Guerrilla gardening is one of the best things you can do: for the environment, for people around you, and for yourself. Guerrilla gardens boost biodiversity, grow food, connect communities, support mental health, reduce urban heat and pollution, and make a political statement – often all at once!
Why is guerrilla gardening a good thing?
Guerrilla gardening has a wide range of benefits for both people and the planet. Transforming bare, concrete spaces into thriving pockets of plant life can improve air quality, mitigate heat waves, and provide food and shelter for local wildlife. Greening up neglected spaces also creates a calmer, cleaner, more beautiful environment for everyone to enjoy, in ways that can reduce crime, improve residents’ quality of life, and foster community cohesion.
Just as with traditional gardening, guerrilla gardening has many benefits for the gardener, ranging from a sense of purpose to enhanced mental clarity. On top of that, as direct action to improve their neighbourhood, guerrilla gardening helps people feel a sense of belonging in, and ownership of, their area – similarly to adding your own touches at home!
And, because you don’t need your own garden or allotment to participate, guerrilla gardening is accessible to everyone, and so offers equitable routes into growing and nature connection.
7 reasons to start guerrilla gardening
If you still need a reason to get guerrilla gardening (or want to convince someone else to) read on. In no particular order, here are seven reasons you should give guerrilla gardening a go...
#1 Environmental Action
We’re facing the greatest crisis in the history of humanity. Many of us want to do our part for the climate, but the looming threat of climate collapse often feels abstract and impossibly complex – so much so that we question our ability to make a difference. It often seems like the only course of action is inaction: not taking flights, not buying fast fashion, not eating meat, and so on. It’s easy to feel like the best we can do is to simply limit our negative impact rather than increase our positive influence.
Guerrilla gardening, on the other hand, is something you can actually do; it’s fun, creative direct action with a visible, tangible impact. Guerrilla gardening is a “nature-based solution” to environmental unravelling: it helps nature by mobilising nature’s “technology”. This contrasts with climate “solutions” like carbon capture and geo-hacking, which use artificial technologies to try and wrestle nature into submission – which can often backfire.
Guerrilla gardens can counter…
Air pollution by capturing particulate matter and converting carbon dioxide into oxygen. Removing greenhouse gases from the air helps keep global temperatures from rising.
Rising temperatures by providing shade, increasing evapotranspiration, and through the low thermal mass and solar reflectance of soil and leaves (compared to hard surfacing). Combating the urban heat island effect in turn reduces local people’s need to use air conditioning units (which, paradoxically, drive further global warming).
Impacts of climate change, such as flooding. Soil can absorb rainwater in ways hard surfacing can’t, providing vital drainage that helps avert the worst impacts of flooding – an increasing threat with rising sea levels and more frequent stormy weather.
#2 Boost Local Biodiversity
Biodiversity, the variety of living species in an ecosystem, is the foundation of a livable world. Without diversity of flora, fauna, fungi, and microscopic organisms, we wouldn’t have breathable air, edible food, or potable water.
Intimately connected to the climate crisis is the biodiversity crisis: human disruption and destruction of habitats and ecosystems is causing the sixth mass extinction, wiping out species on Earth at 100 to 1,000 times the natural rate. Scientists estimate that dozens of species go extinct every day.
Did you know?
The UK has lost nearly half its biodiversity since the Industrial Revolution.
One-third of wildlife in the USA is at risk of extinction.
It’s estimated that dozens of species go extinct every day, with as many as 30–50% of all species on Earth going extinct by 2050.
Many guerrilla gardeners, or “renegade rewilders” set out to protect and restore biodiversity. By bringing native greenery to grey areas, acts of guerrilla rewilding restore plant diversity, rebuild broken links in the local ecosystem, and provide essential food and shelter for wildlife.
#3 Support Your Community
We now know contact with nature is vital to our health and happiness, but access to these spaces often falls along the fault lines of income and ethnicity. The environmental inequalities of nature-deficient neighbourhoods (including air pollution, the heat island effect, noise, and flooding) disproportionately fall on Black people and other people of the global majority.
Guerrilla gardening can help create more equitable access to nature – with all the mental and physical benefits it brings – by bringing green life to state-neglected, underfunded areas in ways that everyone can engage with.
As well as contributing to resident’s overall quality of life, projects to “green” scrap land have led to drops in gun violence, vandalism, and burglaries in those areas.
#4 Be Happier
As well as helping others, gardening is brilliant for your own mental health. Gardening can help improve your emotional states, reduce stress levels, enhance memory and focus, increase energy, and alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. Because of this, community gardening is used as “ecotherapy” to help those struggling with mental illness to recover.
Through guerrilla gardening, you can make lifelong friends, see derelict local areas transform to beautiful ones, realise your own agency and power – and gain a sense of peace, purpose and pride in the process.
#5 Grow Food
No one should be hungry or struggle to access fresh food, and people should be able to feed their families without shame. But millions of people today live in “food deserts”, areas with extremely limited (or no) access to fresh, nutritious produce.
Through guerrilla gardening, these communities can grow their own fruit, vegetables, and herbs, creating food security and providing essential nutrients. Growing food in your neighbourhood can help alleviate dependence on multinationals, and reframe fresh food as a social good – and a right – rather than a luxury. Local food production also means far less “food miles”, packaging, and chemical use, than industrial production.
Many guerrilla gardening groups, such as Seattle-based Black Star Farmers, grow fresh produce and traditional medicinal plants on public land. The group say their work is about “alleviat[ing] the traumatic effects of food injustice and food deserts that are prevalent in communities of color”. In the UK, Incredible Edible Todmorden was established by guerrilla gardeners to grow food, and has since expanded into dozens of Incredible Edible groups across the UK. The organisation is now campaigning for a legal Right to Grow food on public land.
#6 Reclaiming the Commons
There are 37 billion acres of land on Earth – enough, in theory, for everyone to have 4.5 acres (3 football pitches) of their own. Instead, a handful of people own far more than a fair share. Many people (particularly those living in urban areas) lack the luxury of a garden of their own, while others own hundreds of thousands of acres: half of England is owned by less than 1% of its population. This inequality also falls along the fault lines of ethnicity, class, and income: Black people in England are nearly 4 times as likely as white people to have no outdoor space at home to grow in.
In utilising public spaces (which should really belong to the public anyway) guerrilla gardening redresses inequalities in who owns (and who can use) Earth’s surface, and gardening empowers people without a plot of their own to plant too.
#7 Provide Nature-Based Education
As the saying goes, you cannot love what you do not know. While people who were offered nature-connection as children grow up to be more environmentally conscious, the reverse is true of those who didn’t. Education in nature is therefore essential to raising a generation of environmentalists.
But interactive, in situ learning about nature is currently a privilege. Forget forest schools, many children learn in environments lacking vegetation entirely. Playgrounds are tarmacked over; nature, with its “dirt” and “germs”, is kept a JCB-arm’s length away.
Guerrilla gardening can democratise nature education by creating spaces in which curious minds (of all ages!) can learn about the cycles of life and seasons, watch the give and take of ecosystems, experience the magic and wonder of nature, and learn how to work with it as a result.
Atlanta-based initiative HABESHA turned a vacant former-playground into a community garden, and uses the space to host Sustainable Seeds: a program providing nature-based education to young people.
Ready to grow?
There’s a bouquet of reasons to start a guerrilla garden – even more than listed here! If you want to find out more, or you’re ready to dig into planning your own project, get the handbook for action planning: Get Guerrilla Gardening: A Handbook for planting in public places.