GARDENING GODDESS: Guerilla gardening in our community

Silver Spring Garden Club plantings at Shepherd’s Table. Photo by Kathy Jentz

GARDENING GODDESS • BY KATHY JENTZ

Like mythical faeries, the group of young, urban residents crept into an abandoned lot late at night and left flowers in their wakes. They planted in parking lot edges and along median strips. They even filled in some potholes knowing that their deeds might be ephemeral and not last a full day. They still gathered and expended their time, energy, and resources in an effort to inspire similar deeds in their community.

I accompanied these “guerilla” gardeners one evening in Washington, DC, a few years ago and found them to be motivated by a number of different factors. Some were interested in gardening and had no space of their own. Others were living eco-friendly lifestyles and saw the plantings as a political statement against all the concrete and asphalt in our city. Still others just saw the plantings as fun outings to participate in and like the thrill of a small amount of danger in doing something ostensibly forbidden.

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According to Theresa Blaner, founder of D.C. Guerilla Gardeners, “Some plantings are done in secret, some out in the open. Some involve only one person or two, others bring together entire communities. All one needs to be a D.C. Guerilla Gardener is the desire to turn empty gray spaces into verdant green ones, and a willingness to play in the dirt.”

The practice has been around since our ancient ancestors took a violet (or other wildflower) from the woods and transplanted it next to their huts to enjoy the flower’s beauty daily in their community, but it only gained a name a few decades ago when groups of intrepid residents of New York City and London gathered for night-time gardening installations at bare land around their city. (See this site for more on the history of the movement.)

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Silver Spring Garden Club plantings at St. Michael the Archangel Parish, Silver Spring, MD. Photo by Kathy J

entz.

Since then, guerilla gardening has spread worldwide and even spawned an industry of making “seed bombs”  — clay balls impregnated with annual flower seeds that can be thrown over the fences into abandoned lots.

Most guerilla gardening installations are ornamental plants, though more and more are planting edibles and herbs. Often they include direct-sowing sunflowers since this tough plant serves multiple purposes. Sunflowers are attractive and need little care; they also provide a food source for wildlife and humans alike. Further, they self-sow and can return annually on their own once a patch is established. Finally, sunflowers can help the soil by removing harmful soil toxins – a process called Phytoremediation.

Recently, the Silver Spring Garden Club took on a guerilla gardening service project in several spots in downtown Silver Spring. Using just $200 of club funds to purchase more than 100 pansies and violas, the club added color and inspiration by planting containers at the historic train station, the library, Kefa Café, Pennyworth Shop, and other spots in the downtown core that lacked any plant life. See photos of the club’s plantings here.

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Silver Spring Garden Club plantings at Kefa Cafe, Silver Spring, MD. Photo by Kathy Jentz.

Guerilla gardeners know that their efforts may be stolen or destroyed, but they live for notes of gratitude like this one, “These plantings are lovely!  They brighten the entire area and welcome visitors into the station. Thank you to the Silver Spring Garden Club so much! Cheers, Eileen McGuckian, president, Montgomery Preservation, Inc.”
If you are inspired to do some guerilla gardening of your own, here are a few tips to get you started:

• Scope out a neglected piece of ground or empty planter boxes. Visit it at different seasons and times of day. See how the area is used or not.
• Choose a location close to where you live or work and appoint yourself its “guardian” to start watching over it.
• Select plants that are tough and can withstand the living conditions on your chosen planting location. Some suggestions include groundcover sedums, zonal geraniums, black-eyed susans, and juniper.
• Invite like-minded friends to join in and schedule a planting project.
• Make small signage at the location and post on social media to let people know of your project.
• Keep the plants alive and looking good by regular watering and pruning back stray growth.
Once you start looking, you will see neglected land everywhere you look. Empower yourself to reclaim these precious resources and cultivate them in our community.

About the Author

Kathy Jentz
Kathy Jentz is editor of Washington Gardener magazine and is a long-time DC area gardening enthusiast. Washington Gardener is all about gardening where you live. She can be reached at @WDCgardener on Twitter and welcomes your local DMV gardening questions.