Guerrilla Gardening

Our cities are a sad sight–buried rivers and dead forests encased in cement straitjackets. More parking lots than parks. Weeds sprayed with chemicals. Trees tangled in Christmas lights and caged behind steel bars. Locally and globally, nature is becoming more controlled and corporatized while public green spaces are shrinking. What can you do?

Why not become a guerrilla gardener and reclaim your environment? While you’re out sowing the seeds of revolution, you can talk to curious strangers about what inspired you to take action. You can point to the cityscape around you and ask, “Does it have to be like this?” You can show them your seeds. Did I mention that it’s fun and cheap?

All you need is:
• seeds
• soil
• small shovel
• watering can
• used packaging from your
neighborhood recycling bins
• some friends (makes it more fun,
and safer too)
• creativity

Here’s what you do:

Walk around and look for good places to plant. Abandoned property, construction sites, parking lots, and traffic medians are just a few places where you might find some soil or cracked pavement to plant in. Part of the fun is finding interesting places to garden.

Plant all kinds of seeds: flowers, vegetables, whatever. If you grow annuals early enough, they will flower in the summer, and some will even seed themselves next year. Perennials tend to be more expensive and take a few years to bloom. The simplest trick is to throw wildflower seeds around and hope for the best. This will often work if the area gets little traffic and lots of sun. I use sunflower seeds because they thrive in poor-to-average soil and they require very little water (plus they are a symbol of resistance and creativity).

Start planting in early spring, after the last thaw, although some seeds can be planted throughout the summer. Plant tulip and daffodil bulbs in the fall. Check seed packages for exact instructions.

To increase the odds that your plants will survive the stresses of urban life, sprout them at home and let them grow for four to eight weeks before you plant them outside. Here’s how:

First, find or make yourself a tray. Plastic take-out containers work well (look in recycling boxes). Punch a few holes in the bottom and fill it with three or four inches of soil. Seeds love moist, drained soil, not mud. Space your seeds according to the directions on the package. If you’re using a clear take-out container, close the lid to keep the moisture and heat in. Plastic wrap works as a cover too, but it has to be elevated above the soil so that the seeds won’t suffocate or rot.

Place your tray inside another, unpunctured container, and irrigate by pouring water into the outer tray.

Set your plantings next to a sunny window. The top of your computer terminal is the perfect temperature for sprouting seeds quickly.

Check your seeds regularly and remove the cover as soon as shoots appear. With sunflowers, the first leaves are part of the seed case. When more leaves develop, you can separate your sprouts into larger containers. Make little depressions in the soil, about two inches deep, and gently place the seedlings in them. Be kind to the roots. For instructions on how to make your own “quick rot guerrilla pots” and much more, check out

Keep the seedlings moist (not wet) and water from below as before. After a couple more weeks (not too long or they’ll get cramped) they’ll be ready to beautify the urban blandscape.

To protect your seedlings from animals and the elements for the first few days outside, cut the tops and bottoms off milk jugs and place them over your seedlings.

Guerrilla gardening is like graffiti with nature, except it is prettier and easier to undo. If you don’t have permission to plant, it is technically illegal. But so is having milk crates in your house, so the trick is not to get caught. When you go out planting, bring a friend or two (not too many) and be prepared to talk to strangers. People will ask what you’re doing and why. I made a little zine explaining guerrilla gardening to hand out, but you can always just smile and remain mysterious. Either way, raise a green fist and sprout into action.

From This Magazine (March/April 2001). Subscriptions: $35/yr. (6 issues) from 401 Richmond St. W. #396, Toronto, ON M5V 3A8.

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