Unpaved parking strips, about three feet wide, run between sidewalks and streets throughout our small city. I have often wondered why, and have also wondered why they're called parking strips, since they cannot be used for parking. People who park in the street use the parking strip to dismount from their vehicles and step to the sidewalk.
Our street trees, the admirable Chinese evergreen elms, were planted in our parking strip by the city, and are pruned regularly by companies that contract with the city. Many streets have elms, but some have evergreen magnolias, jacarandas, firs, or other trees. Selection was made by vote of each street's residents back in the early 1950s when housing tracts were being built to accommodate a boom in the postwar aircraft industry.
While the city has cared for our street trees, it has required homeowners to care for the rest of the parking strip space. Most have done this by maintaining green grass to extend the flat expanse of their front lawns. The roots of a 60-year-old Chinese evergreen elm surrounded by a frequently and shallowly watered lawn can cause considerable unevenness in the adjacent sidewalk. Again, the city steps in and repaves the sidewalk after cutting back tree roots.
Since we have never had a green grass lawn, our parking strip has been a 'work in progress' since we removed the thick layer of Algerian ivy that was here in 1975, but our sidewalk has remained admirably level since we have never watered the parking strip on a regular basis. Several years ago, we were cited for having bricked over more than 20% of our parking strip. At that time, we probably had 50% brick and 50% succulents which required very little water -- mostly jeweled aloes with their dramatic orange blossoms.
Lucky and I laboriously removed the bricks and aloes, put in staggered paving stones, and planted jade trees and small magenta-flowered ice plant in between. Alas, everyone who parks on the street has felt very free to walk on the ice plant, so it has only flourished in the sheltered areas next to the jade plants and at the base of the elm tree.
Besides the struggling ice plant, we now have a fairly attractive ground cover of drought-resistant volunteer plants: the tolerated dichondra, alyssum, and violets, plus the weedy dandelions, oxalis, and petty spurge growing through a mulch of decaying elm leaves. While pulling my quota of the latter almost every day, I'd like to encourage California poppies and Mexican evening primrose to join the mix. Like the other tolerated plants, they have perennial taproots and can bear a considerable amount of foot traffic.
Meanwhile the city fathers have realized that thirsty green lawns do not make ecological sense, and neighbors are gradually allowing their green grass lawns to 'brown out.' I hope 2010 will not be the summer of anyone's discontent, but at this point it does not look promising.