Inspired Inferno Strips: Santa Fe-Style

Cordova Road Inferno Strip Garden Native blue grama grass, Rhus aromatica 'Gro Low' (Gro Low Sumac), purple leaf Cotinus (Smoke Bush) and vining Campsis (Trumpet Vine).


Many years ago, in the mid-1990's, Lauren Springer Ogden coined the term "Hell Strip" to identify that parched strip of land that occupies the space between the sidewalk and street curb. I softened the word and coined the name "Inferno Strip" and began offering a pre-planned garden to help homeowners make the conversion from grass to flowers.

I knew this was a great concept from the first time I learned of it from Lauren and have been promoting the use of xeric (waterwise), heat tolerant plants for planting these inferno stripes. It's also an ideal way to create pollinator habitat from what is typically considered wasted space.

Here in Santa Fe, New Mexico, walls and fences often mark the boundaries between street and home, a very Old World way of providing privacy. But for the landscaper, this creates a very hot, difficult-to-maintain strip of dirt to populate with plants. Here are a trio of very nice New Mexico-style solutions to the Inferno Strip conundrum. While these designs have a very Southwestern feel to them, the concepts are widely applicable to all areas of the country and reflect how, with a little imagination, what might be considered wasted space can become a strip of color and beauty that enhances our communities.

Cordova Road, Santa Fe

Achillea Moonshine (Yarrow), Nepeta faassenii (Catmint), and Perovskia (Russian Sage) Moonshine Yarrow, Catmint, and Russian Sage.

The Cordova Road strip (photo at top) is planted with a nice mix of native blue grama grass edged along the foot of the wall with Rhus aromatica 'Gro Low' (Gro Low Sumac), purple leaf Cotinus (Smoke Bush) and vining Campsis (Trumpet Vine). The grama grass is mowed about once a month and the homeowner has not let it produce its graceful and attractive seed spikes. But I would.

Old Santa Fe Trail , Santa Fe

Yes, the Old Santa Fe Trail is the same route used by the wagon trains 140 years ago. The front of this showplace estate is surrounded by an architecturally stunning, brick-capped territorial-style wall planted with simple but gorgeous mix of plants. This photo, taken in late fall, shows the pyracantha (Firethorn), with its bright orange berries shining out from behind the smoky blue flower spikes of Perovskia (Russian Sage) to create an eye-catching combination. While many of the perennials that provide spring and summer color have gone green, the plant selection shows how a succession of colorful flowers and fruit make this planting of year-round interest.

A mix of groundcovers, ornamental grasses, shrubs and flowering perennials.This planting is a mix of groundcovers, ornamental grasses, shrubs and flowering perennials.

This hot, south-facing wall demands the use of very heat and sun tolerant perennials. There are only four species planted but they provide months of colorful flowers. The mix includes Nepeta faasseni 'Select Blue' (Hybrid Catmint), Achillea 'Moonshine' (Yellow Yarrow), Penstemon pinifolius 'Compactum' (Dwarf Pineleaf Beardtongue) and Callirhoe involucrata (Poppy Mallow).

Upper Canyon Road, Santa Fe

This planting (photo below) is a mix of groundcovers, ornamental grasses, shrubs and flowering perennials that enhance the Old World feel of this house nestled up against the narrow, winding road that leads up the city's primary reservoir at the top of Canyon Road. I particularly like the use of Origanum 'Rotekugel'(ornamental oregano) which was still blooming in mid-October. Evergreen Delosperma nubiginum (Yellow flowered Ice Plant) softens the rock edging as it spills to the street. The pyracantha and Perovskia (Russian Sage) theme is repeated from Old Santa Fe Trail, but has been modified by the presence of Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus' (Chinese Maidenhair Grass) adding a nice touch with its bronze flower spikes.

Upper Canyon Road Inferno Strip
This inferno strip includes ornamental oregano, yellow flowered ice plant and russian sage.

Text and Photos by David Salman

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