Extending the Garden to the Boulevard and Alley
With the dog days of summer upon us, it might be easy to set down the trowel and call it quits in the garden. Things look good. Spring plantings have matured and the tasty bounty of vegetables that was promised when you planted your starts months ago is making its way to your kitchen. Sure there is watering and a little maintenance, but at this point established gardens are on autopilot, allowing gardeners to sit back to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
But then there are gardeners like me who, while sipping a gin and tonic, tend to fawn over the existing garden, but just can’t help but think about the next plot of ground to dig up. But where does one turn once the yard is full of plantings? How about the street? Boulevard and alley gardens are starting to pop up all over the city, offering a challenging, yet beautiful way to extend the garden while beautifying the neighborhood.
So how does one tackle this no man’s land between the sidewalk and street where sprigs of turf struggle, or the strip in the alley that is just a bit too far away from the water hose? Start by preparing the site. Remember that good organic-rich soil is the base of all successful gardens. Peat moss, composted manure, or garden compost are all rich in organic matter and once worked into the soil will help retain water and nutrients for your plantings.
Next, choose plants that will tolerate the less than ideal growing conditions of your particular site. Keep in mind successful choices will likely have to be drought, shade, and often salt, foot, and tire tolerant. If you are unsure, ask a horticulturist at the garden center for suggestions. Assess how the new garden relates to the existing gardens; repeating plants, colors, forms and textures to give the overall landscape cohesion. Be mindful to keep taller plants to a minimum, as city ordinances mandate clear sightlines for safety’s sake. Feel free to leave space for annuals and bulbs between perennial groups which will offer bursts of color throughout the season when perennials are not in bloom.
Mulch your plantings to prevent erosion, but also to prevent weeds and preserve moisture for the new garden. Keep the new planting well watered while they are getting established the first season. Even drought tolerant plants will do better if given an extra drink or two in their establishment phase. Wait until spring to give your new plantings a once-per-season slow-release fertilizer (we recommend 18-18-8).
Like any garden, you will have triumphs and tribulations. The sheer nature of growing plants on the street creates plenty of challenges. Use these extra days of summer to take on these challenges, by making the best of the space and plants you have to work with. With a little love and care, life on your street will be abundant with beauty while expressing your own personal style.
Scott Endres is co-owner of Tangletown Gardens and the recently opened Wise Acre Eatery on 54th and Nicollet in South Minneapolis.