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Use An Agapanthus, Go To Jail
updated: Nov 22, 2009, 12:00 AM

Thoughts From the Garden of Ed

Use An Agapanthus, Go To Jail
by Billy Goodnick

Those Agapanthus in your parkway strip could land you in jail for a year. No, I don't mean your plants are going to rat you out for falling behind on your child support. But aiding and abetting a plant that can grow more than eight inches tall in your parkway is a crime.

That ten-foot tall, bright pink oleander hedge that keeps your front yard nice and private? Add your attorney's number to your speed dial. I see a possible perp-walk in your future.

And I pity da foo' whose juniper inches over the curb into the street right-of-way. But not to worry, you'll get to see the sun when you're released into the County jail exercise yard from 9:12 - 9:18 every other Tuesday morning.

Check out the City of Santa Barbara Municipal Code. There are laws on the books intended to keep property owners from obstructing the free flow of traffic and pedestrians. Another law prevents street trees from succumbing to suffocation by well-intentioned folks who lay tar paper or plastic down to keep weeds from growing.

The subject of parkways-those horticulturally infuriating strips of dirt between the curb and sidewalk-seeped into my mind a few days ago while I was biking to work and spotted this delightful stand of orange cosmos flowers festively adorning in a street tree well. I had my new camera with me and squeezed off a few while the early morning rays illuminated my prey in golden rays.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew there was a height restriction for curbside plantings. I also knew for a fact that just like fences, front yard hedges couldn't exceed 42-inches.

So I checked in with Steve Sisler, a buddy in Traffic Operations with the City's Public Works Department. Always Johnny on the Spot, Steve provided me with a compilation of Muni Code "Excerpts Pertaining To Vegetation Maintenance With Respect To Traffic Safety." I know-seems heavy-handed. But as "big brother" as some of these rules and regs sound, it's all about keeping us safe.

Sure, this wall of green does an excellent job of protecting the resident from the visual offense of delivery trucks and yahoos sporting mullets. But the hedge also hogs half the sidewalks. Worse yet, it's bougainvillea, replete with needle-like thorns that can take the flesh off your face faster than a starving piranha. (see picture at top)

I know all my readers are staunch supporters of law and order, but before you dash out the door and fire up the chain saw to achieve full compliance and a good citizenship certificate for the fridge, take a deep breath. There is not, to my knowledge, a squad of flame thrower-armed Parkway Police patrolling the streets.

That's not to say there aren't enforcement cases. By all means, hedges get hewn, lantana get lopped and impervious parkways perforated. I've called in a couple of egregious cases myself, like when someone's hedge blocked the view of the sidewalk from a driveway. The last thing I want to see is a preventable flattening of a mom and baby in a stroller when a car backs out of a blind driveway.

So what DO you do with your parkway? Along Olive Street near East Cota, there's this lovely random sprinkling of, of…of (Damn! Does anyone remember what you call those black things that fall from olive trees?). OLIVES! (Thanks).

This tight silvery carpet of Dymondia margaretae is a no nonsense, drought and sun tolerant tough guy that forms a crisp carpet. It even displays tiny yellow daisy-shaped flowers for a good part of the year.

You can download the Plants For Parkways In The Public Right Of Way list at the City's website. The list of eleven low-water using ground covers will get you started and the plants fit with a wide range of garden styles.

I'm all for seeing some of those shipping container-sized blocks of foliage head for that great mulch pile in the sky. Sure, this cube of Xylosma is in a red No Parking zone and doesn't block the view of the intersection. However, it's just offensively ugly and requires inordinate amounts of gas-fume belching hedge trimming to keep it in check. Good riddance.

I know that if I lived across the street from THIS freak show, I'd much rather see the front of my neighbor's house than this heavy-handed amputation.

Now before you start writing letters to Silly Hall asking why downtown State Street gets to look like the set of a Tarzan movie while everyone else has to settle for avocado colored shag carpeting, there's a provision that allows the Parks and Recreation Director to grant permission for deviations from the rules.

I'm all for that when the greater good of attractive landscaping along a no-parking zone can be fulfilled.

The "take away" here is that we should all be aware of how our personal landscaping sometimes creates safety and movement problems for others. Take a look at what's going on along the front of your home and see if you can do the right thing. Beats the bejesus out of that embarrassing midnight call to Bubba the Bail Bondsman.

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Billy Goodnick is a nice guy who knows a lot about plants and garden stuff.


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