Planting ideas for long narrow area

Nov 9, 2020
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United States
I have an 18 inch wide area between a 6' privacy fence and sidewalk I'd like to plant with something better than grass. The approximate length of the area is 260 feet. I'm in Madison WI, so zone 4ish, but this location faces directly south -in the photos standing on the sidewalk, you're looking directly east, with the fence facing south. So it gets a lot of sun all year. Those areas in the terrace are rain gardens with native plants the City installed. The soil between the fence and sidewalk is very free draining - There's a retaining wall within a few feet behind most of the fence, and that has gravel backfill behind it, and the sidewalk has sand fill under it as well. This whole area is actually built up several feet using a very sandy material when they built the sidewalk/street/retaining wall. This street, the area you see to the east and the apartments on the other side of the street to the south are all built on a former limestone and sandstone quarry. So the planting bed has maybe 4-6 inches of topsoil with sand and gravel beneath that for several feet below that.
That's my house in the last photo, behind (and lower several feet) the fence.

A few wishes on my part -
plants that are easy to maintain once established because it is a lot of area, even though it is narrow. I may use stone instead of mulch, but have both in my yard in various areas, so either one would be ok, although weeding mulch is not as easy.
something I can cut back, or push out of the way easily, in spring so I can continue to maintain (ie stain) the fence every several years without plants being in the way too much.
Something not too tall, since I don't want it to hang over onto the sidewalk much, if at all.
Something perennial, because I don't want to replant this every year.
Something I could either buy in bulk, in plugs or small plants, or seed because buying all potted perennials for this would be pricey to do, although I'm not opposed to doing portions of it over several years, as long as I have a plan for how the whole thing will look when finished.
Preferably something native to WI if it is a perennial.

I've thought perhaps purple coneflower and black-eyed susan combined together, but am looking for ideas, as that is pretty generic. But at the same time, it is always a nice combination. I've also thought about using ground cover of some kind, or sedums.
Any input would be appreciated!


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Mar 22, 2017
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United Kingdom
I think I`d block plant a golden compact sedum (easy to propagate for extending the scheme) and interplant with compact hardy geraniums. Geraniums only need cutting right back from time to time to rejuvenate them and flower their socks off all through the spring, summer and autumn.
One thing is for sure, it will brighten the whole area up beautifully when it is completed..... Welcome to the forum :)
PS - when sedum has covered, there wouldn`t be any weeds to pull up - well, not many :unsure:
Jul 3, 2020
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Western Michigan
Hardiness Zone
United States
Cone flowers with black-eyed susan works but add in white daisies too. I did that back in Rockford IL and it did well. Over time the daisies took over but is was about 20 minutes of maintenance a year for the area.

Outside ideas to toss out:
Hops - they die back to the ground each year so you'll still be able to stain the fence in the spring. Once established you'll have a green wall by mid to late summer if you add a few cables or poles for them to wrap around.

Tall ornimental grass - you could put a cord loop around it and the fence post or picket to constrain it from falling over but it gives height and still dies back to the ground each year.

Espaliered trees... Apple, pear, plum, peach, tart cherry all grow well in that area


Native Gardener
Jun 13, 2014
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Hardiness Zone
United States
I'm in Madison WI,

Welcome fellow Wisconsinite!

Native plants are the way to go. I wouldn't recommend considering anything that isn't native to Wisconsin. We need more native habitat in our cities, and gardens are an easy way to do that. Create a strip of native garden. Prairie Moon Nursery sells various native seed mixes on their website, but a lot of native plants in those mixes do get taller and they'll likely bend over the sidewalk, but you have a couple options as far as that goes. One option is to buy those thin poles, I'm not sure what they're called, but they're cheap. You can get them at Menards or other similar stores. Put them in the ground every six or eight feet and tie twine from one to the next. I use them along my pathway in the garden and it holds the plants up and keeps my path clear. Really easy to do and inexpensive.

The other option would be to only use shorter native plants. There are plenty of options as far as that goes, but you'd have to buy seed of each specie individually instead of a mix. Butterflyweed, Partridge Pea, Prairie Smoke, Stout Blue-eyed Grass, Hairy Beardtongue, and Blue Grama are a few smaller species.

If it were my strip, I think I'd seed a lot of Blue Grama across the entire surface, as well as Partridge Pea, and then insert a few specific native flowering plants every couple of feet.
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