Celebrating Springtime With Guerilla Gardening

You don’t have to have a green thumb or lots of cash to share awesome plants with your neighbors.

I grew up mesmerized by my grandpa’s garden. He had little rows of hard soil behind the church’s missions office in my hometown, where against all agricultural odds, he managed to wrangle plump sweet corn and crisp green beans from the ground each year. He grew odd-looking heirlooms on stakes by the perimeter and brought home a few herbs too (though he mostly left the basil and lemon balm cultivation to my Gram in her garden box behind their condo). It was a Depression-inspired and Millennial-inspiring scene.

Now obviously, I am not the only xoJaner who set her sights on her own grown-up garden. But the reality is that unlike Lesley, s.e. and Marianne, who clearly are much more together than I am, I have not really invested time and energy in growing my own food. (Herbs do not count, right? One cannot live on thyme and cilantro alone.)

I’m not averse to gardening; far from it! I just didn’t inherit my grandpa’s natural ease with bulbs, seeds and soil. Doesn’t mean I’m not interested in making our world a bit greener, more delicious, and enjoyable.

Last summer, I did a small bit of what we called guerilla gardening in my Copenhagen neighborhood of Vesterbro. There’s a years-long construction project underway on Enghave Plads, right smack dab at the intersection of the lovely skateboarding park, a café commons and former green space, so some locals hung up flowering pots along the perimeter fences to make the site a little less industrial and a little more promising. I hung up a wind chime for good measure thanks to some old inspiration.

Now that I live in a shoebox-sized “junior bedroom” (Realtor translation: studio) in downtown San Francisco, I’ve had to be a bit more creative with my limited space, both indoors and out. Following the example of the very sweet folks who tried to enhance the bulldozed square in my former hood, I set to work getting guerilla on my own roof. Doesn’t the revolution begin and end at home anyway? Nevermind what I have planned for the empty lot near my flat.

Green your own back porch or community following these very easy, rather excellent pro tips that I gleaned secondhand from some masters of the trade.

Make your own portable pots

The Copenhagen guerillas used whatever containers wouldn’t be picked up for recycling by the city. That meant repurposing aluminum and tin. In your area, that might be Styrofoam or certain types of plastics. Just keep an eye on potential for leaching chemicals, eh?

To make the best use of old cans or bottles, you’ll need to make a few modifications. Start by grabbing a hammer and a big nail. If you’ve got some sort of trellis or have your eye on a neighborhood fence you’d like to plant bomb, get a pack of regular-length zip ties too. The small ones are typically too short.

Use the nail and hammer to punch several holes in the bottom of the container, which will allow water to drain. Then, tap two side-by-side holes near the rim, where you’ll slip the zip tie through and hang the little pot.

Most importantly, you’ll want to prep all your cans or bottles before you fill them. That’s where the whole guerilla aspect comes in. When you’re done planting, you can load up your backpack or bike with little cans and go tie them all over town!

Get planting!

Once you have holes in your pots and zip ties ready to be yanked around a post, toss in a few rocks to help the water drain even more efficiently. You don’t know where to find rocks in a city? You and me both, pal.

For me, finding rocks has been its own weird challenge. Sometimes I find them at the beach, which I realize not every city is lucky enough to have (beaches or beaches with rocks, that is). Sometimes I steal pebbles from those little sidewalk tree plots outside of hotels. I am not proud to admit that I also once bought a sack of stones for $2 at Ikea. Seriously, I was so desperate that I paid money for rocks.

Then, dirt! Dirt is sort of easy. Again, it pains me to buy dirt in bags. IT’S DIRT. But if I dig up the little area behind my building that can hardly be described as a yard, I’ll be breaking my lease. So, potting soil in big plastic sacks it is. (Theft- and destruction-free urban alternatives, anyone?)

As for seeds, I’m terribly boring and buy them at the local hardware store. I mostly focus on cat grass, parsley and varieties of basil. I assume that because I’m not a whiz at this whole sustenance thing, I’ll kill my plants at some point anyway. Might as well cultivate edible herbs and snacks for our chunky furball Malcolm and the kitty upstairs. Flower-wise, I’ve had fledgling success with zinnias.

At home, I mix my cans with my other proper potted succulents and palms for a rustic hipster look. Out in the world, well, you can see how nice a bike lane spruces up with some vegetation along the path.

The first time I saw these pots hanging along the bike route, I went looking for the people responsible. Since I found them and learned their awesome tricks, I haven't looked back.