What is guerrilla gardening?
Guerrilla gardening is the art of using a piece of land which you do not own to grow something.
One step removed from actual guerrilla warfare, guerrilla gardening takes land not for the people,
but for nature; returning misused or disused land and finding a purpose for it.
Guerrilla gardeners come late in the night with watering cans, compost and
gardening gloves, and turn rotting sods of grass outside some condemned
building into a vegetable patch, a clump of daffodils, or a flowering rosebush.
Well, why not? Land is expensive, and is
the only base commodity that the entire human race has to share. Without
getting too deep into arguments about the politics of land ownership, land is
very important. Every person surely has some right to some land of their own.
But take a look around any urbanised area, and you’ll see that there is a lot
of wasted land. Guerrilla gardening takes that land, and returns it to use. I’m
not going to pretend that planting a geranium on a scrap of disused land is
some huge Zapatista-like act of rebellion, but it is a highly symbolic
act. And best of all, it’s both fun and ecologically sound.
A quick start guide to guerrilla gardening
The basic principle behind guerrilla gardening is to take a piece of land which is not
being used, and to grow something in it. So your first step should be to find some land that isn’t
being used. Look for grassy patches around abandoned buildings or deserted allotments.
Grass will grow almost anywhere, and indicates fertile soil. The quality of
soil can be improved if necessary by working in a compost or mulch.
A note on the illegality of guerrilla gardening
By now, you’ll have no doubt realised that guerrilla gardening is perhaps a little on
the illegal side. People, companies or local government
will undoubtedly own the land which you are going to cultivate, and interfering with other
people’s land is illegal. Unless you can obtain permission to garden on the land in question,
you should abide by three rules:
- Use only land that is unused or unwanted
The land that you pick should be unused now, and
for the duration of your vegetation’s lifespan. Your definition of "unused" is
up to you; derelict land is unused, but what about the grass verges on the
sides of roads?
- Leave the land in better condition than when you found it
If you’re going to use some land for guerrilla gardening, then you should
leave it in a better state than when you first took an interest in it.
Improve the fertility of the land with compost, go organic,
and clean away the detritus of urban life.
- Don’t get caught
This is as self explanatory as it sounds. In
essence, you’re doing something illegal on someone else’s land, so don’t get
What to grow in your guerrilla garden
Chances are, with a guerrilla garden,
you’ll be working with a small piece of land in a largely urban area. You’ll be
growing in an area that the general public will not regard as a garden or
farming area, so you should expect your garden to be ignored, or worse, trampled
over. So, you’ll need to use plants that are hardy, low maintenance and that
have a high success rate if you want anyone to sit up and take notice.
If you want to extract maximum usefulness
from your reclaimed garden, then I would recommend growing some form of
vegetable or fruit and growing your own food. If it’s shock value you’re after,
then a spray of bright flowers raised elsewhere from seedlings and transplanted
out into the wild once established should achieve the desired effect.
One other plant that is often grown in a
guerrilla garden is that activist favourite, marijuana. With the land clearly
unwanted or owned by some corporate or government body, and tended by some
mystery gardening-gloved masked hand, then who is there to prosecute? Indeed,
can anyone be prosecuted for a natural plant growing in a (newly liberated)
Political gardening versus gardening for fun
The very act of taking someone else’s land
and using it to your own end is in itself a political act. Whether or not you
want your guerrilla gardening to act as a political message, with publicity and
it own public impact is entirely up to you and the way your horticultural deeds
are constructed. Planting pretty tulips on old industrial estates is one
message, growing marijuana outside government offices is quite another. The
choice is yours.