Urban Containment

Two city gardens—one beautiful, one edible— demonstrate their command of containers.

An Edible Sanctuary
Photo by Craig Bares

The Boulevard Garden

That weedy strip between the street and the sidewalk? A uniquely urban opportunity.

Cultivating the boulevard is one of the delights of city gardening. Not only are “front gardens” highly visible—“Hey! Check out my garden, stranger!”—but replacing an otherwise barren area with deep-rooted and hearty native plants helps prevent water runoff from dumping pollutants into our watershed. That means helping protect the Upper Mississippi River Basin—the same basin that provides drinking water to us and about 18 million other people.

You can also eat from the boulevard area. Says Matt Phillips of Phillips Garden Center, which has designed and planted many Twin Cities boulevard gardens (including the one pictured here), “I personally took an ugly area by my garage with beautiful exposure and made it a small vegetable garden. The sidewalks provided an already established barrier for weeds. I put up a simple fence that did the trick for the rabbits, and I planted viny vegetables around the fence—peas and cucumbers—to conceal it.” If it’s the sunny side of the sidewalk and you’re testing the soil and watering regularly, then bon appétit from the street. Just remember:

• Who owns the boulevard.
You do, but the city has the right to access utilities underneath it. Anything the city tears up is yours to repair.

• Height and hardscaping.
Minneapolis and St. Paul regulate visibility and liability.

• Check the soil.
Boulevard gardens must be designed to avoid soil runoff. And always get the soil tested. The boulevard may not even contain “soil” as gardeners know it, but rather construction fill. It may also contain lead and other toxins.

• Salt?
Don’t. Says Lynn Aufderheide Biegler from Phillips Garden Center, “If there is excessive salt use in winter, certain plants may not survive.”