ConsidEred by some to be A sexy subversive social movement, guerrilla gardening is an interesting evolution of activism among artists, horticulturalists, social reformers, and foodies who choose to react against harsh concrete jungles by helping blighted lands return to a semblance of Eden.
Revolutionaries have taken on the task of bringing beauty and natural production back to neglected and forgotten lands, often public properties wedged into cities that have lost the bounty of the land.
The movement reflects the spirit of Johnny Appleseed, who crisscrossed the Midwestern frontier of America in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, spreading cider apple tree seeds in the early 1800s. Today’s guerrilla gardeners operate all over the world, sneaking seeds and fertilizer into bits of soil in urban jungles that seem to have been abandoned. Renegade gardeners have made a name for themselves in the underground culture, tossing soil and seeds onto city plots under cover of night, hopping fences and barricades with the swiftness of criminals but without the evil intent. Nonetheless, as trespassers, such gardeners are often in violation of local laws and ordinances, and they have come under fire as a result.
It’s a project for those who want to rebel against the system, yet are motivated by a love of beauty, a sense of need to provide food for the community, and peace in the world. They’re willing to break laws by planting seeds and plants in unauthorized locations, but they feel justified and vindicated by their purpose and the results.
Richard Reynolds, author of On Guerrilla Gardening (Bloomsbury Publishing, UK/USA 2008), spearheads the movement from London, reaching across the oceans and around the world. Reynolds has become a bit of a poster child for the movement, all because he wanted to beautify the space surrounding his London apartment. Since gathering sentiment from so many other frustrated urban gardeners, Reynolds has taken on the task of spreading sunflower, tulip, and other seeds around the world, gaining acclaim along the way.
The tag “guerrilla gardening” is credited to Liz Christy, an artist who founded a community garden in New York in the early 1970s with a group called the Green Guerillas, who fought for the right to plant a garden in the Bowery. The garden and the organization still remain, but they are now welcomed by city officials as a boon against urban blight.
Today New York City, America’s capital concrete jungle, boasts hundreds of community gardens, many supported by the city. More than 100 are on property protected by a public land trust. Green Guerillas have helped the city transition from viewing the gardening as a renegade tactic to an accepted and publically supported community benefit.
The idea of community gardening has evolved from renegades who fought city hall to gardeners who are now often accepted by local governments as providing an approved method of beautifying urban areas. Community gardening moves unused land into productivity that can provide sustenance for homeless residents and lower-income populations. But some gardeners continue working on the sly simply to avoid the red tape and time it takes to achieve official sanction of their activities.