Words & Photos: Leon Kluge
The dreaded sidewalk garden can arguably be one of the most neglected parts of the property. It’s a place you don’t spend much time in – or in most cases try to avoid – but you see it every day leaving and returning to your home. It’s a place where the neighbourhood cat sleeps during the day, and where, under the old hydrangea that hasn’t been pruned since you moved in two years ago, you could still find an old lost post and a couple of newspapers.
To tidy up and redo the sidewalk is usually one of those ambitious New Year’s resolutions or a project for summer that gets postponed to winter, and then again to the following winter.
Having a great-looking sidewalk garden can have a lot of benefits. It becomes something not only visually appealing to you and the people in your street, but also potential buyers, when the time comes to sell your house. After all, first impressions count.
When your sidewalk garden has creative flair in the design it makes it an instant talking point and so much easier to give directions to your house: “Just follow Willow Street until you see the giant blue butterfly garden.”
I do understand that not everybody has that creative flair working overtime, and it’s not always easy to be artistic, but yet practical – especially in relation to your sidewalk. However, that is where landscape designers come into play, taking that stress away from you and designing you the perfect space, either for you or them to install.
When choosing plants for your sidewalk garden, a hardy plant palette will be better suited to the gardener who doesn’t spend every weekend (like me) with their hands in the mud.
Remember, a sidewalk garden is more open to the elements than your garden inside: it has to contend with more wind and frost due to it being less protected by building walls, and it is hotter in summer due to the glare from the road and sidewalks or boundary walls. With all those elements at play, the garden will be a bit drier also. Don’t use plants that will become too big in height or width as most sidewalk gardens are quite narrow, and in the not-so-distant future you might have the lovely task of spending a fortune on removing them because they are now either lifting your new boundary fence or blocking the view of upcoming traffic.
Some easygoing, hardy ground covers that would give you colour throughout most of the year and work beautifully together on any steep slopes would definitely be Plectranthus neochilus and all the Arctotis hybrids. They are both tough as nails, growing naturally in coastal areas where they love the wind and do well in sandy, poor and dry soil.
Grasses are great for sidewalk gardens as they love a bit of wind in their hair, nice warm sun and can go without a drink every day. They are available in all sorts of shades of green and endless textures.
If you love the go-easy attitude of ornamental grasses, but still look for a spot of colour in your life, a great way of achieving that would be adding some hard landscaping and sculptural elements to the scene that might just give you the colour boost you need.