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Guerrilla gardening is a unique type of environmental direct action that involves taking over a plot of uncultivated land and covering it in living plants such as flowers, ornamental trees, and edible plants. Guerrilla gardeners sometimes say that they are practicing “vandalism with nature,” as guerrilla gardening is technically illegal, since it is practiced on privately owned land that does not belong to the gardeners. The guerrilla gardening movement has grown across the Northern Hemisphere, with large active chapters in Canada, Great Britain, and the United States.
In a guerrilla gardening strike, gardeners descend upon a piece of unused land such as an empty lot, a median strip, or an abandoned yard. They plant or seed the area with a variety of sturdy plant species that can hold their own if neglected, and then move on to another “target.” Frequently, the guerrilla garden is allowed to exist peacefully, and other gardeners may stop by now and then to tend it and keeping the land looking pleasant.
Guerrilla gardening is practiced for a number of reasons. The first is that many activists view urban blight as a serious problem, and have discovered that by planting a garden, they can unite a community and encourage respect for the neighborhood. Environmental activists also feel that unused land in cities is wasted land, and should be used to produce something productive and beautiful: many activists establish plantings of plants which can help scrub toxins from the air and soil, provide food, or merely beautify a neighborhood. Gardeners encourage guerrilla gardening because it chokes out weeds which can seed all over a neighborhood, destroying actively cultivated gardens.
The rules of guerrilla gardening include respect for actively cultivated spaces, even if they do not meet with some aesthetic views. In addition, the area being chosen for an attack must be clearly abandoned. In some areas, guerrilla gardeners try to seed with native plant species, contributing to the eradication of exotic plants that disrupt the natural ecosystem. Usually crews have five or more people and work at night, so that a formerly blighted area can literally bloom overnight.
The sources for plants, seeds, and tools for guerrilla gardening vary. Home gardeners often contribute excess seeds and plants from their own gardens, while some guerrilla gardeners belong to cooperative collectives who are willing to contribute financially to the cause. In some areas, guerrilla gardeners get local garden supply stores to donate, and sometimes even wrangle their assistance with plant transport. Individuals interested in joining a local guerrilla gardening crew can use their favorite search engine to look for “guerrilla gardening” in their city.
For more on guerrilla gardening, I have a new book on the topic out called Guerrilla Gardening: A Manualfesto.
It's available at all the usual places. Don't forget to compost it when you're done.