Sidewalk Gardens

Mar 15 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

For urban dwellers who would love to garden, but feel as though they don't have enough, time, skills, or space, a re-popularized and fun solution is the sidewalk garden. These gardens not only invite beauty into the local surroundings, but also create an urban sanctuary for environmental allies such as birds, bees, and butterflies. For pedestrians and passersby, a sidewalk garden also promotes a sense of community pride, and a natural respite from the harsh angles of the urban setting.

Found in urban sidewalks everywhere are overlooked squares of soil tangled with weeds, or patches of dirt that might easily be converted into a supportive micro-landscape. For San Francisco architect Jane Martin, sidewalk gardens were a smart response to the periodic flooding happening in her neighborhood because they lowered the amount of impermeable surface area frequently challenged by sewer drain overflow and heavy rain run-off. So Martin recently led the charge in her city to convert concrete driveways into flower beds.

But sidewalk gardens are not entirely new. Almost forgotten are the “yard gardens” that are a part of a long tradition for early 20th Century African-American families and communities. Zora Neale Hurston’s book, The Gilded Six-Bits describes the fictional character Missie May’s front yard as, “a sidewalk edged on either side by quart bottles driven neck down into the ground on a slant. A mess of homey flowers planted without a plan but blooming cheerily from their helter-skelter places." In this world, a sidewalk garden was a part of the melodic continuum of the front garden and a forum for individual expression.

Dianne Glave, co-editor of To Love the Wind and the Rain: African Americans and Environmental History, underscores how gardens were a public affair. She wrote, “African-Americans also displayed flowers for everyone’s viewing and pleasure, beckoning neighbors to take a closer look or visitors to chat in the yard’s fragrance and color.” Therefore yards were intentionally public as a critical way to support community.

Read more about how one African-American community transformed their community one garden at a time.

So where to begin? Here is some inspiration:














1634 Jerrold Avenue (near 3rd Street, Bayview District, San Francisco, CA)

Even if you do not have a nearby plot of dirt, or are unable to bust up concrete, consider container gardening as an option:

What to plant? Natives for your area are a good bet for low maintenance and environmental friendliness. And if available in your area, vertical plant options like Jasmine, Bougainvillea, or Trumpet Vine are showy and smell terrific for economy spaces. Also don’t disregard edibles like strawberries, or herbs like lavender or rosemary as generous neighborhood treats!

Once your sidewalk begins to bloom, you’ll notice how your community and the many species that live there benefit -- including the homo sapiens!

What will you grow in your sidewalk garden?

Rue Mapp is the founder of Outdoor Afro, a community that reconnects African-Americans with natural spaces and one another through recreational activities such as camping, hiking, biking, fishing, gardening, skiing — and more! Outdoor Afro uses social media to create interest communities, events, and to partner with regional and national organizations that support diverse participation in the Great Outdoors.

8 responses so far

  • renee gunter says:

    Yep! Anyone can have a garden!! If you have something that will hold soil with a drainage're in!!

    • Rue Mapp says:

      So true -- and the community benefits greatly because of it!

      • barbara smith says:

        Rue I so enjoyed this video, it brought back childhood memories from the 40,s and 50,s in San antonio, Texas. Mt grandmothers house was on a corner lot. In the spring she planted daiseys from seed, to lin the entrance to her craftsman house.And zinnas,marigolds,on the floor to ceiling windows on the side of the house were pinktea roses.,and blue bonnets and pink buttercups. Thank you for helping us remember all of the beauty that surrounds us daily. It helps us appericate how many blessings we have,

        • Rue Mapp says:

          Thanks Ms. Smith -- I loved reading your comment as it reminded me of my mom (rest her soul), and the gardens she used to tend. I think it is important to share our family history with nature to remind people that African Americans DO have a relationship with the outdoors that spans generations.


  • Zuska says:

    Gardens are truly transformative, for individuals and communities alike. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society has an initiative called Philadelphia Green that seeks to create more urban gardens. But the Quesada garden transformation came from the residents themselves and that is a big part of its strength. I don't know exactly how Philadelphia Green works - whether it sponsors neighborhood initiatives or is a little more top down. It seems like the former approach would have more of a chance of being long lasting.

    I went on a city garden tour a few years back and many of the gardens on the tour were sidewalk or window box gardens. It was amazing what people achieved in a small space, and how that bit of gardening really made a difference on their piece of the street.

    • Rue Mapp says:

      Indeed it does make a difference Zuska -- it is a great equalizer and has even greater impact when efforts are defined and executed from within communities.


  • fcs says:

    Great post - I love those before and after pictures. Welcome to Scientopia!

  • Rue Mapp says:

    Thanks for the welcoming!