Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Garden Sharing vs Guerrilla Gardening - Give Peas (and Peace) a Chance

I’ve always had a problem with the idea of “guerrilla gardening”. To me, gardening is all about peace and  sharing. We spend peaceful time outside cultivating the soil and we share the beauty and bounty of our gardens with visitors and passersby. There really isn’t anything “guerrilla” about it.

By definition, the word guerilla is all about warfare and overtaking your enemy in subversive ways. I just don’t think it fits with gardening.

My understanding of guerrilla gardening is that gardeners go out and garden on a piece of  land without the owner’s permission. This “gardening” is sometimes in the form of “seed bombs” and other forms of clandestine planting.  The land that is  gardened is usually abandoned or neglected by its legal owner and the guerrilla gardeners take it over to grow plants. Guerrilla gardeners believe they are  reclaiming land from perceived neglect or misuse and giving it new purpose. (If I don't have a clear understanding of guerrilla gardening, I welcome all comments.)

Garden sharing, on the other hand,  is an arrangement which connects those who have the space to garden with those who would like to garden but don’t have the space. It is a win-win situation for both. Apartment dwellers and others without suitable garden space are provided a place to dig,  plant and grow to their hearts content. Property owners reap the benefits of beauty or bounty in their unused garden space. Many times, garden sharing is used for growing food, and the homeowners  receive a portion of the produce that is grown in exchange for the use of his land.

There are numerous garden sharing programs on the internet including Yardsharing in Portland, Oregon, Yards To Gardens in Minneapolis and Urban Garden Share in Seattle.

In the DC area there is Sharing Backyards DC.

Sharing Backyards DC is the local segment of Sharing Backyards, a project that was originally started in Canada in 2007 to  encourage urban gardening. It is a do-it-yourself, online matchmaking system that allows would-be gardeners to find a place to putter in the dirt.

Whether you are a property owner with land to spare or a gardener looking for a place to get your garden off the ground, you start by selecting your city on the Sharing Backyards website. This will bring up a map of the area  with icons representing those looking for space or offering to share their space.

Property owners can click on the little binoculars symbol to bring up people who are looking for garden space. And gardeners can click on the little garden icon to find people who have some space to share. Your address and email address are hidden but a popup box allows you to share messages through the site.

There are no restrictions on how you might choose to share your space.  However, Sharing Backyards suggest that you treat your first meeting with prospective yard-sharing partners as you would with meeting a roommate or potential tenant, first speaking to them on the phone and perhaps meeting in a public place before bringing them to your home.

If you decide this person is someone you'd like to share your yard space with, they also suggest that you come up with a clear understanding of the Considerations for Sharing Your Backyard Garden, including when they may garden, what they can grow, and what, if any, of your stuff they are allowed to use.

In addition to the friend vs foe aspect, there is another definite advantage to the Backyard Sharing program over guerrilla gardening: it provides the gardeners with the opportunity to share their knowledge and friendship as well as their land.

Eco-friendly and organic gardening skills are wonderful things to share with others and many of the listings I saw on Sharing Backyards DC were interesting in this type of gardening.

So whether you want to share your land, your labor or your love for the environment, why not check out Sharing Backyards DC – where you can give both peace, and peas, a chance. Who knows what the process may lead to. Before you know it, you might be sharing some Bare Naked Gardening with a new friend.


  1. When I hear "guerilla" I think scappy, self-reliant, no-budget, off-the-radar. Guerilla marketing for instance is a concept I fully embrace and adovate for all self-preneurs. Guerilla gardening is all about sharing the love and bringing green and beauty of plants/flowers to neglected spaces.

  2. Thanks for the comments, Kathy. I can't believe that the term guerilla marketing never even entered my mind when I was thinking about that post. When you describe guerrilla gardening in that light, it sounds very positive.

  3. Betsy, I always enjoy your columns!

    I've been known to toss seeds into abandoned lots or plant flowers along the edges, but I simply don't like the term "guerilla". Since Anglo-Saxon times its original derivation, "guerra", or war, meant the connotation of subversive tactics in a warlike manner. While sometimes these can be for the public good in the long run, this is not usually the case. In social connotations it often means someone who simply doesn't care to follow rules and doesn't care about the impact of their actions on others. I want none of that in any gardening I do.

  4. H Bernadette. Perhaps it goes back to the way we were raised. My mother used to always caution me about using negative words, such as "I hate the weeds in my yard" or "I'm going to wage a battle against the weeds in my yard." I still cringe when I hear myself saying stuff like that.

  5. I understand how people may be put off by the word "guerilla," but try to look past the word to the outcome of the action. The word "guerrilla" in "guerrilla gardening" is used to describe the manner in which the gardening is performed. Guerrilla gardeners combat the neglect of public or abandoned land by planting on it, and they do so in irregular ways.

    I am happy to see anyone take an interest in transforming land into something attractive, productive, and cared for, whether they do so by tossing seeds into an empty lot or by carefully tending a private yard.

    We're all gardeners, guerilla or non, regardless of the way we planted our gardens or where our gardens are, and I think that's beautiful :-)


  6. Hi Theresa. That's a great explanation. I thank you for it. I certainly can't find fault with anyone who wants to spread beauty where there is none.

    Over the years, I've run into some people who give certain forms of gardening a bad name. Generally, they are the kind of people who are close minded to new ideas and new techniques and think that their way and their ideas are the only "right" way to garden. I cringe to think that I might have been acting that way. I'll check out your website and your blog and maybe I can come to a better understanding of guerrilla gardening. Love the look of your blog, by the way!

  7. The German Schrebergarten or colony gardens date back to the 19th century. You find these these along the railroads or in the parks. These were conceived for apartment dwellers would would otherwise have no access to working the land. Very widespread. There appears to be a universal desire for gardening in spite of or perhaps to spite our technilogical advances.


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