Plotting a revolution: Inside the mind of a budding guerrilla gardener
I’ve practiced my craft at home. I’ve experimented with tamer, safer tactical maneuvers. But now it’s time to go deeper. To risk more. To slink off into the night, leaving the urban landscape forever transformed in my wake.
In other words, it’s time to guerrilla garden. Where I once simply lobbed wildflower seeds into vacant lots and hoped for the best, now I’ll plant an actual array of botanical delight in a neglected corner of the city.
Guerrilla gardening, for the uninitiated, is all about reclaiming abandoned, underused, or just plain ugly land around you and using it to raise veggies, herbs, flowers, and, depending on your tastes, perhaps the occasional garden gnome. It’s taking a plot of soil you don’t technically have the right to plant and planting it anyway, letting your rebellion against wasted space grow alongside your illicit community tomatoes.
Sounds like fun, right? I sure thought so. I was so overcome with enthusiasm for this next foray into guerrilladom that the other day I very nearly just took off with a bushelful of plants, sure I’d find the perfect site and have my garden growing strong before happy hour. It was only when I realized I don’t actually, ya know, own any gardening tools that I paused to think.
Now that you mention it, I didn’t really know what types of plants would work best, either. And that perfect site? Not all patches of dirt are created equal.
A little prep work was clearly in order. But once I dug in, I found that it doesn’t take too much effort to lay the foundation for a successful garden. Just answer these elementary questions and you’re on your way.
This is the fountain from which all other guerrilla-related decisions spring. Naturally, you want something neglected: a barren median, vacant lot, empty planter, bare bus stop, or even a block of dirt between the street and the sidewalk. But you also want something close to home (or work) — preferably walking distance, so that you can keep an eye on it and maintenance doesn’t become a giant hassle.
You’ll want a spot where people will notice and appreciate your handiwork (it’s not called The Secret Guerrilla Garden for a reason). Other things to consider: drainage, soil, likelihood of being crushed by an errant semi.
After a thorough neighborhood canvassing, I found it: a sad, littered slope smashed between a construction site and a busy highway, halfway down a set of stairs connecting a bus stop to the homes above. I could tell the spot was ripe for improvement by its robust graffiti-to-concrete ratio. There’s a bench there, so clearly someone thought this was a worthy place to put your feet up and contemplate life. Here, I could make a difference!
I may be full of revolutionary fervor, but I’m also a rookie gardener. I don’t want to install a vibrant set of fancy plants only to have them wither and die. For me (and many other guerrilla gardeners), hardy is the name of the game. You need plants that can tolerate the site conditions — sunny, shady, clay, loamy, what have you — and don’t need to be fussed over.
I’ll be calling in a professional consult on that one, just as soon as I can find a garden store that can be trusted with my secrets.
Scout your site: Does it need a major facelift (raking away trash, soil overhaul), or can you just dig n’ drop? What tools do you need to pull it off?
I’ll start small. I’ll rake away some of the broken glass and assorted articles of clothing strewn around the site (weird) to spruce things up, but I’m starting with a small planter next to the bench. It’ll be easier to control soil quality, I won’t have to deal with the rocky slope, and it’ll look so darn cute.
You, obviously. But will you act alone (no one to rat you out) or muster a roving band of rogue gardeners (someone to help you haul)?
I poked around a bit looking for organized guerrillas in town — I was excited to find a picture of several women dressed as superheroes planting a g-garden in a local paper, only to find out they were really a singing telegram group doing a publicity stunt — before deciding to go it alone this first time. Alone except for my fiancé, Ted, of course, who will provide lookout services and wipe the sweat from my brow.
There are two ways to tackle guerrilla gardening. One, in broad daylight, which encourages passersby to check out what you’re up to and fosters a community feel. Two, in the dead of night, to escape detection and provide the effect of a neighborhood Garden Fairy who comes while you’re asleep and leaves drought-tolerant plants under your pillow.
Me, I’m going for the dead-of-night approach. Much more fun. I’m already fine-tuning my camo face painting.
Now that I’ve got it all planned out, it’s time to plant. I’ll report back on the mission’s successes and failures next time around.