Click to enlarge image if needed. Clockwise from top left: 1. Estate entrance (also bottom, right picture) 2. Bund side view 3. A view of both sides of the road looking south 4. Ditch 5. As 1 6. Behind the bund 7. Gravel soakaway strip 8. A view of both sides of the road looking north

When I first introduced this year's series on public planting, I was unsure whether verges should be included. I had 2 main responses at the time - yes, include them and what's a verge? I promised the You Ask, We Answer team would get on the case, so here at last is their preliminary guide to verges, aka shoulder if you hail from across the pond.

Most verges in the UK refer to a narrow strip of grass at the roadside, just like the edge you can see in the first and last picture in the collage. On more major roads, the design gets a little more complicated and I've chosen one such example to show you - the one closest to my house - on the A350 Chippenham bypass, a mere 5 minute walk away from VP Gardens.

As the busy road borders a housing estate, this side of it has been raised in the form of a bund as Lucy has also shown in her post on Poundbury, plus the joint one we did together. Like Lucy's example, this bund has also had shrubs and trees planted on it - this one is a more mature example as it is 10 years older. Dogwood and native trees are the main mix here in Chippenham. The bund and the trees act as a sound screen to mask most of the road noise from the houses nearby. On the other side of the road is open countryside, so the bund and trees aren't needed and here most of the old hedgerows have been retained as much as possible. Further down the bypass this side of the road is flatter and marks a clearer transition from urbanised to countryside areas.

Susan over at The Bicycle Garden also asked if our verges have ditches. In my example the answer is yes, though they're not there in a lot of cases. Ditches are usually only present when drainage is needed, though in my example it's for a different reason - some travellers camped on this verge* a few years ago, so the layout was changed to discourage them in the future. Lumps of stone and a raised bank were added next to the road and the ditch excavated behind the bank. This in turn led to drainage problems (as my feet can vouch for from yesterday!), so a gravel soakaway was added right next to the road side.

As we build more and more roads in the UK, verges are becoming an increasingly larger proportion of our unused land. Therefore they have an increasing value as wildlife corridors and refuges for our native flora. For new roads, sowing wildflower meadow mixes and subsequent management are often specified as part of the design brief for the highway contractor. Of course many of our verges are a lot older and in 1970 here in Wiltshire, the local Wildlife Trust surveyed most of the county's verges to identify those of particular floral value e.g. there is a verge near Chippenham that has a nationally rare type of mustard; many others are rich in orchids. This has resulted in specific plans being drawn up for the civil engineering company who maintains the highways on behalf of the county council to ensure these 50-odd verges are managed in a sensitive manner. In addition, the trust has a monitoring scheme where volunteers, such as my friend L from choir, 'adopt' a specific verge and complete a questionnaire about its health each year. If the monitors find the verge's quality has deteriorated, then the Trust can work with the county council to ensure the habitat and right management is restored.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, this is just a quick guide to verges here in the UK. In researching it I've found a lot more questions that need answering e.g. who exactly has responsibility for which verges and how they are managed. Therefore, I may return to this topic at a later date. I have sneaked in a tiny preview of part of the roundabout that started getting me so interested in public planting though - see picture 3 - so I will be returning there shortly!

* This verge is much wider than usual, hence it was roomy enough for travellers to camp there. NAH and I believe it's so wide in case the county council decide to make the road a dual carriageway in the future.

This is also an Out on the Streets (OOTS) post as well as a YAWA guide. There's more OOTS posts here - do have a look, or better still there's still time to add your public planting post's URL to the OOTS Mr Linky this month.


  1. Ah--a shoulder. Now I see!

    Once again, YAWA to the rescue. ;-)

    My public planting post is in the works. I'm running right up to the wire on the deadline, though...the response to the meme has taken on a life of its own and become part of a mini-conference here on campus. More details about that later.

  2. Agree with you both on the dual carriageway option as the new bridges (rail and road)past Sainsburys on the way to Lacock are all doubles as well, though I could never work out why they would look to build a dual carriageway that far then stop? Hilperton bypass is the same, must be for all these new cars we should all be buying!!

  3. Ah this takes me back! I completely forgot most roads in England don't have what we call shoulders--usually gravel and/or grass, where one can pull off onto if one's car dies or one has to read a map or something. We just have more space, you know? We don't do anyhting special with this space, though there are plantings int he medians of some freeways--a huge group of daffodils in somewhere along I-94 near Dearborn!

  4. Thanks for the explanation--YAWA once again responds to the confused neighbors across the pond:) It's really too early here to get any pictures of something growing, but perhaps later this spring or early summer I'll add something to this idea. As Monica said, most of our roads have asphalt shoulders and then some grass. But there's a growing movement in my area for prairie restoration, so in some places we also have native wildflowers growing next to the shoulder, er...verge.

    Enjoyed your list from yesterday; all so true, especially the one about running out of space for seed trays!

  5. Hi VP - Loved your take on verges, and in general your call to folks to look at the public plantings (or lack thereof) more closely. My blog is (mainly, sometimes, OK, when I feel like it) about parking strips, I'm not sure you have them over there, but in some cities/towns here it's the piece of land between the street and the sidewalk. I'm interested in what gardeners decide to do with this space, if anything. It's an interesting public/private boundary, since it's private land that's in a city right-of-way (at least here in Seattle) and if you garden out there, you're bound to encounter neighbors, and maybe a few extra challenges. Happy Spring!

  6. There was a public planting here in COlchester some years ago and now our verges are absolutely smothered with daffodils!!!!

  7. Susan - thanks for your 2 posts, they're great and I'm looking forward to hearing how you got on at the mini-conference :)

    Dave - doesn't the railway bridge look weird? And yes, there would be quite a bottleneck at Lackham college. As for the Hilperton bypass, have you seen the bridge that takes the Kennet and Avon canal across the road?

    Monica - there's lots with daffodils around by us too. Sadly they weren't out enough for me to add them to the collage - I'll probably post them a bit later

    Rose - I look forward to you joining us in June. I'd love to hear about your prairie restoration too.

    Karen - welcome! I've lurked a few times over at yours and had you earmarked for a future public planting blog round up :) And yes, we have exactly the kind of strip you describe on a lot of our housing estates. They tend to be just grass though (with the odd spring bulbs thrown in from time to time), or parking for cars.

    Helena - we have some of the same around here too!

  8. I never thought about if you had a shoulder or not--I suppose I figured all roads had them. It's a big deal in NC and part of the storm-water program. It's a long and complicated answer for you at the moment and each state here in the USA is different.

    In NC, you can not plant on the shoulder of the road. . They do plant in our medians sometimes. Our NC dep. of trans. maintains our shoulders with the occasional trimming.

    Very interesting to me that you do not have many shoulders. NC is looking at putting a bikepath from our mountains to our sea for at least one route. We have many roads interconnecting our state but they do plan on making one route with easy access and safety for bikers. I hope they do it.

  9. FGG - we do have quite a few verges/shoulders: not many of them get planted. In some places there's a local bye-law in place which prevents it. Elsewhere I'm not sure why it is - lethargy perhaps?

    I hope you get your bike path. Here in the UK there's a big bikepath priject to establish thousands of miles of safe routes.


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