One of the most overlooked and hotly contested areas of our yards and gardens is the verge. The area between the road and the sidewalk has different names, of course, depending on regions. The commonest in the western US is ‘parking strip’ or simply the ‘parking’ (which by the way is the very same word in French) or ‘verge’. Because so many dog walkers leave the dog’s litter, it is also sometimes called a barking strip by tree workers and landscapers. Nice of them to leave it at that.
No matter what we call it, it is usually a place where rights-of-way (abbreviated ROW) have the possibility of conflicting. Look overhead. Are there primary power lines running parallel to the sidewalk? They need a right to fix wires that wear, and to cut trees that begin to encroach and might break lines.
Your front yard and plants are there, sometimes with a landscape theme that includes or accentuates the verge. Pedestrians need to walk without low branches poking them, so their ROW is simple, it must be eight feet high, for instance, in Portland Oregon. The street side, which contains all the traffic, is commonly cut to 13’ in municipalities. Large trucks, such 12’ high garbage service and delivery trucks, break lots of limbs on verge trees. So proactively pruning is a way of giving the traffic a right-of-way. This can be conflict avoidance, and is highly recommended. It reminds me of the first example, where simply picking up after a dog shows respect for everyone’s right-of-way.
A surprising number of homeowners and managers in charge of trees do not know that, though they own their trees and grass on the verge, it is subject to fairly exact guidelines for use. This can be hard in situations that arise. We are used to complete control of our own property. But the verge is just that, where one border verges onto another. Often, homeowners and tree managers do not have control over whether a tree is cut (say for powerline clearance) or removed-which is rare without the owner’s consent and can be actionable. I’ll write more on that aspect of things and my experience as a consulting arborist in another blog piece.
Planners and tree wardens do try and make the rules understandable. Of course one ruling can often conflict with another, so it is not as simple as it might seem. There is no perfect verge, nor is there a perfect set of laws and right-of-ways that will make everyone happy. That is why cities have planners, to respond to and to rule on some of the more difficult cases, not only of trees, but other property infrastructure and shared resources.
It is also why utility companies devote a good portion of their outreach to customers and passersby not just for safety, but for understanding protocols for dead and dying trees. Usually when we get an electrical bill, there is a bit of tree-related or power-saving advice and support links included. This is the power company reaching out to make their constituency safer and more aware of meter readers, or of the big trucks that prune around power lines.
As a practicing arborist, consultant for years, and writer, I find it very difficult when conflict muddies the issue. Most rights-of-way are little understood and it behooves us, as tree owners or managers, to find out what those ROW issues are before they become conflicts.
My purpose in starting this conversation is to provide help to those who control tree culture, those of us who own trees or who, for many reasons, are responsible for trees. A good tree service, such as Urban Forest Pro in Portland Oregon, or Bartlett Tree Experts based throughout North America, will have the ability to solve permitting issues before they become time-wasting problems. Both of these have excellent websites, but do not forget the local utility’s website, or your municipalities planning department. Often these are helpful in understanding.
If you found my post helpful, please let me know. I am totally cool with being quoted. Just ask. If you have an idea for a post topic, let me know.