Grab Your Shovel: Guerrilla Gardening in Los Angeles

As the appearance of a community decays, its people decline too. Can collaborative gardening help restore community health and spirit?

Guerilla Gardening in Ghent, Belgium © Mathias Baert with CCLicense
Guerilla Gardening in Ghent, Belgium
© Mathias Baert with CCLicense

Guerrilla gardening is the planting and tending of gardens on public land, usually without permission. You might think of it as the green thumb version of graffiti, using plants instead of spray paint. Here are two wonderful videos about this global phenomenon from two very different communities in Los Angeles.

Kenneth Rudnicki decided to guerrilla garden for his birthday. Instead of going out, he invited his friends to buy plants and help him set up a garden on the street. The joy of planting that garden by night and seeing the neighborhood’s curiosity and wonder the next morning was extremely addictive. People enjoyed it so much that he started a business with his girlfriend, Rebecca Pontius, called LA Guerrilla Gardening.

Video via Soul Pancake on YouTube

LA Guerrilla Gardening has brought together people from all walks of life who are interested in gardening, or at least in beautifying and taking ownership in their community. These are people who would never meet in any other situation. Unattractive and trashy spots in the city have been converted into beautiful plantings of succulents and drought resistant ornamentals.

Ron Finley, a successful fashion designer for professional athletes, is from South Central, or South Los Angeles, an area famous for fast food drive-throughs and drive-by shootings. He began to realize that the drive-throughs were taking more lives than the drive-bys and decided to do something about it. He and his volunteer group, LA Green Grounds, planted a garden of edible plants along the street. The city promptly issued a citation and demanded the removal of the garden, threatening to issue a warrant for his arrest. Finley refused. His spirit and his humor are infectious, as you will see.

Video via TED on YouTube

There are 26 square miles of vacant lots in Los Angeles. That’s enough land to build 20 parks the size of New York’s Central Park. Finley sees these lots and other neglected spaces as canvases, where he can paint with plants and give people the wonder of growing things.  A generous artist, he plants the gardens where hungry people can get to them and harvest what they need. His work isn’t only beautiful and collaborative, it feeds people and trains people to eat well and become leaders in their communities. What inspiring resilience!

I wanted to share both videos with you so that you could see the universal nature of guerrilla gardening. It is therapeutic, nourishing and defiant. And, if you are interested, it is something that you can do.

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