Read This: Hellstrip Gardening book review and GIVEAWAY

I don’t know what people called the strip of grass between street and sidewalk before Lauren Springer Ogden coined the term “hellstrip” to describe it. But it can surely be hellish to maintain, drying to a crisp in hot climates, contaminated with road salt in northern climates, treated by passing dogs as a toilet, subject to utility company digging, with soil compacted by garbage bins, people exiting cars, and even the occasional errant vehicle. It’s really a wonder that anything will grow there.

Many homeowners spend way too much time and money trying to keep lawn alive in such inhospitable conditions. Others throw up their hands and spread a layer of river rock or gravel across the entire strip, hoping to reduce maintenance but often creating a weed-friendly or barren heat island along the curb — not the curb appeal most of us want.

Photo by Joshua McCullough

Less-lawn crusader Evelyn Hadden, an author and speaker from Minnesota who recently relocated to Boise, Idaho, takes on this nebulous public-private space in her new book, Hellstrip Gardening: Create a Paradise Between the Sidewalk and the Curb (2014, Timber Press). Considering that the hellstrip is only a small portion of the average yard, this is a meaty book. Part 1 offers in-depth looks at a dozen curbside gardens, and Hadden performs her usual magic trick of including images of gardens from a range of regions — which I know from experience is not easy unless you do a lot of garden-based travel or have a generous photo budget. Photographer Joshua McCullough is credited for providing most of the images, and they are lovely, as is the design of the book — i.e., plenty of eye candy.

Photo by Joshua McCullough

Part 2 addresses the challenges involved in gardening along the street, from tree roots and HOA rules to car damage and utility maintenance. In Part 3, Hadden offers design solutions specific to curbside gardening, including the types of plants to choose (non-precious and self-repairing) and using berms or rain gardens to address noise or drainage issues. The final section, Part 4, is a generous list of hellstrip-worthy plants organized usefully by showy flowers, showy foliage, culinary or medicinal uses, and four-season structure. As with any plant list geared to a country as geographically and climatically diverse as the U.S., only some of the plants will be applicable to central Texas gardeners, but it’ll get you thinking about the types of plants you might use.

Photo by Evelyn Hadden

Hadden’s emphasis throughout the book is on gardening sustainably, with less water and minimal or no chemicals, encouraging each of us to do our part to create more beautiful, runoff-absorbing, wildlife-friendly spaces. She’s realistic in her assessment that curbside gardens are generally more work to keep up than plain old lawn, but she points out the many benefits they provide in return: community beautification, crime reduction, wildlife waystations, runoff filtration, and more.

The only quibble I have is that many of the gardens covered are not, strictly speaking, hellstrip gardens between street and sidewalk but front-yard gardens as a whole. It often reads, therefore, more like a front-yard gardening book rather than one tightly focused on curbside conditions. Still, there’s plenty of hellstrip to go around, and the extra coverage of entire front yards is a bonus for those looking to garden up little-used lawns. This is, after all, a topic near and dear to my own heart!

I’m happy to be able to offer a copy of Hellstrip Gardening, courtesy of Timber Press, to one lucky reader. To be entered, simply leave a comment on this post. One comment per person only. Giveaway is limited to U.S. and Canada.

This giveaway runs through Monday, July 14, at 11:59 pm CT, and I’ll announce the winner here on Tuesday the 15th. Check back next Tuesday to see if you won, and good luck!

Update 7/15/14: Congratulations to #51 commenter Chris! He’s the lucky winner of Hellstrip Gardening. Chris, look for my email.

Disclosure: Timber Press sent me a copy of Hellstrip Gardening for review. I reviewed it at my own discretion and without any compensation. This post, as with everything at Digging, is my own personal opinion.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Read This: A summer round-up of gardening books

Now that the early summer frenzy of planting, weeding, and watering new plants is behind us and sultry midsummer is here, it’s the perfect time to kick back with a glass of iced tea and a stack of gardening books. I recently read three books authored by friends I’ve met at the annual Garden Bloggers Fling. Although distance and climate separate us, we share a love of gardening and writing, and it was a treat to delve into their books and learn what stirs their passions.

The Roses at the End of the Road

The Roses at the End of the Road (, 2011) is a collection of autobiographical essays by Pat Leuchtman, who’s gardened for 30 years on a rural property in Heath, Massachusetts. Author of the blog Commonweeder, Pat is passionate about roses — the more fragrant and romantically named, the better.

But don’t go thinking that this is a precious, teacups-and-roses book. With a keen sense of the absurd and plain-spoken prose enlivened by dry wit, Pat weaves humorous stories of her adventures — of which she’s had many — with lightly sketched but touching profiles of neighbors and friends who’ve enriched her life and her garden over the years. My daughter, reading over my shoulder at one point, declared, “I like this book!” Considering that Roses is not a teen paranormal novel, that’s high praise indeed.

If you’ve ever read Mrs. Whaley and Her Charleston Garden and enjoyed her reminiscences, you’ll like The Roses at the End of the Road. It’s a slim volume, only 86 pages, perfect for a hostess gift or a stocking stuffer if you’re thinking ahead to the holidays.

Pat Leuchtman at the Seattle Garden Bloggers Fling in 2011

Plants with Benefits

The titillating title of Plants with Benefits: An Uninhibited Guide to the Aphrodisiac Herbs, Fruits, Flowers & Veggies in Your Garden (St. Lynn’s, 2014) indicates that this is not your usual edible gardening book — although I do think the cover image shows surprising restraint, with no sign of a banana or cucumber. Too obvious?

Author Helen Yoest, who blogs at Gardening with Confidence, has a playful sense of humor that’s necessary when writing about phallic fruits, virile vegetables, and flirtatious flowers. She coyly profiles 45 plants, from cloves to coffee, known for their aphrodisiacal qualities, laying bare their stimulating properties. In addition, 19 recipes are included for readers eager to cook up some romance. It’s a fun read.

Helen Yoest during my 2011 visit to her Raleigh garden

Taming Wildflowers

Central Texas is justly famous for its spring wildflowers. In April, bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush color fields and roadsides blue and red. Lady Bird Johnson promoted the value of wildflowers in the 1960s and 1970s, eventually founding the Wildflower Center in Austin. In addition, at least two growers specializing in wildflower seeds operate here in central Texas, Wildseed Farms and Native American Seed.

So it was with a sense of affinity that I opened Miriam Goldberger’s Taming Wildflowers: Bringing the Beauty and Splendor of Nature’s Blooms into Your Own Backyard (St. Lynn’s, 2014). Wildflowers are Miriam’s passion and her business. She and her husband started growing flowers for a pick-your-own farm in Ontario, Canada, in 1982. When Miriam realized that they could grow wildflowers more economically and more sustainably than the exotics they’d been cultivating, they shifted their focus to native wildflowers and grasses, dubbing their burgeoning operation Wildflower Farm. “[T]he local farmers thought it was pretty darn funny to see the city slickers…growing weeds,” she writes, before noting, “They aren’t laughing anymore.”

Author photo: Miriam Goldberger

The heart of Taming Wildflowers is full-page profiles of wildflowers for most growing zones in North America. Many will be familiar to Texas gardeners. For those looking for how-tos, Miriam explains how to grow wildflowers from seed and gently disabuses the reader of the notion that one can simply buy a mix of wildflower seeds, toss them on the ground, and end up with a beautiful wildflower meadow; prep work and an understanding of one’s specific conditions are critical to success. With cutting gardens in mind, Miriam also provides design ideas for wildflower arrangements and wedding bouquets.

Happy reading, y’all, and happy Independence Day to my American readers!

Disclosure: All three books were sent to me for review by the publishers or authors. I reviewed them at my own discretion and without any compensation. This post, as with everything at Digging, is my own personal opinion.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Read This: Gardens Are for Living by Judy Kameon

Gardens Are for Living

Southern California is all about outdoor living, and its sunny, retro-modern vibe appeals to many Austinites, including myself. Although their summer sun is a Legoland version of the Death Star and frost rarely nips their tender plants, we Austinites with a modernist bent can find much inspiration in their gardens: their architectural agaves and yuccas, raw steel and poured-concrete hardscaping, gravel patios casually furnished with potted succulents, tree-hung lanterns, colorfully cushioned seating, and, on the tile-top table, a salad picked fresh from the garden.

If this vision appeals, wherever you live, you’ll want to pick up a copy of Gardens Are for Living: Design Inspiration for Outdoor Spaces and pore over its eye-candy photographs of beautifully designed, sink-in-and-stay-a-while gardens. Author Judy Kameon, founder of Los Angeles-based Elysian Landscapes, believes in using the garden, in living in it on a daily basis, and so her designs emphasize “people places” — the indoor-outdoor connection, seating areas, passageways through the garden — as much as plants, although her floral palette is thoughtfully bold and dramatic. She also advocates resizing or ripping out the “neutral, nonthreatening” and purposeless front lawn in favor of a “beautiful courtyard entrance, a private patio to inhabit, or bold compositions of plants” that use less water and give back more enjoyment.

Kameon writes that she loves to entertain friends and family, and she gives that aspect of garden living equal treatment in her book, including recipes, community art projects, and play-space ideas. With chapter titles like “Putting Out the Welcome Mat,” “Homegrown Food & Flowers,” “Cooking in the Garden,” “Art in the Landscape,” “Places for Play,” and “The Joy of Relaxation,” Kameon works her way with ease and assurance through the various pleasures of outdoor living and design, offering illustrative photos and engaging personal anecdotes along the way.

Human activity and enjoyment are very much at the heart of her design aesthetic. She comes at it with an artist’s eye. “Since gardens are by their very nature a fabrication — a human manipulation of the natural world — they afford great opportunities for artistic license,” she writes.

Fantasy and romance…

…exploration and play…

…laughter with friends and moments of serenity — all of these, she promises, can be yours in a garden that invites you to live outdoors. While the Southern California climate obviously helps with that, Kameon devotes her final chapter to creating California style in other parts of the country, from Manhattan to New Orleans to Austin. Local readers will be pleased (and left wanting more) to see several photos of Austin designer Mark Word‘s gardens in this section.

“California,” Kameon says, “is a state of mind,” and after reading her book I’m already there.

Disclosure: I purchased this book and reviewed it at my own discretion and without any compensation. This post, as with everything at Digging, is my own personal opinion. All images © Gardens Are For Living: Design Inspiration for Outdoor Spaces by Judy Kameon, Rizzoli New York, 2014.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.