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Earth Tones: Growin’ Guerrilla Style

May 9, 2008

by fluffnflowers handmade and vintage goods

We’ve all seen that corner lot that’s nothing but baked dirt and the occasional mound of trash surrounded by a guardrail. Some people pass by without a glance. Some people wonder why the city doesn’t pick up the trash. Some people wish that someone would build something there. Some people think it’d be nice if they turned it into a park. Then there are the misfits…the gardening guerrillas. They see that empty plot that belongs to no one and start planning. Mission: cultivate!

Guerrilla gardening has been around for ages and has recently started making a comeback. People are turning abandoned, ugly plots of land into productive spaces, on the sly, all across the globe. Be it fruit trees or flowers, these plots are being reclaimed to benefit the environment and the local culture.

Studies have shown that things like litter and empty lots all negatively impact a community and that places like parks and public gardens are a positive change that can be made. A growing (pun intended) form of urban renewal happens to be planned community gardens on abandoned lots, but many areas haven’t adopted the practice quite yet. A lot of times, plots stand unused and unmaintained because of red tape, ordinances, and general disbelief, but guerrilla gardening bypasses those factors. A handful of sunflower seeds scattered across a muddy back corner of an abandoned parking lot creates a bit of brightness in an otherwise bleak landscape.

Possible future community garden by technicolorcavalry on flickr.

Now just think what could happen when the trash was picked up and a can of wildflower mix was sown. Imagine casually throwing a handful of watermelon seeds into that drainage ditch you walk on the way to the bus and watching someone pull out a fat melon weeks later. Fast and easy and, oh, so satisfying.

But that satisfaction can be ended in one fatal swoop of a county mower. There’s nothing so heartbreaking as finding out that your plantings have been removed or destroyed, for whatever reason, but take heart! They probably didn’t go unnoticed. It’s the price one pays for investing their time and energy into clandestine activities, but there are ways to help ensure the survival of your plantings.

  •  Carefully observe an area for activity. It’s a good hint that, if the area hasn’t been mowed and garbage isn’t picked up, you’ve got a place that someone probably won’t mind being decorated a bit.
  • Use plants that are native or easily naturalized so that your plantings will last without constant care. Remember that "easily naturalized" doesn’t mean invasive — avoid exotic invasives.
  • Start little and see what you can get away with. If that plot that hasn’t been mown in two years suddenly gets cut when your wildflowers start blooming, it’s a pretty good bet that more involved plantings won’t survive.

greenthing, a big proponent of guerrilla gardening, has this terrific sign to leave as a calling card.

  • Mix seeds with peat moss or potting soil to give them something to germinate in. This is best if you don’t have luck with random scatterings of seeds.
  • Avoid areas that are carefully maintained by landscapers. (Unless there’s an area that they consistently miss.)
  • Make others aware. If there’s a person who lives across the street from an abandoned lot, either make a concerted effort to work around their time schedule to avoid confrontation or let them know that you’re across from their house planting stuff. This will help you avoid neighborhood watches and possible police encounters.

Do it and own it. Guerrilla gardening serves different purposes for different people, including protest against urbanization, a starvation of good ol’ garden therapy or the simple desire to have fresh veggies in the summer. Whatever your purpose, make sure to own it. If someone asks what you’re doing sneaking out of the apartment every night, tell them and see if they want to tag along. Build a force in your area to promote the beauty of the natural world.

To promote this subversive activity, the EtsyPHAT (Etsy Plants and Horticultural Arts Team) are going to begin a campaign to distribute seed packs randomly across the country. These seeds will be a special blend made up of seeds from our members. You might find them on park benches, outdoor eating areas, schools, and common areas by the end of May.

Stacy, aka fluffnflowers, gardens for therapy and shares her surplus and seed-grown goodies through Etsy. She lives outside Atlanta, Georgia in high suburbia with her significant other, cat, dog, and two guinea pigs. She strives to drive the neighbors insane with her lack of hedgerows. She spends most of her time outside, except in the summer where it just gets too hot! She blogs about her gardening exploits at



  • ArgyleWhale

    ArgyleWhale said 8 years ago

    This will be my baby step to becoming a rebellious badass.

  • theascrafts

    theascrafts said 8 years ago

    I love this idea!! There's an empty lot just down the road from me!! Thank you! Now off I go to plan some goodie goodie rebeliousness!!! Long live the gardens!

  • Vanessa Admin

    Vanessa said 8 years ago

    ArgyleWhale, you are too cute!

  • BlueGardenia

    BlueGardenia said 8 years ago

    I love Guerilla Gardening! I've taken over the two tree wells in front of apartment. While I get a lot of strange looks (it's a very busy street in downtown Philadelphia) and the owner of the mini-mart across the street told me that it would probably get wrecked, I always smile when I see something new blooming. Last year someone else added mulch to help protect my flowers, and this year someone planted little sedum clippings. It's growing! There are a lot of planters in front of houses that have a sole, straggly weed growing out. I'm going to mix up the rest of my flower seeds and start tossing them into the planters as I pass (a la "Miss Rumphius"). If any of them grow, they'll make me smile every time that I pass by.

  • crankbunny

    crankbunny said 8 years ago

    this article is great. I'm a big fan of 'guerrilla fertilizing'...(this isn't a wonderful setup for a poo joke or wacky sarcasm). Many times things are already growing & struggling a bit and just need a little help. You can use a plastic container with holes poked on the top to sprinkle fertilizer pellets around.

  • SalvagedExpression

    SalvagedExpression said 8 years ago

    I've never done it but I think about it every time I pass the (I think) vacant lot on my way to work. Not sure if it's because like Aryglewhale I'm a closet badass or becasue I live on the 3rd floor with lots of big planters. Now to begin the stakeout. It's a little late for seeds but my ornamental peppers have to be thinned out anyway.:)

  • fluffnflowers

    fluffnflowers said 8 years ago

    BlueGardenia, that's awesome that people are getting involved with your project! I love to hear stories like that. Recently, I found that a bunch of red maples and wildflowers I'd planted had been mowed down to widen the road. :(

  • DaraArt

    DaraArt said 8 years ago

    What a totally awesome story! I love the idea and have even done the watermelon seeds casually thrown onto the neglected public land accross from us. i hope no one decides to landscape it soon!

  • SingingSky

    SingingSky said 8 years ago

    I love this article!

  • silentlanguages

    silentlanguages said 8 years ago

    I was just thinking about randomly starting community gardens...I didn't know it had a word! I think it would be great, especially if one could figure out a way to grow herbs and vegetables? Awesome article and art!

  • SapphireChild

    SapphireChild said 8 years ago

    Hey Silentlanguages, The trick is starting with stuff that is easy to grow, like squash, melons, or tomatoes. Try starting with a pack of cheap zucchini seeds. If you want to get fancy you can "fertilize & mulch" the area with some used coffee grounds. Many local coffee shops are glad to give it away free!

  • DearDodo

    DearDodo said 8 years ago

    This is a wonderful and inspiring article! What a great idea, of course! -strange enough I never thought of it! Great for playgrounds!

  • BlackStarBeads

    BlackStarBeads said 8 years ago

    I'm a Country gardener and grow and put up our veggies, so I love this idea. I've seen some wonderful city greenery in the strangest of places! Great article. I didn't know about this street team either.

  • fluffnflowers

    fluffnflowers said 8 years ago

    If you plant near playgrounds, DearDodo, just make sure that whatever you 'add' isn't poisonous!

  • ennadoolf

    ennadoolf said 8 years ago

    Great article! and I love your little rosebush peeking out in the top photo!

  • plantgirl

    plantgirl said 8 years ago

    Great article! Everyone should try mixing their seeds with compost instead of peat moss if they have access to it! Also keeps the birds from eating the seed:)

  • terrain

    terrain said 8 years ago

    As a landscape architect of course I *love* this idea! But don't get too attached to your little rebel garden. What seems abandoned frequently isn't, and you'd be surprised how an entire lot can get demolished overnight. And don't forget that it doesn't have to be guerilla - you'd be surprised how many municipalities are open to community groups adopting and caring for unused lots, and there are funding sources and resources available for these efforts.

  • scrumdidlyump

    scrumdidlyump said 8 years ago

    A good trick is to roll little balls of clay- I have a lot being a potter and all- around the seeds, especially if you live in an area with sporadic rain- that way when It does rain the clay traps the moisture around the seed, and provide a little nest of sticky dirt in which to germinate. It also makes it easier to deal with tiny seeds.

  • SalvagedExpression

    SalvagedExpression said 8 years ago

    I wonder if I can start a guerilla rooftop garden since the lot I had my eye on gets mowed. The local grocery store is ripe for planting. This is a really great article!

  • GreenSpaceGoods

    GreenSpaceGoods said 8 years ago

    We're also from Atlanta. I'll have to give it a try :)

  • mirandahellman

    mirandahellman said 8 years ago

    Yes just do it people! Love the this art-tical thanks for repping the green people

  • samanthasartstudio

    samanthasartstudio said 7 years ago

    I've got to find some clay so that I can make proper seed-bombs, but now that I live in a city I've been planting the seeds I have in some places this spring. I hope they start coming up soon! :)

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