabouts, medians, and parking lot islands. In many of these little leftover places, cultivating a lawn takes more resources than planting some sturdy plants that will thrive without the regular care and cutting a lawn requires.

  55. Oh! Put my name in the hat.
    Hubby keeps telling me I can’t legally do this, and I think he’s flat out wrong.
    Here in our small town in NW Iowa, the strip is literally 15-20 feet from sidewalk to street, it’s huge! what a waste of space if I can’t plant it…

    • Susan, I was so pleased she said she would do it! And that I got to include her design work. She even let me include a couple pics of her first hellstrips (made famous in The Undaunted Garden).

  56. I love this idea, I hate seeing so much wasted planting space when people are going hungry, eating junk to get by, and our pollinators are so threatened 🙁 Down with lawns, Up with gardens!!

    [email protected]

  57. I have already planted my hellstrip but could definitely use a resource like this book for maintainance and ideas.

  58. I can’t wait to get a copy of this book, and add to my homegrown knowledge about hell strip gardening! Thanks for a great tool that we all can use, Evelyn!

  59. Attention and developing this area certainly adds positively to the appearance of the property and neighborhood.

  60. Hellstrips are a chance to let everyone enjoy the neighborhood. The Seattle pollinator project is really interesting.

  61. We have a small hellstrip garden with bulbs, low sedum and oregano; all that grow well with little care.

  62. Hellstrip gardening is ignored by to many people! It’s such an excellent way to give the neighbourhood a little color. It should be obligatory in every city! I’m also really excited about the book.

  63. Thank you all for your enthusiasm about hellstrip gardening (uppercase and lowercase), and congratulations to the big winner, Lita! Hope you’ll enjoy the book.

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