By Dan Kirk
Back in the ’90s, the term “hellstrip” was coined to describe the area between the sidewalk and the street. If you are to drive, walk, bike, etc. around the city, you will probably notice that most of these spaces are just grass and trees, which can quickly become weed patches, easy to overlook and trample on. If one is going to allow nature to grow in a space like that to “beautify” a block or a neighborhood, then one aught to change what is planted there. Maybe, eventually, a new name will define the green space between the sidewalk and the road. For now, we at the Watershed Project call them Hope Gardens.
The main challenges in transforming these spaces, specifically in Richmond are: Who owns the space? Who is willing to maintain the space should it be transformed? And who will do the labor? The Watershed Project developed a project called Hope Gardens to address these three questions and, of course, transform the hellstrips into colorful pollinator wonderlands. For the last two years, The Watershed Project has reached out to residents in North Richmond where the hellstrips in front of their houses could use some TLC. The residents who have expressed interest in hellstrip transformation must do one thing for it to happen: Agree to maintain it (simply water the plants). Members from our Greening Urban Watersheds and Healthy Watersheds teams work together to design the layout and pick out the drought tolerant plants (most of which are native) to be planted on the strip. The Watershed Project must get permission from the County, who owns the strips, as well from PG&E in case there are utility lines that could accidentally get punctured during the planting stage. Finally, our staff along with North Richmond residents work together to plant, spread mulch and water.
Our annual Hope Garden planting events have just ended, with the completion of five Hope Gardens! Some of the Hope Gardens planted this year are on the same blocks as other Hope Gardens planted in previous years, so the whole entire block (not just the space in front of the resident’s home) is blooming with native or other drought tolerant plants. Some of the plants used over the past few years include:
- Rock Purslane (Cistanthe grandiflora)
- Margarita Bop (Penstemon heterophyllus)
- Sundrops Primrose (Oenothera fruticosa)
- Douglas Iris (Iris douglasiana)
- Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
- Bee’s Bliss Sage (Salvia leucophylla)
- Sticky Monkey Flower (Diplacus aurantiacus)
We view a Hope Garden as a planted space that creates community. For North Richmond residents, this means beautifying the strip in front of their homes. By planting Hope Gardens, The Watershed Projects aims to foster relationships between community residents, involving them in the transformation of their neighborhoods. This transformation helps mitigate trash accumulation on or near the streets and educates community members on the landscape use of plant species that are water-wise and support local wildlife and pollinators.
We anticipate many more Hope Gardens in the future!