Plant Your Parkway: Attract Goldfinches, Honeybees, and Neighbors

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Monday, August 6, 2012, 7:59 pm
Alice Dreger

You know that funny strip of land that comes between your sidewalk and your curb? That's officially called a "parkway" or "right-of-way." Technically the city has rights over it, although you the property owner are responsible for the upkeep. What a deal! The upside of this is that you don't have to keep it full of grass or weeds. You can actually plant flowers.

When we moved to our house in Oakwood, a downtown neighborhood of East Lansing, in 1998, our parkway was nothing but weeds. Rather than replanting with something he'd have to mow, my mate and ELi co-contributor, Aron Sousa, decided to plant zinnias. It worked so well that now the neighbors have come to see the zinnias as our annual obligation. We've had people ask to take some for memorial services, and we've even caught a woman stealing our zinnias out of her car window. (Don't try it. I have a rake and I'm prepared to use it.)

In interviewing Aron for this article, I started by asking him, "Why did you decide to plant something other than grass in your parkway?"

He answered: "To get girls. The well planted parkway is very attractive to women of a certain age and mass." He explained that, for this reason, he plants "only the most luscious of zinnias. I try for big, showy flowers and size matters, so the taller the better. I usually use a variety -- State Fair, Cactus, and Giant are some of my favorite varietals."

I asked him where he gets the seeds. He answered, "That's a rather personal question. I've considered self-seeding but never actually had the guts to try it."

When does he plant? "Early and often. This year I had to plant three times, but usually I plant once about 2 weeks before the last frost, and that's all it takes. I leave them in the fall because the birds like them and it keeps the dirt from eroding into the street. Since there's no grass, there's nothing to keep the dirt there if I pull the plants out by the roots." (Plus he's a little bit lazy at the end of the summer, if you ask me.)

What do the neighbors say? Said Aron, "They don't realize I can hear them when I'm sitting on the porch. I hide behind the fountain grass and I hear people talk about our yard. Sometimes they talk in French. No one seems to notice that the zinnias specifically match my rainbow flag. We had two Chinese students accidentally migrate into the backyard, I think because the zinnias lured them. I gave them some dahlias."

And no, you won't get dahlias if you wander into our backyard. Aron saves them up for his wife. And for wandering Chinese admirers.

See our follow-up article: City Provides Parkway Planting Tips

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