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Guerrilla Gardening Vacant City-Owned Land

 
insipidtoast McCoy
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Does anyone have experience doing guerrilla gardening? There's a spot that a friend of a friend of a friend would like to develop into a sustainable food forest in their neighborhood. Is it best to do this late at night/very early in the morning, or just to go plant stuff in the middle of the day like it's no problem? Say a police officer drove by right as a gardener was swinging their pick into the soil, would they be arrested?

There are already other plants in the open-space in question, some of which are even invasives. Others are natives, and there are also a few non-native specimen plants scattered around. It isn't a well maintained park. There's not even a jungle gym. It's basically just a big, open lot that somehow didn't go to developers. I suppose this might be because it straddles a semi-riparian corridor. However, this corridor is very ill-defined, and no one involved has ever seen water running through  the bottom of it except during times of very heavy flooding. According to a dog walker in the neighborhood, the city comes in every once in a while to mow the weeds (probably just the annual grasses and thistle-like plants that pop up during the rainy season).

It is about one acre in size, there are only a few plants planted here and there, and the rest is wide open space just begging to be planted for the benefit of the neighborhood.
 
                                
Posts: 34
Location: Pacific Northwest
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If you go in the dead of the night you are just as likely to be spotted

by police and there will be no doubt you are doing something covert

and the police WILL stop.

If you go in the middle of the day, wearing the same color vests and

maybe with a clipboard every passer-by except the actual owner will assume

you belong there. Police will see you but they may not bother to stop.

Or you could just sit down on the ground and casually plant stuff while moving from

place to place.

But if they do, you'd be better off not lying unless you have an iron clad story.


We were just talking today about doing the same thing on a vacant lot.
 
Pat R Mann
Posts: 32
Location: Seattle, WA
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Maybe you don't even need to be covert. I did the same thing on a property owned by the city's dept of transportation. All it required was finding the right contact and having some friendly chats to make them feel comfortable with the plan.
 
T. Joy
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Here's the Cork Town model for ya...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLQVflF9foM
 
Dan Wallace
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I'd also recommend going during the day and act like you're supposed to be there. Depends on the attitudes of your city but I think outside of gated communities and affluent areas, no one will really care

I've been grafting plums and pears on to street trees and hope to do more
 
T. Joy
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I don't know a lot about growing trees, do you mean you're grafting them onto any old tree? How does that work?
 
Dan Wallace
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craftylittlemonkey wrote:
I don't know a lot about growing trees, do you mean you're grafting them onto any old tree? How does that work?

Prunus cerasifera (cherry plum) and pyrus calleryana (callery pear) are very common street trees in most cities. Cherry plums are edible and make decent jam but you can also graft a good variety of Asian or European plum on to it. Callery pears produce a tiny inedible fruit that birds love but is otherwise useless but you can graft European pears on to it.

This is my first year doing it and Im anxious to see the results
 
insipidtoast McCoy
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It's owned by the county... I guess asking first is the best way to start.

I can't really see them saying no to a proposal to create an exotic-looking, drought-tolerant forest, especially when no funding is expected.
 
Dan Wallace
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insipidtoast wrote:
It's owned by the county... I guess asking first is the best way to start.

I can't really see them saying no to a proposal to create an exotic-looking, drought-tolerant forest, especially when no funding is expected.

My wager is that they would say no because of liability concerns (it sounds totally crazy but thats unfortunately how municipalities work)
 
T. Joy
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Look at that video I posted about Detroit agriculture. There are successful models to site when speaking with city officials, it's documented to work and work well. Here's another link, perhaps getting in touch with this group would help you with how to deal with the PTB. They are somehow managing to make this happen.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfyCnI-4COs&feature=related

You'd think the city would want to SPONSOR something like this! You might have community action groups in town who would like to see it happen as well. You never know...
 
                                
Posts: 30
Location: Ontario, Canada
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    I've done a bit of Guerrilla Gardening in my time.      The suggestions about asking  officially are great and one avenue but know that once you ask and if they do turn you down and then if you still do something they will likely know who is doing it.  That's why, if it's possible, try to feel your way around casually to try to get an idea of what the response would be before going barreling in and making a more official request. 

As far as reasons they might say no.  There are tons.  One comment was about liability.  Another I've heard is that 'sure it won't cost the city money now' but in the future it could if we decide to use the lot then we may have to pay more to clean it up for use, tree have to be cut down etc".      This is why it helps a lot to try to find out as much as you can about the people you'd have to talk to it about and their general viewpoint on things like this.  I've found that if you have an official who has a personal bias then any number of reasons why you can't do can and will be generated.

On the positive side though if you have someone who thinks it's a great idea or can be talked into it being a great idea they can be the greatest allies in dealing with all the excuses that other might come up with.   


In the unofficial route of just doing it the suggestions have been great.  Night time is more risky.  People suspect and notice things out of place more during those hours.  Day time, it's amazing how little people notice if you act like your supposed to be there.  It's amazing how something like one of those bright orange vests which you think would make you stand out actually make people not notice.   

Most of what I did though was to use things like seed balls.  They won't help too much with getting trees planted but if you want to get  a whole lot of plant material into the lot without a whole lot of risk on your part, seed balls are great.  Plus because of their nature the plants that do grow from them do because they've hit the right conditions for growth which mean less maintenance and less need to tend the lot.      Just come in with your bags, scatter them, leave and let nature do her thing.


Beyond that
 
Paula Edwards
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You could go out and do something no one can complain about, like ripping our invasive plants and clean up rubbish.
Then you might decide to have a chat with some representative, but that can go very formal and you might need to get incorporated an all that stuff.
You might raise some plants from seeds like a chestnut or walnuts, nothing expensive or take some cuttings. And you only plant them when they are big enough, a meter or so. Make this nicely. Or you start something which grows really fast.
 
                                      
Posts: 172
Location: Amsterdam, the netherlands
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Hi,

we've been guerrilla gardening for a few years now, ours is also a quite political project, of which i shall talk too much here, as not to upset Paul wheaton (forum admin), since he prefers topics to stay away from politics and religion.
check it out here:
www.swompenglish.wordpress.com

One thing you can do when guerrilla gardening is use the grounds as a community project. Look for a neighbourhood committee, and see if they are interested in this type of project. You can increase social cohesion while adressing the degradation of the neighborhood through neglect of these grounds.

When using this tactic there are a few possible outcomes:
- you get away with it an inject a positive pulse in the neighborhood, as well as get to garden the ground.
- the owner will be pointed on his responsibilities towards society to take care of his property, and will finally start to develop. The barren ground is finally developed and no more take down the reputation and athmosphere in the neigborhood.
- you dont get away with it because the law is the law, they destroy what you have planted and the owner still doesnt look after the ground.

the choice for a covert or totally out in the open approach is one that might depend on the location, busy crossroads, side-alley, in the middle of housing blocks of parent with children, in a shopping mall, etc.

What do you want to grow will also affect the approach.
Planting fruiting/nut trees and wild flowers that require minimal maintenance make it possible to let your visits go by unnoticed, depending on the spot you might want to do this planting at night (if it is a desolate urban area where not many people live or look at the vacant lot or come by at night, this might be safest), but anywhere busy during daytime (with the mentioned orange or yellow vest, and maybe even a clipboard with some drawing on it.).

Planting some fruit trees and shrubs here and there at night, and spreading lots of native plants, possibly by walk-by-seedbomb-throwing, you have a chance for get stuff growing unnoticed for a long time, by the time they want to start clearing it again it could look great, or could have looked great during summer  with all kind of colors and flowers. (make sure to take pics of that).
By that time (well enough before) you can start approaching officials and get some deal that they let you go ahead with it.

If turning it into a vegg or ornamental garden is just not tolerated (cos they fear you taking sort of possesion of the property and having a hard time getting rid of you by the time someone wants to develop the lot) it might be possible to at least get them to stop weeding once a year. These barren vacant lots are usually great places to study succession. Vacant lots to me, are the zone 5's for urban people, and speeding up succesion is just a seebal away. Choose your pioneer species well.

When your intention is to grow fruit and vegg, then making this a community/neighborhood project might be the wy to go. start building contacts with social structures in the neighborhood. Get parents with children involved, find active and involved community members, plan the thing out and depending on existing contacts and relation with local governments just start doing it, or (if there is a good relation to local politicians) appraoch them and have a chat with them.

I wouldnt really encourage approaching them before you do it, even though thats most peoples instinct (why could you be against gardening an unused uggly lot?), it just tends to work so much more convincing when a beautifull garden is your living proof, and when children are happily getting dirty and seeding and watering gardens...

google any combination of the following words 'liz christy green guerrilla community garden', for some really good inspiration. Getting in contact with them might also help.
 
T. Joy
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There is an abandoned trash and weed filled lot close by, how could I transform it into a beautiful green space without having to get rid of all the weeds first? Or can I work with them? They are city weeds, non-edibles and tenacious. I'm thinking flowers not food here though as it may be sold and developed at any time so nothing that is any harder to deal with than what is already there, just less of an eyesore. Any advice is very appreciated.
 
                      
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It depends on how overrun the lot is with weeds. If they die back in the winter, find something that can grow like mad early in the season (before the weeds take hold), and plant it as soon as you can. If it grows fast enough and gets a jump on the weeds, then it may choke some of them out. Get something that seeds itself, and has enough area that it can shade the soil beneath it.

Some varieties of wild flower are great! You could even think about a prairie grass mix and seed it really well.

Here's a link to some wildflower and wild grass sources:

http://www.stockseed.com/

http://www.wildflowermix.com/info/specialuse/tallprairie-grass.html

Other folks may have some better variety info.

Great thread by the way! I don't really encounter vacant lots, as I'm out in the sticks, but I grew up in a city and really dig the idea.
 
                                      
Posts: 172
Location: Amsterdam, the netherlands
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jerusalem artichokes come to mind...

There are surprisingly many edibles between wild city plants. Things like rocket and chives grow everywhere between street tiles, on sandy lots and even in raingutters i've found mini-chives and mini-rocket.

Here in the netherlands you find many wild cabbages (undefinable crusiferea/brassica's with yellow flowers) that do not have much leaf matter but are quite delicious.

things that will be better in competing with natural weeds; comfrey, sunchokes, sunflowers, native flower mixes,
spreading a lot of winter purslane seed in fall on sand(y) patches can create nice green winter-tapestries.

some plants of the malveae family do well on these lots, over here hollyhock (alcea rosea) does well, but im not sure if this grows over there, and wouldnt introduce it if it's not allready there, surely there are malvacea's that grow wild where you're at.

Good luck,
 
T. Joy
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Sunflower and hollyhock are definately possibilities! Comfrey is pretty too. Thanks 
 
insipidtoast McCoy
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bikemandan wrote:
My wager is that they would say no because of liability concerns (it sounds totally crazy but thats unfortunately how municipalities work)


In Grave Danger of Falling Food!


There's already mature pine trees that drop cones from 30-40 feet in the sky. What sort of liability would be more risky than that? This is going to need no maintanence, some of the plantings will be native, and some will be palms. Most plants will be evergreen, and will make an otherwise brown lot in the dry season into an emerald oasis. It's a drought tolerant forest, that just so happens to have many edibles. (We don't really want to advertise it as a food forest, because we believe that will create an unnecessary political connotation that might harm our ability to plant the space).
 
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