Eccentric Escapism Passionate Fantasy Afloat and Flourishing Behind the Bungalow Parking Strip Picturesque Plant Life


Now passers-by share the feel of an abundant garden's glory

I live in a Leave-It-To-Beaver neighborhood, with '50s-vintage houses linked by open lawns and grassy parking strips dotted with a few tidy street trees. A couple of years ago I found myself altering my dog-walk route to pass by the one house whose garden overflowed out onto the parking strip. So much is going on in this small space that near-daily walk-bys hardly suffice to keep track of what is coming into bloom. The combination of shrubs, grasses, perennials and bulbs keeps the sidewalk-grazing garden going year-round in an enviable display of colors, textures and fragrances.

Interest is up close in the wintertime, with Helleborus orientalis, rose hips, hebes and violets (below) providing color. This late January photo shows the strip right after the ornamental grasses were cut back. "It is fine to look out there and see it all resting," says Sandra Liming of her parking-strip garden in winter. "It doesn't need to keep going all the time." In springtime, daffodils and tulips, as well as the new foliage of roses and spirea, begin to fill out the long, narrow bed. The white picket fence that surrounds the inner garden serves as both backdrop to the parking strip and support for clematis and roses. The bright narcissus, followed by colorful tulips (below), enliven the neighboring swaths of green lawn. The blades of iris foliage, a purple barberry and emerging clumps of bronze fennel and ornamental grasses carry the garden through to summer.

One autumn day five years ago, Sandra Liming dug up all the grass in her 75-foot-long parking strip and brought in bags and bags of Cedar Grove compost to enrich the soil. She'd been attending meetings on Capitol Hill and admired a house down the street with a lushly planted parking strip. Liming argued with her husband for months about the idea of undertaking such a transformation themselves. (He didn't want their garden to look different than the others on the street). But finally one day when he was at work, she just went out and dug it up. Determined to make a garden out of the flat strip of grass, Liming added some rocks so neighborhood teenagers wouldn't feel compelled to drive over the area. That same fall, she started planting.

"Everything just took off. It uses less water than before, and is a whole lot prettier," she says. Plus, her parking strip no longer draws dogs in search of a bathroom. Instead, it attracts dozens of people who stop to learn and to marvel. Several years into it, her husband is even pleased. "He enjoys hearing the compliments and not having to mow and edge," Liming says with a laugh.

The Limings' parking strip garden is at its full glory in midsummer, with roses and lilies for scent and color, pink spider flower (Cleome, below) for texture and flash, and yellow-striped ornamental grasses (Miscanthus zebrinus) for heft and height. Purple hebes and barberries, the maroon flowers of Knautia macedonica, and the dark foliage of smoke bush play off all the greens and pastels. As summer color mellows in October, the last of the roses and annuals mix with asters and flowering grasses (below). Sedums, caryopteris (a small, blue-flowering shrub), crocosmia and nandina keep the color going late into autumn.

Starting out with drought-tolerant plants such as euphorbia, erynigium and artemisia, Liming later added her favorite roses for summer scent and flower. She grows more than 200 roses in her third-of-an-acre garden and couldn't help but spill a few of them outside the fence into the parking-strip garden. "I put 'Sally Holmes' in first," says Liming, and the creamy, single-blossomed shrub rose "has been wonderful out there."

Other roses that flourish in streetside conditions include the hybrid musk `Kathleen' with small, single, pink-and-white yellow-centered flowers that "blooms like a trooper," and R. 'Margaret Merril' with pale-pink flowers and crisp, dark-green leaves. The sturdy rugosa rose 'Frau Dagmar Hastrup' has clove-scented pink flowers and keeps blooming even after the big red hips come on in the fall, creating an eye-catching display of flowers and fruit at the same time.

After an early spring weeding and application of feeding mulch, not much other care is required despite the garden's exposed conditions. The original sprinkler system installed for grass is still intact, so the roses can be watered during summer and early autumn. Liming feeds all the plants with an all-purpose fertilizer in springtime and prunes the roses in February. The mix of different kinds of plants, and the careful soil building, keeps everything healthy; there have been few problems with disease or pests and even the roses don't suffer from aphids. One lavatera grew so vigorously that a neighbor complained it blocked sight lines from her driveway, so that plant has been removed. But most neighbors admire the new and decidedly different look. "I don't get much work done when I'm out there, as everyone comes by and asks questions and comments," says Liming.

This narrow strip of garden, corralled between stretches of concrete, is so successful because Liming has set the white picket fence that surrounds the main garden far enough back so she can line the sidewalk on both sides with plantings. This ties the streetside plantings into the larger garden. The bigger, sturdier plants (grasses, roses, smoke bush) contrast pleasingly with the smaller, more delicate ones like clematis, mondo grass, Spanish lavender and ornamental oreganos ideal for close-up interest. This varying of scale and texture creates a complex garden in an exposed, usually underused space. In five years the parking strip has become a cornucopia of plants where the feel of abundance from the rest of the garden reaches out to delight passers-by.

Valerie Easton is a horticultural librarian and writes about plants and gardens for Pacific Northwest magazine. Her e-mail address is Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.

Eccentric Escapism Passionate Fantasy Afloat and Flourishing Behind the Bungalow Parking Strip Picturesque Plant Life home
Copyright © 2001 The Seattle Times Company