Turn Your Hell Strip Into a Heavenly Flowerbed

By Laurel Kenner

Most Greenwich streets are bordered with bizarre narrow strips of lawn between the curb and sidewalk. The Town owns and seeds these bits of real estate, which run between 18 inches and 5 feet in width.

Supposedly residents care for the grass. In practice, the weeds have won.

My friend Martina Doshan, president of the Garden Club of Old Greenwich, calls these narrow pieces of lawn “hell strips” — because they look like hell.

Because of another weird Greenwich thing — the use of gas-powered landscaping equipment — it’s a common and hilarious to see men riding lawnmowers down these little strips, making lots of noise and wafting gas fumes. If you didn’t know better, you could almost be fooled into thinking the result was grass instead of clover, dandelion, plantain, violets, and quitch grass.

I used to mow my strip every few weeks with a push mower. Once I got busy and asked my neighbor’s landscaper to do mine. He demanded $30 for my 5×30 strip.

When the Town decided to replace the curbs this summer, they dug up the hell strips too.

Suddenly, I had a blank slate.

I piled on topsoil and compost. Then I planted perennials — Black-Eyed Susan, milkweed, anise hyssop, hibiscus, red coneflower, purple sage, butterfly bush, goldenrod, yarrow, false sunflower.

I put in rosemary, hoping it would last through winter. Oregano proved a fast-spreading groundcover.

Nothing too tall, so as not to block the view of neighbors backing out of driveways.

The planting took me a weekend. As I worked, covered with dirt and sweat pouring down my face, passersby made funny comments:

  • “Is that legal?”
  • “Hard work.”
  • “Where are people going to step when they get out of their cars?”

But often, “Beautiful!”

One neighbor said some folks on nearby Connecticut Avenue had beat me to it. I walked over to take a look and was inspired by their flourishing sedum and native grasses. I planted some ‘Autumn Fire’ sedum and little bluestem grass. A couple of weekends ago I added some annuals: marigolds and yellow chrysanthemums.

I wasn’t too concerned about foot traffic, given that only three cars will fit along my curb. Not exactly Yankee Stadium. I put in some steppingstones, though, for people to cut through the bed.

I water almost daily to help the plants take root before winter. They’re all drought-resistant, so they won’t need much water in coming years. Most are thriving in the full sun.

The bees took to the new microenvironment immediately. All day long, they drink nectar from the dusky purple spike flowers of the anise hyssop.

I’m still experimenting. I’ll see which plants overwinter best, and next spring I’ll play with patterns.

Meanwhile, every couple of weeks so I drive up to Sam Bridge Nursery and bring home another plant for my heaven strip constellation.

Have some fun. Dig up your lawn