What plants work best in a sidewalk-level flower bed?

    NewsWorks reader Judy is redoing a sidewalk garden, and she wrote in to ask for some recommendations for hardy plants that would have some endurance and enhance her streetscape. We’ve got some answers.

    A NewsWorks reader wrote in with a request for me about sidewalk gardens:

    I have a sidewalk level bed which has an accumulation of day lilies, gout weed, and assorted other unremarkables that I thought this year I might finally redo. It is not wide — maybe 18-20″ and there is approx. 15′ on either side of our stone steps. I was hoping you could recommend some street-level hardy plants that would have some endurance and enhance our streetscape. It gets a pretty good amount of morning sun. Thanks so much!—Judy

    Well thank you so much for emailing your question. Sidewalk gardens are fun because it’s possible to make a big impact in a small space without Herculean effort or needing to spend a lot of money. They are the embodiment of curb appeal.

    By keeping a few things in mind you’ll be assured of successful results. The plants you choose need to be pretty tough. Sidewalk gardens are often inconvenient to irrigate, and there’s the issue of their use as pit stops for dog walkers, to put it delicately.

    This kind of garden tends to look best when the plants in them are shorter, naturally well-behaved varieties. In Philadelphia you can actually be fined for overgrown sidewalk areas, although this isn’t evenly enforced. Tall, floppy plants that can look great in other settings aren’t usually the best for sidewalk gardens.

    If you get less than four hours of sun, especially if it’s the gentler morning sun, I’d recommend plants like hosta, ferns, short ornamental grasses, and American ginger. These will fill in the planting strip in a few years, leaving little space for weeds to get purchase. And although these aren’t flowering plants, the mix of textures, shapes, sizes, and colors are just as interesting as a more flowery border.

    For really sunny sidewalk gardens, go with Mediterranean-type plants that can withstand baking next to a reflective surface all summer. Lavender works well, as do other silver-leaved plants like artemisia. And there are many varieties of the hardy succulent Sedum that are perfect for sunny strips. Some are spreading ground covers an inch high, while others are statuesque varieties that can grow several feet tall. They all love sun and don’t need a lot of water.

    With long narrow planting areas, choosing five or so different plants and repeating them tends to give a more tidy appearance than using a wider variety of plants. That said, there really aren’t rules. The fun of gardening is trying out different combinations.

    Good luck, and let us know how your garden grows.

    Nicole Juday is the Ground Level blogger for NewsWorks.

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