Anyone up for some Guerilla Gardening?

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Wed, 10/04/2006 - 22:42.


I'm identifying lots of best practices for social change in Toronto that are easily found online and can be implemented here... in many cases, they are similar to cool things we do here. One idea I love is Guerilla Gardening - Graffiti with Nature! "Without permit or license, we plant seeds and seedlings in all those neglected corners of public space. Join us as we vandalise the city with nature!" Another cool initiative that would work here is Human River Walk and Art Show... "A weekend celebration on Toronto's biggest buried river: Garrison Creek!"... With everyone wearing blue, we will become a human river bringing the Garrison Creek back to life!... we have similar watershed issues to deal with here...

The Garrison Creek still flows beneath our city. As it rushes under homes, stores, roads and parks, we find signs of this lost river in tilting houses, dips in streets, buried bridges and a string of green valleys. Join us for the second annual Human River as we celebrate the Garrison's path with art, film and exploration.

These and other important social change campaigns are part of the Toronto Public Space Committee, which has a huge impact in that great city.

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I'm in -- lets start with spring bulbs!

I will lead the gorilla gardening here in Cleveland. We have all winter to pick out sites and plan our "attack". Maybe we can get some free bulbs donated and plant them this fall?

Looking for donated bulbs for Guerilla gardening

Okay, so let's put out word bulds are needed - and pick a site or two to get them in the ground. Keep your eyes open for a place that needs life and won't be disturbed between now and spring. When do the bulbs need to be in the ground and what is required besides bulbs?

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Im currently living in Washington D.C.  But if you are looking for bulbs for fall planting (tulips, daffodils, etc.)  Many garden centers, at the end of the bulb selling season, as xmas season approaches are looking to get rid of remaining fall bulbs.  I used to work for a couple of these garden centers west of Cleveland, and often they would just throw hundreds of bulbs away for lack of something better to do with them.  When I was there, I tried to organize with community groups in Cleveland for this.  Providing the bulbs are still good, they can be planted into December, with little else required, except for relatively good soil and bone meal is helpful for root development. 


Thanks Willyboy - sounds like a great opportunity

Great insight. So we need to get word out to the garden centers that if they have bulds to spare they will be put to use for guerilla gardening and we'll see what they say.

BTW - if you are in DC do you know about the Cleveland Club of Washington, D.C. - see

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NEO Guerilla Gardening 2007

Thanks to Susan Miller for figuring this one out - we will drive a massive guerilla gardening movement in NEO focused on plants that pull lead from the soil, making this a more healthy place - see how this works here. So the plan is to spread 1,00,000s of sunflower seeds around vacant lots and clearly lead poisoned properties around NEO and map where we distribute them and mark the region with new life. Do this on your own - check back at realneo for details as we will refine this process to address issues like how to dispose of the lead contaminated plants at the end of the growing season... just search realneo for "guerilla gardening" and you'll find updates.

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like the phytoremediation at Mission Bay...

certain plants have an affinity for certain metals within the uptake area of their root zones.   In Mission Bay, plants used in these hotspots (afterall it was an uncontrolled hazardous waste shipyard landfill) absorb the haz metals and become a hazardous waste stream themselves.   So in essence you move the pollutants.    Now they are up, out of the soil (at least some portion) and in your plants.   In Mission Bay, they dont use plants that are considered food sources.  The plants employed are by law regulated as hazardous wastes.  They are, I am told, drummed up, labeled, and shipped off to be buried in a 'appropriate' landfill.

I wanted to point out that using a plant for bioremediation that many consider a food source really drives up the expense necessary to keep people from eating the seeds.

For example:

On the North Coast PollutoCrat Blog, at the link above you can see the world famous toxic nightmare that is the Diamond Shamrock Facility.  The most polluted site on any of the great lakes.   It is about 2 miles from Headlands Beach (due east).

Anyhow, they are using concord grapes to bioremediate a 'test plot'.  The site is sky high for chromium, amoungst other things.... and as you can see from my pictures on the blog link above... the pollution is still running off via surface stormwater flow, onto the beach and into our lake (note the photos of the rocks and driftwood stained blue).    The deadzone where this area flowed into the lake was telling..

Anyhow this project has the grapes sealed off via barbwire fencing so no tresspassors (plenty ATV traffic out there) stop by for a snack and get tox'ed out.

Heads up!

We'll have to find data on sunflowers

Hi ZM - nice to see you as the first poster at I think it will be interesting to learn more about this. I especially love the idea of vacant lots all over Cleveland suddenly filled with sunflowers. I think we could map the lots we seed and put up signs and get the word out that it is a lead remediation project and the plants are unsafe. The project would include to harvest and process the plants as toxic waste if necessary. Would be very educational and create huge community awareness - I know grants we could apply for. I especially want to try this in East Cleveland as part of that project.

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I have sent some email inquiries

I found an article about a student research project on this very issue at Bates College. I emailed the chemistry professor who advised the student and asked the very questions you pose about disposal and ingestion. It sometimes takes a while to get answers from the college prof types, because they are busy, but often they do write back. I’ll let you know what I hear. I know that the student’s project involved raised beds.


I also wrote to Phil Lane and I am confident that that email will engender no response because Phil can’t even acknowledge an in person hello from me. That aside I asked what biomass he is using since I had heard about miscanthus, which is grown in suburban gardens and is reputedly a very promising source of cellulosic ethanol. (Phil knows all about this stuff, and he can really talk a blue streak of technical language that is over everyone’s head – oh I am always so impressed, blinded with science, as it were. These guys who speak tech and acronyms just make me weak in the knees, and the best part is at the end of their loud, fast, passionate and interminable speeches, they usually want you to agree even though you couldn’t understand half of what they said and couldn’t be recognized to pose your question. These guys make me want to sit in a tiny chair with my knees up near my shoulders and raise my hand like I was in kindergarten.) But that’s an aside about behavior in the civic space…

I would imagine there might be a security issue (because it is so tall and could easily hide folks who need to hide), but growing this stuff in lots away from natural water (creeks, brooks, streams where it is easily transported) could be an alternative to grass cutting – that is, if there was a use for it. It is not native however, so you have to be careful with it.


It does seem to be drought tolerant because a lot of it grows in tree lawns in my neighborhood. It is also a curiosity to me about grass cutting and building topsoil.

Now in Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I read that when cows bite off the grass, a similar volume of root on that grass also dies. This makes room for the microbes, worms, etc. to move in and do their good work at improving the soil, so it would follow that cutting grass is good (not too much as in overgrazing), of course, this sustainable farmer is not growing these lawn grasses, but more of a meadow mix for the cows). So it is possible that on many of these lots where the city has been cutting grass for many years there is some topsoil made simply from that process. My friend Christina Magiorra who is involved with City Fresh or Maurice Small who is the City Fresh guy might be able to address this as they are finding what she termed very rich soil in the city of Cleveland and many lots with no contaminants. This is just so curious. I also know that when these guys build on lots in the city (not Habitat, but the other “developers”), it is common practice for them to remove the topsoil and sell it as part of their expense recovery. So if they can sell good topsoil, then there must be some good stuff to plant in. The business of digging up lead laden soils is dangerous, so adding topsoil to the lots is what happened in the Bates model. Maybe someone could address this… Zebra??? Do you know???


So I like the idea of Guerilla Gardening, and I wonder if we might get the CDCs involved with the practice via neighborhood groups. East Cleveland seems a good place to begin, and I might be able to convince my friends who live on West 45th street with their lead laden lawn to plant some sunflowers and mustard in their front lawn. I agree that lots filled with sunflowers and switchgrass would be more beautiful than the short cropped grassy squares we see throughout Cleveland in the summer. Mustard is beautiful, too. Though this would have to be posted – "DANGER toxic plants NOT A MUSTARD FIELD" with skull and crossbones so that neighbors do not harvest it and eat it with ham hocks and cornbread.

This could be a project like Not a Cornfield in LA (pictured above) and we could resurrect the county’s greenprint as a guide. Here’s one example on the east side.

These are good musings Norm and good cautionary feedback Zebra. Let’s keep expanding on this idea.

Next steps with bioremediation?!

I really look forward to learning more about the disposal issue, and anything else you learn from your inquiries. . I think some variation of this is very doable this spring through fall. As an added benefit beyond bioremediation is that if the planting of urban vacant lots provides good density and soil coverage (like with switchgrass I suspect) then that will keep kids off the soil (assumed to be lead contaminated) and it will cover the soil, keeping it out of contact with people who do walk through it or play in it, and keeping it less dry and dusty, which makes it more likely to go airborn.

I was also thinking that it would be worth planting as many sunflowers and as much switchgrass and grapes and other plants that draw toxins out of soil in all gardens, along with anything else you may plant, because in any urban garden, even if you had the old soil replaced down a few feet, will still have lots of toxins from the air and surroundings, so the more bioremediation the better. It seems this should be a standard practice - if you trust your land for other plants you eat, then you could feel safe eating the bioremediating plants too, knowing they had also helped cleanse your garden to make everything else you grow there safer.

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Knitting Anyone? Guerrilla Knitters Invade the Streets of London

by Bonnie Alter, London on 03.26.10

oranges lemons photos
All images from Knit the City

We have heard of guerrilla gardeners, planting gardens in public spaces under the cover of night. Now we have guerrilla knitters and bring them on.

They are a clandestine group of "woolly warriors" who decorate London landmarks with their knitted goods. They leave a tag: Knit the City and photos on their blog. Where they will turn up next, no one knows. They live by the rule that "a true yarnstorm comes from within the dark heart of each sneaky stitcher." Watch carefully when you walk.

yarn library photo

Knit the City call their "attacks" yarnstorms rather than the American term yarnbomb. They changed the name "as a move away from any terrorist associations, being of a gentler disposition. The Yarn Corps feel a bit sheepish about being labelled as dastardly yarn terrorists. We live in a city where 'bomb' is possibly not the best word to bandy about, even if it is woolly. But everyone likes a storm."

They are witty and clever and sophisticated, but who are they? With names like Deadly Knitshade, Bluestocking Stitcher, and the Purple Purler, Lady Loop and the Knitting Ninja, we will never know their true identity. How to join? They will find you, you will never find them.

nutcracker sweet photo
Images from Knit the City

Where to find them? All over London. Their Christmas present was a celebration of the Nutcracker Suite. They decorated the ballerina statue in front of Covent Garden Opera House. Creating little soldiers, flower girls and snowflake dancers, with the prince poised on the ballerina's head, a whole world unfolded on the snowy streets.

hallow een photo

You can imagine the fun that they had on Hallowe'en night. They focused their efforts on the rust-covered gateway to an abandoned tube station and created their own City of Ghouls.

st.martin photo
St. Martins church

They celebrated the olde song "Oranges and Lemons" and they set out to decorate all the churches and places mentioned in the song.

"Oranges and lemons," said the bells of St Clements,
"You owe me five farthings," said the bells of St Martins,
"When will you pay me?" said the bells of Old Bailey,
"When I grow rich," said the bells of Shoreditch,
"When will that be?" said the bells of Stepney,
"I do not know," said the great bells of Bow.


He who laughs last didn't get the joke.