Guerrilla gardener movement takes root in L.A. area
BRIMMING with lime-hued succulents and a lush collection of agaves, one shooting spiky leaves 10 feet into the air, it’s a head-turning garden smack in the middle of Long Beach’s asphalt jungle. But the gardener who designed it doesn’t want you to know his last name, since his handiwork isn’t exactly legit. It’s on a traffic island he commandeered.
“The city wasn’t doing anything with it, and I had a bunch of extra plants,” says Scott, as we tour the garden, cars whooshing by on both sides of Loynes Drive.
Scott is a guerrilla gardener, a member of a burgeoning movement of green enthusiasts who plant without approval on land that’s not theirs. In London, Berlin, Miami, San Francisco and Southern California, these free-range tillers are sowing a new kind of flower power. In nighttime planting parties or solo “seed bombing” runs, they aim to turn neglected public space and vacant lots into floral or food outposts.
Part beautification, part eco-activism, part social outlet, the activity has been fueled by Internet gardening blogs and sites such as GuerrillaGardening.org, where before-and-after photos of the latest “troop digs” inspire 45,000 visitors a month to make derelict soil bloom.
“We can make much more out of the land than how it’s being used, whether it’s about creating food or beautifying it,” says the movement’s ringleader and GuerrillaGardening.org founder, Richard Reynolds, by phone from his London home. His tribe includes freelance landscapers like Scott, urban farmers, floral fans and artists.
“I want to encourage more people to think about land in this way and just get out there and do it,” says Reynolds, whose new handbook for insurgent planters, “On Guerrilla Gardening,” is out this week.
The activists see themselves as 21st century Johnny Appleseeds, harvesting a natural bounty of daffodils or organic green beans from forgotten dirt. It’s a step into more self-reliant living in the city,” says Erik Knutzen, coauthor with his wife, Kelly Coyne, of “The Urban Homestead” to be released in June. The Echo Park couple have chronicled “pirate farming” on their blog, Homegrown Evolution. Guerrilla gardening, Knutzen says, is a reaction to the wasteful use of land, such as vacant lots and sidewalk parkways. He’s turned the parkway in front of his home into a vegetable garden.