“Comfrey Flower on Blight” – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – I have removed enough Comfrey to know better than to plant it in my own yard… So I grow it in front of abandoned houses and just cut what I need…
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…
Site selection is typically the easiest part of the whole process, in my experience, the site chooses me. My efforts are a direct protest to abandoned homes and lots sprinkled around my neighborhood, for this reason I tend to already have a good idea what my next target will be well in advance of actually beginning any work. Though the locations may be different, they all require the same few things – Water, soil, sunlight and access… Though access can often be worked around with a little ingenuity and a few seed bombs.
The very first thing you need to do is determine whether you intend to plant ornamental flowers, or vegetables for consumption. Ornamental gardens are meant to be seen, they are typically placed in public places where they can be enjoyed by the masses. Food crops on the other hand may be best suited away from the publics eye. This is not always the case of course… But if your garden is not directly visible from your house, it is typically the best practice.
Ornamental guerrilla gardens are often created as a civil means of protest against blighted land, for this reason they are typically planted in high visibility areas. Sometimes the point of the garden is simply to inspire other people to consider gardening in places that one would not normally consider, abandoned houses, street berms, hell strips, vacant lots, even potholes can be gardened. In my mind, simply mowing the lawn of land that you do not own is considered guerrilla gardening.
Food gardens tend to invite more trouble than their counterparts, for this reason alone I feel they should be relatively difficult to see from the road. Now I’m not saying you should build a ten foot privacy fence, I am saying you should plant anything that can become a projectile away from the street. Tomatoes can become a big problem if the kids decide to throw them at cars, a single Sungold tomato plant produces so much fruit that the kids will be entertained for hours… And not in a good way.
I typically prefer to develop entire lots when it comes to food, who wants to grow just a few tomato plants when you can grow one hundred! I like to fill the first twenty feet of the lot with tall ornamental plants, this is an attempt to shield the food from people passing by. Not every community is like mine, some are much more receptive to street side gardening. The temperament of the kids can vary from street to street, and every location will have its own issues. If you are new to a neighborhood, a quick conversation with your neighbors can often give some clues as to how receptive a neighborhood may be.
“Salvaged Grape Arbor” – Whitney Avenue Urban Farm – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – The posts were very old grape vines that we cut out of the trees… The ladders were pulled from the trash… The crazy piece of wood I found on a job… Niagara Seedless and Concord Grapes…
Guerrilla food gardens are often created not with the intention of just feeding oneself, but sometimes to supplement the nutritional needs of an entire neighborhood. In this case, planting your crops in plain view can often be the best practice. Simply sharing your garden with all the inhabitants on the street increases the amount of eyes that will be watching the garden. You would be surprised how effective having a few older residents on your side can be, there is nothing scarier than a pissed off old lady moving full speed towards you. Security often costs just a few tomatoes or a bundle of greens, it can’t get any better than that.
Chances are pretty good that if you are reading this post, then you already have a site in mind. Long term guerrilla efforts require ease of access, gardens placed out-of-the-way tend to suffer. Food gardens require a lot more maintenance that flowers, for this reason a food garden will get much more attention if you regularly pass it and should therefore be planted as close to home as possible. Ornamental gardens on the other hand can go weeks without human intervention, for this reason they can often be maintained from a much further distance.
Some cities have organized groups that go out and garden, these can be great places to meet like-minded people. Other cities may have a few individuals fighting their own campaigns, slowly greening an urban lot at a time… I fall in to the second group… My efforts are typically solo, or with the help of a neighborhood kid or two. For that reason I choose my sites within a few block radius.
Street sides and public places add a level of excitement to the mix, nothing gets the heart pumping like the threat of a trespassing and vandalism charge. Choose a site with easy access, a carefully parked car can offer some protection from prying eyes and out of control vehicles. Make a plan before you get the shovels out, the last thing you want to do is stand there shuffling plants around. Sometimes, design gets thrown out the window in preference of speed, for this reason it is worth making a game plan before you get to your location. A guerrilla gardener should not be noticed by people, a guerrilla garden campaign lasts longest when the gardener is invisible.
To wrap this post up… Probably the single greatest variable will be the gardens neighbors… Sometimes they will be receptive, often they will not. You would be surprised how many urbanites like having an overgrown vacant lot next door, for many of them this is as close to living near nature as they can get. Be patient when dealing with these types of people, remember that although you think you are doing something good for your community, not everyone is going to see it that way.
plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello
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