Under dusky yellow streetlamps on a balmy night, a car eases gently next to a desolate curb. Within minutes, others quickly slip onto the scene, armed with the implements of guerrilla warfare. But these weapons are a far cry from the machine guns and machetes one might typically imagine when hearing about guerrilla fighters -- instead you'll find them equipped with trowels, shovels, trash bags and, above all, plants.
Part of a worldwide movement, this group of guerrilla gardeners is about to get down to business cleaning up litter, churning soil and changing an otherwise deserted and scrubby patch of urban landscape into a flourishing garden the neighborhood can be proud of. The catch? They don't own the land they're about to beautify and, in most cases, they haven't asked the owners for permission to conduct their clandestine horticultural mission.
So what motivates these fans of flora and generally civic-minded folks to actions which, in many municipalities, still fall under the long arm of the law? It varies from person to person and from group to group -- with reasons seemingly as diversified as the plants themselves -- but there are some themes that are frequently repeated among the guerrilla gardening ranks.
Among the ideas espoused is the desire to actively contribute to public spaces in order to beautify cities, fight the encroaching neglect that so often befalls urban -- and not-so-urban -- areas, and build a sense of community among neighbors. Often, guerrilla gardeners are fed up with living in litter-coated concrete jungles and want to restore nature to their surroundings. Some guerrilla gardeners are more politically motivated and focus their efforts on planting on derelict private land to protest issues like capitalism. Still others focus on growing fruits and vegetables to challenge the ideas of proper urban land management, combat rising food prices and food miles (the distance food must travel from farm to dinner table), and provide nourishment for people in need. Acts of guerrilla gardening are even done to memorialize loved ones or simply to satisfy gardeners who don't have their own land.
Guerrilla gardening might seem like a green fad of the 21st century, but it actually goes back further than that. On the next page we'll take a look at some of the prominent arenas where guerrilla gardening got its start.