Getting Ideas for a Front Parkway Habitat Garden

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Between now and winter I will be planning a habitat garden in the parkway in front of my house. By November or December, just in time for the rainy season, I will be ready to purchase and plant. The process started this summer when I cut off the irrigation to let the grass on the 76 ft. long by 6 ft. wide front strip die. That was the easy part!

Next I started looking at pictures of parkway gardens on the internet and around the neighborhood. I was not too surprised to find that the Bay Area has led the way in “greening” this forgotten bit of suburbia. Plant SF started way back in 2003 with a vision of “parks along the way.” The very first bullet point in their mission statement is:

  • Plant SF encourages and enables individuals to use an existing permit process to convert areas of the public right-of-way (sidewalks) to exposed-earth gardens.

Friends of the Urban Forest, also in San Francisco, talks about “sidewalk greening,” and is a source of pictures, how-t0 information, and ideas.

Moving to the fair city of Los Angeles, the place I call home, I found little information on parkway or sidewalk gardens. When I googled “sidewalk greening los angeles” I came up with Urban Design’s podcast “Urban Acupuncture,” LA DOT painted curb information, and yelp reviews of Green Street. To be fair there are a few notable examples of sidewalk gardening efforts in Los Angeles.

Most recently Ron Finley’s beautiful parkway vegetable garden, west of the Crenshaw area of Los Angeles, was written about by Steve Lopez in the LA Times. Finley, after taking a UC Cooperative Extension class on vegetable gardening, dug out the weeds from the parkway and planted a garden. Of course, this is out of compliance with city code and last May Finley was cited. (For a similar story involving my eastside parkway garden see Busted! The Native Wildflower Garden Must Go). Following the publicity and a petition, the city backed off.

The second example of a lovely neighborhood parkway and sidewalk garden is the LA’s Green Street initiative project on Elmer Avenue. This project involved far more than just landscaping parkways. As described by Emily Green in her article, Elmer Avenue becomes Green Street, a water-wise and solar-lighted community effort, several environmental non-profit organizations worked with governmental agencies and the community to replace a street that flooded frequently with infrastructure to reduces urban runoff and street flooding, and to create a safer, more friendly neighborhood environment.

Looking at these websites, and visiting the Elmer Avenue project gave me some ideas. I have thought about not planting anything since the mature sweet gum trees have shallow and extensive roots, making to area difficult to plant. Maybe just a layer of leaf mulch would do the trick. Then I considered – only briefly – a vegetable garden. Pictures of Ron Finley’s garden were so tempting. Too many dogs and thoughtless people walking by for this. My daughter, who is gaga over succulents right now, suggested a striking succulent garden. For a couple of days I was on board with this idea but I realized it would be completely out of context with the rest of the yard.

Finally it occurred to me that I should just make the parkway (and the sidewalk, by default) part of the front and side yard gardens. In the front there are curved beds between the sidewalk and the remaining lawn. I can extend these lines across the sidewalk right into the parkway. I have not yet decided how I will create the edges (rocks, edging, bricks, change in mulch material) but for now I will play around with this idea. Here are some more pictures of my thoughts and of the existing space.

Bubble diagram drawn to scale, although the location of the front path is not shown accurately. Will go out and measure it later.


Front of house from across the street. The bed that wraps around the corner of the front yard (right side of photo) has a lot of monkeyflowers. They look great in spring but not-so-good in summer, fall and winter. I think I will remove many of them and replace them with plants that will be used in the parkway also.


Parkway strip is dried out. Time to get to work.


Front yard with ever-shrinking swath of grass. Surrounding garden beds are edged with river rock. I will be rethinking the whole river rock thing, though I do want some kind of edge.


Front garden under deodar tree includes wild strawberry, Pacific Coast Hybrid irises, wiregrass, fescue, and some coral bells. All are doing well in the shade, even with root competition from the big tree.


Picture from front step.


There is no better way to plan a new garden then to get out there with a shovel. Too hot to do much, but it is a start.


The grass is mostly dead, though I know that I will battle Bermuda grass forever. Still, I do not want to use herbicides.


So I have started digging out the dead grass from the area that will be an extension of the central front main path to the house. This area will be covered with either flagstones, decomposed gravel or something else inorganic.

Here are some links to parkway garden pictures:

Pictures of my side parkway garden

Pictures of the front yard and front parkway garden

2 thoughts on “Getting Ideas for a Front Parkway Habitat Garden

  1. I never understand when cities get uppity about people actually planting out these planting strips. I see so many around the Bay Area that are just patches of dirt with brown dead weeds. I'd much rather see flowers or vegetables. I really like your plan, and the Epilobium and Penstemon will provide some vibrant splashes of color, along with the movement in the grasses. Can't wait to

  2. Anonymous

    usually it is because they don't want to be held liable for damaging anything costly that you planted. They hate shrubs because if they have to dig it up to do repairs it is a whole lot more work and visibility can be an issue. I agree though that it is nice when people take care of that no mans land and make it beautiful.

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