Guerrilla Gardening: Vandalism or Victimless Crime?

Poppies growing in a previously-abandoned public planterGuerrilla gardeners have transformed this spot into a place where flowers flourish. For the "before" shot, see here. Image: Liz Ixer/Flickr

You may not even know it, but there could be an underground army in your neighborhood — people operating under a cloak of anonymity, working slightly outside the law, all for one simple cause: Beautifying their community.

It’s called guerrilla gardening — the practice of taking a tiny bit of control over the local environment by planting seeds in an untended place. Here’s how it works:

  • The guerrilla gardener identifies an unused lot or vacant property that’s neglected and would look so much better with some flowers, grass, or other non-invasive, native plant life.
  • Whenever they walk past the abandoned area, they’ll drop some seeds around, or throw seed balls, which are seeds and soil wrapped in a biodegradable capsule.
  • After a few weeks and a good rain, plants should start growing, and that vacant lot will be a lot more pleasant to look at.

Guerrilla gardeners have a code of honor. First, the target must be clearly abandoned. Second, the idea isn’t to throw seeds into anyone’s back yard, but to be highly selective. And third, they are discreet. The strategy is up to each guerrilla gardener — some drop seeds in broad daylight, but others prefer the cover of darkness.

The tricky part of guerrilla gardening is that it’s not strictly legal. It is, after all, altering land that doesn’t belong to the person throwing the seeds, which means that person could be arrested for vandalism. While some may see this as overstepping boundaries, the goal is urban beautification, and guerrilla gardeners see this as a victimless crime.

What do you think of guerrilla gardening? Have you ever done it? Do you agree that this is harmless, or do you think people shouldn’t interfere with land that doesn’t belong to them?