A new movement is making a name for itself in some of America’s largest cities. In an effort to reclaim potentially productive land that has been disregarded and forgotten in the wake of urbanization,guerrilla gardeners emphasize that their efforts help to remind the public that empty space isn’t useless, and that ‘ugly’ areas can easily be turned into beautiful areas.
The movement also acts as an effort to help beautify cities by turning bare dirt patches into flower gardens. Trees and vegetation can even increase property value, creating more appealing neighborhoods.
Guerrilla gardening can be done at any scale. From planting a few flowers in the center meridians of streets to transforming an entire vacant lot into a full functioning farm, this method of gardening is technically illegal, though that clearly doesn’t stop many people from participating. Many guerilla gardeners do their planting during the night to avoid running into trouble with authorities. This adds an extra level of excitement to the process; imagine waking up with a line of sunflowers or succulents in front of your apartment where a strip of dirt running along the sidewalk used to be the day before.
Guerrilla gardeners claim that their efforts can help create a sense of community. People who otherwise wouldn’t interact are brought together through the therapeutic acts of digging, planting, weeding, and watering. Neighbors who see the efforts also join in, and after the plants are in the ground and the guerrilla gardeners move onto the next endeavor, while those neighbors upkeep the gardens by continuing to weed and water them.
Guerrilla gardening is not just a movement occurring in the US, nor is it just used to plant pretty flowers everywhere. When Cuba was experiencing Peak Oil (after the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba lost half of its oil imports), they had to change their way of living. Agriculture was forced to become organic because there was no oil to continue fueling industrial agriculture methods. Food shortage became a growing concern and many people began growing vegetables and fruits anywhere they could. Urban gardens were created in vacant lots, in the back of pick up trucks, along the sidewalk, basically anywhere that could harbor soil. It helped Cuba through Peak Oil and has helped continue the guerilla gardening movement internationally.
Interested in joining a guerrilla gardening group? Two guerilla gardening groups in the US are LA Guerrilla Gardening, which was started from a birthday party turned gardening party in Los Angeles, and Green Guerrillas in New York City, which was unofficially started in 1973 and now helps set up schoolyard gardens. These organizations are unusual though; most guerrilla gardening is done by ‘less official’ gatherings of people. GuerrillaGardening.org is an online community that encourages collaboration between guerrilla gardeners and can be used as a resource to get involved in whatever city you’re in!
So grab your best overalls, some gardening gloves, a shovel, and go help keep this amazing movement going and beautify your neighborhood and city!
Ayja is a recent Santa Clara University graduate who double majored in Environmental Studies and Music and minored in Creative Writing. She grew up in Sandy, Utah, and spent her childhood skiing, rock climbing and hiking in the Wasatch Mountains. Now living in Palo Alto, California, Ayja spends her free time reading, writing, running, and researching sustainable efforts around the world. She’s passionate about sustainable agriculture, international development, and environmental education, and hopes to combine her passion for writing with her love of nature and travel.