Originally Posted to www.transitionpgh.org on April 2, 2012 @ 4:30PM
Utility poles create garden opportunities in space that would otherwise just be filled with grass and weeds. My street has a “Hell-Strip” also known as the little strip of grass between your street and sidewalk, it extends from one side of my street to the other… except in front of the house I live in for some reason. Anyway hell-strips create a unique gardening opportunity, there have been books written on the subject detailing many aspects of gardening in these strips.
One of my original “dreams” I had for our street was to garden the entire strip from one end to the other. This dream was soon broken with the realization that since we only have on street parking anything that I planted was soon trampled. This left me to the places you could’nt open a car door like utility poles and traffic signs.
I wouldn’t recomend planting anything you were planning on eating next to a utility pole given the fact that these poles are soaked in creosote which is a product obtained from the distillation of a tar that is heavier than water and is used to preserve wood. Creosate contains many toxic compounds and I don’t recommend eating anything grown in close proximity to it. Creosote was also used to treat railroad ties so caution should be taken any time you are working close to them.
If you have access to bricks use them to make a nice little defining border around the garden. This gives you a visible line showing where the garden is but also defines where the lawncare should end. Most landscapers fail to ever look down and unless you have a clearly defined line where your plants start then they will be destroyed. Another thing to take into consideration is the hardiness of your plants, even though people won’t be directly walking on the garden… dogs will still walk through it, they may do worse if their masters aren’t vigilant… Salt can wreak havoc on your plants as well… Also the creosote on the pole itself acts as an herbicide and keeps plants from growing to close to it. I dig and replace the soil closest to the pole to be safe and add as much organic material as I can fit.
Pick the hardiest most drought tolerant plants you can find like mints, lavendar, sages, echinacea, day lilly, iris or anything that is very hardy. Remember that these plants are really not protected by anything and other than the first month or two you will not want to be dragging water out to the garden daily. You want to only have to deal with it once or twice a year once it is built.
Another cool part of gardening in these long lost areas is they make great places to plant spring bulbs. I find tulips are the only plants that do not do good in these areas. They usually look stunted and never bloom. Daffodils on the other hand will take incredible amounts of torture and will bloom for years. Daffodils are also sold in bulk and if you wait for the right time to ask most places will have extras at the end of the year they will sell to you at a drastic reduction in price. If you want to plant bulbs in grass then just cut and tear up a section of sod, place your bulbs wherever you want them and replace the piece of sod. Sometimes I don’t remember all of the places I put them and find myself surprised every spring. Be creative with them, you can sneak them into somebodies yard and not tell them until they come up in the spring… Hence my nickname for bulbs “Hippy Hand Grenades”