Gardening on the edge

Guerilla gardening (I’m fairly certain) has nothing to do with teaching gorillas to weed and tend to plots of land.
Rather, it’s a way to add cheer to a dull city lot by leaving behind planted flowers. The Toronto Public Space Committee has its own volunteer guerilla gardening group and has dubbed the activity “graffiti with nature”.
The time commitment is small: just a few hours to dig and plant a site.
The guerillas also create and toss “seed bombs” — on public sites like train tracks and bridges — designed to allow the seeds take root and have flowers sprout.
In case you accuse me of leading you down the garden path, you should know guerilla gardening is illegal: participants don’t own the land or seek permission to plant on city property.
But it’s highly unlikely you’ll get arrested or fined for digging in the dirt and leaving behind tulips or daisies, the city says.
“We are aware of their activities,” Elyse Parker of the city’s transportation services tells me. “We encourage people to make Toronto more beautiful.”Though the city doesn’t sanction guerilla gardening, it does recognize it as a no harm, no foul approach to livening up parts of Toronto.
“We wouldn’t enforce anything unless there are safety issues or concerns,” Parker says.
Terry Aldebert is this year’s guerilla gardening coordinator for the Toronto Public Space Committee
She met with this season’s crop of volunteers at the end of April to organize plantings.
“When we plant a garden, it has to be on public land, somewhere the community will adopt,” she says. “Some have said we should plant food. I would love to, but I don’t want to poison people if the soil is contaminated.”
One criticism carried on the wind is these fly-by-night gardeners don’t take on the long-term care of a site. That’s true, but their aim isn’t to take over the city’s responsibility for public sites.
The group’s motivation is to light a fire under people to participate in city beautification. After a planting, the group leaves behind a sign asking people to care for the plot. Some residents do heed the call.
“It’s very satisfying and an opportunity to give something back,” says Todd Irvine, an arborist and a former guerilla gardener.
The idea is to inspire people to act and take ownership of their city, says the Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests education and outreach coordinator. 
“People will pick up litter if it’s on their front lawns,” Irvine says. “But if it’s six inches from our front lawns, we feel it’s not our responsibility.
“Guerilla gardening is about saying the city is ours.” And after all, Aldebert says,“How can you criticize someone who plants a flower?”
(Originally published May 21/09 at


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