Guerrilla Gardening


A mystery gardener has been planting flowers in Hoboken. Where these blossoms come from, no one seems to know. On the warm June afternoon when I planted my first seedlings out front, a woman I’d never seen before asked me if I was the mystery gardener. I am not. But I now know who is.

He lives nearby and has a marvelous pocket garden of his own, every square inch crammed with some perennial or vine. What a wasted opportunity it must seem to someone of his sensibilities to find untilled plots of land, no matter how small. My husband and I knew he was about to strike a couple weeks ago when he whispered to us, “Watch this space,” while gesturing to a sidewalk tree with a barren patch of dirt around it. Fenced off with decorative wrought iron, the plot seemed to cry out for some bit of greenery.

A few days later I walked down that block and did a double take. I paced back up and down the street part way to make sure I had the right spot. I stood there blinking. The space, which had been completely empty a few days earlier, was now full of plants—not seedlings, but mature foxglove, snapdragons, and varied foliage. There was no sign of freshly turned earth. Seriously, it looked as if it had been there all summer. “Were those plants there a few days ago?” I asked a young man sitting on the steps nearby.

“No,” he said.

“Who planted them?” I asked.

“No idea.”

Then last weekend I sat on my own stoop photographing my lavender plants when the mystery gardener walked by and exclaimed, “Nice sunflower!” I don’t have sunflowers. I followed the direction of his gaze and noticed for the first time a perfect, foot-high sunflower plant sprouting among the tall wild grasses in front of the vacant row house next door. Once again, I blinked hard. “Did you plant it?” I asked.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he replied, as he grinned and walked away.

I recently learned that this phenomenon has a name—guerrilla gardening. Often guerrilla gardeners merely sprinkle some seeds on a vacant plot, rather than making miniature gardens appear overnight. If greenery should sprout, who’s to know the seeds didn’t just blow there on the wind? Either way, I love the idea. These blossoms are so pretty, they seem to me like gifts of random kindness. I can’t wait to see our new sunflower bloom and grow.

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