Orange flowers bloom in Sonya Anselmo's parkway garden on 12th Street. (Daniel Archuleta

12TH ST — Tomatoes. Mint. Basil. Brussels sprouts. All can be found at Sonya Anselmo’s home on 12th Street. But instead of a typical garden out back, she has created one in front, turning her parkway, or the space between the street and the sidewalk, into something more than just a place for grass.

“My idea is that I want to rent it out for ‘free’ to my neighbors or anyone who wants to use it,” Anselmo said.

In a city where roughly 70 percent of residents rent and have limited access to green space, creating a garden in a parkway may be the next best thing for those looking to exercise their green thumbs. Officials said as long as the plants selected follow City Hall’s guidelines and do not obstruct access or pose a safety hazard, edible landscaping is allowed.

Edible landscaping includes fruits, vegetables and herbs, said Garrett T. Wong, project support assistant for the Office of Sustainability and the Environment.

The trend of parkway gardens has also caught on in Los Angeles, where earlier this month residents were allowed to plant vegetables near the curb as city officials suspended a ban on the practice.

In Santa Monica, parkways are part of the public-right-of-way, and therefore must be regulated. The guidelines for parkway gardening were adopted by the City Council in 2011 as part of the Santa Monica Urban Forest Master Plan. The plan states that parkway landscaping must not create visual obstructions for pedestrians or drivers of vehicles. Plants within 5 feet of a driveway shall not exceed 2 feet in height when fully mature.

Moreover, parkway landscaping shall take into consideration personal safety, vehicle safety, efficient access for pedestrian and vehicles and resource conservation, the plan states.

For example, home owners are allowed to plant thyme, jade plants, yarrow, California lilac and creeping sage, but aren’t allowed to plant prickly pear cactus, ivy, agave century plants, aloe, roses or barrel cactus. Before adding or modifying trees in the parkway, folks need to contact the community forester. To create open visibility to the street for vehicles and pedestrians, plant material shall not exceed 34 inches in height at maturity, according to the guidelines.

Plant material shouldn’t be a danger to the public either. Plants with sharp, pointy protrusions such as needles or thorns are not allowed.

Anselmo installed a walkway in her parkway garden to allow for greater access after a city official stopped by to inspect it.

All landscaping is subject to the Santa Monica Municipal Code, which states “median strips and parkways planted with grass are intended to enhance the aesthetic qualities of neighborhoods and streets and to also provide limited opportunities for recreation including walking, jogging and respite.”

Anselmo said she started to re-vamp the parkway on her property because the grass ended up killing the carob tree that was already planted there.

Her parkway became so transformed that her neighbor tore out his grass as well and started his own garden. For the past eight years, Anselmo, who likes to garden organically, said she’s grown vegetables in the parkway garden from cuttings from neighbors.

Dana Morgan, who was the co-ordinator for the Organic Learning Garden at Santa Monica College, said she’s seen people plant all sorts of interesting things in their parkways. Her concern is the exhaust and lead that comes from cars that could extend to the parkways and affect plants that are low to the ground, like tomatoes.

“Say you’re growing tomatoes or vegetables right next to the parkway strip, it’s probably not the best thing,” said Morgan, who retired from teaching English at the college in June.

If parkway gardens aren’t appealing, residents can always opt for a plot in one of Santa Monica’s community gardens, however, those are in short supply. Currently 77 people are on a waiting list for the gardens, said Kathy LePrevost, community recreation manager for City Hall. Some residents have to wait as long as six years before a plot opens up.

There are 124 plots, including three workshop plots or test plots that a person on the waiting list gets for one year to see if they like gardening, LePrevost said.

The locations for the community gardens are at Main Street, between Strand Street and Hollister Avenue; Park Drive, between Santa Monica Boulevard and Broadway; and Euclid Park. Folks sign one-year license agreements with City Hall and do that on an annual basis, LePrevost said.

The most popular community garden is the one on Main Street, LeProvost said.

For some, like Anselmo, instead of waiting for a community garden plot, a parkway garden is the next best thing. In addition to homegrown produce, other benefits of the gardens include interacting with neighbors while working outside.

“Let’s get people outside and away from computer screens,” Morgan said. “Let’s work together and use those spaces.”

For more information on the Urban Forest Master Plan, visit

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