[permaculture] LA Times on guerrilla gardeners - Boing Boing || Guerrilla gardener movement takes root in L.A. area
Lawrence F. London, Jr.
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Sun Jun 1 17:27:05 EDT 2008
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LA Times on guerrilla gardeners
Posted by Mark Frauenfelder, June 1, 2008 1:50 PM | permalink
The LA Times reports on the guerrilla gardening movement, in which people make and maintain gardens on property that's
Shown above, a photo by Gina Ferazzi of a batch of "seed bombs," used by guerrilla gardeners to quickly plant seeds on
Scott is a guerrilla gardener, a member of a burgeoning movement of green enthusiasts who plant without approval on
land that's not theirs. In London, Berlin, Miami, San Francisco and Southern California, these free-range tillers are
sowing a new kind of flower power. In nighttime planting parties or solo "seed bombing" runs, they aim to turn neglected
public space and vacant lots into floral or food outposts.
Part beautification, part eco-activism, part social outlet, the activity has been fueled by Internet gardening
blogs and sites such as GuerrillaGardening.org, where before-and-after photos of the latest "troop digs" inspire 45,000
visitors a month to make derelict soil bloom.
Link (via Ramshackle Solid):
Guerrilla gardener movement takes root in L.A. area
Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times
Scott planted the garden on the median early in the morning to avoid detection. He continues to weed and clean.
Residents encourage his work.
Stealth growers seed or plant on land that doesn't belong to them. The result? Plants that beautify or yield crops in
otherwise neglected or vacant spaces.
By Joe Robinson, Special to The Times
May 29, 2008
BRIMMING with lime-hued succulents and a lush collection of agaves, one shooting spiky leaves 10 feet into the air, it's
a head-turning garden smack in the middle of Long Beach's asphalt jungle. But the gardener who designed it doesn't want
you to know his last name, since his handiwork isn't exactly legit. It's on a traffic island he commandeered.
"The city wasn't doing anything with it, and I had a bunch of extra plants," says Scott, as we tour the garden, cars
whooshing by on both sides of Loynes Drive.
* Guerrilla gardeners take root
Photos: Guerrilla gardeners take root
* How to make seed bombs
Photos: How to make seed bombs
Scott is a guerrilla gardener, a member of a burgeoning movement of green enthusiasts who plant without approval on land
that's not theirs. In London, Berlin, Miami, San Francisco and Southern California, these free-range tillers are sowing
a new kind of flower power. In nighttime planting parties or solo "seed bombing" runs, they aim to turn neglected public
space and vacant lots into floral or food outposts.
Part beautification, part eco-activism, part social outlet, the activity has been fueled by Internet gardening blogs and
sites such as GuerrillaGardening.org, where before-and-after photos of the latest "troop digs" inspire 45,000 visitors a
month to make derelict soil bloom.
"We can make much more out of the land than how it's being used, whether it's about creating food or beautifying it,"
says the movement's ringleader and GuerrillaGardening.org founder, Richard Reynolds, by phone from his London home. His
tribe includes freelance landscapers like Scott, urban farmers, floral fans and artists.
"I want to encourage more people to think about land in this way and just get out there and do it," says Reynolds, whose
new handbook for insurgent planters, "On Guerrilla Gardening," is out this week.
The activists see themselves as 21st century Johnny Appleseeds, harvesting a natural bounty of daffodils or organic
green beans from forgotten dirt. It's a step into more self-reliant living in the city," says Erik Knutzen, coauthor
with his wife, Kelly Coyne, of "The Urban Homestead" to be released in June. The Echo Park couple have chronicled
"pirate farming" on their blog, Homegrown Evolution. Guerrilla gardening, Knutzen says, is a reaction to the wasteful
use of land, such as vacant lots and sidewalk parkways. He's turned the parkway in front of his home into a vegetable
One of a slew of DIY gardening currents, such as permaculture (design of highly sustainable ecosystems), urban
homesteading, composting and free fruit movement, guerrilla gardening is a response to dwindling green space, limited
land and suspicions about food sources, say experts. It's also part of a time-honored American tradition of gardening
"It reminds me of the Vacant Lot Cultivation societies," says Rose Hayden-Smith, a Food and Society Policy Fellow with
UC Cooperative Extension. In the wake of the economic meltdown of the 1890s, many American cities, from Detroit to
Philadelphia and Boston, formed Vacant Lot Cultivation associations to encourage residents to grow food on public land.
The Liberty and Victory garden campaigns of World Wars I and II, respectively, also exhorted Americans to raise food on
untended public land.
"If the federal government was paying attention, they'd be encouraging this right now," with the price of food and
fuel," adds Hayden-Smith.
"Guerrilla gardens can serve the same purpose as the Victory gardens," says Taylor Arneson, editor of the Los Angeles
Permaculture Guild newsletter and a proponent of sustainable food production. He and a friend raised a farmers market
worth of crops -- corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, lettuce, watermelon, cucumber and more -- in a guerrilla dig at a large
planter bed in front of an office building on Bundy Drive in West Los Angeles. Farming in broad daylight, they got
support from office workers and kids excited to see real cornstalks.
Arneson's approach is to plant first and make arrangements with sympathetic locals to hook up to water taps later.
Keeping a guerrilla garden irrigated is one of the trickiest parts of the game. Arneson, a graduate student in
village-scale permaculture design, says he rules out 99% of the vacant lots he scouts because they don't have a reliable
water source. He looks for some elevation or berm that will let the plants catch water.
After more than a year of growing crops at the Bundy site, he and his friend planned to live on the produce grown there
last winter. They planted garlic, potatoes, radishes, carrots, lettuce, onions and more, but in January the owner of the
property, after first leaving a cease and desist letter, rototilled the whole plot.
Property owners who don't take kindly to others gardening on their land have laws on their side. But most freelance
growing is done in the nooks and crannies of public land, where the law is murkier. Spokespersons at the Los Angeles
city departments of Public Works, and Recreation and Parks were unaware of laws proscribing citizen gardening in public
spaces. A patch of wildflowers on a city-owned lot wouldn't be removed until it dried up and became a fire hazard,
according to the city's Street Services' Lot Cleaning Division.
Back at that median oasis in Long Beach, Scott is making introductions. "This is Aloe nobilis. Put them in the ground
and in five years you could turn out 10,000 plants," he says. Scott may not have title to the land, but he tends it as
if he did, weeding and pulling out trash -- he's found such debris as car parts and condoms in there. He's bummed when
he spots a bare patch. "It's kind of depressing when I see how much work needs to be done," says the Norwalk resident,
who works for the government. "This whole section, there's something in the dirt. This is old landfill and they probably
just used that dirt."
He built the garden up over a period of years, planting early in the morning to avoid detection. Police have questioned
Scott at his traffic island during early morning plantings, part of the uncertainty that comes with guerrilla gardening.
Several of his unsanctioned gardens along the San Gabriel River have been wrecked by agave thieves, who, he thinks,
steal the leaves to make tequila. "You just take a deep breath and go back to it," he says.
But homeowners in Long Beach have encouraged his work on the median. Today the garden is a veritable nursery. He's taken
out hundreds of plants incubated here, some of which he moves to unapproved gardens he's planted and tends in Norwalk
and Whittier. Why does he bother with all the work, expense and dodging authorities? "I'd like to show cities that they
can use plants like these, not have to water as much and cut down on landscaping costs. Within two to three years, a
site like this can generate thousands of plants."
Scott sees his Long Beach garden as a showcase for drought-tolerant, low-maintenance city landscaping. But he's in a
bind. How does he broach the subject, given his unsanctioned status? "I wish I could get together with the city," he
says. "But I'm apprehensive and pretty much keep under the radar."
Meanwhile, over at landscaping headquarters for the city of Long Beach, superintendent of grounds maintenance Ramon
Arevalo waxes on about one of more than a dozen gardens done by "road planters," as he calls guerrilla gardeners. "It's
like an underwater scene, a cactus garden that looks like a corral reef. It's beautiful. It's been there on Loynes Drive
for 10 years, and we don't know who did it. You should see this place!"
It's Scott's garden. I tell him I have seen it and know the mystery man who planted it. Arevalo is ecstatic. "I can't
wait to know him! He's been the talk of this place for 10 years. He's like the 007 of gardening," says Arevalo, laughing
heartily. He says a homeowners association has complained that their medians are ugly. Why can't theirs look like that
Arevalo is impressed by Scott's use of drought-tolerant plants and assures there will be no repercussions if he comes
forward. There is no law against planting on city landscaping, except for ficus trees, whose roots wreck roads and
sidewalks. The city discourages unapproved gardening but tries to work with road planters it discovers. "If you want to
do this, my advice is to contact myself or the council person," says Arevalo. "We want to partner with people who care
about where they live."
At a time of shrinking city budgets and skeletal landscaping staffs, it's a hint at where guerrilla gardening could go
-- to approved brigades of citizen gardeners helping cities turn wasted space into food and flowers. After years of
looking over his shoulder, Scott can come in out of the cold dawn plantings. He has Arevalo's phone number and attention.
"I'll do whatever he wants," says Arevalo, chuckling. "I want to buy him a coffee."
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