28 June 2005

Urban Wilderness mentioned in Globe & Mail

Posted in Media, xdx archive at 1:34 pm by urbanwild

And in Vancouver, a gardener called “Urban Wild” has been quietly adding greenery where there was once only cement and dirt and chronicling his adventures on his blog”

A link to my blog is included in the “Resources” sidebar as well as:

Primal Seeds

Toronto Public Space Committee, Guerilla Gardening

Globe & Mail
(Toronto, Canada)
June 25, 2005

Resistance is fertile: Guerrilla gardeners bring flower power to neglected urban spaces. It’s a dirty job, KAREN LaROCCA writes, but someone has to do it

Byline: KAREN LaROCCA; Special to The Globe and Mail

Ten of us take to the streets armed with tools for digging, seed packets, water and a bag of decent dirt. Not to mention the still-warm coffee grounds we’ll use for compost that we wrangled from a java joint.

We also carry a vision.

Part of a campaign of secret, simultaneous plantings planned by the Toronto Public Space Committee, our group is committed to the mission: vandalizing neglected urban spaces with nature. Call it organic culture-jamming, sneak
attacks against encroaching concrete.

Technically, we’re criminals.

Of course, both the Toronto Police and City of Toronto officials I spoke to admitted they were unlikely to expend resources on chasing gardeners unless it posed a safety hazard. (Constable Isabelle Cotton even went so far as
to say, “I would certainly hate to charge someone with mischief or anything for doing a good thing like this.”) Guerrilla gardening is quick and dirty: In larger spaces, we plant camomile, which will spread and act as groundcover. Sweet William and cosmos are bold colour statements for open, sunny spots. We stick to hardy perennials for shady areas.

When we come across a used condom at one planting site, our co-ordinator notes, “This is really not a glamorous job.” At the edge of the lot of an abandoned home, another member says, “We’re gonna increase the property value here tenfold.” On one major street, we decide against planting sunflowers in tiny patches of dirt we find, because, as one GGer puts it, “people will probably just lock their bikes to them anyway.”

While gardening is often solitary, such actions foster community, not only among the participants — who are from all walks of life, though they are mostly young people, activist types — but also for the folks who live in the bleaker areas of the downtown core.

Locals ask questions; some volunteer to pitch in. At our second planting this spring, for example, a woman who lives nearby volunteers some of her own seedlings and settles in to work the hard dirt with us. We also install small signs: “Please water me! This garden brought to you by the guerrilla gardeners.”

After all, this kind of garden is something we can all share, part of a growing urban beautification movement that includes green rooftops and community gardens.

In fact, guerrilla gardening’s roots go deep. In New York, the Green Guerrillas have been around since 1973, tossing seed mixes, encased in water balloons, into vacant lots. More recently, the Guerrilla Garden Posse has sprouted in London, Ont., where “Corporal Hollyhock” describes their Friday evening “random acts of gardening” as part fun, part community inspiration. And in Vancouver, a gardener called “Urban Wild” has quietly been adding greenery where there was once only cement and dirt and chronicling his adventures on his blog.

At the end of the first afternoon, the Toronto gardeners go our separate ways, pleased with the first round of vandalism. Sure, none of it is much to look at right now. But I am already grinning at our dirty work, imagining the cheerful surprises awaiting our fellow citizens.

And all it takes is bending a law or two.

***

Seeds of liberation

Want to prettify your own city and reclaim public space? Here’s the green revolution tip sheet:

1. Officials are unlikely to charge guerrilla gardeners unless they are causing mischief or endangering others. Cover your butt and use only sites that are unused or unwanted — never plant in public gardens or parks — and leave the land in better condition than you found it in.

2. Apply a little vision to the land around you. Back laneways, railway embankments, edges of parking lots and concrete planters left unattended by city gardeners are great spots to garden.

3. Keep a packet of seeds in your pocket or knapsack, along with a spoon, so you can “attack” with nature whenever you come across a neglected or unattractive spot.

4. Look for plant varieties that are native to the area and that like dry conditions. Perennials are good, especially “vigorous” and “self-sowing” varieties. Also try sunflowers, cosmos, purple sage, forget-me-nots, asters, morning glories (a vine suitable for growing along chain link fences), poppies and marigolds.

5. If you want to try growing edible plants in wasted spaces, avoid planting near pollution sources.

6. Consider the soil conditions of your sites, and plant only in those unloved spots around the city where they aren’t likely to be moved, driven over or weeded.

7. Don’t forget to go back and water, especially during the first week after planting. Planting right after a rain will buy you a few extra days.

8. Spread the word as you go. Let passersby know what you’re doing and encourage them to help.

Resources:

Primal Seeds

Toronto Public Space Committee, Guerilla Gardening

Urban Wilderness: http://urbanwild.diary-x.com.

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1 Comment »

  1. Stuart said,

    I had never heard of the Gardening Guerilla’s before but I love the concept. How many times have I driven past a wasteland shaking my head and wishing there were something I could do about it.

    You’ve inspired me.

    Maybe we’ll start a Busselton Gardening Guerilla’s.


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