While gardening is increasingly popular, winning over more devotees throughout the pandemic, some citizens are taking up the activity not in their backyard, on their apartment balcony or rooftop or even in dedicated community gardens. These gardener-activists sow seeds in the streets to grow plants; for them, this practice is a way to reappropriate urban common spaces, in order to alert on the lack of biodiversity in the city centers.
On TikTok, a series of videos explain the guerrilla gardening process in a step-by-step breakdown. After a few seconds of one titled "How to guerrilla garden," its creator Ellen Miles (@octaviachill) from London reveals tips for practicing this type of gardening and advises viewers who want to try it out to find a site you frequent often. The videos were posted November 2020.
With videos captioned "Throwing seed bombs with my sibling," "Wildflower power," a year later, the practice has become widespread in many cities and on the video-oriented social network. Armed with pots with holes in the top, these activist gardeners walk, bike or skateboard through the city and sprinkle seeds on the streets as they go.
Ellen Miles pays particular attention to the spaces around street trees and planters along the walls. She plants hyacinths and tulips, the results of which can be seen in a before and after video.
In San Francisco, Shalaco and Phoenix Jungwirth (the @Sfinblooms duo), are other figures of this activist movement. In extravagant outfits, the two street gardeners also seek to democratize the practice of gardening through the social network. "People really took off with this concept that you can just sow native wildflowers on your walk and make a positive impact in the environment with such little time," Phoenix Jungwirth explains to American media site Mic.
And the pandemic has definitely played a role in the renaissance of this type of vigilante gardening, as awareness of the climate crisis grows. "It doesn't cost a lot of money. It doesn't take a lot of effort. You don't need to have any plant knowledge whatsoever," adds sustainable landscape gardener Jungwirth.
The practice emerged in the 1970s in New York and has since spread around the world like tiny seeds. As rewilding public spaces in this manner isn't exactly legal, these gardener activists want their activity to carry a message and bring a message to public authorities about the importance of biodiversity in cities. Ella Miles made a video which starts off with the observation that a lot of people ask her if she gets in trouble. Her answer only speaks to her experience but she said she hasn't been shouted at yet and instead has met many people who want to get involved.
While the placement of green spaces in relation to public roads remains a significant issue in cities that are aiming to be increasingly ecologically resilient, planting a seed and growing a tulip to signify one's discontent is both a political and poetic gesture.