The Guerrilla Gardening Guidebook – Plant Selection


“Heucherella” – I am including this photograph to illustrate a point… This was an empty pot when I got it… Tagless and destined for the dumpster… An inspection of the roots revealed life and a crown was clearly evident after some minor digging… I took a chance on it and several others…

Plant Selection

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

A tough subject to write about for the guerrilla gardener, often the deciding factors end up being cost and availability. Given the high likelihood that the garden will be destroyed faster than it was created, I recommend starting with the cheapest plants available. A garden that survives through the first or second year can then be considered for nicer plants, but only after passing the test of time. Trust me when I say that if someone really wants to mess with your garden, there is very little you can do other than use plants that can survive regular abuse.

Stick to the tried and true plants, do not choose the newest cultivars or craziest colors. Plants that are considered tough in their original “un bred” state, can become extremely finicky when you get into the special cultivars. An example of this is Echinacea, look through any catalog and you will find dozens of colors and bloom styles. Although the Native Echinacea purpurea is a “bomb proof” plant perfectly suited to the harshest conditions you can throw at it, almost all of the new cultivars are extremely finicky and have little resistance to all but the most controlled garden environments. These finicky cultivars should be avoided until you have a good idea of the space you are gardening, if some “old school” flowers survive and flourish in the location, then, and only then should you consider adding some flair.

Plant acquisition is a surprisingly straight forward task, step one is taking all of the plant magazines you receive in the mail and throw them straight in the garbage. Plant porn has no place here! Step two is being patient, greenhouses and box stores order much more stock than they could ever possibly get rid of. Given the recent surge in dumpster diving hipster trendiness, dumpsters are being padlocked or waste stored indoors until right before pick-up. My suggestion to you is to find a manager and ask if he would be willing to sell you any plants destined for the dumpster at a discounted rate. More often than not they will be happy to do this, and will typically let things go for pennies on the dollar. This method is typically most effective in the off-season, in the peak sales season discounts are much less due to demand.


“Single Red” – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – With bulb planting season mistakenly thought of as being only the month of October… Discounts can be found anywhere that stocks them…

Guerrilla gardening often forces a gardener to perpetually study plants, in doing so we often learn tricks pertaining to specific plants and planting methods. Fruit trees for example can be bought for next to nothing anytime other than early spring, I am always asked if it is possible to plant a fruit tree in the middle of Summer… Of course you can… If the choice comes down to leaving a tree in a pot until spring or just planting it as soon as possible… The answer will always be plant it…

For my permaculture based article on rehabilitating discount plants click here

Seeds are another method of getting plants, about mid-summer the prices drop to next to nothing. Not many people realize it, but seed packets have expiration dates on them. A secret about that date is it is really only there to force the stores to buy new seeds each year, think of it as a sell by date. Although seeds lose viability with age, many are perfectly viable long after the expiration date.

The last source of plants I am going to quickly talk about is friends sharing. Gardeners are typically proud of what they have, many of us love our plants so much we won’t throw out our divisions. Those divisions often only cost the time it takes to tour a garden, an early lesson you will learn is people like to share plants. Trading can also be effective, always have a few divisions potted up just in case opportunity comes calling… A plant given away today often returns ten fold in the future…

The next few chapters will each deal with different types of plants and their uses in the guerrilla garden…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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I sell prints of my photography here – Or you can contact me directly at for commissions or locally/personally produced prints… Thank you for reading…

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Practical Permaculture – Design

We are all designers, design is nothing more than the arrangement of elements and flows in your life, we design our outfits, meals, homes, gardens and schedules. We design our lives around the problems or elements that shape our world. We design our outfits for form and function, otherwise, we would all be walking around in yellow and orange ski gear in august clueless as to why we were sweating. Design is one of those words that has been blown out of proportion to the point that most people think you need some form of higher education and fancy letters after your name to be included in the design club… I’m here to tell you that is just not the case. We have all been designed to be designers, and I would like to awaken your thought process so you realize it.

A permaculture practitioner has a spiritual and physical attachment to the land they are designing, we see things that others don’t. When you look at the site you are designing, think of it as a system. Study the watershed and airflow, and observe the animal and insect patterns. One of the first things I do is look at the list of variables that I will be working with.

1. Soil

2. Water

3. Sun

4. Temperature

5. Expected yield/type of yield

6. Animals and Insects

Once you have your variables, then all you are basically doing is plugging them into a sort of equation and weighing the results. The design equation is different in every situation, but a relatively sound minded gardener can responsibly solve any garden problem using permaculture basics. Remember that permaculture design is not only design, but also figuring out ways to rationalize keeping and working with/around existing elements in the landscape. Sometimes the hardest part of permaculture design, is convincing a client to keep that old oak tree they have been saving money to cut down for years.

Normally soil structure is a concern that is weighed, but when dealing with an urban lot you are rarely working with soil that has been in place for more than 100 years; usually it is less than 20 years old. When a house is torn down, fill is brought in to cover the demolition site, this is usually rocky, lifeless clay and absolutely no attention is paid to soil quality. For this reason, I say if you want to roto till the lot, go for it. Another option is to bring in mountains of organic material, and cover every square inch and basically start over… I am a supporter of working with what you have, which often means amending the soil you currently have to work with, but I have worked on lots that have so many bricks the only option is to work up from the existing soil surface.

Whiskey is worth drinking, but water is worth fighting for. Water is the all mighty equalizer, you either have too little, or way too much. The trick is to figure out a way to harness what you have, whether it involves clever drainage ideas or ways to shed it away. When I design the beds in a garden, I employ two different tactics involving raised areas designed to shed water, and depressed areas to channel and collect that runoff. This creates what I consider the two basic rain garden concepts… Gardens designed to shed water, and gardens designed to harness it. Location plays a role in the placement of these types of gardens, and differs on every single lot. Once again the principles of water and rain water collection are sound, the only thing that changes is scale and gradient.

The amount of sunlight is often a huge barrier in the urban landscape, a north facing wall can be shaded most of the day, while a south-facing wall can be so bright and so warm that it can raise your garden a zone or two. I have seen massive Brown Turkey Fig patches here in Pittsburgh that normally would need some protection not just survive, but absolutely thrive for 20+ years due to the fact that the homeowner knew the importance of having a brick south-facing wall with no obstructions to block the sun. Shade can be a good thing as well, creating cool spots to grow early and late season vegetables that would otherwise die when grown in the dog days of summer. Once again permaculture is about working with the conditions at hand, don’t change the environment… work with it and adapt to it…

Temperature and sun basically go hand in hand, just work with it, and know it well. Spend time identifying the hot, and cool spots and work with them. know and understand your specific micro-climates, and don’t be afraid to test the limits of your site and the plants used within it.

The amount, and type of yield that you are aiming for needs to be considered in your design. Things will change drastically, depending on what you want your garden to produce. Permaculture, although mainly food oriented, does not limit gardening and landscaping to food production. You could be working for a client that wants a permaculture landscape, but wants absolutely no food grown on their property… would you turn them down? What if they were your only job opportunity for the year… Would you really turn them down? A true permaculturist would take the job, and begin healing the land using phytoremediation tactics incorporating only ornamental plants, with the end yield being workable farmable land for future generations.

Pests and beneficial insects come in so many shapes and forms… On the pest end, we have everything from aphids to children. On the beneficial side, we have everything from honeybees to children. This is one of the aspects of design where a lot of experience, and a solid working knowledge of animal and insect life cycles and habits becomes necessary. So many gardeners, landscapers and farmers may know every plant name out there, but when it comes to animal and insect life… All they know is how to kill the thing with poisons. If you have a pest that bothers, you figure out what pest bothers it… And promote the hell out of its existence. Usually when you have a pest problem, it can be fixed by the promotion of beneficial insects… So in a way we promote the life of the good guys, in hopes that they will control the bad guys… Promotion not eradication!

I could never fit every little aspect of permaculture design into one little blog post, these are just meant to be some ideas to start with. If you are really interested in permaculture design, then I suggest you take the Permaculture Design Course wherever it is offered in your area. Though I need to stress that the PDC is far from a farming course, it is much more of a theory course in my eyes… If you don’t have a basic working knowledge of plant and farming basics, the PDC course will do very little for you… I would suggest talking to your local Extension office, and becoming a Master Gardener first. Get real “informational” backing from a university, then consider getting your Permaculture Design Certificate…

I will proudly admit that I have not taken the Permaculture Design Course, I think the price is ridiculous for what you get. I have been lucky enough to acquire several different versions of the PDC on video, taught by teachers all around the world… Including one by Bill Mollison and Geoff Lawton. I immersed myself in these 72 hour lectures daily for months on end, anything that could possibly be taken away from these lessons, I believe I absorbed. You guys read my blog, what do you think?

I chose to spend my time and money becoming a Penn State Master Gardener, I believe it was the right choice of the two. But my choice is not for everyone, and I would recommend and back the PDC as taught by any of the people currently practicing and teaching in my area. I just personally thought having Penn State backing me was a better choice, it made more sense to me.

If you only take one thing away from this post, then I would want it to be that you are a designer. When gardening you should think like a responsible designer, remember to always take a common sence approach. Remember every thing you change or affect, will have an effect on many other aspects of your garden… So when changing something, think it through and do it responsibly. If you are not 100% sure of something you are about to do… step back and take the time to properly think it through.

promotion not eradication – chriscondello

This is a photo from the Whitney Avenue Urban Farm, the bricks were used to absorb sunlight and heat, to help start my green seeds earlier. Notice how the seeds closer to the south-facing side of the bricks sprouted earlier, and are growing faster.

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Practical Urban Permaculture – Part 5 – Keeping Things Tidy

Permaculture is starting to get a bad name in so many places, it is always associated with sky-high weeds, overgrown and un-pruned plants, bugs, and the most dangerous creature in the landscape… Hippies! But it doesn’t have to be like this, you can still do permaculture and keep things neat and tidy…

Certain neighborhood have rules that you probably agreed to prior to moving in, if you would have read those rules you probably would have noticed the part about what is appropriate and what is not in a front yard… usually someone has thought of the idea that someone, someday would attempt to put an urban farm on their lot… Sometimes beating them at their own game is a lot more fun than going to court…

  • A food forest does not have to exactly match the criteria of a forest, a few specially selected fruit or nut trees, when planted in a nicely prepared garden space, with a few beneficial perennials planted underneath of it… Well that my friends… That is essentially a “food forest”. You can keep the space directly underneath of the trees meticulously maintained and it is still essentially a food forest.
  • Many greens when creatively planted, look great and provide food. Kale and swiss chard, especially the “bright lights” variety are stunning plants. These could be integrated into any mixed species garden very few people would even notice, at least not without a close inspection. Many of these greens will produce for at least 8 months out of the year, providing healthy greens for all but the coldest months.
  • Many root crops not only benefit the soil, but the tops of the plants sometimes look great as well. Beets are one of my favorite, the leaves almost always look somewhat interesting. Kohlrabi is a very interesting plant, it can look great in the front of a garden. Be creative with what you plant, and instead of planting vegetables in a straight row… create an ornamental bed, then slowly integrate vegetables into the mix… Cabbage is another cool one…
  • Okra is an incredible plant that is in the same family as hibiscus, the plant grows up to five feet tall and has incredible flowers. When the plant is left standing the dried seed pods ass interest to the landscape throughout the winter, if you leave the plant it will self seed itself in the spring.
  • Leave the tomatoes in the backyard… Tomatoes are rarely a “nice” looking plant, they should probably always be planted somewhere out of sight… At least in my opinion that is… Tomatoes are that one vegetable plant that almost anyone can identify, the idea of what you are doing is to show people that what you are doing can “fit in” with their landscape… This is NOT a shock and awe campaign!
  • Many zucchini and squash can be planted in the same way you would plant elephant ears, use it in a place that could use a little vertical height… Stay away from pumpkins and winter squash that are the Vining variety, the last thing you will need is a 75′ pumpkin vine growing into your neighbors property… Stick to the tried and true bushing varieties, or zucchini… “Costata Romanesco” has incredibly giant leaves, and the fruit is the best zucchini I have ever tasted… Low water
  • Any and all herbs look great in the landscape, plant them by your walkway and rub your hands through them on your way in the door. Basil is by far my favorite “landscape” plant, I love planting multiple varieties with different color leaves and flowers. Chives are companions to almost every plant, when they are in flower they fit right into any location I have ever seen them planted.

The point of all of this is because I don’t want people to get discouraged when their neighborhood association, or nosy neighbor tells them they do not want a permaculture garden in their neighborhood… It is a lot more common than you may think… Instead of getting discouraged, I want you to get creative.

Permaculture interests me because it is not a list of “finite” rules, some people try to make it like that… I think for profit purposes… But it is important to remember that “rules” it is not, it is ethics and principles that are meant to be adapted to whatever situation is at hand… However you choose to execute the principles is completely up to you…

permaculture = adaptation and survival – chriscondello

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