The lightwell/alley is an essential part of most rowhouses. It brings light into the middle rooms while providing storage space for things like hoses and trashcans. While I have found a way to sequester the trashcans at the front of the house (and put a plant on top of it to boot), and am still trying to get my hose to re-coil in some neat and tidy way, the compost pile and a periodic firewood pile are what mainly occupies the ground level of our alley. Neither of these things provide the prettiest view to gaze upon while sitting at the kitchen table, enjoying one's morning coffee. With this in mind, I have been trying for the past 2 summers to come up with a way to get flowers or plants to grow in this narrow, partial shade location. I think that this year I have finally come up with a solution.For me, this is a tidy alley, the woodpile is around the corner near the firepit, hoping for one more fire before the summer heat comes on. That's the compost pile and dining room window in the distance, behind my dad who was in town for a visit, the kitchen windows are next to the rain gutter on the left.
With dad's help we built 7- 40" wide x 48" high sections of 6" deep shelves with 'modesty panels' on the fronts to hide the mismatched collection of pots. Since we built them from treated lumber, to keep from having to repaint or rebuild every few years, and treated lumber does not make for food safe planting, we used window boxes and spare pots to line the upper shelves, and rubber roof membrane to create a planter at the lowest level to provide stability. They sit partially on the small retaining wall at the property line, and partly on brick plinths built specifically for this purpose.
I have started coleuses, impatiens and forget-me-nots to fill the pots that will be in shade most of the day, and I'm sure that I will see some cool looking shade loving plant to add, hopefully something that will cascade gracefully over the edges. Since it greens are hardy, and actually prefer cool spring weather, I spread some lettuce and chard seeds in the pots closest to the yard where they get more light. Hopefully by the end of May there will be a lush green wall where once there was just a plain stained fence.
They aren't really hanging, and they probably aren't going to be remembered one day as a modern "wonder of the world" but hopefully they will bring a little more color to view from the kitchen windows, a place to plant more lettuce, and a reason for me to keep the alley clean. And of course, another thing to update you weekly on the progress of!