Guerrilla gardeners grow flowers, trees or food on abandoned or neglected land without permission. For some this is a solution to having no plot of their own to grow on, but since guerrilla gardens are subject to vandals, animals and enthusiastic street sweepers it’s usually more about improving the local environment, or even making a political statement about land rights. If you can get the right group of people together, it’s a lot of fun too.
Finding a plot
There is never a shortage of scraps of unused or uncared-for land. Even in the most built-up areas there are scraps here and there, such as traffic islands, road verges and tree pits. Remember that you’ll need to be able to access the land easily with tools, materials and water: try to find a source of water nearby.
Asking for permission
Do ask for permission before tackling a plot. Guerrilla gardening may or may not be illegal in your locality, and trespassing on private land almost always is. Having said this, it’s unusual for local authorities to grant permission because this means they have to vet you, take the time to ask exactly what you want to do, consider the insurance position and so on: officially, it’s easier to say no even if they have no concrete objections.
Joining a cell
Guerrilla gardening takes courage, but it doesn’t have to be a solitary activity. If you’re planning a dig see if you can draft in a friend to help, or search the web to see if there are already guerrilla growers in your area. Carrying on the metaphor, guerrilla gardening groups often call themselves ‘troops’ or ‘cells’. Guerrillagardening.org is presently the best place to start, as it features a good international links page, community forum and Facebook presence.
Planning the dig
Whether you’re growing alone or as part of a cell, set a date and time for the dig and give yourself time to prepare for it. You’ll need to organise plants (inexpensive drought-resistant ones tend to do best, and stick to local non-invasive species), tools, water, compost, perhaps some fertiliser, bags to take away existing litter, and perhaps a small sign to make accidental damage less likely.
Looking after the plot
Once the plot has been cleared, dug and planted, it needs to be maintained. This is why the local authority have ignored it! You will need to return to the plot to weed regularly and water the plants (at least until they are established), and once or twice a year you may need to do a little more. Once again, though, you don’t have to do it alone: there’s nothing wrong with using a sign or an anonymous note through a few doors to encourage other locals to help tend the plot, or you can leave a note of the plot on the guerrilla gardening forum and see who bites.
- You can grow on (almost) any patch of ground that takes your fancy
- Guerrilla gardening makes a visible difference to the local environment
- Cells often develop a sense of camaraderie
- The illicit nature of guerrilla gardening can add to the fun
- Although guerrilla growers are occasionally threatened with arrest, actual prosecutions are almost unheard of
- Guerrilla gardening sometimes involves breaking the law (most commonly trespassing)
- Some plots are not suitable for growing food plants because you have no control over pollution and pesticide residues
- Damage from vandals or animals is common and has to be seen as part of the process.
- If the landowner decides to use the site for something else or to simply undo your work, you have no grounds for complaint
- Beauty is in the eye of the beholder: some people object to the activity of guerrilla gardeners, for a variety of reasons