Guerrilla gardening is a new trend popping up—by its very definition—in some of the most unexpected places. It’s the practice of planting in a public or private space you don’t own, and it can be a useful way to save space around the homestead while connecting with your local gardening community. It’s also a way to improve some of the less beautiful or neglected spaces in your neighborhood. But before you head out the door with a pocketful of seeds like some modern-day Johnny Appleseed, there are a few things you need to think about.
Selecting the right space
Where you'll plant depends on what type of guerrilla you'll be: are you a suburban or a city guerrilla?
If you live in the city, you'll have to get a bit creative. Take a look at those little dirt cutouts around sidewalk trees. Might they look better with a few companion herbs or flowers? Opportunities often exist in places we don't give much thought to. Untended areas such as small street medians and spaces between sidewalks and hedges can make good impromptu beds—just be careful not to plant during high-traffic hours, and make sure to select hardy crops that aren’t too invasive—California poppies, horseradish and some varieties of valerian are all good for these purposes.
If you're a suburban guerrilla, you’ll probably have more options when it comes to planting spaces, but that also means you'll need to be more selective. Try to identify low-impact spaces that aren't likely to draw the ire of nearby property owners or town officials—there are few things more upsetting than returning to a lovingly planted bed to find that someone has torn up all your hard work. Some of my favorite guerrilla plots have been roadside knolls that could stand to be improved with a few bursts of color. Violets, goldenrod and lavender are all great choices for these types of gardens. Just make sure you don't choose a busy road!
Some guerrillas prefer to plant not for food, but with the single objective of making their community a more beautiful and pleasant place to be. Whether you’re a city or a suburban gardener, installing flower beds and greenery near abandoned or neglected buildings or public spaces can accomplish this nicely.
Finally, whether you live in the suburbs or the city, remember to never plant anything in a state park or nature sanctuary. These places are contained ecosystems meant to preserve the area's native flora and fauna. Be respectful of that!
Know what you’re introducing
That mystery packet of seeds you've been holding onto for the past couple years? Best to save it for your personal garden beds or containers. When you set out to plant "in the wild," it’s critical you know exactly what it is you're introducing and how it will interact with the vegetation already present. Be conscious that you’re contributing to a broader ecosystem.
For example, fast spreaders such as mint and oregano might not be the best choices for small areas that bleed into nearby beds or areas where plants shouldn't go (like commonly used pathways or trails). These types of spaces are best reserved for more containable plants like basil, sage or even certain edible roots.
In the same way, consider local wildlife in the area. Make sure nothing you’re planting will do any harm to the birds and other native critters.
Learn to share
If you're going to be planting in public places, realize that you may not be the only harvester. Make sure you plant enough to share, and don’t be discouraged if you find that others have discovered your trove. Who knows, you might even stumble onto someone else’s secret garden! Guerrilla gardening can be a rewarding experience, but keep in mind, the space isn't as actually "yours." This adds an element of risk, but also one of excitement. Another gardener may perceive what you’re doing and decide to pitch in!
Left to right: String morning glories along a chain-link fence. A "bed" of echinacea and alyssum borders a small patch of woods. Photos By Rebecca Lynn Crockett.
Have fun with it!
Take the opportunity to improve the neighborhood aesthetic. Create small borders with rocks or seashells, or give your spare garden gnome a new home. Just don't install anything you consider too valuable, as vandalism and theft are, unfortunately, still possibilities.
Guerilla gardens are a great way to share your passions with friends, neighbors and other members of your community. Talking to other adventuresome local gardeners can help you build a strong guerrilla network, and online forums can also amplify your efforts and enhance the experience. Even if you never meet your fellow guerrillas in the flesh, however, this connective community pastime can still be truly rewarding.
Photos above: Empty space around sidewalk trees creates a perfect opportunity for a small guerilla bed. A hint of color makes even the most dull spaces a little brighter. Photos By Rebecca Lynn Crockett.
Rebecca Lynn Crockett is an avid gardener, herbalist and writer. She inherited a love of the earth from her father at a young age, and has been cultivating it ever since. In her spare time, Rebecca pursues her passion for literature and folklore as a fiction writer for all ages.
Summertime means outdoor living—and outdoor living often means putting up with mosquitoes. For many people, the only way to deal with mosquitoes is to use a DEET-based repellent. While the EPA has deemed DEET safe if “used as directed,” this chemical pesticide carries a number of risks with it. Some studies have found DEET to be toxic in excessive doses, and a 2001 review of 17 cases of suspected DEET toxicity in children concluded that the chemical should be avoided on children’s skin.
Instead of slathering your skin in neurotoxins, opt for a safer, natural approach to fending off mosquitoes. In this video, Mother Earth Living Editor-in-Chief Jessica Kellner demonstrates how to make a bug-repellent spray using essential oils know to repel mosquitoes, such as citronella, as well as a few tips on choosing carrier oils and where to find good spray bottles.
For a full list of bug-repellent essential oils, plus more tips on how to ward off mosquitoes, check out the article Natural Mosquito Control Methods.
Now that the weather in southwestern Pennsylvania has finally turned the corner and is more like spring, gardening has been on the forefront of my mind. Today I hope to inspire you with some herbal thoughts about community gardens while the weather here (and in other places around the country) warms up. Read on for more garden inspiration.
Benefits of Community Gardens
Community gardens do so much good. They are sponsored by public entities and private organizations. If you are an apartment or condo dweller, or have a house in the city, community gardens give you your own space to garden in. If you have a parent or another loved one that needs help gardening, you could share a plot with them to enhance their lives and give the both of you good food to eat. You see, I think gardening is good for your body, mind and soul, and if it means gardening in a smaller space, a community garden plot may be just the right size for you.
I am going to introduce you to three of my favorite community gardens I have visited in my herbal travels. And if you are even more interested in community gardening, the American Community Garden Association website will help you find a community garden in your area. Just submit your zip code and/or location. This is a great starting point.
The Cascade P-Patch Community Garden - Downtown Seattle
When I was out west several years ago, I got to see the Cascade P-Patch Community Garden in downtown Seattle. The P-Patch association is a group of community gardens all over the Seattle area. There are various sizes and prices for plots. The Cascade Community Gardens is a very popular community garden and you may have to be on a waiting list to get in.
A colorful sign welcomes you to the beautiful Cascade P-Patch Community Garden located in downtown Seattle.
It was in September and the gardens were lush and full of veggies, herbs and flowers.
September brings an abundant harvest to the garden.
I am always impressed by the size of the herbs in these gardens and this particular rosemary is no exception. It was very happy to be surrounded by the concrete of the sidewalks. I need to put some pavers around mine in my herb garden this season. The reflective heat of the concrete is what helps the rosemary to flourish.
A happy rosemary plant is surrounded by concrete.
Pine Street Community Gardens - Vancouver, British Columbia
Another region that has a great growing climate is the Vancouver area in British Columbia. To find a community garden in the area, the City of Vancouver's website lists all of the community gardens in the Vancouver area.
A couple of years ago, The Herbal Husband and I went up to Vancouver. While we were there, we visited a couple of community gardens in the area. One was called the Pine Street Community Gardens and is located along the abandoned railroad tracks on west 6th Street between Fir and Burrard. It is only a couple of blocks in length, but it has made a positive impact on the community. It also has an urban orchard as part of the garden. They were having colder than normal May weather when we were there in 2011.
Poppies decorated this gardener’s plot in the Pine Street Community Garden.
A big blooming rosemary makes a fragrant addition.
A small herb garden in a bigger plot.
An espaliered fruit tree.
It is so important to mix your vegetables, fruit and herbs to get the best use of your space and planting time. Jim Long came up with a lovely plan for a kitchen garden in five years called "Step by Step Your Garden Grows: Design an Easy Kitchen Garden." You could use just part of his design for your community garden space.
Cypress Community Garden - Vancouver, British Columbia
We visited a second community garden while in Vancouver called the Cypress Community Garden. It is located in the Kitsilano neighborhood and is easily accessible from the bicycle routes or the buses so you don’t necessarily have to have a car to garden in the community garden setting. It had a good mix of ornamental gardens with seating and traditional raised beds for vegetable gardening space.
This beautiful garden is a peaceful sanctuary for quiet reflection.
Organized raised beds are perfect for growing vegetables and herbs.
What a glorious hedge of rosemary!
All Photos By Nancy Heraud
I know I don’t have to say much more about the benefits of community gardens. As long as you are able to do the work in the garden, it will be a wonderful benefit to both you and your neighborhood. There are lots of good ideas for starting a community garden in your area on the American Community Garden Association website. I hope I have inspired you to start your own community garden, or at the very least you can't wait to start gardening on the plot you are waiting for or already have (share your experience with Mother Earth Living).
As always, if you have a comment or question about any of my posts, please write to me here with a comment or my e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and put in the subject line “Herb Comment or Question.” Talk to you soon.
You can check out the Lemon Verbena Lady at her blog Lemon Verbena Lady's Herb Garden.
"It will never rain roses: When we want to have more roses we must plant more trees." —George Eliot
Spring is just beginning to bloom, which means it's the perfect time to start the garden. As we relish the feel of the earth in our hands and the breeze on our cheeks after a long winter indoors, we can take joy in the fact that the plants we sow now will yield food to sustain our families all season. Give yourself a little extra reason to treasure your time in the garden by perusing the gardening articles from our March/April 2013 issue. In this issue, we teach you how to have your earliest spring garden, give you tips on reducing your gardening resources, show you an unexpected source of nutrition, tell you which first-aid essentials you should store at home to ease gardening woes, and much more!
Spring Gardening Tips
Grow Salad Greens Now:
Enjoy homegrown flavors in just a few short weeks by starting this simple salad garden now.
Zero-Waste Gardening: Save money and help the environment by reducing the resources that go into your garden.
The Health Benefits of Dandelions: Harvest nutritious, delicious dandelion greens for a slew of health and culinary benefits.
15 Uses for Mint: Discover 15 handy household uses for easy-growing mint.
5 Antioxidant-Rich Fruits that Grow Anywhere: These homegrown fruits offer superior flavor and nutrition.
The Gardener's Natural First-Aid Kit: Keep these healing essentials on hand for blisters, sunburns, or bumps and scrapes.
Air plants are a perfect low-maintenance option for the gardener who wants to add a unique flair to their home or garden.
What are Air Plants?
The Tillandsia genus includes more than 500 species and is part of the Bromeliad family. The most common name, Tillandsia, are also referred to as epiphytes, meaning they grow with no soil while attached to other host plants, thus the common moniker ‘air plants.’ (It is important to note that epiphytes are not parasitic plants and depend on the host for support only.)
Photo By Ciera Holzenthal/Flickr
Because they absorb water and nutrients through their leaves via trichomes (scales suited for suction), air plants require no soil. (In fact, do not ever plant them in soil!) Roots act merely as anchors to allow for adhering to trees, rocks, posts, fences and other objects, and can actually be removed if desired.
These unique and interesting specimens reproduce by seeds or offsets referred to as “pups,” with a single plant having as many as a dozen “pups” to assure reproduction. “Pups” can be removed for planting elsewhere or retained on the mother plant to promote clustering.
Tillandsia will only flower once, though “pupping” will assure that flowers continue to grow as mother plants are replaced by the “pups.”
How to Care for Air Plants
While air plants grow in air, they still require water. Watering them properly is one of the most important components of keeping air plants healthy and vibrant. Misting them 2 to 4 times per week may suffice, though proper watering is recommended, saturating until run-off appears.
However, it is important to allow them to dry out completely before watering more, as they will rot if left wet for long periods. As the trichomes close once they’ve received enough moisture, it becomes fairly easy to get an understanding of just how much water is enough.
For proper growth, Tillandsia requires as bright a light as possible without burning. Indirect light, such as from south-, east- or west-facing windows (within 8 to 10 feet), or fluorescent tube or other grow lighting in a room with good circulation, is ideal. It may also be necessary to move air plants (especially from season to season) to find the area most suited for proper sun exposure.
Outdoors, air plants do well in partial-sun locations like under trees and shrubs, patios or shade cloths. Avoid placing air plants in direct sun for more than 45 minutes.
Tillandsia do not necessarily require fertilization, though if one chooses to the results are generally favorable. As with any plant it is important not to over-fertilize or use one that is not suited for air plants.
Diluted, water-soluble, acidic fertilizers are optimal and should be applied no more than once per month. Ammonium or nitrate nitrogen (low relative to the phosphorus, at least half of the potassium), phosphorus (use all you want), and potassium (again use in large amounts) will do the trick nicely. Avoid those fertilizers with copper, boron or zinc.
From near freezing to scorching heat, air plants are generally tolerant of varying degrees of temperature. They do best in higher humidity and anywhere from 50 to 90 degrees (70 to 85 degrees is optimal) allowing for a 10- to 15-degree drop in nighttime temps. While a light frost may result in minor leaf damage, frost for extended amounts of time will kill Tillandsia.
Photo By Narisa/Flickr
Mounting Air Plants
One of the coolest attributes of air plants is that they can be grown on practically any solid surface that doesn’t retain water, indoors or out.
They can be glued (only if waterproof), tied, stapled, or wired (no copper, as it kills air plants) to stone and rocks, seashells, ceramic tile, pottery, wood (only if not pressure treated), cork, glass, in terrariums—the sky, for the most part, is the limit. The plant just has to be watered, receive ample light, and (for younger plants) mounted in a place that will allow it to grow.
Keeping Tillandsia can be an enjoyable and fascinating pursuit, truly unique to other types of planting and growing. Their pre-bloom, vibrantly colored leaves, “disembodied” nature, and ability to be utilized in myriad ways makes them a winner.
Mackenzie Kupfer has been a lover of all things green since the age of six when she began gardening with her Nana. She is currently an online publisher for the tomato cage supplier, Avant Garden Decor. In her free time, Mackenzie enjoys attending garden shows, hiking, and collecting ceramic tea sets.
This spring become more self-reliant and reduce your exposure to chemicals by planting herbs in pots, building raised garden beds, creating a worm composting bin and making your own fence paint.
Planting Herbs in Pots
Herbs can be grown in a large outdoor pot, as long as the pot has good drainage, is at least 14 inches in diameter and 9 inches deep, and is filled with fertile soil. Purchase small plants and position them according to size (about 4 inches apart). Plant and lightly water. Sage, rosemary, thyme, lavender, oregano, chervil, summer savory and lovage are readily available and can be used as single seasonings or in combination with one another. (I recommend using these herbs to create an Herbes De Provence season mix.)
Building Raised Garden Beds
While raised beds are not a new idea, they are still beneficial and very easy to build. Raised beds have been used for more than 2,000 years, ever since the Greeks first noticed plants sprouting in landslide areas where soil was loose and moisture penetrated easily. With this in mind, they started making their own raised beds. As it turns out, adding aerated, turned and amended soil with organic matter to raised beds loosens soil, which improves its texture and nutrient value. Spacing plants close together also creates shade and keeps the moisture in the soil by self-mulching, which helps produce growth.
Constructing a raised bed is simple, as you can make a frame with any solid material that holds soil. Just keep in mind that if you use wood it must be rot-resistant because the frame will be in constant contact with moist soil. Cedar and redwood are two types of wood that are resistant to decay; Douglas fir and pine can be used but may only last five years. Raised beds can extend above the ground from several inches to 12 inches, and the beds can be made to fit any size as long as the middle can be easily accessed for weeding and harvesting. Cut the wood to the size of your planned bed, drill three holes with a #30 bit at the corner boards and insert 4-inch weather-proof drywall screws. For more stability, attach brackets to the inside corners.
When deciding where to place the raised beds, remember that most plants need at least eight hours of sun each day. Turn the soil where the raised bed will be permanently placed. If there are critters underground that may nibble on your vegetables, line the bed with chicken wire. Fill the bed with a combination of soil, compost, peat moss and fertilizer 8–32–16. But the fun part is deciding what seeds to plant. A beginning gardener may want to start with a simple salad bed that consists of lettuces, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, radishes and scallions.
Worm Composting Bin
Vermiculture, or red wiggler worm composting, is a way to recycle your kitchen scraps, tea and coffee grounds, and turn it into nutritious soil and fertilizer for your plants. Coffee grounds are an excellent addition as they add nitrogen, an element that bacteria needs in order to turn organic matter into compost.
To get started you need a container, soil, bedding and worms. You can use a dark plastic container or purchase one specifically for worm composting. Worms like dark, moist environments—just make sure the environment isn't too wet. Worms can be kept in temperatures of 40 to 80 degrees, but prefer temperatures of 60 to 70 degrees. After three to six months you should see a lot of castings (dark soil) that can be used as fertilizer in your garden beds. Although worms can be purchased online, it is better to buy worms locally so that they are already acclimated to your environment.
DIY Fence Paint
Family dogs are sometimes a nuisance when you have a garden. But this problem can be easily remedied by installing a simple picket-type fence. Build your own with recycled wood or install one with panels purchased from a home and garden store. Seal the wood with a paint that protects it from the elements and also adds a fun color to your yard. There are many eco-friendly paints on the market, but they may cost more than the conventional kind. Instead, make your own paint.
The oldest painted surfaces on earth were colored with a form of milk paint. In colonial America, itinerant painters roamed the countryside carrying pigments. To make paint, these pigments were mixed with farmer's or householder’s milk and lime. To make your own milk paint all you need is whole milk, vinegar, borax and a pigment. More information can be found at Milk Paint.
Plan now for the ultimate reward of herbs, vegetables and a yard that will give you a sense of pleasure and sustainability.
Desiree Bell is inspired by botanicals and natural materials. She is a vegetarian who has a certificate in herbal studies and a certificate from Australasian College of Health Sciences in Aromatherapy. Visit her blog Beyond A Garden.
Be a local hero! One of best, most compassionate ways to practice zero-waste gardening is to donate your garden’s excess vegetables, fruits or herbs to local food pantries, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, senior centers or other community organizations that distribute food. Consider planting extra this spring so you’ll have even more to share with your neighbors in need.
Zero-waste gardening is always working towards eliminating or reducing landfill garbage and toxins, which includes not wasting precious food and all of the earth’s resources that it took to grow it. You put so much hard work and care into your zero-waste garden, why not donate your abundance of spring greens, onions, zucchini or tomatoes? Remember that one out of six Americans needs food assistance.
It’s easy to locate the food pantry near you. Conduct an online search by typing in “food bank,” “food pantry” or “food distribution” and the name of your city and state. Also go to Ample Harvest and FeedingAmerica.org.
For more zero-waste articles by the Letitia L. Star, see Zero-Waste Gardening and How to Create a Zero-Waste Kitchen.
Letitia L. Star is a healthy living writer who specializes in writing about gardening, healthy eating and green living. To date, she has written over 1,100 published articles including many cover stories for Mother Earth Living, Mother Earth News (Women’s Health and Herb Healing special editions), Natural Home & Garden, The Herb Companion and GRIT. She also frequently writes effective marketing articles promoting natural foods, herbs, remedies and products.