Guerrilla Gardening: Part I


“The battle is gathering pace. Most people own no land. Most of us live in cities and have no garden of our own. We demand more from this planet than it has the space and resources to offer. Guerrilla gardening is a battle for resources, a battle against scarcity of land, environmental abuse and wasted opportunities. It is also a fight for freedom of expression and for community cohesion. It is a battle in which bullets are replaced with flowers (most of the time).” Richard Reynolds of On Guerrilla Gardening

‘Guerrilla’, means ‘little war’. We are familiar with guerrilla warfare, most of us have heard of Mao Tse-tung and Che Guevara. But what I did not know, and what you may not know, is that guerrilla warfare and guerrilla gardening have more in common than just their name. Guerrilla leaders were driven by more than bureaucracy and chains of command, they fought to change society. Guerrilla gardening is similar in this respect, guerrilla gardeners stray from convention in order to bring change to the landscape around them. Not only that, but much of guerrilla warfare has been motivated by land and agricultural issues. Emiliano Zapata is just one example of this. An early 20th century Mexican guerrilla leader, Zapata fought for more equitable distribution of agricultural land.

Fortunately, we don’t all have to be a Che Guevara or Emiliano Zapata to make an impact. Here’s why you should give guerrilla gardening a go.

  •  Seeing plants thrive in uncertain circumstances makes the result even more beautiful. ‘The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all’ (Chinese Proverb).
  • Guerrilla gardening allows for self-sufficiency, it reduces dependence on big agriculture, large supermarkets etc. A patch of illicitly cultivated land, says ‘Hey, there is a more sustainable way to live than relying on strangers to grow, process and ship your food.’ There is land all around us, glimmering pockets of land waiting to host veggies and fruit!
  • There is no denying that green spaces (especially in urban areas) are a positive asset to any community.

So now that you know what it is, here’s how to do it. And make sure you stay tuned for Part II, the lowdown on my own guerrilla gardening operation.

  1. Choose a location you can easily access. Choosing land that is publicly owned will have the best rate of success. Look for roundabouts, medians, tree pits, empty flowerbeds and planters, beneath lots and fences.
  2. For choosing plants, first figure out what you are trying to achieve. Do you want to make a statement, beautify the area, plant something edible? Here is a list of plants taken from On Guerrilla Gardening for every type of motivation. For impact try daffodils, canna lillies, primroses, sunflowers, lavender, or sage. For tolerant plants try stonecrop, baby’s breath, foxglove, nasturtiums, yarrow, or juniper. For tolerant edibles try potatoes, swiss chard, onion, or blackberries.
  3. For sourcing plants, look to garden centers. They sometimes have plants that can no longer be sold, but still have plenty of life left in them. You can also save seeds from food like tomatoes and apples. Alas there is old-fashioned shopping for seeds.
  4. Once you have scouted a location and have your plants, pick a time of day when there is less traffic and go for it!

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