Urban Gardening

Regina Foschiova

Urban gardening aka Guerilla gardening is a kind of gardening that takes place in cities and towns, on grounds which by law do not belong to the people who practice the gardening. Usually places such as deserted public sites or even private properties are used for practicing urban gardening. The main motivation is in most cases to provoke or protest and to aim at the attention of the authorities and the general public to a certain problem or issue that exists in the given region. By planting flowers, herbs or various kinds of plants or simply by throwing seed-balls around the gardeners aim to decorate and embellish an area or a spot that has been abandoned, misused or just not taken care of by their legal owners. Urban gardening as a form of non-violent peaceful protest can take place during the day but also at night; it depends on the amount of privacy or secrecy the gardeners want to have.

The history of the urban gardening can be traced back to the 1970’s when Liz Christy, a local gardener living in Manhattan, New York, founded the first community garden in New York City in 1973 (fig 1). Bowery-Houston community farm and garden is located at the intersection of Bowery and Houston Street and today is named after its founder who died in 1985. Another example of pioneering urban gardening is the Garden of Eden (fig. 2), a community garden on Forsyth Street in the Lower East side of Manhattan. This garden was founded and in the course of five years single-handedly built by David Lloyd Wilkie aka Adam Purple (1930-2015). The garden had a round shape with a yin-yang symbol in the center. At the beginning of 1980’s the city of New York planned to build a low-income houses in the area and demolish the garden. Despite many protests from the tenants, who lived in the surrounding neighborhood and proposed different solutions of the situation that did not include destroying the garden, the Garden of Eden was eventually demolished on the 8th of January 1986.

We can find many examples of urban gardening in Europe as well. In 1996 Danish Organic Starters organized an over-night transformation of an abandoned public space in the northwestern district in Copenhagen into a groomed garden. In 2004 Londoner Richard Reynolds started writing a blog where he documented his actions of “beautifying” his neighborhood. Beginning as a disenchanted citizen who tried to embellish the unkempt areas surrounding his home, his blog attracted interest of fellow urban gardeners as well as the media and his website www.guerillagardening.com has become a key source of information for guerilla gardening enthusiasts.

One of the powerful tools for the environmentalists is the above mentioned seed ball. A seed ball, also known as “earth ball”, is a mixture of different seeds and additives such as humus or compost rolled with a ball of usually red clay. Seed balls can be placed in abandoned areas where the seeds can grow. This technique pioneered by a Japanese environmentalist Masanobu Fukuoka was in 2009 used by members of Neighbors Allied for Good Growth (NAG) located in Brooklyn, NY to help the local government take care of deserted areas.

The legal status of urban gardening and/or urban agriculture is problematic. Planting on the land that does not belong by law to the person who does the planting is illegal or at least the gardeners and farmers operate in a grey zone because they could not be sure whether they could use certain public spaces such as alley-ways or rooftops for farming and gardening. However, when the owner of the property is the city council, some legal changes can be made as in the case of San Antonio, Texas. The local city council created in December 2015 a new use category – “urban farm” and the “residential market garden” use category is since then permitted in every zone of the city zoning by default and that means that gardening can be practiced in most lots. The general trend in the recent years is for the city councils to revisit and update old laws and to give urban gardeners and farmers more freedom to grow their own food.

Urban/guerilla gardening can be also part of street art, with artists using flowers as props or creating miniature gardens in usually inconvenient places (fig. 3). Artists in such cases usually use the urban site as a sort of a “damaged canvas” where they place a floral decoration into a crack in the pavement to draw the attention of passers-by – their audience. They play with the contrast between a “ragged” urban space and the beauty of the “nature” embodied by a floral arrangement. The floral decoration is often something that does not fit into the scenery and thus is an interruption in an everyday existence of a city. The life of such an art piece placed in a busy street with heavy traffic, lot of pollution and indifferent passers-by is, unfortunately, often short-lived.

Since the 1st of May 2007 the International Sunflower Guerilla Gardening Day has taken place every year all over the world. On this day urban gardeners plant sunflowers in neglected abandoned public places. The ISGGD generates interest every year and in 2010 more than 5000 people registered for the Event.

fig. 1: „Liz christy garden 0001“ by edenpictures – https://www.flickr.com/photos/edenpictures/7574507360, 5. 12.2015
fig. 2: Harvey Wang , https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1908392143/adam-purple-and-the-garden-of-eden, 5. 12. 2015
fig. 3: Steve Wheen (on the left) and Peter Dungey (on the right), http://blog.lulus.com/art/guerilla-gardening-takes-it-to-the-streets/, 5. 12. 2015

Weblinks:

About the author:
Regina Foschiova was born in Prague, Czech Republic and studies art history in the PhD programme at the Catholic Theological Faculty of the Charles University in Prague. She specializes in a history of post-war and contemporary art and social aspects of artistic production.
Contact info: @instagram regina_foschi

Reference / Quellennachweis:
Regina Foschiova: Urban Gardening, in: Aesthetics of Resistance, Pictorial Glossary, The Nomos of Images, ISSN: 2366-9926, 13 January 2016, URL: http://nomoi.hypotheses.org/469.


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