The Boulevard Project

On the north side of my street, for some reason, there are wide sections of municipal land between the sidewalk and private lot boundaries. (The south side has no boulevard, which doesn’t seem fair, but there it is). On most of the boulevards there is some form of lawn, because it is supposedly illegal to grow anything else there, apart from official municipal street trees such as flowering cherries. Ironic, because cherries aside, these are prime plots for vegetable gardens, being sunny and relatively tree-root-free. Hardly anyone waters the grass on their boulevard; in our dry summers they end up looking pretty bad.

The 8 by 12 foot patch of boulevard to one side of my driveway is a small wasteland. There is some sad-looking grass which we mow occasionally, so it qualifies as a “lawn,” but its other denizens are weeds, specifically dandelions (Taraxacum), hairy cat’s ear (Hypochaeris radicata), which I think of as “summer dandelion” or “leathery dandelion,” and some kind of small mallow with rather attractive tiny pink flowers in spring. (A note about the hairy cat’s ears — I have managed mostly to hoick them out of the area with my handy dandelion tool, but my neighbour’s part of the boulevard is solid with the things, so it’s inevitable that a few manage to seed themselves in my patch).

At present, the site looks rather unappealing.

A blank canvas?

A blank canvas?

There is no point in spending much time and treasure to turn this spot into a decent lawn, so my plan is to supplement the existing weeds with more attractive ones. I got the idea from bicycling to work along a trail called the Galloping Goose (after a railway that used to be there; the trail was built where the tracks used to be). Along parts of this trail are attractive plant communities consisting largely of weeds. Some of the shrubs, such as the native Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium), were planted deliberately (because the trail is actually part of the regional park system), but the rest just showed up, as weeds do.

So my intended plants include: chicory (its sky-blue flowers will look great with the yellow hairy cat’s ear flowers), red and white clover, Queen Anne’s lace, St. John’s wort, beach pea, and a tough form of aster with light purple flowers. The chicory and white clover bloom even when mowed quite short, so will occupy most of the space. The taller plants will be at the back, forming a transition zone to the bed on my side of the property line. From July into October, I envision this area as a tapestry of blue, yellow, white, pink and purple in varying degrees. Much better than balding lawn and hairy cat’s ears.

Imagine all those colours here.

Imagine all those colours here.

There are already a couple of chicory plants I grew from seed spreading their seeds over part of the boulevard. I plan to introduce the others over the next 6 months.

Just to avoid ending with a depressing sight, here is the main perennial bed in the front garden as it was before a recent heavy wind-and-rain storm.

Purple aster, pink nerines and ornamental grass "Little Bunny"

Purple aster, pink nerines and ornamental grass “Little Bunny”


  1. Its kind of curious. We have very similar boulevards in New Zealand – ‘berms’ , in our parlance – which I suspect are courtesy of that shared Pacific Rim settler world 150 years or so ago. Towns were deliberately set up with space for them from the get-go. We have the same restrictions on residents growing things in them and much the same problems with them drying out and going a bit random in terms of grasses.

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    1. Yes, it could be the idea was to keep space in reserve for some purpose, and it makes sense in that case to prevent private planting of stuff that might be hard to remove. Veg gardens would make sense, except they can get dramatically messy if not kept up, rather than the low-grade unkempt lawn. Still, a bit if guerrilla gardening can’t hurt. I’m hoping the chicory will look like blue dandelions!


  2. Great idea. A small ‘meadow’ next to the drive. In Britain the wide grass verges came about in the Garden City, but the design trend led to massive maintenance costs. In my borough the policy now is to mow the edges and leave the middle to run wild. It looks good to my eyes because it creates a little bit of urban habitat, but I’m sure some people just think the grass hasn’t been cut.

    In the last picture is that a Hebe on the far right? If it is I’ve got the purple leaved variety in my back garden.

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    1. Definitely not a hebe; I had a small one with purple flowers once, probably from a pilfered cutting, but it perished in a harsh winter. The upper right half of that picture shows my neighbour’s hedge. I think of it as “cedar,” but I’m not sure of the botanical name. Otherwise — my two chicory plants, leaning over by now, a flowering currant and a 99% dead Erysimum “Bowles Mauve” (I have rooted cuttings to replace it). Not very exciting, I admit, but hopefully it will improve.

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