Guerrilla gardening takes root in Vancouver

Under cover of night, citizens are transforming public spaces.

Credit: Flickr / Mathias Baert

Just like a blank wall is an invitation for graffiti, unused, unkempt ground can be an invitation for guerrilla gardening

The growing trend in making public space beautiful has guerrilla gardeners arming themselves with a spade and seeds and planting everything, anywhere. You’ll find guerrilla gardens can be a food patch on the outskirts of an apartment complex, a spray of native grasses along the alley, or even a single flower planted in a crack of the sidewalk.


Guerrilla gardening begets park space and community garden in Vancouver

In Vancouver, the trend has popped up all over the city.

For instance, at the entrance to Stanley Park, just off Georgia sits Devonian Harbour Park. David Tracey, author of Guerrilla Gardening: a Manualfesto, told me that back in 1971 that whole area had been slated to be developed as a Four Seasons resort. The resort would have blocked views of Stanley Park as well as taken away space from residents of the area. So a group of concerned citizens moved in to protest. But rather than carry signs and chant slogans, they decided to grow flowers and plant trees.

guerrilla gardening in Vancouver

Signs of guerrilla gardening can pop up

anywhere, including sidewalk boulevards

(pictured). (Image: Flickr / ubrayj02)

Over the next year, police moved in and the city shunned them, but in the end the growers won. They caught the attention of a Calgary oilman who put up half the money for the park while the city put up the rest. And now the city has that extra green space that millions of people pass through every year because of a committed group of guerrilla gardeners.

Tracey also pointed out the gardening efforts at 1st Avenue and Fir Street. The area had been just some unused rail tracks, but Justin Tilson, a nearby apartment dweller, saw the space as a sunny spot to grow some tomatoes. His deck didn’t have enough sunlight so he set up a growing box by the tracks. After the tomatoes grew, he decided to grow more plants in the area, and the neighbours joined in. Now the guerrilla garden takes up a good two blocks.

“People sort of scratch their heads and wonder how it got there,” said Tracey.


Gaming world latches on to guerrilla gardening

Like any good real-life trend, there’s a virtual answer. That’s where the  Guerrilla Gardening Game comes in. Still in its prototype stages, the game is “about overthrowing despots and growing plants where you shouldn’t,” according to the developers, Spooky Squid.

The objective is to bring cheer to citizens by planting in public space. But, you’ll have to attract the citizens to the space, do the planting and avoid the police. While the game looks a little low-res it does seem like a non-violent way to get a video game fix.

It’s also inspiring. If you could bring that much cheer to virtual people in the virtual world, imagine what a plant or two could do in your real-life city.


Advice for covert real-world planting

If you are planning on heading out and taking over a space in the real world, Tracey has two words of advice. One, don’t forget the space needs to be maintained. You can’t just throw your seed bomb, or plant your Douglas fir sapling and walk away from it, he said.

And number two, just get out there and do it.