Definition and Introduction
This post is part of a larger body of work titled “The Guerrilla Gardeners Guidebook”. For the introduction and table of contents please click here…
Urban Gardening – is the cultivation of land, primarily located within the confines of the city. Urban gardening presents challenges not commonly found in the suburbs and rural areas found around a metropolitan area. Urban gardening has many sub categories ranging from food to forest, personal needs typically being the deciding factor.
Guerrilla Gardening – In my own words… Is the cultivation and remediation of blighted land that the gardener does not own… Manifestos differs from garden to garden, but the common denominator is always vacant, bare or blighted land. This land can be anything from a small street side “hell strip” (the grass between the road and sidewalk in urban areas), all the way up to massive “brown sites” (tracts of land that at one time were zoned industrial). Often an abandoned site or area that is neglected or polluted by the land owner. Guerrilla gardeners often do not even have the opportunity to ask the land owners permission as they are often deceased, illegitimate, or buried behind a corporate wall.
Now a little about me…
In the case of my neighborhood, a small dead-end street located in Wilkinsburg, PA. Out of the original 24 houses, 10 are abandoned, 2 have been torn down, and the rest are currently occupied. When my girlfriend and I moved onto Whitney Avenue 5 years ago we were greeted by a community art project coordinated by a local artist, the goal of which was to involve community members in the painting of ply wood to be hung on the abandoned houses on our street. This art project was called the Whitney Avenue Art Gallery and was a complete success.
While the community was preparing the panels for installation, I was left wondering how the art would be seen given the jungle-like characteristics of my street. Nine out of the ten abandoned houses are located on one side of the street, the result of this was uncontrollable blight that combined to resemble an Amazonian jungle. Over the Summer of the art project, myself and a few neighbors managed to landscape every abandoned yard on the street. After this monumental task was complete, garden beds were cut and plant life installed… The only maintenance required is the occasional lawn mowing and minor weed pulling.
One of the interesting results noted from this project was the fact that some of the worst looking yards on our street were owned and lived in by people. These were typically the people who were throwing a stink when we first started our efforts. Once the abandoned yards surrounding their own yards were cleaned up and looking like something out of better homes and gardens, they began to take interest and ask questions.
The end result of the guerrilla gardening that took place on my street was the residents taking an interest, and not only asking us to help them clean up their own property, but get competitive with the other neighbors over whose yard was going to look best. To this day these houses have spring flowering bulbs, summer moon flowers, Canna Lily, roses, and in some cases small amounts of food and herbs.
Whitney Avenue Urban Farm was my first experiment into urban farming. Originally intended to be a small guerrilla garden for my girlfriend and I, the project blossomed when four neighborhood boys began to show interest. What was intended to be a few tomato plants turned into a multiple lot farm complete with grapes, blueberries, strawberries, figs and so many vegetables we actually had to open up a small farm stand so the boys could earn a few dollars from all of their hard labor… Which they did…
Whitney Avenue Urban Farm lasted for 3 Summers, during which time we introduced children that had no prior knowledge of the fact that you could grow your own food to the joys of gardening. Given the fact that this small farm was essentially a guerrilla garden, it eventually had to be closed when the house beside it was sold and the new owner had plans of their own.
Since losing this farm I have developed another lot into what most people describe as an urban paradise. Multiple raised beds full of food sandwiched between a mulched seating area surrounded in shade perennials, and a stunning annual garden… I even designed and built a grape arbor entryway out of salvaged wooden ladders.
Currently I am sourcing materials for what will be my third urban farm. Located a block down the street from my current site, this farm will be aimed towards production as opposed to beauty… The new site will be loosely “food forest” based, and will hopefully have chickens and bees.
Urban gardening, whether food or flowers, is essentially meant to inspire. A garden should draw the eyes away from our tedious day-to-day routines. In the case of urban gardens, they attract the eye towards vacant space or blight with the intention of bringing beauty to it. Any city that has a homeless or poor population should be absolutely ashamed of every abandoned home and vacant lot, they are a direct spit in the face of the residents. Guerrilla gardeners help bring awareness to these forgotten parcels of land, often creating a fresh food source where there was not one before. Regardless of the intent, guerrilla garden activism is here to stay as long as there is vacant, unattended land coupled with hunger and blight.
plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello
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