The Urbanite’s Guide to Guerrilla Gardening

November 24, 2014
Guerrilla squash

Who knew that gardening could be such a devious and deviant activity? Most people think of gardening in terms of idyllic country settings or adorable apartment container gardens.

However, there are a growing number of people who view every bare patch of land–public or private–as a potential garden. Urban gardens greate green space and agriculture out of vacant lots and areas as small as the curb in front of our building. These unique individuals are guerrilla gardeners. Read on for your guide to guerrilla gardening.

What is guerrilla gardening?

Urban guerrilla garden

Image credit:  Sharingname

Simply put, guerrilla gardening is the act of transforming an unused or neglected public space into a beautiful or edible oasis. Guerrilla gardeners plant and cultivate their gardens wherever they can, with or without permission. Medians, parkways, abandoned lots, public planters, cracks in the sidewalk: these are only some of the locations targeted for guerrilla gardens.

How do I get started- vacant lots, raised beds, community gardens?

Marigolds in mailbox

Image credit:  inhabitat

The good news is that anyone can join the movement, regardless of experience level. The first step is simple: determine what you want to get out of the space. Do you just want to plant something aesthetically pleasing like flowers and greenery? Or do you want to mix form and function by planting vegetables? Do you want to plant crops or flowers that require continued care, or are you looking to transform large lots through wildflower seed bombs?

Once you’ve determined your goal, start scouting for locations. Use that neglected patch outside your office or apartment that caught your eye and inspired your interest.

With a goal and a location, it’s time to start thinking about the nitty-gritty. How will you keep your garden watered and fertilized? Will you need to garden at night to avoid being caught at your less-than-legal activities? Is the patch you picked too polluted to safely sustain edibles? What sort of plants can your chosen location sustain?

What do I need to know about urban agriculture?

There are a lot of questions to ask, but thankfully there are plenty of resources available for beginners and experts alike. Guerrilla gardening is meant to benefit your surroundings, not harm them, so make sure you do your research to make sure you don’t introduce an invasive species. Search for inspiration among native plants. Native plants are already part of the local ecosystem and as such have the added benefit of a higher survival rate, since they are adapted to the climate of the area.

Planning your garden is more fun than thinking about the law, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore the legal side of guerrilla gardening. While many guerrilla gardeners have found support from local authorities, landowners, and fellow citizens, many other gardeners have been threatened with legal action, given cease and desist orders, or had their hard work dug up or otherwise destroyed. If you’re worried, check out local laws on the subject. Some may be explicit and discouraging, but other areas may have an encouraging lack of rules on the subject.

What are the benefits? Access to fresh food?


Image credit:  Organic Authority

If the law is draining your enthusiasm, take a moment to think of the benefits of guerrilla gardening.

One of the biggest benefits of edible gardens in urban areas is accessibility of fresh fruit or veggies in areas that may otherwise be a food dessert. Edible gardens can also help the homeless by providing a free, nutritious, easy to grab food source.

Guerrilla gardening brings with it the simple joy that comes from seeing something beautiful and living where there used to be dead, abandoned, uncared for space. It also provides the opportunity to draw attention to wasted space, neglected public areas, or the need to carve a little green into the concrete jungle. For children growing up in the middle of a city, guerrilla gardens may provide their first glimpse of growing vegetables, fruits and flowers.

If you’re looking to take the plunge into guerrilla gardening, sites like Guerrilla Gardening provide helpful tips, a place to connect with other gardeners, as well as inspiring success stories. Check out some beautiful pictures here for inspiration.

And if that’s not enough inspiration, check out this TED talk by guerrilla gardener, Ron Finley:

Main image credit:  Elefest

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