Boulevards are one of the most underused potential garden spots in the city. The often-narrow space between sidewalk and street, boulevards are nearly impossible for lawn fanatics and, despite attracting a growing number of devotees who want to expand their gardens, most languish with spotty, weed-infested grasses. Like most urban patches of dirt not being used to grow something beautiful or productive, they drive me nuts. Along with grass growers whose inability to fine-tune a sprinkler results in their watering nothing but the pavement and pedestrians, un-gardened boulevards give me one more thing to grunt, groan and gripe about on family walks.
When we bought our house in 2007 the front yard was already entirely planted as a flower garden – except for the boulevard. It stunk dragging the mower around the house and down the stairs; thus we realized the grass had to go and started by moving some peonies from behind our retaining wall to the boulevard to anchor the walkway and a mix of annuals and perennials throughout the rest. Given that a salty snow pile rests here for months each winter, the soil is obviously not ideal and needs the right plants as well as plenty of organic aid. The peonies seem to thrive, as do mums, moss rose, poppies, Russian sage, sedum, and zinnias. We’ve tried vegetables with mixed success. Tomatoes have done ok—the spot next to the street gives them plenty of sun. Failures include kale, carrots and radishes. You’d think radishes were fail-safe, but I’ve never had good luck with them in any soil, and we’ve worried about putting root crops in what may be chemical soil. Maybe we should leave radishes to Hank (he’s almost 5) as he could probably do better.
Anyway, an ongoing problem was soil erosion due to runoff, so this year I built two raised beds. My hope was that this would stop soil erosion and allow us to really pile on plenty of compost to make the soil decent enough for better vegetable production. Leita planted pole beans, zucchini, spinach and lettuce, as well as a few tomatoes (the far north end of our boulevard gets all-day sun because of quirky house angles, and one year we got hundreds of yellow pear tomatoes from one plant; unfortunately they were the mealiest yellow pear tomatoes you’ve ever tasted). We’re trying cantaloupe this year, too, and will hopefully train the vines up old pieces of iron we salvaged for a trellis. What the heck.
Hopefully I’ll get the last bit of raised bed installed before too long so we can plant a crop of late-season lettuces or something. We’ve been battling some major pipeline construction on our street all spring, but that’s finally over and I now have no excuse not to finish the job.
Oh, and a little general background here: Each year Leita and I battle – well, maybe battle is a strong word … let’s say “discuss” – our ratio of decorative vs. food-producing plants, with me favoring the latter. So the boulevard not only will hopefully give us room to “discuss” growing more food (and beauty) each year, it’ll really challenge our clearly non-expert gardening skills given the soil issues.
One note of caution: Before digging in your boulevard (or really, anywhere), call 811. Within 48 hours, utility companies will mark the location of underground utility lines. Respect the markers and dig carefully.
I’ll keep you posted on the boulevard’s progress as the summer continues and we see just how productive it will be given the improved soil conditions. Also a planned repaving of my street will add to the fun, giving my kids a chance to watch men at work with skid loaders and big exciting machinery while I fret about my raised beds.