Complementary Gardening – Gardening Without Borders

PurpliWhiteTip

“Tulip Behind Borders” – The Garden Table – Wilkinsburg, PA – This garden is a vacant lot that happens to be located in a rather high traffic location… I am actually planning on installing a fence and gate this summer… Something I said I would never do…

It is a long-standing practice in gardening to use a border to define the edges of our gardens. My preferred border material is bricks, they are plentiful in my neighborhood, have historical value, and help me keep my personal gardens neat and orderly. Borders are basically a line used to define where the lawn maintenance ends, and where the meticulous garden maintenance begins. Without borders, the neighborhood children would not know where my garden started… They also wouldn’t know the point at which I start yelling… Though… The kids are very good about not stepping in my garden…

As a garden installer, I spend a great deal of time thinking about garden borders… But as an artist/environmentalist… I also spend a great deal of time thinking outside my garden borders… To start this article off, I want to answer a simple question… What is a garden? A garden is typically defined as a collection of plants… In most cultures… To dream of paradise… Equates to dreaming of a garden… Or a lush landscape at the very least… This collection is typically contained within the confines of ones own yard… It just makes sense… Plants cost money… Why would you put them someplace you don’t own?

As my journey through the gardening world has progressed… I have found myself constantly looking to nature for inspiration… Over the last few years, I have left the borders of my garden… And gone in search of other gardens… My search has taken me into the forest in search of spring ephemerals… Into the fields to look for Echinacea… And up into the mountains to look for ginseng…

I have spent a great deal of time seeking out, and observing plants in their natural settings. Over time, my hobby has blossomed into an obsession. Now that I have been doing this for a few years, I have developed a bond with many of the plant patches I find… I have actually developed an emotional attachment to them… Oddly… I recently realized that I feel the same way about the woodland wildflowers I regularly seek out, as I feel about the plants in my garden…

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“300 Acre Garden” – Keystone State Park – Westmoreland County, PA – Can an entire state park be considered a garden… I believe it can be… A sunset photo of my newest garden…

Walking through trillium along the side of a mountain… I stopped to pick up some litter… It was at this exact moment that I realized my garden no longer had a border… Standing on the side of this mountain… I realized I was the only person who would ever pick up these plastic bottles… The Trillium certainly couldn’t do it… Not the jack-in-the-pulpit’s… Not the tasty Morels… Without me stopping to pick up those bottles… They would have been there for a really long time…

In order to garden, an individual must have an affection for plants… In my own experience, this rarely dies, in most cases it blossoms into an addiction and before you know it… You have more plants than you know what to do with… Some see this as a bad thing… But I personally see it as a good thing… It is at this point most people start looking outside of their own garden to scratch the gardening itch… When a gardeners mind finally steps outside of their own property… Only then does nature truly see a benefit… This is when the journey really begins…

Our gardens are a direct connection between ourselves, and the environment that surrounds us. Bees for example, collect pollen from the flowers blooming in your garden, although this pollen is then transferred among the other plants in your own garden, it is also spread to the plants surrounding your garden. This everyday transfer of genetic material is just one way plants communicate… The plants you plant in your own garden, affect the next generation of plants that will grow in your surroundings…

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“Trout Lily” – Frick Park – Pittsburgh, PA – Frick Park is a place I have been spending a lot of time in… I consider it an urban garden… And I will care for it as such…

Although we will go to great lengths to keep animals and birds out of our gardens, nature always wins. Many seeds have evolved to survive digestion, after consumption, these seeds are then spread through “natural processes”. I have followed plant-covered deer trails through the woods, these trails can be hotspots for finding early spring wildflowers… I have followed trillium trails for miles… Likewise… The old ginseng hunters used to follow deer trails when foraging for medicine…

Humans have been pushing nature away for hundreds of years… We cap the earth in cement… Trap and kill anything we consider “wild”… We eliminate ecosystems… Then replace them ad-hoc in the places we deem suitable… We create gardens full of food in the middle of exotic monocultures of chemically dependent monocots… Organic vegetables growing among a sea of garbage… Food labeled as organic… Hiding behind a ten-foot fence… Taunting the deer… Torturing the rabbits… But in desperation… Will not stop a single one of them…

Man and nature can live in harmony… In fact… Nature only requires a small amount of compensation… I laugh when I hear stories of people living in these new plans of McMansions… Entire ecosystems have been destroyed to put these plans in… Yet the inhabitants still cry foul when their cheap landscaping shrubs get devoured almost immediately… If you tore my hundred-year old house down… And built a fire-hazard on top of it… You better believe… I am going to do more than eat your shrubs…

Living in western Pennsylvania, I am asked more questions regarding deer… Than any other garden pest you can think of… Everybody wants a magic bullet… When I answer by saying feed them… Most people scoff… But I stand by my word… The goal to keeping nature from eating your share… Is to compensate… More simply put… You need to make other food sources easier to acquire than your own… Depending on your situation… This is often as easy as a simple fence around your vegetables… And a feeder and salt block somewhere else… This isn’t really a secret either… Any old-time farmer will tell you this…

I guess what I am trying to say is this… Gardening is a skill that requires us to learn how to work with nature… In order to do this properly… We must think outside the borders of our gardens… We must allow our minds to seek out answers beyond the confines of our own property… The insects and animals surrounding you have no respect for the borders in your gardens… They do not see property lines… They do not know where nature ends… And where the garden begins… And that is my point… Nature doesn’t see where the wild ends… Animals don’t know where the garden begins… And neither should we… The entire earth is a garden… A paradise… Every square inch of it deserves protection… As gardeners… Our gardens have no borders… And Nature… Well that Is in fact… What we do…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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The Flora of the Urban Jungle – Spring Color

This gallery contains 16 photos.

So… I’m going away this weekend… Heading into God’s country… Planning on doing a little camping… Fishing… Hiking… And the part I am really looking forward too… Photographing Spring wildflowers… While I prepare to bring you another gallery… I wanted to make sure I did not leave without sharing something beautiful… You know… To last […]

A Plant A Day Till Spring – Day 47 – Iris

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“Sun on Sun” – Spring 2013 – The Garden Table – Rebecca Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA

“A Plant a Day till Spring” will highlight one plant a day, starting on the winter solstice (December 21, 2013)… And ending on the vernal equinox (March 20, 2014)… If all goes to plan I will be starting with old Snowdrop photos from 2013… And ending with new photos of Snowdrops in 2014…

Good morning everyone… It is a cold one here in Pittsburgh and we are expecting a snow storm tonight… As I peaked out the window this morning I noticed the frozen spikes of one of my Iris poking through the snow… It is hard to believe that in a couple short months I will be photographing these blossoms again… I will be among the trees… With the bees… And the birds… In my garden paradise…

I never really paid much attention to Iris in the past… The blooming period for them is so short that it almost seemed not worth growing… Then a few years ago one of the volunteers at The Garden Table (who is also a member of the Western PA Iris and Daylily Society) brought the left overs from their annual plant sale… The sale was held on an unusually cold and miserable day and as a result the sales were pretty bleak… By the end of that day we were the proud owners of over 100 varieties of Iris… Not to mention a bunch of Daylily…

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“Throat of the Iris” – Spring 2013 – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA

I had no idea Iris came in as many varieties as they apparently do… Every color imaginable… Even black… Many bloom early in the Spring… Others will hold out until fall… Some have tiny flowers… While others are massive…

Iris tend to grow in clumps… These clumps get overcrowded quickly and as a result the Iris will need divided every once in a while… I just take a spade and carefully work it underneath the roots… Iris have very shallow roots so it is rather easy to pop them out of the ground… Once they are out simply pull them apart… You can now plant your divisions… Or if you have as many as I do… Beg people to take them…

Iris are a good plant for areas you cannot provide water too… They make excellent guerrilla gardening plants… Although they only bloom for a short period… The spiky foliage creates interest year around… Iris are also noticeable by just about everyone… It is difficult to mistake the leaves for anything other than an ornamental garden plant… Iris also seem to have some tolerance to salt… Making them perfect for roadside guerrilla gardens in areas where snow is an issue…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

If you want some science – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iris_(plant)

These “Plant a Day Till Spring” posts are simply intended to kill time until spring when I start writing more… My source (where applicable) is Wikipedia.org… The photography is all my own… And I am adding my own information…

This website and all of the information presented within is provided free by the author… Me… It is my sole opinion and is not representative of anyone other than myself… Although this website is free… I sell prints of my photography here – www.society6.com/chriscondello – or you can contact me directly with questions at – c.condello@hotmail.com – Although it isn’t a requirement… It helps…

Remember to tip… My Bitcoin digital wallet address is – 1JsKwa3vYgy4LZjNk4YmPEHFJNjPt2wDJj

Get your own wallet at CoinBase.com

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Complementary Gardening – A Manifesto

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“Osteospermum on Heliopsis” – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – A selection from my garden… Summer 2013…

The common goal of gardening is harmony… Harmony with the earth… Harmony with the plants… Harmony with the animals… Harmony with ourselves… And harmony with each other… This harmony is achieved through successful (and environmentally sound) gardening practices… A gardener that is in harmony with nature, will grow a healthy garden. This garden will flourish, and as a result it will grow the gardener… The purpose of complementary gardening is to bring all aspects of the gardening movement back where they belong… Together…

The methods used are not nearly as important as the frame of mind in which they are used… Even conventional agricultural practices can be picked from when practicing complementary gardening… It is essentially a blending of the aspects of gardening and life that are important to you… Regardless of your devotion or investment to the cause… Even a few pots on a windowsill are beneficial… Practicing any type of gardening… As long as it provides you with some semblance of joy… Should be considered beneficial… When you are happy… The environment around you is also happy… And that is what gardening is about…

A garden should complement its surroundings in a way that is beneficial to all the elements of the earth… Not just the gardener… Although a garden may have physical borders, the positive effects associated with plant life span well beyond them. A garden is a sentient collection of plants, capable of not only healing itself, but healing the environment (including us) that is around it. In order for a garden to truly be considered successful, it should heal in one form or another… Not just physically… Emotionally and spiritually…

Complementary gardening is not a specific style of gardening, it is a “way of thinking” achieved through the consciences completion of a garden. By consciences, I mean simply being aware that there are connections in nature for you to find. These connections will exist regardless of the size of your garden, and regardless of your devotion to the cause. One thing that turned me off about permaculture is the general feeling that if you don’t shit in a bucket to make compost for your front yard farm, you are not worthy of the cause… It’s like they expect everyone to replace their lawns with food forests… Believe everyone has time to operate a micro-farm… And believe no-one should eat anything that casts a shadow… My beliefs are very different from this… And my writing will now reflect it…

"Buddies" - © chriscondello 2013 - Frick Park - Pittsburgh, PA - Complimentary colors... Growing in the same patch... Yet... None of them were close enough together to photograph... So I put them together...

“Buddies” – Frick Park – Pittsburgh, PA – Complimentary colors… Growing in the same patch… Yet… None of them were close enough together to photograph… So I put them together…

The goal of gardening is to benefit nature. Although we are a part of this equation, we are not the only variable to consider. In my own personal experiences, the gardeners who only talk about how much “produce” was harvested, typically are the ones who don’t have a clue what is going on around them… Unless of course it is written in their little book… In order for gardening to be a complementary activity, it needs to complement all things. Although it is perfectly acceptable to include ourselves in this equation by growing food, it is important to remember we are not the only element worthy of consideration.

Food production, should be secondary to positive energy production. What I mean by this is food production (though perfectly fine), should not overshadow the fact that gardening is intended to be fun, good for you, and good for the environment. When all a gardener is interested in is squeezing as many tomatoes as humanly possible out of a 4’x12′ raised bed, the joy is very often lost. Success is fundamental to sustainability. Constant failure, which is often the result of taking on too much work, often leads to a loss of interest… and the eventual end of the garden all together. I aim to eliminate this sentiment by promoting the gradual and responsible implementation of environmentally sound practices, in all forms of gardening, through practical implementation and easy to understand writing.

A complementary garden, is one that balances the benefits of all the elements of nature with mankind. In the past, the focus of gardening has been on production in one form or another. Vegetables were planted, and the necessary steps were taken to achieve the largest yield possible. The downside of this was that often the environment came secondary to the vegetable yield, and as a result of this, past generations commonly used chemicals as a way to boost yield… Hell… We still do this… Ornamental gardeners are no different, often going to great lengths to pack the most blooms onto their plants while spending as little as possible… And doing as little work as possible…

Speaking from personal experience… Most of the fertilizers, pesticides, herbicide, and fungicides that are available today are very unnecessary… Adding to the equation is the ridiculous amounts of “miracle products and trends” that pop up in stores and on the internet… 99% of these products are worthless… Even more worthless are the application directions that come with them… Many of these chemical products will achieve the desired results when applied in relatively tiny amounts… It is the manufacturer that pushes heavy applications as the more we apply… The more we must purchase…

BigIris

“Yellow Iris in the Morning Sun” – Spring 2013 – The Garden Table – Wilkinsburg, PA

I really don’t agree with the use of chemicals in the garden… But I understand why people do… Instead of alienating anyone from reading my blog based on their choice of fertilizer… I have decided to instead simply suggest that one research any product before using them… Although my focus will remain on organic gardening… I’m not afraid to discuss the chemical world… And I am not afraid to admit that I use miracle grow in my garden… Though I will admit that my solution is about 1/16 of their recommended application…

I also think it is important to stress that is it ok to get pissed off from time to time… And it is ok to unload in a healthy manner… The purpose of this change is to address the fact that I don’t believe we will ever accomplish the perfect world some people believe is possible… I believe we each have the ability to make small changes… And when we all make small changes, they will eventually add up to much larger ones… Where many of these sub-cultures are constantly pushing you to do more and be more involved… I’m saying do what you can… Every little bit helps… And when you feel comfortable… If you feel comfortable… Add to your toolbox and try something new…

Complementary gardening should benefit you in a way that is not intrusive on your life… Your garden should be a positive complement to the negative aspects of your life, not one of the aspects contributing to the negativity in your life. A gardener, is a gardener, is a gardener… We are all worthy… There are no bad gardeners… Regardless of method… There are differing levels of experience… But in the eyes of a plant… We are all created equal…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

This website and all of the information presented within is provided free by the author… Me… It is my sole opinion and is not representative of anyone other than myself… Although this website is free… I sell prints of my photography here – www.society6.com/chriscondello – or you can contact me directly with questions at – c.condello@hotmail.com – Although it isn’t a requirement… It helps…

I also accept Bitcoin donations… My digital wallet address is – 1JsKwa3vYgy4LZjNk4YmPEHFJNjPt2wDJj

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Practical Permaculture – Breaking Ground on Another Urban Garden

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“Looking on from Rebecca Avenue” – The vacant lot from the street… Sidewalk in the foreground… The trees in the rear will be heavily trimmed this spring… There is a brick alley in the rear… And my very involved landlady owns the houses on either side of the lot…

So… I am excited to announce that after an entire year of observation and preparation, I will be breaking ground on a new guerrilla garden/farm here in Wilkinsburg, PA late this winter. Located roughly one block from my current garden (The Garden Table), this lot will focus on production as opposed to aesthetics. I intend to document every project I undertake, much of it will be shared through this blog.

As is my typical fashion, I intend to complete this project using very little money. That may not seem like a big deal, but given the fact that it typically takes $25,000 in grant money to get one of these things off the ground…  I think I’m doing pretty good so far… In fact, this will be the fourth vacant lot I have converted into a beautiful urban garden with a budget of basically nothing.

The lot itself is 60’W x 140’D, with a 4′ rise over the first 15′ of the lot. It was a relatively recent demolition, wood frame and sandstone foundation. As a result, the lot has not had a chance to become too overgrown. Myself, as well as the borough employees maintained the lot over the summer through regular mowing and litter removal. Although there are some invasive weeds growing throughout, I have managed to keep them to a minimum through regular removal.

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“The Garden Table” – This is where I went when I had to move Whitney Avenue Urban Farm… Now that it has filled up… I have found myself seeking a place to overflow… My new lot will be used for all of the food I want to grow… But can’t quite fit into one small lot…

As it sits today, the grass is mowed and the lot is clear. I have been dumping leaf and wood debris all summer, remediation will be performed throughout development. The front quarter of the property will be raised using salvaged foundation stones, the fill will be locally available compost created from the leaves collected from the streets of Wilkinsburg. Bricks are a constantly available resource in my neighborhood, so I intend to work with them as much as possible. It is always tough for me to speculate what materials I will find in the immediate area, for that reason my plans typically change throughout the course of construction.

Fruit producing trees will be planted throughout, underneath each of these trees will be appropriate guilds. Vegetables will be grown in both contained rows, and interspersed among other plants. The quarter of the lot closest to the street will be mainly ornamental, the purpose of which is to make people driving by turn and take notice. The top of the slope will be a line of dogwood and redbud trees, which will also help in privatizing the rear of the garden from the road.

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“Whitney Avenue Urban Farm” – You are looking at one year of work… This farm lasted two growing seasons before I moved it… But I did… Brick by brick… Roughly two blocks away to The Garden Table…

Just to give you an idea of some of the things I will be including… Fruit trees will be (but not limited to) plum, pear, peach, apple, cherry, serviceberry and figs… The figs will be surrounded by south-facing keyhole style gardens to protect during the coldest months… Blueberries, currants, gooseberries, strawberries and raspberries will be sporadically placed… Rows will be cut and vegetables will be numerous… I’m hoping to get into bees… The gutters from the neighboring houses will be collected or diverted into the garden… The lot also has a run-off issue towards the street… I intend to fix this with a bioswale… Everything on site will be recycled and locally scavenged… All plants will be personally propagated or donations from friends…

The food grown will be made available to locals on a (as long as you don’t steal it all) basis… As always… Volunteers always get first dibs… As of right now… I am the only person signed on… Though I do have a friend who is interested in helping… Regardless… I will be planting fruit trees come the thaw…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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The Guerrilla Gardening Guidebook – Vandalism

Vandalism

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

Vandalism is inevitable in all urban areas. Oftentimes, what the guerrilla gardener sees as vandalism is seen as clean-up by the unaware individual. Over zealous children with lawnmowers or weed eaters, though good intentioned can often be the end of a garden. It can take everything you have not to freak out in the moment… Remember this is not a time to scold… It is a time to educate…

Intentional vandalism never seems to be considered until it happens. Vandalism should be expected, at least when you expect it, you won’t be so surprised… And subsequently discouraged… When it happens… Never use expensive plants where this is an issue, use plants tolerant of a wide variety of conditions. Mints, once established, can be yanked, pulled, cut, even blown up with fireworks and still make a comeback. Mint, when in bloom is really a stunning plant that attracts a plethora of beneficial insects. Caution should always be taken when gardening with mint due to its invasive tendencies, but in this case we can make those tendencies work for us instead of against us.

Efforts at growing food in guerrilla plots more often than not will lead to theft. If you are growing food out in the open on a vacant lot, there is nothing you can legally do to a garden thief, consider this before your next move. What you can do is catch the garden thief in the act, not always possible, but definitely the most effective. The actor will almost always exclaim that given the fact that it was growing in a vacant lot, they figured it was “wild” food free for anyone to take. It really doesn’t matter if it is growing in perfectly cultivated raised beds on caged plants… This is the go to excuse. What you do next is of the utmost importance. Explain your intentions nicely, adding in the fact that you paid for the plants and put a lot of time and effort into the garden. Then as a peace-offering you should offer to share some of the extras when they are available… 9 out of 10 times this will resolve the issue while still maintaining a level of friendship…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

This site… And all the photographs and information presented within are provided free of charge by the author… I am not affiliated with any product or business… Only myself… Writing this blog takes a ton of time… If you find any of this information helpful, please consider purchasing a print from my online store… It is obviously not a requirement… But it helps…

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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The Guerrilla Gardening Guidebook – Seed Bombs

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“I Hijacked this Photo” – The seed bomb… This one is cleverly crafted to look like a grenade… I wouldn’t waste my money on these… The equivalent spent on loose seeds will go much farther than these ever could…

Seed Bombs

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

Seed bombs, though a novel idea, I personally find to be pretty impractical. I am aware of the slack I may receive for this, but I am personally unimpressed with this trend. I say trend because the internet is full of articles and instructional videos on how to make them, and once something is available in a vending machine… It is officially trendy…

The idea behind the seed bomb, in my mind is more or less urban folklore. Situations that require one to have to throw seeds more than a few feet are the exception, not the rule. I find it is much easier to simply carry your seeds and a small garden shovel in a bag and just work some soil and plant your seeds. A bag full of seeds is jokingly lighter than a bag full of the equivalent amount of seeds formed into balls of clay… Or essentially a big bag of rocks… To this trend I say, get real!

A seed bomb is a combination of seeds, soil and fertilizer bonded together with some type of local clay. Some of the trendy new “store-bought” seed bombs are made of paper mache, intended to melt away in the rain before germination. A quick Google Images search for “seed bomb” returns thousands of photos, but if you look through them you won’t find even a single photograph of a mature garden created by a seed bomb. The closest thing I was able to find are photos of plants growing places the seed bomb was not actually needed.

Although some seeds will germinate on the surface of the soil, most do not. Seeds typically require uninterrupted levels of moisture and absolute darkness to properly sprout, any disruption in this process will ultimately kill the seeds. Scenarios where the seed bomb would actually apply, such as high fences and abandoned industrial sites, are not suitable for what is essentially a broadcast style of seed dispersal. Conditions would have to be perfect with cloudy skies and daily rain for the better part of two weeks for germination to take place.

Now that is not to say that there aren’t exceptions to this, many plants can be sown by simply broadcasting them over the soil. Many annuals disperse their seeds via wind, these could theoretically work well in a seed bomb. Many perennial plants often require stratification, and even after they require specific conditions to induce germination, for this reason they are typically not suitable.

The idea of throwing a bunch of “green grenades” is dreamy, and I understand the allure. But it all comes back to the whole idea of no work gardening, there is just no such thing. Weeds often grow faster than any seed in a seed bomb. A truly unmaintained area will quickly outgrow most of what you can pack into a seed bomb… In my experience the seed bomb always loses to weeds…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

This site… And all the photographs and information presented within are provided free of charge by the author… I am not affiliated with any product or business… Only myself… Writing this blog takes a ton of time… If you find any of this information helpful, please consider purchasing a print from my online store… It is obviously not a requirement… But it helps…

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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The Guerrilla Gardening Guidebook – Long-Term Maintenance

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“The Garden Table” – Rebecca Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – This is my last project… Not so much a guerrilla garden as we have a ten-year lease on the property… But urban none the less… No budget… All recycled and salvaged materials…

Long Term Maintenance

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

Long-term maintenance is the killer of most guerrilla gardens. ALL GARDENS REQUIRE REGULAR MAINTENANCE! Whether organic or chemical, food or ornamental, water or soil, privately owned or guerrilla, no garden is completely sustainable without maintenance. Way too many people plug “no work” gardening into Google and find themselves reading my blog, there is no such thing as a completely work free garden… Actually… I take that back… If you are searching the internet for no work gardening… Then you need to pay someone to install and maintain your garden, because essentially, that is what you are asking for… And that is what myself, as well as many others like me do for a living…

With that said, a garden should not be all work. I find all too often that the general public sees gardening as nothing but work. There are some steps you can take to cut down on the amount of maintenance that will be required over the life of your garden. The solution can be as simple as digging a small canal from the downspout of a nearby vacant building, to as complex as soil nutrient alterations in an attempt to discourage a certain type of weed. I find all too often most problems can be solved with minimal work using nothing more than your brain… If you only learn one thing here I would want it to be “work smarter, not harder”…

Litter is a constant problem in my neighborhood, people throw their shit everywhere. When the wind blows that litter around, it will usually stick to anything in its path… Often it will be your garden… You can look at this one of two ways… Either you can get pissed off about all the litter, and subsequently give up gardening in disgust… Or you can be happy over the fact that your garden makes litter removal a little bit easier… I am saying this because I truly believe that if you are going to guerrilla garden on someone else’s land, you should maintain that plot of land as if it were your own… And that typically means cleaning up trash and litter that you had nothing to do with…

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“Daylily before Blight” – Rebecca Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Daylily make great guerrilla garden plants… Extremely hardy and tolerant of the harshest conditions… They require division every once in a while… You can see this as work or as a cheap source of plants…

Organic debris like leaves and grass clippings are very valuable in the guerrilla garden, they can provide a good percentage of the nutrient needs of a garden. Grass clippings are one of the most versatile materials available in urban environments, landscapers are often happy to part with them.

Many of the herbaceous perennials grown in formal gardens are cut back in the fall, most of these plants can be left through the winter. Winter weather breaks organic material down quickly, what is left of these plants in the spring quickly gets covered by new growth. A growing plant mines nutrients from the soil, nutrients that are stored in the leaves, these nutrients will have to be replaced if the organic material is removed so it is often best practice to leave the plants as they are.

Garden debris that is created can often be simply buried in the garden. Trench composting is a style of composting that involves digging a hole and filling it with whatever scrap organic material is available. In the case of a small guerrilla garden, any organic material you come in contact with can technically be buried. I do suggest sticking to smaller pieces in miniature gardens, digging through a layer of woven sticks and grass can prove to be impossible. Remember the bigger the material, the longer it will take to break down.

Guerrilla gardening is an opportunistic activity, sometimes soil, mulch or plants will suddenly become available… Successful guerrilla gardeners are always ready to take these items… Sometimes you will have to take some crap in order to get some good, beggars can’t be choosers… Vacant lots and guerrilla gardens provide unlimited opportunities, any free resource available to you should be considered. Oftentimes, the same things commonly thought of as only being found in high-end formal gardens can be available to the beggar who is willing to wait… Or willing to learn how to propagate plants… Which is the route I took… Now I can propagate just about anything…

An established guerrilla garden requires minimal maintenance. Occasional weeding and yearly mulch can keep a perennial guerrilla garden going for years. Guerrilla gardeners tend to be transient people, very few seem to stay in one location for very long and because of this vacant guerrilla gardens are becoming a normal occurrence. I find it funny that an activity that is commonly used as a protest against blight, could some day be considered a form of blight.

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

This site… And all the photographs and information presented within are provided free of charge by the author… I am not affiliated with any product or business… Only myself… Writing this blog takes a ton of time… If you find any of this information helpful, please consider purchasing a print from my online store… It is obviously not a requirement… But it helps…

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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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

The Guerrilla Gardening Guidebook – Perennials and Biennials

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

“Tomato Soup” – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Echinacea is a favorite of my girlfriend and I… I grow it everywhere I can… Available in a variety of bloom styles and colors… Drought tolerant once established… Often self seeds but the colors typically fade or completely revert to purple…

Perennials

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

Although some guerrilla gardens are intended to only last a year, some can last for a long time. Plant selection, coupled with continuing community support can make a community garden last for years with minimal maintenance.

A perennial is any plant that lives for three or more years, many live much longer. The garden flowers called perennials technically should be called herbaceous perennials because they lack the woody stems and branches of shrubs and trees, which are called woody perennials. Most herbaceous perennials die to the ground during winter, but their roots remain alive and send up new growth in spring. The tall tops of some perennials die in fall and the plant will develop ground-hugging rosettes of leaves that survive the winter. A few perennials, such as bergenia and epimedium, are herbaceous, but have evergreen or semi-evergreen leaves.

Most perennials bloom for two or three weeks at a specific time of the year, and their foliage remain till frost. Some cherished perennials, such as threadleaf coreopsis and fringed bleeding-heart, are long-blooming, producing flowers for 8 to 12 weeks. Others, such as garden phlox and delphinium, can be encouraged to rebloom after cutting back the first flush of flowers after the blooms fade and before they set seed. Many perennials with short bloom times have cool foliage that lasts well beyond the flowers, leaf color and shape should therefor be considered as well.

Many perennials spread, forming larger clumps every year. Some fast growing plants need to be dug up and divided periodically or the plants will become stunted. Aggressive spreaders must be continually hacked back or they will take over the garden. Some plants, like peony can grow for 50 years without ever needing divided.

Perennials are cold hardy to different degrees, some can’t survive winters north of Washington DC, others flourish in Minnesota and the Dakotas. Some thrive in the hot and humid summers of the south, while others will simply wilt and flop over in anything remotely hot.

PinkWhiteColumbine

Living for only two years, biennials germinate from seed the first year and put all their energy into growing foliage and strong root systems. They often live through the winter as a rosette of ground-hugging leaves… The next growing season… They send up flowering shoots… Set new seed… And then die… But biennials can be unpredictable, not always sticking to the intended lifestyle. Some behave as short-lived perennials, flowering for two to three years before they die.

Many biennials, like foxglove and hollyhock, reseed themselves so successfully that they seem to be perennial in your garden… They will return year after year… Oftentimes perennial seeds will germinate the same year they fall to the ground, allowing it to germinate the following year. You can help this along by simply shaking the seed heads over the ground where you want the plant to grow.

Container grown plants can be put in the ground any time of the year they are available. To remove the plant from its container, first water it, then turn it upside down, holding your hand under the root ball so when it slides out you can easily catch it. If the plant won’t budge, whack the bottom and sides of the container until it does… As a last resort you can cut the container off…

Roots of container-grown plants frequently encircle the surface of the root ball. Unless you interfere, the roots may keep growing around and around in the hole. Lay the plant on its side on the ground, holding it at the top with one hand, firmly rake the entire surface of the root ball with a weeding claw. Cut into the root ball with the tines of the claw to loosen and sever the roots. The cut roots will eventually branch and grow out into the surrounding soil.

Dig your hole wider and deeper than the container the perennial came in, you should be able to comfortably fit the plant in the hole while in the pot. Fill the bottom of the hole with at least an inch of soil. Place the plant in the hole and adjust accordingly so the plants crown is level with the existing soil level. Refill the hole with soil, firm the soil, water it…

A good starter list when beginning your guerrilla garden perennial research, all of the following plants will grow relatively well without much human intervention – Yarrow, Hollyhock, Golden Marguerite, Columbine, Butterfly weed, Fall Asters, Astilbe, Indigo, Bergenia, Mountain Bluet, Bugbane, Turtlehead, Coreopsis, corydalis, Delphinium, Chrysanthemum, Bleeding Heart, Foxglove, Echinacea, Blanketflower, Hardy Geranium, Lenten Rose, Daylily, Heuchera, Rose Mallow, Hosta, Iris, Dead Nettle, Shasta Daisy, Blazing Star, Lilyturf, Lupine, Forget-Me-Not, Catmint, Evening Primrose, Peony, Oriental Poppy, Russian Sage, Phlox, Balloonflower, Lungwort, Salvia, Stonecrop, Goldenrod, Lambs Ear, Foamflower, Verbena, Speedwell, Viola.

Continuing care of herbaceous perennials varies from plant to plant. For my general article titled “caring for herbaceous perennials”, please click here

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

This site… And all the photographs and information presented within are provided free of charge by the author… I am not affiliated with any product or business… Only myself… Writing this blog takes a ton of time… If you find any of this information helpful, please consider purchasing a print from my online store… It is obviously not a requirement… But it helps…

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…

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

The Guerrilla Gardening Guidebook – Safety

BeautyAndBeast

“Beauty and the Beast” – Lamar Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – If you would have told me 10 years ago that I would be gardening here… I would have laughed…

Safety

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

I originally posted this post with the title “Safety in the Urban Jungle”, it was popular and fit this series so I am posting it again wearing a new edit and photos… Hope you enjoy!…

I like to think that I write about experience, experience tells me I need to write about safety! Most people probably don’t consider gardening a dangerous hobby, and it normally isn’t when performed on the safety of your own property. Technically speaking, the moment you step on to property that isn’t yours, you are guilty of trespassing, alter the property in any way, and now it’s vandalism, remove anything… and it’s burglary… Which is a felony in PA!

Most of the time what you are doing will be seen as a good thing, and you will find support from the neighbors. Occasionally your presence will not be accepted, and it’s time to do some serious soul-searching. As with any “wild” area like a severely blighted urban community, you will encounter hazards that will need to be dealt with. This post is to relate some of the safety lessons I have learned while guerrilla gardening in a blighted community.

I would like to mention that while a lot of people believe guerilla gardening is a new thing, it has been around for a long time. Contrary to popular belief, guerilla gardenings roots have nothing to do with food, and everything to do with drugs. The first “guerilla gardeners” were pot farmers, the term was coined by them for the obvious “renegade” aspect of what they were doing. Wikipedia claims it was coined in New York in 1973, the term was used much earlier than that though.

I think the most important rule that I could possibly write about is “know your surroundings”, I seriously can’t stress this enough. When you are doing “anything” in a sketchy area be aware of everything, and everyone around you. If you are about to walk through an area that you think is suspect, it doesn’t hurt to be preparing a mental plan on what you would do if something goes wrong.

I have been in several situations where I was obviously being followed for whatever reason, I don’t carry cash and only had garden tools on me. After identifying the situation I immediately made myself as visible as possible by walking in the street and heading for the closest, most occupied area I could. I know at least a few people on every street and was able to make it a friend’s house, the guy walked past the house and waited on the corner for me to leave. I was able to wait him out but this could have been so much worse, I am lucky to know someone in at least 50% of the neighborhoods in Wilkinsburg.

daf

“Miss Lorna’s Daf” – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – When working near a street… Always face the street…

I think “keeping a low profile” is a logical rule, but just in case I’m going to cover it. Blending in with your surroundings can save your life, if you walk around looking like you have money… well… people will think you have money. Just the simple fact of looking “normal” can be the difference, skip the straw farmers hat! A great secret is to figure out what color shirts your local DPW wear, then purchase several shirts in that color, makes you look a little more “official”. Sometimes the situation will put you in regular contact with people, always say hello and speak if spoken to… remember that they are now your neighbors, and will play a huge part in the success or failure of your garden.

Sometimes it is acceptable to garden in plain sight, in the case of food production you should consider hiding it. I have found that allowing people to freely pick is not always a good thing, people damage plants and often take unripe, or way more than they could possibly personally use. Now when I have non-gardeners on my sites I always spend time educating on the “harvesting” aspect of gardening. Gardens used as a protest, memorial or beautification should obviously be visible, public guerilla gardening efforts have issues as well.

I pride myself on my ability to completely zone out while I garden, this was a tough one to break. If you have the ability to work as a team I would recommend a spotter, someone to have your back. Guerilla gardening requires you to be aware of everything around you, even while you work you should be aware of everything. I was taught this lesson by an 11-year-old boy, he was always trying to find me and sneak up on me. He got close enough to reach out and touch me on several occasions, one time I almost punched him in the face, this was a huge wake up call.

If someone can get close enough to touch you while you are gardening, then they are close enough to rob you. When you do get approached by a stranger, stand up immediately, face them head on and NEVER get caught with your pants down. Consider a 6′ perimeter around yourself “personal space” and do not let them in it, if they do break that perimeter let them know you want “personal space”, they will normally understand, if they don’t “SOMETHING IS NOT RIGHT”, act accordingly!

Things you may find can harm you as well, caution should be taken with anything that you come in contact with. Guns should always be considered loaded and lethal, age weakens components and can make it very dangerous. If you ever find a gun, leave it as you found it and immediately call the police, they will respond quickly.

Cookie

“C is for Cookie” – Taylor Way – Wilkinsburg, PA – I was out photographing an alley on the other side of Wilkinsburg when I came across this hat… As I was photographing this hat a man came out of a house and told me to “mind my business”… Which I did… It wasn’t until later that I realized this was a meeting point… Some things never change…

Drug dealers don’t keep their drugs and guns at home with them, they often stash them nearby in a vacant house or yard. If you ever find one of these stashes, “DO NOT TAKE ANYTHING!!!” 9 out of 10 times you ARE BEING WATCHED, they do not stray far from the stash. Your best chance of leaving this situation with your life is to walk away like you saw nothing, I would forget I ever saw it and if anything tell someone else what you saw and let them call the police. Basically I am saying if you ever find yourself in this situation the most important thing is to get as far away, as quickly as possible. What you do from that point forward is on you, but your physical safety should be considered.

Animals can also be a serious problem with dogs being the most common, and often the most dangerous. I have always had an unexplainable thing with animals and rarely have problems, but it does happen. Dogs are almost always curious animals that don’t want to hurt you, extreme home environments are the problem. Starvation, neglect, fighting, abuse and torture of dogs does happen, this can turn an otherwise friendly dog into a killing machine.

If you encounter an animal in this condition after you secure your own life you need to report it to the police, they can handle it. Mace can be a good dog deterrent, and is rather effective on humans as well. I was planting pumpkins in the backyard of the house across the street, I heard the barking before I even saw it. The biggest, scariest pit bull I have ever seen was hauling ass right towards me, I spent the next two hours chain-smoking cigarettes locked in the kitchen of an abandoned house.

Hypodermic needles can also be commonplace, with blight comes pain. Never ever touch a used needle, if you have to do it, wear protection. If finding needles becomes commonplace, talk to a doctor or hospital and acquire a used needle box with a safety lid. Paramedics and police will respond when called about a dirty needle, they have the equipment needed to recover used needles. Basically the safest thing you can do is dial “911″, they would rather pick up a needle than pick you up after stabbing yourself.

In closing I just want to stress how important being aware of your surroundings at all times is, this WILL save your life. The boy scouts have a motto “Always Be Prepared” that I think applies nicely here, keep your head up. Guerilla gardeners fight blight with beauty, wherever there is vacant land you will find us in one form or another.

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

This site… And all the photographs and information presented within are provided free of charge by the author… I am not affiliated with any product or business… Only myself… Writing this blog takes a ton of time… If you find any of this information helpful, please consider purchasing a print from my online store… It is obviously not a requirement… But it helps…

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…

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.