Bringing Beauty to the Benighted Parking Strip

Source: Zillow

Small trees add curb appeal to the parking strip in front of this Seattle home.  Close

Small trees add curb appeal to the parking strip in front of this Seattle home. 

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Source: Zillow

Small trees add curb appeal to the parking strip in front of this Seattle home. 

The city owns it, but the homeowner is supposed to maintain it. No wonder the parking strip — that space between the curb and sidewalk — is often referred to as "no man's land."

Ironically, this much-maligned patch of earth is often the most visible part of your property. And that's exactly why homeowners in many cities have begun a movement to reclaim this trampled slip of land as their own.

Ownership isn't technically changing, but many municipalities have decided it's better to allow property owners to do something productive with this space rather than to do nothing at all.

In 2009, for example, the city of Seattle loosened its previously restrictive and expensive parking strip policies. Homeowners who want to cultivate the strip between the sidewalk and street may now do so without getting a permit. The installation of hardscape, such as stepping stones or raised beds, still requires a permit, but there's no longer a $225 application fee associated with the project. The city still has regulations about plant height and clearances, primarily to ensure safety for the traveling public.

Sacramento, CA and Salt Lake City are among other cities jumping on the parking strip bandwagon, either by easing restrictions or by encouraging residents to beautify these spaces.

Getting Started

Parking strip landscaping as seen from the porch of a 
Seattle home. Source: Zillow

Parking strip landscaping as seen from the porch of a Seattle home. Source: Zillow

If your city allows parking strip gardening (a quick phone call or online search should define what's acceptable), you'll want to begin by removing weeds and unwanted plants.

A well-planned path or two will guide pedestrians across the parking strip; stepping stones or pebble walkways are just fine. A soil test will provide direction if you need to amend or improve it.

If you're planting flowers or shrubs in the parking strip, look for varieties that are compact, require little pruning and have varied bloom times. Plants should fill in quickly but remain low enough so as not to block traffic views. Unless you want to spend time dragging hoses or hauling buckets, you should also choose plants that don't require lots of watering.

If you're more interested in growing veggies, raised beds (if allowed) may be a good option because they allow you to bring in new soil without the worry of contaminants such as lead or heavy metals. Raised beds allow easy access to crops from all sides and eliminate the possibility of soil compaction because you won't be walking on the beds.

Adding to the Neighborhood

In addition to garden-fresh produce or fresh-cut flowers, your parking strip garden could improve your relationship with your neighbors.

Daniel Winterbottom, University of Washington professor of landscape architecture, worked with his students to conduct a 1996 study about parking median gardens. In addition to making use of this leftover space, residents said they enjoyed creating something that others could see and enjoy, and the resulting increase in interaction with neighbors and passers-by. Others said they noticed a domino effect: When one resident took the initiative to beautify a parking strip, others followed, resulting in even greater interaction among neighbors.

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