Once there were parking lots
Now it's a peaceful oasis
you got it, you got it
This was a Pizza Hut
Now it's all covered with daisies
you got it, you got it
—"(Nothing But) Flowers," Talking Heads
Attention, comrades! Now is the time to think beyond the borders of your gardens, beyond the multihued life you keep inside your fences! Now we must rise up against the barren frontier of neglected urban spaces! Wage war against wasted properties! Spread the green life of your yard out and through! We must become, like so many before us, guerrilla gardeners.
The guerrilla verde is the "little green war," and as a movement it is difficult to track, exactly. Once it was ditch-diggers in Utah burying apple cores or planting asparagus as they went. Or it was the hiker planting fruit trees in parks as a covert and emergency food source. Since the late '90s it's come to be seen as a form of activism, a nonviolent revolution against the gray space and unused wastelands of urban areas. In cities like New York and Calgary, abandoned lots and desolate street corners are being reclaimed as community vegetable gardens or just something a little prettier.
In London, gardeners such as Richard Reynolds, founder of www.guerrillagardening.org, take to the streets for nocturnal planting. In Los Angeles, a community vegetable garden grew tall and fat with fruits and crops, and actress Daryl Hannah stood her ground against the bulldozers, which did their terrible work and flattened the cultivated land anyway.
And in Richmond, it's happening on the North Side, where the residents of Fauquier Avenue have transformed a grassy median strip into a community garden of wildflowers, sunflowers, even tall stalks of corn, giving color and character to what might otherwise be one more anonymous road.
Comrade Noah Scalin is one of the creators of "Swords Into Plowshares," a show of clay guns that traveled around Richmond in 2004, each gun representing a homicide victim in the city that year. Scalin says he and his partner, Comrade Chris Humes, were inspired by guerrilla gardening and "seed bombs" when they conceived their project. In guerrilla gardening they saw a way to respond to people's frustration with the powers that be, a form of subversion neither violent nor damaging that connects with the community, Scalin says, "transforming the neighborhood in a positive way."
The tool of the guerillero is the seed bomb. This is the simplest form of guerrilla gardening, subversion on the go. A package of seeds is lobbed into the empty lots and neglected plots of Church Hill, Jackson Ward, the Shockoes and the Fan, the railroad byways, and points west, south, east, and north. In time, an explosion of flowers, a loss of blank space.
Comrade Humes, who modeled the guns of "Swords Into Plowshares" after the seed-bomb design, tells us that there are three components:
1. Red clay powder, available at Campbell's Ceramic Clay Supply (or at www.claysupply.com).
2. A dry organic compost, like humus.
3. A seed mix. Wildflowers are best for these missions, as they are the most resilient and the least likely to be eaten by our animal comrades (as opposed to what he calls the "yummy" seeds, tomato and sunflower, for example). Use only what you know grows locally; the cause is not helped by spreading invasives. Down with purple loosestrife!
Older designs on the seed bomb or seed grenade, found at www.guerrillagardening.org, use a component of bourgeoisie holidays — the round Christmas-tree ornament — or a component of bourgeoisie suburban hijinks — the water balloon. Impregnate either item with seeds and time-release fertilizer, followed by bits of moist peat moss. Top off with water. Shake to mix ingredients. While perhaps more aesthetic than the clay-based bomb, these models yield broken glass or rubber fragments; we assume the appeal of these designs is in that subversive moment of hearing the bomb shatter or burst wetly.
Now more than ever is the time to shed seeds, not blood! To peek over your own fence into the world beyond and see potential, comrades, naked potential. Comrade Humes shares with us his feelings on seeing an empty plot in our city: "You just think about it — what it could be," he says. "Why not add beauty when it's so easy?" S