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.

78 Responses

  1. Heather says:

    I’ve been trying to convince my hubby to let me plant the “hellstrip”. Maybe this book would convince him! :)

  2. GLenda W. says:

    Oh this looks wonderful! and so very helpful!! Thank you!

  3. Ron says:

    I’ve been thinking of making my hellstrip a Texas wildflower garden. Bluebonnets, paint brushes, and coreopsis. My only concern is the time when the plants are setting seed and the strip will look kind of rough. But once established, you can beat a bluebonnet (wildflower) field in spring.

  4. Gary Mc says:

    Just what I need for my own strip of hell.

  5. Shirley says:

    The ideas look applicable to all those challenging areas of the garden and the photos do look like eye candy.

  6. Abbey says:

    My hellstrip frustration is how skinny that stupid strip is in my neighborhood. It’s probably only two feet wide. I’d love to know what the builders and developer were thinking people would put in there.

  7. Patricia T says:

    Oh, what a great book! Thanks for the chance to win.

  8. Sam says:

    Im really looking forward to checking out this book. I have a HUGE hellstrip (10×36′?) waiting to be converted.

  9. Guida Quon says:

    For a few years I’ve had an idea (an artpiece in plants) for our parkway (hellstrip) but hubby still likes his grass….perhaps the book would push him over my way…….I’d love to have the book.

  10. Barbara says:

    I agree that this area of the yard can be a Hell Strip! Trying to keep the grass hydrated in these areas during Texas’ hot summers is definitely a chore! I’ve been wanting to plant these areas with heat tolerant flowers for some time now. Maybe I will after checking out this book!

  11. Sally says:

    This looks like a great read!

  12. Joan B says:

    This book looks perfect for converting my patch of dead grass into something alive!

  13. This is the next big project my better half and I are taking on. I don’t know that I would want to ever call a human-made patch of earth a hellstrip though. Plants do to best they can, wherever they can – which is something I know I can always learn from :) But anyhow, hellstrip, easement garden, median garden, whatever. A coneflower is a coneflower is a coneflower is a coneflower. Good luck to all in the giveaway!!

  14. Kate E says:

    The photos are just lovely and quite inspiring. My own (very narrow) strip o’ hell is currently overly attractive to the neighborhood pooches–UGH! I’ve been trying to decide what drought-tolerant plants to put there to dissuade the beasts. This book looks like it would have lots of great ideas.

  15. Robert says:

    I’m a bit more lucky than most because my neighborhood has no sidewalks so I don’t exactly have the conventional hell strip, but the perimeter of my yard DOES suffer! (Especially from neighbors taking their dogs on walks). Perhaps cacti might help?

  16. Kat says:

    My whole front yard feels like a hell strip in summer! These tips look great.

  17. Laurie says:

    I’d love some ideas for my hell strip — which is totally living up to the name right now.

  18. Peter says:

    I’m tired of mowing my weeds in the hellstrip and am definitely looking for some inspiration.

  19. Cindy says:

    I lived on a corner – with a stop sign. I had a double helping of the hellstrip..the name fits!

  20. Judy says:

    I really NEED this book!!

  21. Laurel says:

    Perfect timing! Replanting my hell strip will be my fall project. It’s pointless to water that ribbon of turf and yet dried grass isn’t very welcoming. I’m eager for some inspiration!

  22. Michele says:

    Mine is mostly wooly thyme now and could use some more interest…

  23. Melissa G says:

    It would be an inspiration and a tool so I hope my name is chosen! I have an acre and think the concepts would work in many places in my landscape. Thanks Pam.

  24. Linda says:

    I have tried to figure out what to do in my hellstrip, this book couldn’t be more timely.

  25. Brian T. says:

    An eyesore at our house, I’ve been wanting to rip up the river rocks and juniper hedges for some time. It sounds like this would be a great inspiration book for the task.

  26. Molly says:

    I have no idea what to do with my hellstrip. It has great, well-drained soil, so I started with lavender that did amazingly well until dogs started marking it. I hope the book gives dog-pee-resistant suggestions.

  27. Dennis Gentry says:

    So far in my southern heat, only daylilies seem to survive. It would be interesting to read some other suggestions.

  28. Carolyn in Utah says:

    I’d love the chance to win — I live in Salt Lake City and whatever she plants in Boise would surely work here. Thanks for the giveaway!

  29. francine says:

    Wow! Cant’ wait to read this book and get some great ideas for my hellstrip – it’s so uninspiring in its current state!

  30. kara says:

    hellstrips indeed – it will be interesting to see how her take is different from LSO

  31. brenda says:

    Looks like an interesting book!

  32. Cheri says:

    This would be really great, I’m trying to have less lawn in my yard and parkway!

  33. Diana says:

    My favorite plants for the Hellstrip are those that are too aggressive to go in the “normal” gardens because they’d take over. My absolute favorite hallstrip plant is Mountain Mint, a plant I love for its benefits to wildlife but boy will that girl take over!

  34. johnny says:

    I just started working on my ‘hellstrip’ and would love a guide!

  35. Owen Dell says:

    I’m working on the third annual Edible Front Yard Garden Touts here in Corvallis, Oregon. We actively promote hell strip food gardens, with the blessing of the City. Good to see this book out.

  36. Kate says:

    I would love to read this book! Thanks for offering it!

  37. peter schaar says:

    I’ll be interested to compare this book with that of Lauren Springer Ogden, which I have. My own parkway has been planted with roses and drought tolerant native perennials, but I can always use new ideas.

  38. Sharon Zigrossi says:

    Our home’s hell strip is my next gardening project- ideas needed!

  39. Seh says:

    All the images I’ve seen from the book so far, running round the gardening blogosphere, make my heart ache with envy. Makes me want a hellstrip of my very own.

  40. Juan D says:

    My hell strip is currently a work in progress. Using tips from this website and Lawn Gone, I hope to finish tomorrow. Muhlenbergia Capillaris with Texas Pink Skullcap ends. Completed the weed fabric today and all I need now is to lay down the DG mulch. I hope the Death Star is merciful here in deep south Texas, though it never has been.

  41. MaryL says:

    To create beauty from the nothingness of my hellstrips! I can’t wait to read the book! Thank from the bottom of my heart for telling us about it.

  42. Barbara says:

    My hellstrip is facing west, full sun. I decided to try on one side and took out the grass and tried with some plants which deer loved. I planted deer resistant plants and now weeds are thriving there! I’m sure this book is full of good ideas I could use. Please consider me for the giveaway. Thanks.

  43. Marsha Walters says:

    Love the photos and look forward to getting some ideas from the book. I also enjoy driving around and looking for “Hellstrip” gardens. They are an urban oasis.

  44. Arielle Arizpe says:

    I’ve been dreaming of ripping out our parched saint Augustine and putting in a pollinator-friendly garden. I’m excited about this book! Thanks for the write-up and chance to win :D

  45. Cat says:

    Maybe a little inspiration will help convince DJ to give up part of the hellstrip? He’s making such progress! Great review, thanks!

  46. Greg Knoell says:

    Some of the best inspiration I’ve taken from select central Phoenix area residents are their use of desert plants in their “hellstrips” along the sidewalk/street. The extra pavement hold moisture in the ground longer in our desert climate.

  47. Michelle says:

    My hellstrip is being renovated this fall! I am getting ready to solarize the existing lawn (weeds, mostly!) now that it’s finally getting really hot, then I’ll dig up the dead stuff and put in some good soil. But I have no idea what to put into the new streetside garden yet. This book sounds like it might be really useful!

  48. Joyce TX says:

    Though half my strip is lawn-gone…. The other half is yet to come! Ideas would be SO helpful! I just may do it entirely over!

  49. Daniel Morgan says:

    I’d post a picture showing how badly I need to read this book, but I’m embarrassed.

  50. deb says:

    I would love this!

  51. Chris says:

    This looks like an amazing book! Hopefully I win :)

  52. Jennie Brooks says:

    The city is adding sidewalks to my neighborhood so I will soon have a hellstrip of my own and I need ideas. Thanks!

  53. Lori B. says:

    I could really use this…the bermuda is making me batty!

  54. Malcolm W. says:

    Count me in. Thanks

  55. Robyn roberts says:

    I have a major hellstrip, now I know what to call it!

  56. David says:

    Count me in! Thanks for the offering. :0) David/Tropical Texana

  57. Indie says:

    I’ve entered in a couple giveaways on other websites for this book with no luck – I really want it! It looks like such a very great and useful book! I am attempting to turn one part of my hellstrip into a garden, and so far the results look rather sad. I need some tips!

  58. Kelly says:

    What a great idea for a book! I could really use help with this.

  59. Susan Hall says:

    Would love this. Trying to plant along the street side is difficult.

  60. Carrie W says:

    Love the term “Hellstrip”. My hellstrip is the small bit of side yard I have currently awaiting implementation of Pam’s landscape plans :)

  61. Nona says:

    This looks like just the eye-candy I need to get to work! I have a big strip that gets a lot of foot and bicycle traffic. I’d love to beautify it!

  62. Jen Y says:

    I would love to see what this book has to offer.

  63. Alice says:

    Great review! Sounds like hell strips and death stars are made for each other!

  64. Judy B says:

    Oh, yes. I need to read this. I promise to pass it on to someone else after I do and after I re-do my narrow strip of Bermuda and weeds.

  65. Lori says:

    I am definitely gonna need to check this book out. As you know, the subject is right up my alley!

  66. Greggo says:

    After getting a visit from code compliance and the city manager, maybe I could add a chapter on code compliance. Unless there already is one. He he

  67. jenj says:

    crossing my fingers I win, I’m very interested.

  68. Mary Kay Pope says:

    This book sounds quite useful for the current drought conditions in Central Texas. Any plantings
    which reduce water usage and enhance the landscape are totally welcome! One challenge we
    commonly have in the Lake Travis area, due to varied terrain, is addressing the “bar ditch”, a swale
    at streetside used for channeling seasonal rainfall. I would welcome ideas to enhance this area, as it is usually an eyesore! I’m thrilled to see how people are thinking “outside the box”!

  69. Tracey says:

    Looking forward to checking it out!

  70. Ann Sullivan says:

    I’m here in Austin and have struggled for years with my hellstrip. This year was probably its best with all the Mexican Feathergrass that has taken over!

  71. Keisha says:

    Would be very helpful in figuring out what to do with our front yard, right now the entire thing is a hell strip!

  72. Barb Downman says:

    My husband and I recently removed the lawn from our hell strip in effort to improve the street appeal of our house and reduce water consumption. We’re going to replace the lawn with drought tolerant plants but …which ones??? This book sounds like it would be very helpful. I generally find Timber Press published books to be good.

  73. Sandy Hood says:

    Thanks for offering! Can’t wait to see inside the covers of this book.

  74. Brian A. says:

    I have big plans for the rather long hellstrip in front of the house. But the plan is in my head, y’know? The reality is that it’s presently “drifts of one” for maybe a fourth of the length and then a whole lot of struggling grass. Except the crabgrass, that crap loves it there. Wouldn’t huge drifts of blue lupine and white baptisia be the bee’s knees in part shade? Echinacea, Sedum spectabilis, and ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass could play well in the sun. And asters, irises, Montauk daisies, and spring bulbs could fill in and around everywhere else! But perhaps Hadden’s book will change my mind.

  75. Sara says:

    Hellstrip, yeah!

  76. Laura says:

    Ah! Just in time, I have three scraggly trees in my hell strip that are not happy.

  77. Judy Koehl says:

    We are under water restrictions, so the entire front yard is slowly becoming an extended hell strip. I need all the help I can get.

  78. Hi Pam. As it happens, I posted pix of my Traffic Island garden out in the middle of the street for Bloom Day yesterday. Seems like it fits in this category of spaces.