Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Alley Connection

I began living on an alley as a child growing up in Chicago.  I probably walked the alley as much as I used the sidewalk outside my front door - it was a shortcut to the next block, it contained treasures you would never see out in front like soda bottles that I could  trade in for cash.  When you have an alley, the garage and driveway is usually in the back leaving the front to be total garden.

When I became an adult, I graduated to a home with a side driveway and no alley.  This was okay, I didn't miss the alley, but soon we moved into the old old house and guess what, I was back on the alley.  My young children loved the alley, it ended with my neighbor's house who didn't have a garage in the back.  So, they played out there endlessly, digging for artifacts under the 100 year old oak tree that was there before the house.  I disliked this alley a lot, not paved, could not navigate during the icy winters, good thing I had a driveway in the front.

My last house did not have a alley, but a long treacherous driveway when it snowed.  I think I would prefer the alley!  The house I am in now has an alley, finally paved and a community in itself.  We not only know the neighbors on each side of our block out in front, but we have that social connection with the neighbors on the block behind us.  We call the comings and goings up and down the alley our "alley people."  The children come to see our dog through the fence, I say hi to my older neighbor walking her dog down the alley, and I finally planted a xeric garden in the alley which this year has really popped.

This is not a city alley but a suburban alley in a very old suburb that used to be a go to destination for Chicagoans to spend their summers.  I always think of one of my favorite movies "Rear Window" when I look up and down my alley and wonder what's going on in that garden?


Hocking Hills Gardener said...

Hi Eileen. You have some beautiful plants to pretty up the alley way. I just planted Gaillardia Mesa this spring so I am hoping it is a bright yellow bloom. It is far from blooming yet so I will see what it is going to look like when yours blooms. Your Catmint is so lovely. Do you have cats in your alley? LOL! If so they will appreciate you. Oh, I really enjoyed your answers to the questions. Sorry to make you answer those questions LOL! Thanks!

Cottage Garden said...

Fascinating post Eileen - I was hooked from the first sentence and it reads like a wonderful short story! We have alleys here in the UK too, sometimes known as 'backs'. The university city of Cambridge is famous for its 'backs' which are even on the tourist trail!

You have a wonderful selection of plants in your alley - I love the sedum and nepeta - I have lots of those in my garden.

Its always such a joy coming over here Eileen.


Gatsbys Gardens said...

Lona, actually I have seen a couple of cats in the alley and a coyote last week.

Mesa won the 2010 award, title escapes me now, so I can't wait to see what it is like. It is a big one, much taller than Arizona Sun.


Gatsbys Gardens said...

Hi Jeanne, I didn't know there were alleys in England, but it makes sense because it was so utilitarian to keep the front of the house looking good. We do not have to put our garbage cans out in front, they are picked up in the alley.


Becca's Dirt said...

Back in the mid 70's I lived for a about 4 months in Chicago. We lived on an alley and I liked it. We used to go 'alley shopping' and picked up so many useful things especially in the wealthier neighborhoods.

Carolyn Gail said...

Hi Eileen,

Very unusual to see such beauty in an alley. It's actually better than some gardens in the front, sad to say.

Gatsbys Gardens said...


I had no idea you were a Chicago girl even if just for a short time. There are still trucks and cars that cruise through the alley on garbage day looking for treasures.


Gatsbys Gardens said...

Thanks Carolyn,

It was actually a woman that works at a family owned nursery that gave me the idea. She said she goes alley walking and besides plantings some even have artwork painted on the fences and backs of garages. I think I'll stop with the plants.


Jim Groble said...

I still remember running down the alleys and apartment gangways to get to Montrose. jim

Gatsbys Gardens said...

Jimm, they are always a great passageway to adventure.


Indoor Fountains said...


This post was marvelous. This is also a post where the comments are just as interesting as the post itself.

In particular I am referring to Cottage Gardens post.

Another reason why your blog is so addicting! Thanks :-)

Gatsbys Gardens said...

Thanks so much for your very complimentary comments Indoor Fountains.


kate said...

I remember playing in the alley,swatting bees as we played catch. We had hollihocks and wild dill and onions in the alley.
Your alley is even paved, not like the old alleys in Chicago, made of cinders. You neighbors are lucky to have these flowers in the alley