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Dear PoPville – What are your thoughts on “guerilla gardeners”?

by Prince Of Petworth March 12, 2012 at 2:30 pm 34 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user available_photons

Dear PoPville,

I was wondering if anyone out in PoPville had had any experience with so-called “guerilla gardeners” and what your thoughts were. As a boring regular gardener myself, when I first heard of the concept I had some romantic notion of beautifying abandoned and public spaces in cooperation with their inhabitants, but several incidents within the last few weeks have caused me to think differently. I’ve heard of several instances of friends waking up to find shrubs or something in their front yard. Last week a friend who runs a gardening program at one of the local schools arrived with seedlings for the kids to find the vegetable beds converted into flower gardens and had to spend a morning tearing the plants out prior to the youngins’ gardening workshop. The community garden where we garden has several common plots and several individually rented plots, one of which we have. I had noticed this week that some of my plants had been trimmed in ways that I didn’t necessarily appreciate but figured bored kids were finding something to do, accepting that as part of gardening in a public space. I was surprised to arrive yesterday and find a group of young 20-somethings scattering seeds in several of the rented plots. One of the young women approached me and told me that she’d been “cutting your stuff for you,because it looked like it was getting to be too big, and you weren’t caring for it.” I informed her (too harshly? I still haven’t decided) that I’d been by every day that week tending to the plants and had in fact wanted them to grow (and that, in any case, the garden has a regs committee who monitors overly lush spaces) before she sauntered off.

The first two cases certainly involve trespassing and altering someone’s landscape without permission, and I’m wondering what contribution guerrilla gardeners believe they’re making. In both of the first cases the new plants were ripped up and disposed of because the land owners/occupants had their own plans for it, so the trespass-planting winds up being both wasteful and annoying. I found the guerrilla’s attitude highly condescending, as have some of our neighbors, who see it as another opportunity for yuppies to demonstrate an arrogant paternalism toward the neighborhood. I don’t think anybody really wants to be a curmudgeon and put up a “Keep Out” sign, and since most of this activity has taken place under cover of darkness there’s little chance to directly ask guerrillas to stop their work.

I know this isn’t really a solvable problem, but guerrilla gardening turns out to be much less endearing than many of its participants seem to think it is. I just wondered who in PoPville had been gardened and what their responses have been? Or whether some guerrillas have a different approach and find this one to be out of line?

  • GuerillaPoster

    Good question. I’m sorry the OP had to deal with this.

    To be honest (and not to be a spoil-sport against art, nature, beautification, etc, etc) I think any sort of ‘guerilla’ art and/or ‘bombing’ is out of line. Sure, some of it is cool and creative but fundamentally, in a sense, it’s vandalism (not in the traditional sense of the word that we’re used to). I don’t mean to get off topic by bringing art into this conversation but it reminded me of similar discussions on this blog.

    Anyway, there our places and times for people to manage their own gardens… not encroaching on others space who have rightfully laid claim to the plots (a school project!? good lord – what is wrong with people?!). I think some people honestly just like going against the mainstreem by doing stuff like this, which isn’t always admirable IMHO.

    The difficulty comes when there is an obvious plot of land that has been completely abandoned or cared for by its owner and it’s an eyesore or creating other problems for the neighborhood. In those cases, yeah, it’d be nice for someone to step and do something but even then, how do you address the issue?

  • Nick

    Man, that sucks, OP. I thought guerilla gardeners were supposed to co-opt neglected areas. Plots that people are using at schools and community gardens are not neglected. Even if such plots are not up to a guerilla gardener’s standards, they’re at least being tended. Go find an abandoned lot or an ugly median. I’d be super pissed if someone slipped into my plot and made their own additions.

  • Wow. I typically can relate to most of the things on here, even if I declare them “first world problems” (as I’ve been guilty of kvetching of first world problems myself). But this is comically “hipster problem”–like someone would include this in a video entitled “what hipsters say.”

    I agree that I would be absolutely annoyed that people would make such assumptions and “take care” of my stuff for me, but I can’t help but chuckle….flame me if you must…

    • You revealed your pretentiousness by using the term “first world problem.” I’m sure all of your concerns are of great benefit to humanity.

      • Anonymous

        i’m shocked that i’ve agreed with 2 of your posts today!

      • anon

        No, this is the epitome of a “first world problem”. Apologies to all those scarred victims of “plantings”, but count your blessings for this being your biggest problem of the day/week/month. Suck it up people!

  • Anon

    These people seem to have entirely missed the point of guerilla gardening, which is to tend and beautify **vacant** and abandoned lots and such.

  • easy fix

    Yet another reason for allowing residents to carry handguns in DC.

  • brittany

    i would welcome a guerilla gardener to do some work on my front beds.

  • Kathy J, WDCgardener

    I don’t see this as “guerilla gardening” in any sense of the term — more like busy-body gardening and wonder why folks are touching cultivated and maintained gardens that don’t belong to them.

    Have never heard of this happening before. On the list of urban gardening challenges (theft, destruction, etc.), this is very low on the sympathy scale, but I can imagine that it would be annoying — mostly as a waste of time and resources as well as an implied “I know better than you” insult.

    • parkviewj

      Amen! These guys are busybodies indeed.

  • Anonymous

    I live near the Hine School near Eastern Market, which is currently not being used, and someone set up a guerilla garden there last year. They got bored with it almost immediately, so the area is a weedy mess now. The gardeners had erected a makeshift scarecrow, which looked pretty junky in its heyday and is now falling apart. The barren lot was not attractive, but the mess of weeds, mop, and random bits of decaying clothing is much more of an eyesore. I’m ok with guerrilla gardening on a vacant lot only if the gardener knows what they’re doing and is going to follow through with it. If you don’t want to deal with maintenance, just put down some a wildflower mix or something that will grow easily and not look bad.

    • linds

      Eastern market garden poster: is it abandoned? Would you be interested in a revival?

  • The “guerilla gardeners'” attitude toward the other gardeners is a good parallel to the reasons many gentrifiers become disliked in the neighborhoods they “pioneer.”

    • parkviewj

      I agree–it’s these kinds of newbies that give all us newbies a bad rap.

      • C3PO

        Bullshit. Do the criminal acts of one or two longtime residents color your perception of all longtimers? Equally idiotic to assume all newbies are pretentious jerks, just because a few are.

        • anon

          Well, you eloquently make the case that at least one newbie is a pretentious jerk…

  • anonymous

    True guerilla gardeners take care of truly unused and neglected spots, even if it’s just bare dirt around a street tree. We not only planted around our block’s new, bare trees, but also watered them, put manure on them, mulched them, and pruned the low limbs that kids were prone to pulling down and damaging. Admittedly pruning street trees is legal for city workers only, but the trees are now large and healthy. This is the sort of improvement G.G. is meant to create.

    • Doug

      As long as the residents of house in front of the street trees don’t have their own gardening plans. My own patch of dirt between street and sidewalk has an unused planter in it, and I’m planning to do something with it. It’s one of those large metal planters that were added as part of a neighborhood beautification plan (I’m assuming) a long time ago. Since the city isn’t maintaining these, I guess it’s my job since it’s in front of my house. Regarding the guerrilla gardeners, there are whole blocks where these planters sit and are never used and I can’t see the harm of dropping some wildflower seeds in them. But I have bigger plans for mine, possibly bulbs.

  • pru

    Here’s an outlet for the lawnmower. Come patronize my yard, baby, come on.

  • Sunflower

    DC could use more guerilla gardeners.

    Speaking as a guerilla gardener, i would like to add that altering home property is something I would not recommend. But seeds do sometimes “fall” out of pockets. Don’t forget the wind and the DC deers* carrying the seeds off to any random destination where the soil might be just right.


    • Nick

      From one gardener to another, you’re patronizing and obnoxious. If I witnessed your seeds “falling” from you pocket into my beds, we’d have an unpleasant conversation. Guerilla garden all you want — there are plenty of areas throughout the city that could use it — but stay the hell away from areas that are already tended.

      • Sunflower

        Lighten up and go sow your ornamental cabbages.

        • parkviewj

          Sunflower, the point is not to trespass and alter what someone else is tending. You don’t have the right to alter someone else’s property if it’s being tended neatly. GG should be undertaken to turn an abandoned mess into something beautiful and should not be random strangers picking at already tended gardens.

          Oh, and if I ever see a GG picking at my stuff, I will echo Nicks harsh words and tell them to “Get the hell out.”

          • Sunflower

            I am well aware of the point and I agree with the point. I just don’t agree with verbal attacks. Likewise, I would not want someone altering my garden.

          • Nick

            I’m glad you agree with my denunciation of your original post, Sunflower. I can rest easy now.

  • Anonymous

    why the hell would someone “guerrilla garden” in something that’s already a garden? that makes no sense. i’d hose them bitches down if i saw them in my garden. that’s just wasting plant life and really pissing people off. nothing positive about it at all.

    they can have at my tree box though…….

  • Scott

    God I’m old. Back in my day guerrilla gardening was growing marijuana in the woods. I wish someone would guerrilla wash my car.

  • Or just “guerilla” pick up the trash!

  • OP, the behavior you describe is completely disrespectful. I would be outraged to find that someone had meddled with my hard work. What kind of lazy, sponging good for nothing tries to take over an already established garden? You pay money to rent your garden plot, so don’t feel that you need to be nice to these interlopers.
    I bet a solar powered motion activated light would discourage night time garden raiding.

  • Wiley


    I am a guerilla gardener, and I’m sorry to hear about these rude/ignorant people. Guerilla gardening is BY DEFINITION taking UNUSED space and planting useful things. Useful usually means native, or otherwise beneficial (like fruit trees, etc…) plants.

    If someone is using non-public space, or altering/touching other people’s plants, they are not practicing guerilla gardening properly, and they are being very inconsiderate.

  • 700 block of Quebec Place NW (odd numbers)

    I’m amazed that anyone would think it was OK to mess with someone else’s garden plot (or someone else’s tree box, yard, etc.).

    If these “guerrilla gardeners” have so much time on their hands, they could make themselves useful by pulling/cutting the weeds growing along the alley behind the odd-numbered half of the 700 block of Quebec.

    Or, as Victoria was suggesting, they could “guerrilla” pick up trash/litter.


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