Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Gardening 3.0: Think like a Guerrilla

What do with the backyard? This it the question I mull over from year to year. Do I just surrender and call in a professional landscaper? Or maybe I go full Urban-Homesteader, and Square Foot this sucker from top to bottom? Or perhaps I take my Brother David's advice an do a sort of Airbnb arrangement where I partner with some master gardener that's stuck in an apartment complex (I'll bring the dirt, they bring the skills)? I'm always looking for ideas.

A few weeks ago while browsing our local library, I came across Guerrilla Gardening: A Manualfesto and couldn't resist picking it up. For one thing, Guerrilla Gardening has Seed Bombs and Seed Money. And for another, I was thinking it might give me some ideas. After all, Guerrilla Gardening is about bringing beauty and utility to neglected spaces and that pretty much describes our backyard.

The book, as the title suggests, is part advocacy and part how-to guide. It makes extensive use of sidebar items, which I found distracting at first (exactly where am I supposed to be reading?). But with a little time, I've grown to enjoy the book. I love the entrepreneurial spirit that it promotes. You can have the beauty you want in your community today (or, at least you can plant it today) and you don't have to seek anyone's permission.

And then on page 70 I came across a sidebar item that rocked my world:

"Simply break the soil a bit and then toss the seeds":

It then went on to list 32 low effort seeds (which I'll list below).

Think of all the reasons to embrace this list! For one thing, what could be more remarkable than starting with a seed and ending up with a plant? (Versus starting with a healthy seedling from Home Depot and ending up with a dead seedling some time later.) Scalability is overrated, so the notion of planting a couple of seeds and having success and going from there really appeals to me (there's also another term for this approach: debugging). Most of the plants in the 'seed pack' are edible, which means that depending on my audience I can drop phrases like Edible Landscaping or Secret Survival Garden. And if nothing else, I could say I'm working on my Guerrilla Gardening skills. Even my fascination with cramming stuff in my pockets is helped by this list: I could carry a few seeds in a in spy capsule and be ready to spread life and beauty anytime. It's also worth noting that many seeds on this list are recommended for kids because they are so easy to grow.

I suppose you could ask the question: are any of these seeds worth growing? I mean, planting a seed to see it sprout is nice, but is there more to it? And here's the thing, nearly ever seed on the list has at least one web page on the web extolling its value. Take Borage. I'd never heard of it, but here's just one article listing its benefits:

Borage is more than an easy-growing ornamental that brings in pollinators and pest predators. The younger leaves and flowers can be used in salads. The flowers are particularly tasty added to iced water or tea, used fresh or frozen into ice cubes. The flower and leaves have a slight cucumber taste but with a splash of honey (though it's worth noting that pregnant and nursing women are advised not to consume borage because of health risks to them and their children).

Borage flowers were made into candies in the Middle Ages in Europe, where the plant grows wild around the Mediterranean. They are still used as decorations on pastries or desserts. A tea of borage was considered as a mood enhancer, leading to its reputation as a sedative.

These days mixologists add the flowers as colorful highlights to gin-based martinis, inspired perhaps by the liquor Pimm’s No. 1, which lists borage as one of its flavors.

And that's just Borage. I'm telling you, every plant on this list has a similarly glowing review. And that's actually not surprising because *all* plants are interesting to someone. They either have looks, utility or a history that's worth knowing and appreciating. This list is no different.

So I was sold on the list. I was a little surprised, however, that I couldn't find any of these seeds at the seed display in Home Depot. No matter, I did a little searching online and found JohnnySeeds.com had quite a number of them. I placed my order, which included: Nasturtium, Fava Beans, Borage, Cosmos, Sunflower, Amaranthus, Marigold and Lupine and late last week the packets arrived:

Over this weekend, I picked a few spots (with Shira supervising) and dropped in various seeds. I wet the ground, and now we play the waiting game.

What's going to happen? Nothing? Probably. Will I just manage to embolden the weeds? More likely. But what if something does grow. What if I will have managed to embrace that principle in Guerrilla Gardening that suggests there's value in even bringing a little beauty to a space. Who knows. Like any good experiment, I'll learn something.

Oh, and does anyone have the name of a landscaper they love?

Carefree Guerrilla Garden Seed Pack

  1. Fava Beans
  2. Vetch
  3. Clover
  4. Alfalfa
  5. Lupines
  6. Borage
  7. Black nightshade
  8. Ground cherry
  9. Cayenne pepper
  10. Dandelion
  11. Sunflower
  12. Cosmos
  13. Wild Lettuce
  14. Margiold
  15. Shasta daisy
  16. Sow thistle
  17. Curly dock
  18. Sheep sorrel
  19. Shepherd's-purse
  20. Smartweed
  21. Milkweed
  22. Cockleburg
  23. Lamb's quarters
  24. Mustard
  25. Stinging nettle
  26. Goldenrod
  27. Burdock
  28. Nasturtium
  29. Amaranth
  30. Flax
  31. Rye
  32. Plantain

Via: Jamie Jobb. The Complete Book of Community Gardening. Morrow, 1979, p156.

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