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How “Guerrilla Gardening” Is Taking Root

How “Guerrilla Gardening” Is Taking Root

Step aside graffiti artists and make way for guerrilla gardeners dropping seed bombs! City-dwelling gardening enthusiasts, tired of looking at abandoned lots and gaping potholes, are filling in those spaces with green things.

Grass Roots Gardening

Actually, this kind of grass-roots greening isn’t new. In the early 1970s, some groovy gardeners living in New York City’s Lower Manhattan were tired of the urban decay they saw all around them. They threw seed “green-aids” over the fences of vacant lots. They planted sunflower seeds in the center meridians of busy streets and flower boxes on the window ledges of abandoned buildings.


My daughter helping to beautify the city streets of Brooklyn.

Soon they established a community garden, growing vegetables, sharing skills and resources, rallying people to reclaim urban spaces, and sparking a movement. That original community garden on Bowery and Houston is still thriving; it’s a treat to pass by when you’ve been pounding the pavement. Those rebellious gardeners are now a well-organized group called the Green Guerillas. And today there are over 600 community gardens in New York City.

A Million Trees?

New York City also has a program called MillionTreesNYC, an adoption program for young city trees. You can request a tree to plant or adopt an existing tree. They even provide training and grant money for planting flowers in the tree plot. My daughter and I have done it together for the last couple of years. Showing kids how things grow — in a city where there is no green grass to be found for blocks — is a pretty big deal. And New York City understands that.

But while one city has learned to embrace this kind of “civic disobedience,” others are slow to follow suit. And so guerrilla gardening (basically gardening without permission), is a “growing” trend. Now it’s becoming cool to garden.

On The Other Coast

Ron Finley planted a garden on the 150-foot-long curbside strip outside his house in South Central Los Angeles. He grew herbs and flowers and vegetables free for the taking. What started as a project to keep busy, turned into a crusade. Finley received a citation from the city; he had failed to purchase a $400 permit to grow vegetables on an otherwise neglected plot of city land. In a neighborhood that he calls a “food desert,” plagued with fast food and folks dying of diet-related diseases, growing vegetables for a community clearly in need had become a crime. Finley fought back.

By circulating a petition and bending the ear of a receptive city council member, Finley convinced the city to leave his garden alone. And then he helped found an organization called LA Green Grounds, dedicated to installing free vegetable gardens in curbside medians, vacant lots, and other properties in blighted areas.

With slogans like “It’s Your City. Dig It,” and “Let’s fight the filth with forks and flowers,” guerrilla gardeners around the world are changing the urban landscape one city block at a time. Some of these gardeners work in groups after dark, planting gardens in city parks or even private property that has been abandoned. There are books and blogs giving advice about how to plant and maintain a garden clandestinely.

Others work in the light of day, rallying neighbors and local businesses to spruce up their blocks with flowers and reclaim vacant lots by planting vegetables. They offer resources and training, they’re inspiring people to take pride in their communities and teaching kids how to grow things that are good to eat. Mostly, but not always, city officials turn a blind eye on ordinances.

Seed Bombs?

One of the simplest and fun ways to do some guerilla gardening is to drop seed bombs. These are balls of seeds encased in clay, thrown or dropped in barren or abandoned lots. The clay protects the seed from critters and eventually breaks down as the seedling grows. It’s not a new concept; it’s the ultimate way to plant without digging. You can even make them with your kids. Here’s how:

Before seed bombing, choose your site (the sunnier the better) and choose your seeds. Different types of seed may be combined to make a seed bomb but check that they can all be sown at the same time of year.

For sunny areas, annual meadow flowers including poppies, cornflower, marigold; Californian poppies; cosmos; hollyhocks; nigella; verbena bonariensis; viper’s bugloss. For shady areas, use a woodland seed mix—foxgloves, tobacco plant, honesty.

Here’s what you’ll need:
– Flower seed
– Potter’s clay powder, from any craft shop
– Peat-free compost
– Water
– A bowl
– A baking tray

Mix the seed, clay, and compost together in a bowl to a ratio of three handfuls of clay, five handfuls of compost and one handful of seed. Then add water slowly and gradually, mixing it all together until you get a consistency that you can form into truffle-sized balls. Lay them out to bake dry on a sunny windowsill for at least three hours.

Have you seen this kind of gardening where you live? Tell us in the comments below!

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  • Roxie Soliz says:

    My granddaughter and i dropped seed bombs for squash, tomatoes, and tomatillos in abandoned lots in the poor side of town last week. We plan on doing it again soon!

  • flowerstone says:

    I have been planning to seedbomb Hells Gate with poppies and other hardy seeds: marigold, coriopses, cosmos. Hells Gate is the name of a stretch of Hwy that passes through 2 sadly unadorned tunnels just East of Yale BC. Legend says that the most beautiful flowers grow closest to the gates of Hell. I think the tourists would love it. Maybe one day the inside of the tunnel will be painted thematically for a new local sight seeing exhibit. Now I know how to ensure my guerilla garden can be easily successful and repeated efficiently!

  • Marsia says:

    You should see my daughter Meg’s beautiful garden in Brooklyn New York! Her neighbors love to see all the flowers and veggies that she is growing. Urban farming at its best!

  • Lottie says:

    Seed bombs are great! Selecting the right seeds for your area, is important. Many of the plants that home owners work so hard to keep out if their lawns, “the weeds”, produce beautiful flowers attracting bees and butterflies.

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