Have you taken a walk in your Seattle neighborhood lately to enjoy the early signs of spring? You may notice an occasional sweet smell that causes you to turn your head and search for the source. Or maybe you will round a corner to discover a cluster of bright red tulips along the sidewalk. Perhaps the best of all is a row of flowering fruit trees that form an arch over the walkway. These spots of cheer provide a relief to the cold, hard pavement and an overcast Seattle sky. They may inspire you to start your own garden along the street in front of your own home.
Flowers and trees are not the only things you will see growing this time of year along Seattle streets. There are also occasional planting strips that have been recently prepared for planting vegetables, and some with cool-weather produce well underway. More and more Seattleites are cultivating their planting strips–the area between the sidewalk and the roadway–to make good use of this space.
While some planting strip gardens are casual and others more formal, there are important considerations for all gardeners who aim to have their work be a benefit, not a hindrance to their neighborhood. Public streets and sidewalks are meant to provide a safe and convenient right-of-way for travelers, including elderly or disabled persons. This means the full width of the sidewalk must be unobstructed by brush invading the walkway or by dirt spilling over from flower beds. Passengers climbing out of cars parked along the curb must be able to freely open the car door, step out, and get to the sidewalk without performing acrobatics over unruly shrubs or bumping into the hard-edged boards of raised beds. Motorists emerging from their driveways or traveling down the avenue must be able to see far enough down the street and around the next corner to stay out of the path of oncoming traffic. Any obstructions must be well clear of traffic signs, fire hydrants and utility poles.
Help is available to gardeners who are planning to cultivate their planting strips. To ensure that streets and sidewalks remain safe and passable, there are city specifications that provide a design standard for planting strip gardens. Two client assistance memos from the Seattle Department of Transportation are available online, and Seattle Public Utilities has a Web page about growing food in planting strips:
- Planting Strip Paving and Tree Planting Rules
- Gardening in Planting Strips
- Growing Food in Planting Strips
There are neighborhood garden and environmental associations such as Seattle Tilth that provide encouragement and coaching to residents who want to transform previously overlooked areas of their property into productive gardens. You can sign up for a Seattle Tilth class.