Saturday, March 21, 2009

Guerrilla gardening

Spring, finally.


I tend to wander away from the monitor once the sun heads north. In January puny words sustain me--in April germinating seeds do. I will become more scarce here as the sun arcs higher in the sky.

Leslie and I wandered along the edge of the world again today--a small flock of loons hunting by the ferry jetty called to each other. A bit later, a crow grumbled at us as we approached.

Crows never grumble at us in February.

Not so long ago I caught one of my students artistically applying ink to a mailbox, which would be fine if the mailbox was his. It is not.

I live in the same town I work, which is unusual these days in north Jersey, so reporting the child to the authorities was not in anyone's best interests.
Not saying I did, not saying I didn't.

Yesterday I planted basil and zinnias and oregano and cosmos. Today I put some garlic cloves in the ground. Tomorrow I'll plant more tomatoes or maybe peppers, egg plants or maybe nicotianas, who knows.

I'll run out off ground long before my interest wanes.

My neighbors mostly plant grass. Not the good kind like wheat or oats or corn. Kentucky blue grass (which would be interesting if it were truly blue). Chewings fescue. Bermudagrass. All clipped before they give off a hint of sexuality.

Straight. Green. Inedible.

At least I can eat my dandelions and wild purslane.

Should the authorities wish to pursue my graffiti artist, he may pay a fine. He may spend some time in the youth house. It will cost money, my money, and not much gets solved.

I have a better idea. I am short of land, but not of seeds.

Guerrilla gardening.

Guerrilla gardening is like graffiti, except it results in something useful.

Find a piece of land, and surreptitiously plant something. In these parts, think Indian. Corn, pumpkin, squash, blueberries, beans, sunflower--these were all here before the Europeans came.

The Europeans destroyed a lot of things, but they have yet to destroy the climate. (Give us credit, though, we're working on it.) If you plant a pumpkin in New Jersey, it will grow. So will a sunflower or a bean or a blueberry bush. They will grow if loved, but better yet, they will grow if neglected.

Pick a property with an absentee owner. We have plenty here in Bloomfield.
Plant a pumpkin seed.

The child gets to buck the system. The neighborhood gets a few pumpkins. Passers-by get a chance to smile at a misplaced sign that God loves us even when we're not kneeling in a pew.

I know that God or nature or life or whatever you want to call all this matters, and I know I cannot understand any of it. That's as much as I know anything, and it's enough.

We plant seeds in the classroom, and they grow. The children are amazed, as they should be. (I am amazed, too, every time it happens, as I should be.)

I do not, of course, advise my students to break the law. I do not push them into lives of crime, sowing illicit vegetables around town.

Still, John Chapman is one of my few heroes, and I would be proud if one of my students emulated him.


Unknown said...

I love the idea. It's brilliant. This is probably my favorite post that you've written.

Kathryn J said...

I like the idea of guerilla gardening with pumpkin seeds. It's a good place for them because they would overrun my small backyard plot.

We have a program in our city that gets students and neighborhood kids involved in school gardens and occasionally they will apply to use an empty lot. The kids really enjoy it. The school gardens are tied to Stone Soup for the littlest ones and to Iroquois Three Sisters traditions for the older children.

The sun is moving north quickly these days. Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

I'm sold! I've got some pumpkin seeds and I know some bare spots here in town. And I have a neighbor who just might like to join the team.

This is (excuse the intrusion of my left brain) such a transcendentalist thing to do. We can all collaborate on something larger than our puny selves without the smallest need of being aware of the collaboration.

Today we extended another raised bed in the garden. Sam double digs them, and I plant them. Tomorrow we don full body armor for the final assault on the unrepentantly non-bearing bramble berries. Truly Prince Charming proof once the summer is under way. We shall plant vegetables instead!

doyle said...

Dear John,

Thanks for the words--the idea is not new, but I think it would be a healthier outlet for some of my kids than some of the more destructive habits a few have developed.

It's amazing to watch the kids care for their plants in class.

Dear Kathryn,

I watch the sun creep further north with the sunsets on the bay--amazing time of year.

My Auntie Beth used the 3 sisters planting last year, with wonderful results. She gets wonderful results whatever she does, so I do not have a control, but it's fun to see the beans around the corn.

Dear Kate,

I'm scouting sites for pumpkins, too--it's still a bit early around here for actual planting, but I am eying a path to an abandoned railway trestle. I might need to haul some topsoil, though.

I love berry bushes, but they do get rambly. If they don't produce, well, they become a lot less charming. I'm much better at putting things in the ground than taking them out, which is why my backyard looks like a jungle by August.

Wayne Stratz said...


you should not go around planting seeds of thoughts either ;')

doyle said...

Dear Wayne,

You have my dream job!

Seeds of thought are dangerous indeed--if we all start thinking, the economy might collapse.

Oh, wait a minute....