Hell Strip Highlights for September

Holy cow, it’s September. Summer is still pushing back against the march of time, though. Saturday and Sunday were beautiful this weekend – cool and sunny. Then Monday turned into a hot and humid beast, which will apparently be prowling around Chicago until at least the middle of the week.

The parkway beds (or hell strip, as some call them) are shifting from their summer to their fall look. Over the last few years I’ve dug up all the parkway grass on both sides of the driveway and planted a mix of perennials, all of them cohabiting with volunteers plants that keep sneaking in from elsewhere in the garden. These beds are really still feeling their way.


I’m usually pleased with the ‘Matrona’ Sedum (S. telephium) I planted two years ago. I like how the flowers start out light pink and age to a deep maroon.




However, I was visiting a neighbor on Saturday and her ‘Matrona’ have huge flower clusters packed tightly together, which made me feel like a Sedum underachiever. I’m hoping mine look more like the neighbor’s as they mature.


The blue flowers of Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides – say that three times fast) are looking good. This ground cover was really slow to get established, but I’m very glad I planted it. Plumbago emerges late in spring and shines in the fall. It combines nicely with Orange Coneflower/Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida).

2016-08-21 16.02.47

OK, so the really big hell strip news comes from the Lamppost Bed on the west side of the driveway. The picture above should look familiar – I posted it recently to show how the Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) was flopping over disgracefully.


Well, the garden walk I took last week with Piet Oudolf (see last post) inspired me to take action. Life is too short to tolerate floppy grasses! Plus, one of my favorite garden centers was having a 20% off sale on perennials.


And so yesterday I found myself the proud owner of several ‘Standing Ovation’ Little Bluestem, which were planted as soon as I got home. Now, someone I trust told me that ‘Standing Ovation’ has a reliably upright habit. My first choice was ‘Blue Heaven’ (which is amazingly upright at the Lurie Garden), but that wasn’t in stock.

Checking out other retailers or ordering ‘Blue Heaven’ online was not an option, as it would have required delayed gratification.


Anyway, isn’t ‘Standing Ovation’ a beauty? Look at that color! And it should only get better later in fall.

I did feel momentarily guilty about spending more money on plants (budget? what’s a budget?). However, I reminded myself of all the things I hadn’t spent money on. For example, I never buy lottery tickets, something that could easily eat up $5-10 per day or more.

Thanks to gardening, that potential expense (and so many others) has been eliminated entirely! And so, if you look at the big picture, those gallon pots of Little Bluestem actually saved me thousands of dollars. The logic is undeniable.

What are the September highlights of your hell strip?

45 Comments on “Hell Strip Highlights for September”

  1. This is definitely the time of year where I think a lot of gardeners take stock of things and make changes, even after putting up with them all summer. I’m so glad you found ‘Standing Ovation’, it’s a beauty…and so far, I’ve had good luck with it staying upright, unlike the species (and older cultivars) which flopped horribly.

  2. The flopping is frustrating to be sure. I’ve tried quite a few as well, currently ‘Jazz’ which so far is just lovely. I also have the straight species in a prairie garden — thickly planted — which I believe might be the solution to the flopping issue. Do let us know how Standing Ovation “holds up”!

  3. I have some autumn joy sedum, and in some places it makes the really tight clusters of flowers, and in others it seems more leggy and sparse. They are all divisions of the same plant, so I figure it must be something about the soil or light in various places? If we have a hell strip, it’s the strip across our driveway from the house. It’s backed by a former paddock gone wild, and it contains an old well head, poison ivy that just can’t seem to be killed, an old seesaw (plank nailed to a big stump) from when Emma was young, and an abundance of tree seedlings that come from the towering silver maple nearby. We tamed the beds by the house, but across the driveway is still a mess. It’s under discussion, but it never seems to get any farther than that!

  4. I’m definitely in ‘taking stock’ and ‘editing’ mode.

    I kicked Geranium sanguineum to the curb after deciding that it was both too aggressive and too ragged for much of the year.

    (Incidentally, that hardy blue plumbago might be hard to get started, but once it gets established, it can be a bit aggressive too — primarily by underground rhizomes. At least, that’s my experience. I ended up evicting this non-native too a year or so ago, but I still find bits of it sprouting up here and there. I pull them as soon as I see them, but I suspect I’ll have it with me for a while yet – maybe forever.)

    Don’t mind me though — I’m always setting a high bar that most groundcover perennials can’t meet! 😛

    PS – Your new little bluestems looks great!

    PPS – Your sedum may not be as good as your neighbor’s, but it’s 10 times better than mine. Does that make you feel any better? 🙂 The only sedum that really seems to thrive in my garden is ‘Blue Spruce’ http://www.northcreeknurseries.com/plantName/Sedum-reflexum-Blue-Spruce

  5. ‘Standing Ovation’ is a beauty! And I like your logic–I justify my spending on plants by reminding everyone that I rarely go clothes shopping anymore. When you’re retired and like to spend time in the garden, old jeans and t-shirts are all you need:)

  6. I love your “take action” approach – I have such a hard time getting rid of plants, although I must say that my ways are changing on that front. This summer we renovated several of our ornamental borders and got rid of many aggressive bullies – what an improvement! After seeing how much better everything looks, I’m itching to continue with the remaining borders…once this dang heat wave ends, that is.

  7. That Bluestem was a good investment Jason – looks really good. I love Plumbago too – great ground cover with lovely reddish foliage later on, as well as the flowers of course. As soon as it cools down I will be planting more grasses. Can’t get enough of the Karl Foerster and Pennisetum, but Bluestem might be an option too….

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