Living hellstrips

Ellie's hellstrip from the Wall Street Journal's article on hellstrips. It could be the most famous hellstrip in America.
(Not a lot of other ones get too much coverage!) Photo by Don Zinteck.

I've been collecting photos of decent hellstrips - the area between sidewalk and street. It's another of those challengers unique to city dwellers. It's also something I have to start thinking about.

More photos of this Manchester Place hellstrip below. They
have the added issues of a tree AND a light pole.
A diseased, pink-blooming horse chestnut tree was taken out three years ago. In the off chance (and with more phone calls to the mayor's compliant line) that the stump gets ground out this spring, I'd like to plant my hellstrip.

I know that the property belongs, officially, to the city and I can't do anything permanent, or that I would cry over, in the event utilities need to be dug up.

I do know I want a hardscape area for people that park and need room to get out of their cars. That's easier than kvetching about people stepping into the garden all the time.

It also gives the appearance of a neighborhood that
cares about their surroundings and home values.
I also need an area for my trash can & recycling to sit comfortably on trash pick-up days. I also will need some sort of divider, or end point, as I share my hellstrip with my neighbor (unless I can get them to plant their portion!).

Ideally, I know it has to be dog, cat & bunny proof, and withstand salt, urine and large amounts of heavy snow.

And I don't want any grass that has to be mowed. That's an absolute must. I need to finally get rid of the mower. It's taking up room in the garage with the broken snow blower I haven't used in 12 years. Though, to be honest, my neighbor mows my hellstrip more than I do. I don't have the need to be out with the mower, other than the hellstrip, so I tend to let the grass go for long periods of time. That's just how I roll.

Oh, and it wouldn't hurt if it peaks on the last full weekend of July each year for Garden Walk Buffalo.

Other than that, I'm studying these photos and asking you if there are any other considerations of which I'm not thinking.

Sixteenth Street is always full of ideas. Photo by Don Zinteck.
Photo by Don Zinteck.
One of my local favorites. Photo by Don Zinteck.

Very nice, but it still requires mowing.

Jennifer & Jim's hellstrip encouraged neighbors to plant their own.
Very nice, but I'd need something blooming
constantly, especially the end of July.
A raised bed? Hmmm...

Brick lined makes a good shovel stop in wintertime.

Deadheading might be a deal breaker for me. I'm not that diligent.

Probably the most famous hellstrip in Buffalo. It was even shown on the Wall Street Journal's
website, in an article on hellstrips, with a quote from the gardener, Ellie, the Hellstrip Raiser.
I swear if you give Jennifer an inch, she'll plant a garden.

Just up the street from me, a group of neighbors have all their
hellstrips planted with grasses and low-ground covers.

Still on my street, Lancaster Avenue. looks awesome when it's more than just one planted.
My absolute favorite by far. Few, but curated plants - even house plants & annuals, no mowing
and even incorporates artwork. THIS is the ultimate. I'll have to find out how it handles snow.
It's on Manchester Place, a one-block street of great gardens.

The effect of a neighborhood embracing their hellstrips cannot be understated.
I like the rocks, colors, plantings and exuberance, but in my case, I think the mulch would need replacing constantly. This one's on the Blackrock/Riverside Tour of gardens. 
They're hiding a manhole cover.
Ubiquitous daylilies. Can't do it.

Excellent, excellent, excellent. A study in color coordination & contrast. Photo by Don Zinteck.
Sue & Miro's. I don't have a photo of it, but they have a bright red fire hydrant to the right of the tree.
In the spring, they have bright red tulips to match the hydrant which looks excellent. They've also lead the eye by
  having the small hellstrip are to the left marry with the strip leading up to the house, along side their walk & stairs. Photo by Don Zinteck.


  1. Jim, Quite a thorough survey of Buffalo's contributions to this type of gardening! I prefer sidewalk garden to hellstrip. Planted my own a few years ago in a rural/suburban location, with lots of volunteer buddleias kept short with a spring chop, low junipers, dwarf berberis, rudbeckia and nepeta. Edging is tricky, as you suggest, but a good mulch and occasional brooming keep everything together.

  2. Those are great examples. Although, if the city may need to dig there, I don't know if I would put in rocks, pavers or raised beds. That's a lot of work and possibly cost that could be destroyed. No mowing would be best. Our alley is in the same situation. I can plant there but can't complain if it is destroyed. I'm doing self seeding wildflowers mostly but need some easy perrenial options to fill in more. I do have mint growing on one end. A good place for it and indestructable. Have fun planing. Go for something colorful!

  3. My traffic island in the street is similar and i've had good luck with bulbs, catmint, Hakonechloa grass, sedums, Hostas and true geraniums. They all seem able to take car exhaust, salt and abuse. There is a hellstrip (I love that word) in town here, where the guy is constantly popping in annuals for quick color and he also has some dwarf evergreens. His area is pretty mounded up so putting stuff in and taking it out would not be such an issue. His "art" is pieces of driftwood. (You can find pix of my traffic island by searching those words on my blog.)

  4. Please come and practice at my house. We need to have one that can accommodate discarded beer bottles...

  5. I have only one word : waooooo !!

  6. Cyndy,
    Sidewalk garden does sound more pleasant. But from the plant's perspective hellstrip might be more apropos. For the fear of it being ripped up for utilities, I'd be afraid to plant junipers, berberis & other bushes. Not that they're harder to dig up than perennials, they just SEEM more permanent. The edging thing may require more thought.

    I think raised beds my be out. Pavers that are just lain there I have more of a fear of them being stolen than an issue for utilities digging around. And rocks? As much as I like the photos above, it might be too impracticable. Mint? I'll never purposely plant mint again!

    Ms. Wiz,
    That's pretty much the mix of plants I have in my front yard (plus a couple dozen more) so they'd make good sense design-wise. I'm smarter now than I was when the yard was planted so might be able to pair them up better than before.

    Don't think I don't get the occasional beer bottle (and wrappers and bags and cans and...)

    Is "waoooooo" some fancy French word I didn't learn?

  7. Buffalo has perfected the art of Hell Strip gardening. Did you add more photos to this post? I hope you get the well deserved traffic for this post. So much to see and inspire. I can't wait until GWB this year to see the additional HS converts. I am going over to Blotanical now and get you on that list!

  8. Done. I have two blogs and 10 picks now has you at the top of the popular list. Now every Blotanical user will see Living Hell Strips.

  9. So that's how they do it in Buffalo. Great community efforts and plant ideas for what we call 'Pimping the Pavement'. In our UK inner cities, there are enthusiastic folk guerrila gardening beauty back into dereliction.

  10. Oh, I remember that garden quite well. It was stunning. The sidewalk strip hardly looks like a strip any more and, in fact, looks like a little piece of heaven.

  11. I love the one where you said excellent three times: excellent use of color and ties everything together. It looks like it is high maintenance though. My favorite would be your favorite except I would have all rocks with sedums and hens and chicks between them. Low in height, low maintenance, a feast for the eye in color and texture, takes foot traffic. It makes no sense to me to leave any lawn. Very valuable article.

  12. I didn't even know that they were called hellstrips. LOL!

    These are very cool photos. Great post!

  13. Jim I wish we had hellstrips! In my suburban neighborhood~We don't have sidewalks~Just 12 foot of easement that the city will not allow anyone to plant! They serve as conduits for rain runoff! gail Hope they city gets rid of the stump.

  14. There are some great ideas there. I especially like the ones with the stones.

  15. I love this round up. I've been looking for inspiration, thanks!

  16. Great post, Jim. I'd love to do the Buffalo tour someday. We have been doing a City Gardens Contest and tours of winning gardens in Wilmington, DE for almost 30 years years.( The Contest creates such great beauty and enthusiasm among urban gardeners. To inspire potential entries in our 2011 contest, I just put a link to your post on our Facebook page. (!/pages/Delaware-Center-for-Horticulture/111911201884) Keep up the great work!

  17. I would put in rocks, pavers or raised beds.
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  18. Awesome street. Does it attract visitors to your town by any chance? If not it should.

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