Growing boldly where no flowers had grown before

Thanks to Randy McDonald, yet another pop-up garden wrested from cracks in the concrete jungles of Ontario:

(#1) [RMcD:] “I saw this [intentional accidental garden] back on 22 September 2017, walking north on quiet residential Palmer Avenue in Niagara Falls ON towards the train station”

Randy chronicles the street scenes of Toronto in great detail — gets the buildings and the streets and the sky above them to talk to us — and also the everyday scenes wherever he happens to go on his travels. So, here, in Niagara Falls ON in 2017.  (This week in 2021: Charlottetown PEI.)

This is a pop-up garden, composed of fast-growing annuals, mostly marigolds (and a white flower, maybe snow-on-the-mountain), that will shrivel, go brown, and die when frost comes. For the moment, it flourishes in brave defiance in this amazingly inhospitable place, the crack between curb and sidewalk. Where it clearly could not have sprung up unbidden, but had to be nurtured by human hands and carefully fashioned to look wild and spontaneous.

Take tough seeds and give them human care, and showy garden flowers can grow boldly where none had grown before.

Previously on this blog. From the first section of my 9/6/21 posting “The flowers that bloom on the 6th, tra-la”:

(#2) A sidewalk-crack garden: cleomes and snow-on-the-mountain are annuals that spread their seeds profligately, prodigally, profusely, prodigiously, promiscuously, so if there’s a garden nearby where they’re growing, it would be no surprise that the plants popped up all over the place, anywhere the seeds could gain a foothold, even in cracks and crevices

But there seems to be no such garden close at hand, and the plants have chosen to grow in just a few of the available sidewalk cracks — and there to occupy the cracks densely. This is transparently an intentional accidental garden (an intentionally planted garden — presumably with seeds collected and pushed into those cracks in huge numbers — masquerading as an accidental, “wild”, event) in an unlikely spot. A lovely conceit, a pleasant surprise for walkers on the street.

Sidewalk cracks where plants can grow. Obviously, no one is into growing plants like those in #1 and #2 in the contraction joints (sometimes called (sidewalk) lines, or often in everyday usage, (sidewalk) cracks), though they’re intentional) that run horizontally across sidewalks, where their function is to relieve stress on the concrete that would otherwise produce random cracks in it; pedestrians are walking there, after all. (Mosses, creeping thyme, and the like can nevertheless be allowed, or encouraged, to grow in the joints if the sidewalk traffic isn’t too heavy.)

Instead, the cracks in question are along one side or the other — on the house side, where they appear between the sidewalk and some kind of permanent edging (as in #2); or on the street side, where they appear between the sidewalk and curbstones (as in #1).

One way to think of these sidewalk-crack gardens is as completely reduced versions of actual gardens along the sidewalk, gardens shrunk down into mere cracks: on the house side, what are sometimes called walkway gardens; on the street side, gardens in the space known by a huge number of local terms: (road) verge, tree lawn, devil strip, etc.

Walkway gardens. In the terminology of Better Homes & Gardens, front-yard sidewalk gardens. One example from the BHG site:

(#3) “Front-Yard Sidewalk-Garden Ideas” #4: “Grow a Cutting Garden”(photo: Edward Gohlich)

Even though they take up little real estate, small-space sidewalk gardens can be great for growing your own cut flowers. In this garden idea, foxgloves, roses, and a host of other flowers are perfect for dressing up the front of the house and dropping in a vase for a great hostess gift or table decoration.

Verge gardens. First, about verges. From Wikipedia:

A road verge is a strip of grass or plants, and sometimes also trees, located between a roadway (carriageway) and a sidewalk (pavement). Verges are known by dozens of other names, often quite regional [verge, tree lawn, berm, curb strip, etc.; the entry provides a long list of these]

… The land is often public property, with maintenance usually being a municipal responsibility. Some municipal authorities, however, require that abutting property owners maintain their respective verge areas, as well as the adjunct footpaths or sidewalks.

Benefits include visual aesthetics, increased safety and comfort of sidewalk users, protection from spray from passing vehicles, and a space for benches, bus shelters, street lights, and other public amenities.

(In the UK, there’s a movement to allow grass in the verge to grow long and naturalize, attracting wildflowers, beneficial insects, and the like.)

Then, from the HGTV site, “Making an Entrance: Sidewalk Landscaping Tips: Don’t walk on the wild side!:

(#4) A Mediterranean-plant verge (photo courtesy of Rebecca Sweet,

Learn how to deal with the neglected sidewalk “hellstrip” in your landscaping scheme” by Jeff Stafford

What’s the main trouble area in your front yard? For most homeowners, it’s the area around the mailbox or that lonely strip of grass that is separated from the main yard by a sidewalk or driveway. Often referred to as the “hellstrip,” it comes with its own set of problems and is not usually a top landscaping priority for most people.

… The first thing you should do is check with your neighborhood homeowners association (HOA) and see if there are any restrictions regarding this area of your yard. If so, your options for upgrading it may be limited but still preferable to its current state.

The hellstrip area takes more abuse than any other area of the lawn because it is usually closest to the street where the temperatures are more extreme. In the hot summer weather, the heat from asphalt streets and concrete walkways can have an adverse affect on whatever is growing there. If you live in colder climates, this area is often subjected to heavy snow and rock salt by snowplows performing winter road maintenance.

Even when the weather is mild, the hellstrip area is vulnerable to constant pedestrian traffic and dogs. With this in mind, make sure whatever you plant in this space is extremely hardy and drought resistant.

Verge gardens and walkway gardens are all over the place in Palo Alto.

One Response to “Growing boldly where no flowers had grown before”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    I commented on Facebook:

    I would like some credit for having gotten through that entire posting without even a distant allusion to any human bodypart called a “crack”. Some would call that forgetfulness, but I prefer to think of it as elegant restraint.

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