Plants & Gardens Blog

Streetscape Gardening

There’s a lot of pavement in New York City—enough to stretch from from Brooklyn to San Francisco and back, according to one estimate. Thankfully, many New Yorkers are working to make some of it a little friendlier by creating streetscape gardens. As the entries to BBG's Greenest Block in Brooklyn contest prove time and again, greening your block can take many fantastic forms, from planting flowers in a tree bed to placing colorful planters on the sidewalk—even hanging repurposed containers full of flowers from unused signposts. Want to join in the fun? Take inspiration from some of our favorite blocks, then read on for some tips on how to get start your own.

Get to Know Your Space

Take the time to assess the light and water conditions of your location. What is the width of the sidewalk? Is there room for large container plants? Can existing street furniture like benches, bike racks, parking meters, mailboxes, and signposts be incorporated into your design? Greenest Block judges have even spotted flowers planted in the soil surrounding fire hydrants.

Think Outside the Window Box

Traditional vessels like flowerpots, planters, and the like are great, but don’t limit yourself to these standbys. Just about anything can hold seasonal plantings. In fact, it’s the whimsical containers that get passersby to smile. Greenest Block judges have come across all manner of creatively repurposed items. Shoes, purses, hollow logs, and old buckets have been used to great effect. Another key advantage: These items can be had for little, if any, cost.

Go Vertical

Add another dimension to your garden by planting ground containers with climbing vines near a fence or adding trailing ivy to a window box. Plastic pots or textile pockets can also be attached to fences and walls and planted with a mix of vines and flowers.

Keep It Coming

Make yours a garden for all seasons. For instance, plant bulbs such as daffodils and tulips in the fall for an early-spring display, then plant sweet potato vines and petunias in late spring, followed by caladiums and zinnias through summer and autumn. In the winter months, add cut evergreen boughs and berry branches. (They act as mulch, too!)

Mind the Rules

Remember, your location is ultimately a public thoroughfare, subject to city regulations. You can set out pots up to 24 inches in diameter and height without any special permit, but if your containers extend more than two feet from the building into the sidewalk space, you may get a ticket. If you’re planning something bigger or more elaborate, it’s best to seek a permit from the Department of Transportation. Call 311 to start the process.

The More, the Merrier

Talk to your neighbors and invite their involvement. Some people may want to do plantings of their own; others can be enlisted to water, pick up litter, and weed. Not only will their participation lighten your load, it will make the whole project much more fun!

Rebecca Bullene is a former editor at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. She is the proprietor of Greenery NYC, a creative floral and garden design company that specializes in botanical works of art including terrariums, urban oasis gardens, and whimsical floral arrangements.

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