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Written by: Mary Anne Young

 

A small boulevard garden on a residential street in Guelph, Ontario

 

Summer is upon us in most of Canada (notwithstanding the snowfalls in my area of Ontario over the first week of May, and the recent hailstorm in Calgary) and many people's minds have turned to gardening. As such we're going to start peppering our blog entries with gardening and landscape design tips. One of CanPlant's staff received a question recently about boulevard gardens:

 

"Hey wondering if you might have recommendations on what to plant in a Boulevard. We had a crazy weed to take over that area, so it has now been dug out, and new soil is going in there. So, we are starting from fresh soil. As you know it would need to be very sun/heat tolerant, and obviously has dogs stepping on it and sometimes kids, as people walk by. One landscape friend suggested creeping thyme with lavender (for height and interest). Any other ideas?"

 

Boulevard gardens may seem easy at first – it is an open strip of land, free for the planting! However, in practice they can be a bit tricky due to difficult growing conditions and municipal restrictions.

 

First of all, it may seem obvious but I'm going to answer the question “what is a boulevard”?  Technically the word boulevard refers to a wide, tree-lined street. But in the context of this article the boulevard is the no-man's-land between the curb and the sidewalk on many urban and suburban streets. This area is within what is known as the road right-of-way, which is usually municipally owned land on either side of the road that is used for utilities (aboveground or underground). Boulevards are heavy-use areas which may be used for everything from piling snow, foot traffic, car drop-off areas, and dogs' rest stops.

 

Vegetation in boulevards usually consists of grass and generally one tree per property. There is a growing trend across Canada of residents planting boulevard gardens, thereby beautifying the street, providing additional nectar sources for pollinators, and contributing to heat island mitigation. Cities with growing boulevard garden traditions include Victoria, Vancouver, Kitchener, Toronto, and Halifax.

 

A newly planted and mulched boulevard garden in a residential neighbourhood

 

Boulevards tend to be difficult places to grow plants – the soil conditions are often poor, there is little shade, and there can be high salt levels from winter maintenance or pets. Therefore, plants should be chosen accordingly. The municipality may need at some point to dig up the bed, so woody plants like trees and shrubs should be avoided; this leaves hardy annual and perennial plants as the ideal boulevard species. You can also consider hard landscaping like rocks if they are small enough to be moved in the aforementioned occasional dig.

 

A boulevard garden on a busy urban streetCreating a new urban boulevard garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are some sample native plant palettes that will work in boulevards in different places across Canada. These are all full sun gardens, have yellow or blue/purple colour palettes, and have maximum bloom later in the season:

 

Calgary

Alpine Aster

(Aster alpinus)

 

View Plant
 

Alpine Aster

Prairie Blue-eyed-grass

(Sisyrinchium campestre)

 

Photo by Peter Gorman under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

View Plant
 

Prairie Blue-eyed-grass

Silver Prairie Sage

(Artemisia ludoviciana)

 

Photo by Matt Lavin under CC BY-SA 2.0

 

View Plant
 

Silver Prairie Sage

Wild Bergamot

(Monarda fistulosa)

 

View Plant
 

Wild Bergamot

 

Toronto

Little Bluestem

(Schizachyrium scoparium)

 

View Plant
 

Little Bluestem

Silverweed

(Potentilla anserina)

 

Photo by ekenitr under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

View Plant
 

Silverweed

Sand Coreopsis

(Coreopsis lanceolata)

 

View Plant
 

Sand Coreopsis

Small Pussytoes

(Antennaria howelli)

 

View Plant
 

Small Pussytoes

Vancouver

Tufted Hairgrass

(Deschampsia cespitosa)

 

View Plant
 

Tufted Hairgrass

Philadephia Fleabane

(Erigeron philadelphicus)

View Plant
 

Fleabane

Pearly Everlasting

(Anaphalis margaritacea)

View Plant
 

Pearly Everlasting

Shrubby Cinquefoil

(Dasiphora fruticosa)

 

View Plant
 

Shrubby Cinquefoil

 

Before planting, you should have a utility locate completed to make sure you won't be digging into underground utilities (this is a free service in many areas) and call or check your municipality's website to see if there are any boulevard planting restrictions or free resources.

 

Native plant species within an urban boulevard garden

 

Have questions about using native plants in your gardening or landscape design project that you'd like to see highlighted in a future blog post? Send us a note using the form on the Contact Us page. We love hearing from our users.

 

Links

 

New Westminster

• ASK PAT: Bees and Boulevards

https://patrickjohnstone.ca/2019/07/ask-pat-bees-and-boulevards.html

 

Kitchener

• Recommendations for boulevard plantings in the City of Kitchener (PDF)

https://www.lovemyhood.ca/en/resourcesGeneral/Documents/CSD_NDO_Toolkit_Plant-List.pdf

 

Halifax

• Halifax council to discuss guidelines for boulevard gardens

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/boulevard-gardens-halifax-council-1.5327721

 

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