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Photo: Courtesy Josh Mccullough

Lance and Julie Wright’s Southeast Portland sidewalk gardens brim with heat-loving plants, including California fuchsia (Zauschneria), penstemon, salvia, grasses, yucca, agave, and a windmill palm.

Make a Parking-Strip Sanctuary

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Photo: Courtesy Josh Mccullough

Lucy and Fred Hardimans’ Southeast Portland parking-strip garden includes drought-tolerant Mediterraneans like Euphorbia characias and golden oregano and bulbs like Scilla peruviana.

BLAST YOUR “HELLSTRIP.” That’s what garden geeks call the too-often neglected zone between street and sidewalk. But in Portland, they’ve become the equivalent of the natty scarf that ties a great outfit together. Before you start, consider a few ground rules: the city of Portland owns your parking strip, so don’t start digging without knowing the regulations for gas lines, what kind of trees you can plant and where, or how to keep the water meter box accessible. Check out the regs at

CONNECT PLANTS AND PLACE. If your planting strip is shady, try winter-blooming dwarf Himalayan box (Sarcococca hookeriana v. humilis), which blossoms with fragrant flowers in January and February. Greedy tree roots to contend with? Native Vancouveria and sword ferns need little water, and can deal with shade and compete with tree roots. Is it sunny? Try sun-loving, drought-tolerant hotties like manzanitas, rosemary, and Salvia x greggii . Partial sun? Go for star jasmine ( Trachelospermum asiaticum) or sedums.

KNOW YOUR SOIL. To turn your hellstrip into a curbside heaven, good soil will be your guiding angel. Start by loosening it between six inches and two feet deep (less for shallow-rooted ground covers like creeping sedums or thyme, more for shrubs and trees). Incorporate compost tailored to your intended plantings. And don’t let your soil overflow onto the street—very salmon-unfriendly.

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Photo: Courtesy Josh Mccullough

Garden designer Laura Crockett’s Hillsboro garden features a voluptuously wide parking strip with stylish sweeps of plants and easy accessibility.

PLAN FOR THE WALKERS. Carbon offsets from colonizing your parking strip aside, folks parking on the street need to get in and out of their cars, so leave some zones of brick or concrete “hardscaping.”

PLANT AN ALTERNA-LAWN. If you’re ready for a little more work, low-growing “steppables” are great: creeping sedum or thyme (for sun), Acaena or Cotula (for half sun), or blue star creeper (for shade). Other options include small, grasslike plants such as dwarf Ophiopogon.

PLAY CHESS WITH TREES. Tired of looking at your neighbor’s unkempt lawn? Want your car shaded from the afternoon sun? Block either with a strategically placed tree. First, check to see if Friends of Trees will be planting in your neighborhood and join it if you can. If not, search the city’s list for a drought-tolerant tree species with the right height, width, and maybe even flowers at

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Image: Thomas Cobb
Expert Tips

Clever Curbs
Lucy Hardiman | Writer; garden designer, Perennial Partners

I come from a family of pioneers that traveled in the first wagon train from Independence, Missouri, to Independence, Oregon. They carried seeds, and stuck treasured cuttings in potatoes to preserve them. What we now call “sustainable” was how we were taught to live on the planet.

When I moved to Portland, the big parking strips all over town didn’t make any sense to me. To maintain a lawn in the two feet of clay soil between street and sidewalk, people were watering and using herbicides. So at our house, I had a crew take out the top 12 inches of soil. We added soil amendment and pumice and mulched with a quarter-10 gravel so we could plant a drought-tolerant garden. You need drainage. It’s not the winter cold that kills most plants; it’s the wet!


Plant:Consider Mediterranean plants like cistus, hellebores, euphorbias, Pacific Coast iris; minor bulbs; and herbs like lavender and sage.