Guerilla gardeners do random acts of planting

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Planting and gardening

While springtime seems like a distant memory, when it arrives next year, guerilla gardening activists will be ready to vandalize urban spaces â€" with flowers.

By taking over public spaces and turning them into urban gardens without permission from civic authorities, the guerilla gardening movement is spreading like wild flowers.

In 1973, the Green Guerilla group in New York transformed a derelict private lot into a garden. Since then, the movement has grown slowly, spreading from cities like Berlin, Paris and London, England to Canadian cities like Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto.

Without a permit or licence, guerilla gardeners plant seeds in neglected public spaces including urban wastelands, traffic circles and neglected schoolyards. Generally organized on a smaller scale, dedicated volunteers work to plant, cultivate and maintain gardens.

Some work with the community, offering a mix of education and advocacy to engage youth and address critical environmental issues while planting gardens.

Other times, guerilla gardeners actively take pride in their spontaneity and mischief by lobbing “seed grenades” into empty fenced-off lots and performing fly-by-night plantings in random lots. These green activists risk fines and imprisonment for their trespassing and random acts of planting.

While the purpose is to beautify public areas of the city and bring the rural to the urban, guerilla gardening can also serve as a political statement about wider issues like the privatization and commercialization of public spaces, genetically modified foods, harmful pesticides and even capitalist consumption. One Toronto guerilla gardener calls it “organic culture-jamming.”

The Toronto Public Space Committee is one of the best organized guerilla gardening networks in North America, offering lists of native plants in Toronto and the gardening co-ordinators’ contact information on its website. The committee says “Guerilla gardening aims to reclaim those dismal corners and neglected breaks in concrete with sunflowers and morning glories, transforming both the landscape and the idea of what belongs in a city.”

In Guerilla Gardening: A Manuelfesto, Vancouver author and environmental designer David Tracey traces the political history of the movement and provides practical tips on how to get involved. Based on his experience as a director of Tree City, an urban agriculture group, Tracey outlines places to find low-cost seeds/plants and equipment, information on soil types and even how to handle city officials.

Before you arm yourself with a shovel and a seed bag, remember you’ll have to wait until spring to tackle London’s barren spaces.

For more information about guerilla gardening in Toronto, visit www.publicspace.ca/gardeners.htm

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