Guidelines for Guerrilla Gardening

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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. 

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