We’ve all seen that corner lot that’s nothing but baked dirt and the occasional mound of trash surrounded by a guardrail. Some people pass by without a glance. Some people wonder why the city doesn’t pick up the trash. Some people wish that someone would build something there. Some people think it’d be nice if they turned it into a park. Then there are the misfits…the gardening guerrillas. They see that empty plot that belongs to no one and start planning. Mission: cultivate!
Guerrilla gardening has been around for ages and has recently started making a comeback. People are turning abandoned, ugly plots of land into productive spaces, on the sly, all across the globe. Be it fruit trees or flowers, these plots are being reclaimed to benefit the environment and the local culture.
Studies have shown that things like litter and empty lots all negatively impact a community and that places like parks and public gardens are a positive change that can be made. A growing (pun intended) form of urban renewal happens to be planned community gardens on abandoned lots, but many areas haven’t adopted the practice quite yet. A lot of times, plots stand unused and unmaintained because of red tape, ordinances, and general disbelief, but guerrilla gardening bypasses those factors. A handful of sunflower seeds scattered across a muddy back corner of an abandoned parking lot creates a bit of brightness in an otherwise bleak landscape.
Possible future community garden by technicolorcavalry on flickr.
Now just think what could happen when the trash was picked up and a can of wildflower mix was sown. Imagine casually throwing a handful of watermelon seeds into that drainage ditch you walk on the way to the bus and watching someone pull out a fat melon weeks later. Fast and easy and, oh, so satisfying.
But that satisfaction can be ended in one fatal swoop of a county mower. There’s nothing so heartbreaking as finding out that your plantings have been removed or destroyed, for whatever reason, but take heart! They probably didn’t go unnoticed. It’s the price one pays for investing their time and energy into clandestine activities, but there are ways to help ensure the survival of your plantings.
- Carefully observe an area for activity. It’s a good hint that, if the area hasn’t been mowed and garbage isn’t picked up, you’ve got a place that someone probably won’t mind being decorated a bit.
- Use plants that are native or easily naturalized so that your plantings will last without constant care. Remember that "easily naturalized" doesn’t mean invasive — avoid exotic invasives.
- Start little and see what you can get away with. If that plot that hasn’t been mown in two years suddenly gets cut when your wildflowers start blooming, it’s a pretty good bet that more involved plantings won’t survive.
greenthing, a big proponent of guerrilla gardening, has this terrific sign to leave as a calling card.
- Mix seeds with peat moss or potting soil to give them something to germinate in. This is best if you don’t have luck with random scatterings of seeds.
- Avoid areas that are carefully maintained by landscapers. (Unless there’s an area that they consistently miss.)
- Make others aware. If there’s a person who lives across the street from an abandoned lot, either make a concerted effort to work around their time schedule to avoid confrontation or let them know that you’re across from their house planting stuff. This will help you avoid neighborhood watches and possible police encounters.
Do it and own it. Guerrilla gardening serves different purposes for different people, including protest against urbanization, a starvation of good ol’ garden therapy or the simple desire to have fresh veggies in the summer. Whatever your purpose, make sure to own it. If someone asks what you’re doing sneaking out of the apartment every night, tell them and see if they want to tag along. Build a force in your area to promote the beauty of the natural world.
To promote this subversive activity, the EtsyPHAT (Etsy Plants and Horticultural Arts Team) are going to begin a campaign to distribute seed packs randomly across the country. These seeds will be a special blend made up of seeds from our members. You might find them on park benches, outdoor eating areas, schools, and common areas by the end of May.
Stacy, aka fluffnflowers, gardens for therapy and shares her surplus and seed-grown goodies through Etsy. She lives outside Atlanta, Georgia in high suburbia with her significant other, cat, dog, and two guinea pigs. She strives to drive the neighbors insane with her lack of hedgerows. She spends most of her time outside, except in the summer where it just gets too hot! She blogs about her gardening exploits at fluffnflowers.blogspot.com.