5 min read

Guerrilla Gardening to Own the (Neo)Libs

Guerrilla Gardening to Own the (Neo)Libs

Along with the recent increase in popularity of foraging–thanks in part to the absolute joy that is Blackforager–there has been an increase in interest for guerrilla gardening. If you're not familiar, guerilla gardening is just what it sounds like: sneaky plant-rearing. Find a scrap of land that’s being wasted and turn it green, in the hopes that whoever owns it won’t care or can’t be bothered to tear up what you’ve planted. The benefits of guerrilla gardening are mostly obvious, and many. Chances are whatever area you’re trying to plant on will be beautified by your efforts; you’re trying to grow food that locals can eat; not so obviously, you’re improving the local climate by providing evaporative cooling and, if you’re planting trees, shade; and, finally, you're wilding a piece of land, thereby (hopefully) making the place look less fit for the new Starbucks. Say it with me folks: gentrification is colonization. I first heard of guerrilla gardening, by the way, from Madeline Ffitch's Stay and Fight, a novel with no shortage of tips on living sustainably and that makes no bones about the difficulties thereof.

I want to talk about guerrilla gardening today to follow up on the previous letters about land management. Now that the season is over, it's a perfect time to start planning, to scope out likely spots and figure out what, and how, to plant. Most of us are in urban areas, and some in concrete wastelands that, come summer, turn into heat islands (and are food deserts year-round). While you may have some of your own land to work, and maybe you already are, there’s likely some land around you that you can improve over a distant owner’s neglect, or a city’s lack of care. The idea here is to make use of what’s around you, even if what’s around you isn’t, strictly, yours. Remember that we’re talking collapse and disaster here, and we’re all leftists anyway, so don't get riled about property. You’ve got bigger worries.

What to Plant

You may already have an affinity for perennials, but in guerrilla gardening for food purposes, they become quite important. Whatever it is that you plant, if you intend for it to be a source of food or shade, you should intend for it to be permanent, and able to survive without your continued care. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t plant some tomatoes if that’s all you’ve got, but since we’re being sneaky you want to minimize your presence and maximize your results, and you do that by planting crops or trees that will last longer than a season.

Trees: Fruit trees are obvious, though they’ll require some serious time to become productive or some funds and resources on your part. They are, however, a great way to improve a local microclimate and to provide fresh food for your neighbors. If you are unable to plant a whole-ass tree, consider the art of grafting. Did you ever think, as a kid, to keep the seeds from the most delicious apple you ever ate? Seemed like a good idea, right? But what will grow from that seed is, if anything, not the most delicious apple you ever ate but a mealy, tasteless, bag of sad. So, grafting. It's not a simple thing, but it doesn't have to be as difficult as you might think, either. Before you begin cutting up trees, consider searching for a class nearby, or look up the infinity of tutorials to be found online. Don't forget less obvious food-producing trees like oak and walnut, either. Nuts are food, too.

Bushes: Depending on where exactly you intend to ruin a local area's dependence on store-bought food, trees may not be an option. You may be up against a literal wall, or a fence, in which case a berry bush will do wonders. I have mulberry bushes at my house that sprout up exclusively along the fence, and they are going wild without a bit of help from me.

Sundry: If you're short enough on space or resources, there are still other options. Mint is hardy as hell, fragrant, and perennial. So is oregano. Asparagus will come back year after year. It's not necessary for me to list all of the world's plants, I don't think, but suffice to say you've got options available. At the end of the day, anything that flowers is going to be an improvement over grass or dirt, so the bar you're clearing is really, really low. Even something as simple as clover is going to help your local pollinators.

How to Plant

One of the best case scenarios that I can think of for a guerilla garden is that you, or a bunch of you, find a big hunk of land that someone decided should be condos or tall and skinnies or whatever but went bankrupt before construction could be finished. So you've got an acre or so of land to work with that will be relatively poorly guarded and hopefully at least a season with which to do some planting before someone goes and ruins it. If you're in an ignored, yet-to-be-gentrified part of town, maybe you'll have even longer.

Time is a big factor. Do you expect your plants will last a season? Will they get dug up next year? You don't want your effort, or these plants, to go to waste, so don't commit a row of fruit trees to the earth when you know soon enough The Chelsea on High will be sitting on top of them. If all you've got is a summer, go ahead and plant annuals. Throw down those tomatoes, plant some corn. Be showy, so the locals begin to realize what could have been.

Regardless of how long you expect your gardening to last, how you go about it is another key idea. There are two simple ways: you belong there, or you were never there.

You Belong There: This is an easy enough outfit: jeans, workboots, and a reflective vest will keep most people from second-guessing you. If more than one of you are out and about on a piece of land, try to match your shirt to add even more legitimacy. Cap this off with a truck and some equipment and you'll be virtually invisible to anyone. Make sure one of you is doing all the work while the other lounges by the cooler with some Oakleys on.

You Were Never There: Obviously enough, here you're trying to not be seen. Plant at night or in a secluded area. Guerilla gardening doesn't mean you're just taking over a median or a patch of grass beside an exit–you might be taking advantage of extant green space, as well. Say you've got a patch of park that's disused, and nothing but grass? Make it worth the space. And again, it doesn't have to be an orchard to be successful guerrilla gardening. Red clover can go a long way toward improving soil, and helping out the area bee population.

Legality and Other Concerns

It's illegal by definition, but ACAB.

Something you should worry about is contaminants in the soil. If you're planting near roads or industrial areas, it's best to test the soil before you try to plant anything edible. If the soil is in question, there are a variety of plants capable of phytoremediation–meaning the plant can help clean up the place. Just be sure to pull the plants (sunflowers are a perfect example, by the way) and dispose of them rather than let them decompose in place, thus returning the contaminant to the earth. Don't just go off your sunflowers, though–test the soil again before you plant your garden, or your trees, or what have you.

As things get tighter, it's incredibly important that we begin to improve our local situations–because our local situations are the ones that will matter. Maximizing the utility of your space, and the space left abandoned by others, is one way that you can contribute to your community. That it can stick a thumb in the eye of capitalism is a bonus.

Finally, as a parting gift, the simplest method of guerrilla gardening: seed bombing. Limited efficacy, but low risk.