The Guerrilla Gardening Guidebook – Traffic

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“Aster on Mini Bus” – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Where on street parking is a thing, I recommend staying away from the hell strip… Damage to your garden is unavoidable… People are not always paying attention when they open their car door… Or they step out of the car right onto your garden… If you must plant a garden then I suggest creeping groundcovers…

Traffic

This post is part of a larger body of work titled ”The Guerrilla Gardening Guidebook”. For the introduction and table of contents please click here

Cars, trucks, motorcycles and bicycles will all have a major impact on the success or failure of a guerrilla garden placed within 10 feet of a street or sidewalk. Even tall curbs will not stop a careless delivery driver from backing 5 feet into an urban yard, and for some reason they always spin tire in the grass or garden that they have just reversed into… My theory as to why this happens is once a man has made a fool of himself, it is of the utmost importance that he drive that point home.

Trees and utility poles will often be your guide in determining traffic. The street I currently live on is a dead-end, no cul-de-sac and no place to turn around. To make things worse, GPS shows my street as a through way… Which it is most certainly not… All of the utility poles on my street bend away from the road, the street trees really show the signs of repeated abuse, leaning imposingly into the sidewalk making sidewalk passage all but impossible.

Bicycles and motorcycles can also be a problem. Motorcycles, in my neighborhood at least, are not typically parked on the street. Bicycles that are not brought indoors, are chained to a sign, utility pole, or street tree. The important thing to remember when dealing with these types of problems is most people are not aware that guerrilla gardening/urban gardening is even a thing. These are not situations to get upset over, don’t think along the lines of eliminating the problem… Think along the lines of accommodation… Oftentimes, the answer is as simple as facilitating the motorcycle with a pad… Or creating a space for the bicycles… Urban and guerrilla gardens require one to think outside the box in “every” aspect of creation and maintenance, the truly creative gardeners will be the ones who withstand the test of time.

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“Blue by the Red Bricks” – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Brick roads become slick in the rain… A moving car should always be considered a hazard… Always pay attention to your surroundings…

Speeding and out of control traffic can also be a safety concern for the guerrilla gardener. A moving car or truck is a deadly weapon that will kill you. When gardening in high traffic locations, I recommend wearing high visibility clothing, never turning your back to traffic, and always working with a spotter. Safety should always be factored when choosing guerrilla gardening sites, many of the unmaintained areas near roads are unmaintained for a reason… Safety… If it is too dangerous for the professionals, then it is probably to dangerous for the guerrilla gardener… That’s why we have “Seed Bombs”…

Even cars parked on the street can affect nearby gardens, plants typically get trampled when people carelessly exit their vehicles. The only plants that seem to succeed are the ones planted next to utility poles and signs. These plants will still suffer some abuse from people walking by, but they will be at least somewhat protected from direct traffic. The most frustrating thing I encounter is when someone walking down the sidewalk picks tulips or flowers along the street, I could understand one or two but some people will walk along kicking them or pulling them out of the ground by the stem… Very frustrating…

My hometown of Pittsburgh is known for having a lot of pot holes, so when I saw photos on the internet of someone in England gardening in them… I had to give it a try… My first attempt lasted only 15 seconds, it was run over faster than I could even get my camera out. I tried it again a few days later, but again I was thwarted. I quickly realized two things… America is probably not quite ready for pot hole gardening… And that 99% of the photos I saw of pot hole gardens probably were taken immediately after planting… The goal of my gardening campaign is longevity… I want them to look nice… And produce food for as long as possible…

To close this article I would like to stress that while gardening near a street can have some drawbacks, nothing looks nicer than a beautifully maintained hell strip or road berm… And what makes it even cooler is the fact that it was gardened in a renegade fashion without government money. Although some damage is to be expected, in my own experiences, once a garden has matured and the plants reached a decent size the likelihood of something getting trampled decreases greatly. If you can get your garden through the first month, typically it will row large enough to force people to park somewhere else… Or at least far enough away from the curb to easily exit their vehicle without damaging themselves or their car.

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“Garden Photo Bomb” – The Garden Table Urban Garden – Rebecca Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – A full lot urban garden built two years ago… I have done everything but put up a fence in an attempt to keep thieves out… Sadly… A fence is next…

First time guerrilla gardeners, often make the mistake of putting the entire garden out there for people to see. This is a rookie mistake that often goes punished by the theft, or vandalism of the garden. I learned early on that a “cut” through the middle of a garden does nothing but invite trouble. Every situation will be different, but a few simple guidelines and lessons learned may be able to help you in your final choice.

Vacant lots in urban areas quickly become short cuts, foot traffic will present as a trail through the grass and weeds. Initial attempts to remediate this situation, by whatever means, is almost always met with hostility. Locals who have often been using the “cut” as a regular means of travel are often quick to remove whatever blockade has been installed. The usual response I have received is that it has been a cut for a long time, and I have no right to block it. This is typically a tricky situation, my advise is to attempt to claim ownership, without actually claiming anything. No Trespassing signs can be surprisingly effective when placed in a very noticeable place, you may have to enforce it a few times but it will eventually get your point across. As a last resort you can always accommodate by re-routing the cut through an outside path, foot traffic is never a good thing when vegetables are concerned.

Gardens placed near roads and sidewalks, though cool, rarely last longer than a few years unless placed in a more aware location. Hell strip gardening, although trendy enough to warrant a book, is really just a dream in a neighborhood with on-street parking. Flowering plants growing in the cracks of the sidewalk will oftentimes be targeted, very low ground covers and plants that can tolerate regular foot traffic are all that will typically survive. I have found that if there is enough foot traffic to wear a path in the grass and weeds of an unmaintained lot, then the surrounding sidewalks will probably not be suitable for plants of any kind. Beware of social media photographs showing street side and hell strip gardens, most of those photos were taken on the day of, or within the first year of planting… They never show any 2nd or 3rd year pictures – which is one way to spot a trend…

A trick I often employ is to raise street side gardens well above the height of the street or sidewalk. A few flowers growing in the sunken dirt next to a sidewalk often give the impression to the untrained eye as simply being a weed. Even more confusing can be a native/wildflower garden growing… Well… Anywhere… Even borough employees don’t know what an engineered wildflower gardens look like and will quickly weed whack that garden to the ground. A garden should look like a garden, it should look like a spot a person would not want to step. Add soil to raise the level of the garden a few inches off the sidewalk, plant and mulch so the garden is imposing enough to require people to walk around it…

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“Danger Rose” – Lamar Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Invasive Rose-of-Sharon growing in the yard of a crumbling building… Sometimes… The best option is to just prune and care for what is already growing… I promise when this house comes down you will not want to be keeping a garden next door…

Some foot traffic problems will only show up every once in a while. You may not have a problem all Summer, then a church opens a Summer camp for two weeks and the added traffic of children will be the nail in the coffin. My first guerrilla garden was having issues early Sunday mornings. Something, or someone was coming through and picking vegetables and throwing them at the abandoned houses behind the garden. It turned out to be a family walking to church, the parents didn’t even attempt to stop their kids. So I woke up really early one Sunday morning and positioned myself strategically in the tomato plants. An hour later I had caught them red-handed, even the parents were participating. I calmly explained myself, and asked them to quit. I did not stop them from walking through the garden, I just simply explained my intentions. We still say hello to each other to this day!

When traffic is unavoidable, but you absolutely must stop it, planting a tree or quick-growing shrub may be your only option. The idea here is to plant something opposable enough to force someone around it. Conifers often shine in this situation, with many varieties being rather quick growers with the added benefit of being covered in a dense layer of needles. “Knockout” and “Double-Knockout” Roses also make excellent barriers tolerant of even the most extreme of parking lot gardens. They tolerate regular pruning, whether by the gardener or passerby. Profusely bloom throughout the gardening season, and grow large enough to effectively block a humans path.

Pedestrian traffic is often unavoidable, but I promise you traffic directly through a garden causes problems. The best advice I can give you is to re-route the traffic elsewhere… A ripe tomato hanging in plain view is a rather tempting sight, it is only a matter of “times passed” before someone decides to steal it. My advice is to avoid the situation altogether and force them to admire from the sidewalk.

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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I sell prints of my photography here – http://www.society6.com/chriscondello Or you can contact me directly at c.condello@hotmail.com for commissions or locally/personally produced prints… Thank you for reading…

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