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Guerrilla Gardening – Breaking ALL The Rules!

Book: On Guerrilla Gardening: A Handbook for Gardening Without Boundaries

Looking to interject color into a blighted landscape?  It may be easier than you think. Combine clay, compost, native seeds and water, and you have the fixings for a classic clay seed ball.  The seed ball, a preferred weapon of the guerrilla gardener, is an inexpensive way to cover expansive areas in a short period of time. The first recorded use of the term “guerrilla gardening” was in New York’s Bowery-Houston area by Liz Christy in 1973.  Christy and her group transformed a neglected private lot into a garden.  Today, this space still exists, maintained by volunteers and overseen by the parks department.  Since the 1970’s, Guerrilla Gardening has exploded in popularity and use as a method of improving our abandoned spaces.

The Liz Christy garden has been growing since 1973, and is so healthy it can barely be contained by its iron fence. Credit: Jessica "The Hun" Reeder; CC 2.0

The Liz Christy garden has been growing since 1973, and is so healthy it can barely be contained by its iron fence. Credit: Jessica “The Hun” Reeder; CC 2.0

Johnny Appleseed and The Diggers Surprisingly this methodology dates back to the 17th century when Gerrard Winstanley and John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, fought for the right to cultivate land.  Winstanley founded an activist group titled “True Levellers,” and as a collective force they acquired public land to plant crops.  Due to their actions they became known as “Diggers.”  Their objective was to restore the social order by imbuing their pastoral lifestyle and values to create equality among communities. There is a book dedicated to Gerrard Winstanley you can see here! Similarly, Johnny Appleseed traveled and planted nurseries, constructing fences to protect them from livestock and enlisting a caretaker for each property.  Trees were sold on shares, and Appleseed returned regularly to tend the nurseries.  On a significantly smaller scale related practices are emerging worldwide.
Book: On Guerrilla Gardening: A Handbook for Gardening Without Boundaries

Book: On Guerrilla Gardening: A Handbook for Gardening Without Boundaries

Richard Reynolds, a guerrilla gardener himself, established the blog Guerrilla Gardening.  Here he highlighted his solo gardening work outside of Perronet House in London, and it quickly thrived into an international movement.  Originally his motivation was to beautify the neighborhood, but by doing so he captivated a following of guerrilla gardeners. You can get Richard’s book: On Guerrilla Gardening: A Handbook for Gardening Without Boundaries No Rules, No Permission! Guerrilla gardening can be defined as “the cultivation of someone else’s land without permission”.  Orphaned land is readily abundant in many post-industrial cities and towns and often remains an underutilized asset.  This form of gardening involves a broad range of individuals from enthusiasts to those who use it as a mechanism to provoke change.  It serves as a means to mobilize gardeners without land to employ their creative energy.  Spaces exhibiting no prior meaning are converted into shared places, enhancing the “sense of community.”
Guerilla Garden logo amongst the strawberries By pixeltoo via Umberto Brayj; CC 2.0

Guerilla Garden logo amongst the strawberries. Credit by pixeltoo via Umberto Brayj; CC 2.0

Who does it? Attracting a mix of individuals, reasons for participating are encompassing; first, many do not have land to own a garden, and consequently they resort to alternative venues such as guerrilla gardening.  Perhaps the magnitude of abandoned clusters of land in your neighborhood has you aspiring to remedy the situation, or your street needs aesthetic improvements; additionally, this activity could serve as a vehicle for political change regarding the urban environment and land development.  For others, illicit gardening is a tactic for survival and a source of food. WATCH: Ron Finley: A guerilla gardener in South Central LA The Ideal Operation Easily accessible plots of underappreciated land can be enlightened by the use of plants from local suppliers or a friend’s private garden.  When acquiring plants ask your supplier if he or she would be willing to donate.  Or if your friend agrees, his or her garden can function as a staging area for harvesting seeds and cuttings and preparing for your task.  Select plants that are hardy and impactful; these plants need to be largely self-dependent and adaptable to little water, contrasting temperatures, and foot traffic.  However, not all areas are attainable for planting. Bombs Away! For those tough-to-reach plots, gardeners engage in seed bombing.  This technique allows seeds to be sown as the capsule degrades.  The most basic and economical design is the classic clay seed ball.  Japanese biologist and farmer Masanobu Fukuoka is credited with this invention, and it has proven to be the most popular method.  Feeling experimental?  Consider Seedbom, VisuaLingual, or Greenaid DIY mixes.
Seed bomb aka Seed ball (Guerilla gardening) CC BY-SA 3.0, Herder3

Seed bomb aka Seed ball (Guerilla gardening) CC BY-SA 3.0, Herder3

Seedboms are handmade from reclaimed and recycled materials (usually post-consumer paper) and contain organic peat free compost, organic fertilizer, and an array of seeds.  Mixes offered include: sunflowers, native wildflowers, cornfield flowers, and nasturtiums. Shopping for the latest Guerrilla Gardening Products VisuaLingual carries an assortment of seed bomb pouches containing mixes dedicated to specific regions throughout the USA and special bee, butterfly, and bird blends.  Five balls are packed into each pouch and should be planted in the spring, summer, or early fall.  On impact the balls will burst, with rain they will further disintegrate, and over time you can watch them grow! Who enjoys salsa?  Through Greenaid’s Garden Salsa mix, radical gardeners can incorporate produce production into their practice.  Each recycled cardboard sleeve contains six seed bombs and includes two of the following: organic cilantro, organic tomato, and organic jalapeño pepper. STOP! You’re Breaking The Law Although illegal, guerrilla gardeners are more active than ever.  Many spectators that witness the act understand the message and have no intention of calling the police.  To some, guerrilla gardening may seem anarchic, but make no mistake these individuals are well strategized, educated, and culturally aware. WATCH: The Cool Video into the Elusive World of Guerrilla Gardening In London, where Reynold’s group is strong, police often stop to have a quick glance and continue on.  With these thoughts in mind, it is clear that guerrilla gardening is a worthwhile and valued activity.  It brings amenity green space into the areas that need it most, that can’t afford the expertise of a landscape architect and have long been abandoned by those who drive investment.  Guerrilla gardens are the true reflections of a community and its desires.  The difference between the past and present is now people have the tools and know how they need to get the job done! Stick to these three rules:

  1. Use only land that is unused or undesired
  2. Leave the land in better condition than prior to finding it
  3. Plan ahead

After all, what is subversive about planting flowers? Recommended Reading: Guerrilla Gardening: A Manualfesto  by David Tracey Article written by Brett Lezon Return to Homepage View LAN’s most popular articles HERE! Featured image: Guerilla Garden in front of Flying Pigeon LA. By Umberto Brayj CC 2.0

This article was originally submitted to Landscape Architects Network

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