Handling the Hell Strip – Garden Walk Buffalo


What makes these gardens grow in this barren strip of land by the street? What you will find is that many homeowners create raised beds of good soil. Others water daily, rain or shine. It takes quite a bit of diligence to create such a lush bed of flowers in the area known affectionately as the Hell Strip.

This year was a bit different though. Many plants bloomed weeks later than other years, pushing bloom times headlong into to that of other plants. In my own garden this occurred. The cooler evenings we experienced even through July and wetter summer into August has extended bloom times of many plants, keeping gardeners much happier than last year with the drought conditions.

Take a look at each gallery. Daylilies had a great year so far too, where bloom time was extended by a greater bud count. Hosta grew full and robust. Check out my own garden in July. Many plants bloomed to keep a colorful garden.

I don’t have progress images of Garden Walk Buffalo gardens.

Hell Strip Concerns

Did you ever notice how the grass burns about a foot in on each side of the Hell Strip in those drought years? It is all that heat-retaining, water-sucking stone base that is located there. Further with the compacted soil, it is a nightmare to till. That is why you see so many gardeners build up.

These planting strips suffer the abuse of snow plows and salt assault each winter, so I think some more delicate plants get replaced often too. That is where annuals earn their keep. Also, I bet the plows make off with or topple some of the retaining wall materials too. In our neighborhood, the plows dig right into the grass pushing the snow further into the sidewalk area.

After seeing these Hell Strips, would you chance taking the plunge? Check out either of my posts ‘Taming the Hell Strip’ and Creating Curbside Charm. They give you things to consider before taking on the challenge. Do you think you can make a Hell Strip as beautiful and healthy looking as these?

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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41 Responses to Handling the Hell Strip – Garden Walk Buffalo

  1. Lots of great ideas for gardeners!

  2. meander1 says:

    I am blown away and super impressed that the folk in the charming blue house are successfully growing hosta in their hell strip.

  3. We didn’t have a name for the between-the-sidewalk-and-the-street strips, but I understand that in Northern Ohio they’re called “Devil’s Strips.” I wonder how they ever got associated with these names?

    • I never heard Devil’s Strip before. There are so many different names for this area. I bet the name came from how hot it gets. It can reach almost 150° at ground level on certain days. That makes it tough on plants. So much stone, asphalt, concrete all combine to make it sizzle.

  4. Most houses in my neighborhood don’t have hell strips, although other neighborhoods in town do. I didn’t learn the term “hell strip” until recently. I asked my husband (who’s from Chicago originally), and they called these areas terraces or sidewalk terraces. I find the creativity of people who have them and garden them incredibly creative! I do have a sidewalk leading up to the house, and the grass just beyond it is about to get replaced by sidewalk border plants. This area is one of the only sunny spots on our lot, and gets baked in the hot summer sun. So, I’m actually thinking of this as a sort of hell strip within a lawn. Great post!

  5. lulu says:

    So many great ideas for gardens and what a difference on the street. I’ve never heard the term “hell strip” but it makes perfect sense.

  6. Wow! These garden areas were beautiful! I never heard the term hell strips before. Interesting name and I can see how they came up with it. Very difficult conditions to grow anything in there.
    I liked the creative use of the containers and the birdbath as well in these areas. Another beautiful post on the Buffalo National Garden Walk! Congratulations to all the homeowners that participated in this event. And thanks to Donna to sharing them with us.

    • You have to visit GWB one day. Visitors come from clear across the state and many surrounding states. This year they had folks from New Zealand and Australia. They get the gold star for such long travel.

  7. Alisha says:

    I have never heard of hell strip…great ideas for gardens…thanks for sharing Donna.

  8. A.M.B. says:

    Beautiful! I’d never guess that place was called “Hell Strip.” It’s been a lovely summer so far. My area has been cooler too, extending the bloom times of many plants.

  9. Karen says:

    Beautifully planted gardens. Living in the countryside, we don’t have sidewalks.

  10. gauchoman2002 says:

    I like the idea of building up a bit. This seems like it would keep over-enthusiastic specimens from encroaching too much on the sidewalk. Our hell strip here in North Dakota (they call them “berms” here) are much like yours and need to retain functionality for handling snow, brush and leaf removal, etc., so there tends to be a limit of what the city will tolerate planted on the berms/hell strips.

  11. Debra says:

    What a lovely place to live. I think I would spend a lot of time wandering that area to look and dream. I really enjoyed the shots of the shade gardens since that is my bugaboo. Colorful paint really can make a huge difference.

  12. Kevin says:

    Inspiring post. I love the idea of having the hell strip be an extension of your garden — because that makes the sidewalk a garden path. Great way to share your garden with the neighbors.

  13. Bill says:

    Great ideas – yet one item of caution:

    Be considerate of your neighbors if there are driveways. Some of the plants in these photos, while beautiful, are on the tall side and could impede sight lines for those trying to back out of their driveway. Ensure that drivers can clearly see any oncoming traffic while they are backing out.

    • Thanks Bill. In my linked posts I mention this. As an architect, that is my first consideration, and quite a few of them the plants are too tall and dense.

      • Bill says:

        I just read your other posts. Very informative! I’ve been thinking about doing something with our hell strip; now I have some ideas.

  14. bittster says:

    I love that first picture with the phlox and perovskia, also it looks like the same garden where the elephant ears were planted in the front containers…. I really like that garden!

  15. debsgarden says:

    Simply gorgeous! This would inspire some leisurely summer walks! We don’t have many “Hell Strips” here, and certainly no one is creating gardens like these in front by the street! The one thing I admire about more northern climates is the ability to grow beautiful flower gardens in the summer. The heat makes it a challenge here, though with great effort it can be done. Mostly it is durable trees and shrubs. Our Hell Strips are likely to be planted with crepe myrtles, which can be a beautiful sight as they bloom right through the summer heat.

    • Everyone looks forward to GWB, even those from other states. They estimate 60,000 visitors, but it might be many more. People love this area for the gardens. Most years lately though, we get droughts and high heat too. Garden walk gardens are watered constantly to stay looking this good.

  16. Layanee says:

    I enjoy country living, so no hell strips but I so admire the gardeners who take on this challenge.

    • It really is a challenge. Even in my front garden it is dry and the soil very unworkable. City living brings all the woes of past construction and here, we have the gorge bedrock (lots of limestone) with red clay. The only way to garden is build it up and compost regularly. People see these gardens and think oh, it must be so easy with the weather and rains, but we have had such hot, dry record breaking weather the last number of years. Many thanks goes to these Buffalo gardeners because I know what difficulties they face as both a designer (doing landscaping all over the two counties) and being a home gardener.

  17. Rose says:

    I live in the country, so no hell strips here, but I so enjoy seeing these lovely plantings. Even if I am driving down the street intent on wherever it is I have to go, I always notice these garden areas, and they make me smile. I wondered about the snow plows, though; annuals do make sense, because they surely must lose some plants to the plows.

    • The snow plows in Niagara Falls would ruin the planting if they contained shallow rooted plants. They would nip off the crown on perennials digging in the plow bucket. I used to replace grass each year, now I let the weeds fill in. This year I had a pretty crop of Queen Anne’s Lace and dandelion. I was waiting for the citation just so I could go public with how bad the plows treat these grassed strips. Why do they do it? To push snow to cover and block driveways and sidewalks. In winter there is three to four feet of snow over my sidewalk and it cannot be shoveled it is so solid and frozen. I feel so bad for the elderly on our street. That is why I wonder if the Buffalo plow drivers push snow to the street’s end and use a backloader to haul it out. I believe that is how they do it so snow does not cover walks and block driveways in the manner it does here.

  18. These gardeners have done a beautiful job with their hell strips. As you know, I replaced the grass on almost all of our hell strip. I put in two raised beds with species tulips, daylilies, etc. Most of the remainder outside the raised beds is covered in wild strawberry used as a groundcover. Other plants that seem to do well for me in the hellstrip are perennial salvia, Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’, golden alexander, nepeta, and calamint.

    • Yes, I do know of your curbside plantings. The raised beds really helps keep the gardens growing through the summer heat, getting them up from the concrete and asphalt. Maybe you have some insight on the snow plowing issue. Your plants stay reasonable in height and go back to ground in winter. In NF, I would lose everyone of them to the plows. Does your municipality have ordinances on the plant height? Buffalo does not seem to.

  19. Very nice, so much better than grass or the all too prevalent weeds.

  20. Christophe Descroix says:

    congratulations from France for your pictures and ideas

  21. Lovely gardens. I have a kind of hell strip next to the footpath. It’s owned by the local council, but they do zilch to maintain it. It also has access to water mains and other service on it, so I’m limited in what I can do. But, now that we’ve finished adding onto the house and digging things up, I’m finally in the process of digging out all the weeds (half done) and then planting it with tough things that don’t grow too big/tall. Tasmanian/Australian native plants will be the go – they’re drought resistant, have lovely flowers and attract birds!

  22. oh my where do I begin…while I love the first one as a cottage garden the rest were different and equally impressive. I find my mailbox garden, next to the road, deals with lots of snow and salt and blooms nicely. But I need to get more color through the late spring into summer and fall. Some good ideas here.

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