Guerilla Gardeners Seed Bomb the City

Brent Finnegan -- August 7th, 2009

You might have seen them on your way to work, but had no idea what they were. Piles of dirt and pastel colored carts sprouting with herbs and vegetables have been spotted in the most (seemingly) random places in Harrisonburg. It’s all part of a collaborative art gardening project called Flexible Geography.

The project, which began last summer, is the brainchild of Greg Stewart, sculpture professor at JMU; Cyndi Gusler, Chair of Visual and Communication Arts at EMU; and Scott Keen, the project’s webmaster and part-time professor at both universities. From the artists’ statement:

The goal of Flexible Geography is to initiate an interventionist art project that will generate a number of activities and events. We envision these events pulling in both artists and participants who do not consider themselves to be artists. Together, we will inspire creative actions and take part in interventions that grow out of a spirit of possibility …

We chose to create a vegetable garden because it is truly a space of production; it is producing produce. The garden itself changes as plants grow, begin to produce, to ripen, and then are finally harvested and consumed. We are interested in imagining a method of urban farming that is capable of quick and often frequent adaptations to local environmental constraints; availability of land (soil), issues of public and private property, traffic patterns, types of dwellings and the odd spaces in between, or to move with the sun in order to maximize exposure.

Gusler said the response has been “mixed,” and that guerilla gardening seems to have really bothered a few people. But most of the interactions have been positive, and locals have made their own contributions, including adding marigolds to one street garden. “We’ve had many community participants including a number of EMU and a few JMU students who’ve helped out,” Gusler said.

The group will be exhibiting their work this evening in front of the League of Therapists building, across from the Arts Council/Smith House on Main Street downtown, in conjunction with First Fridays art and gallery walk. The artists will also present a tutorial on seed bombing.

H/T Annie H.

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19 Responses to “Guerilla Gardeners Seed Bomb the City”

  1. Tina says:

    There was one in front of my house. It generated some curiosity, but not as much as I had expected. By the end, the plants were pretty burnt – it was hard keeping them (cucumbers) watered enough.

    I enjoyed being part of the project, and it was fun spotting other “gardens” in the community.

  2. Emmy says:

    I’ve seen a few of these and wondered about them. I guess this doesn’t explain the very odd little plant I saw in a pile of dirt in the middle of the sidewalk the other day near the Farmer’s Market. It looked very deliberately placed.

  3. Emmy, why doesn’t this explain it? Did it look something like this? If so, it was likely the same people.

  4. Emmy says:

    Yes, that’s what it was! I just assumed all of these were in some sort of container, so I thought it was different people.

  5. Josh says:

    Here’s an interesting seed bombing tutorial video I came across last year:

    The guerrilla gardener’s seedbomb recipe

  6. Mike says:


    (sorry I can’t add more to the conversation)

  7. Sorry for the confusion, Emmy. I re-worded the lede for clarity.

  8. Emmy says:

    Oh it’s probably my fault for not reading better. Very interesting project, although I admit I was probably driving rather unsafely trying to figure out why there was a pile of dirt in the middle of the sidewalk.

  9. AZ says:

    The garden next to Black’s Run and the Bruce St. parking deck made me smile for several mornings on my way to work! and I was a ltittle heartbroken when one day it was just gone…only a shadow of the dirt pile remained.

  10. Renee says:

    I find this really interesting! Strange, but cool! I like how people could potentially go take a little planter off the cart and put it in their yard.

  11. Greg says:

    Interesting idea, but I wonder if those people realized they were blocking the sidewalk. I saw people with strollers having to push their kid out into the street to go around a pile of dirt. How safe is that? And what if it had been an elderly person in a wheelchair?

  12. John Marr says:

    Greg – I was about to make a nearly identical comment.

    A group of friends and I were walking downtown the other night and we all had similar thoughts regarding the pile of dirt blocking the path. We all thought it was very poorly planned. In today’s day and age various groups are clamoring for larger/more sidewalk yet someone took it upon themselves to block an existing path.

    It’s an interesting idea, but it shouldn’t take away from a citizen’s ability to use the sidewalk.

    There are better placements out there to “Guerrilla Garden”.

  13. Beth says:

    I’d like to see this done again in a different way: planting fruit trees and flowers along the strips between the sidewalks and roads (esp. in sections of town that usually get left out or neglected) and take the sidewalk design to a new level– take over a whole section of abandoned pavement and plant a garden… and leave it there! Check out a similar garden in downtown Chicago, it is on top of pavement and beautiful!!!! I think this will be a great solution to abandoned parking lots as they become more and more frequent in the future! I would love to help with future projects!

  14. Josh says:

    I’m with Beth.

    See also:

    NYC High Line

    Abandoned elevated railway converted into a city park.

  15. Renee says:

    I agree with Greg & John Marr about avoiding blocking the sidewalks with dirt bags – but I do like the cart idea.

    Beth, fruit trees would be cool as long as people harvested the fruit – dropped fruit to attract animals into the road is no good, but if people picked it that would be cool!

    Josh, that High Line is really neat!

  16. linz says:

    I support parts of the concept… similar to what Beth and Josh are describing… just need to remind any aspiring garden guerrillas to use non-invasive and native plants! :)

  17. We love all of these ideas and suggestions. As the project progresses and we have the ability to continue to develop the new ideas we will be looking for contributors. Making some or all of these ideas come to fruition would definitely be exciting to see. Thanks for all of the feedback. Keep them coming.

  18. Harvey Yoder says:

    One way to help get more people interested in gardening would be to have schools offer space for modest size demonstration gardens (along with small flocks of chickens–just kidding). This could be sponsored by the PTA or a local civic organization and used by one or more of the increasing numbers of parents in need of garden space. The community garden plots provided by the Harrisonburg Mennonite Church serve as one example of how this can work.

    In the spring and fall, students could observe, learn from, and occasionally help with, the project, under the supervision of the folks responsible for the plot, along with other help as needed from the County Extension Office, the New Community Project and/or other experienced volunteers.This could be done at minimal cost to taxpayers, and by the use of mulching with leaves and/or grass clippings from the neighborhood, with a minimal amount of garden tilling and irrigation.

    No education is complete that doesn’t help young people learn about something as basic as food production. It would be tragic to raise a generation who, for lack of knowledge, could starve on good land that was once proclaimed the bread basket of the South.

    The National Gardening Association lists 1500 school gardens, and say there are thousands more not on their registry.

  19. This project really makes me smile! What a brilliant and progressive way to raise awareness about environmental issues– a way that is FUN rather than fear mongering or guilt inducing. Ecopsychologist’s research indicates a positive process, like this represents, is what takes to motivate real change in personal behavior about our environment. And this project touches so many deeper levels about humans and other-than-humans relationship to the land.

    I’ve seen these little Alexander Calder-like living camo carts as I’ve driven through town. Even though I knew nothing of the project, I suspected something wildly subversive and radical going on. Way to go! It is this kind of creative cultural-environmental thinking that truly makes my heart glad. Thank you to the creators, caregivers, spectators, critics–the whole community!

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