So you want to start a guerrilla garden, but don’t know where you can (or should)? Read this guide and you'll soon be saying "I know a spot".
There are lots of public places you could plant, but where should you plant? The best spots for guerrilla gardening are nearby, neglected public places.
Guerrilla gardening is about reclaiming public space for public good. Planting in public places means your garden can be accessible, inclusive, and benefit all local residents (including wildlife). Sticking to public spots can also help you avoid accusations of trespassing, though (if you're very ambitious) you may choose to make a previously private space into a public one, as the Garden of Earthly Delights did.
Leave your green fingerprints all over your own neighbourhood. Guerrilla gardening is about living la vida local, improving the place where you’ve put down your own roots. Choosing a spot near home also makes it much easier to get to know its conditions and plan accordingly, get plants, soil, and water over to it, continue watering (and otherwise maintaining) it once it’s made, and keep an eye on it in general.
Guerrilla greening gives us the power to inject nature where it’s most needed: urbanised, derelict, and nature-deprived places. There’s not much added value in beautifying a beauty spot, sowing wildflowers in a wildflower meadow, or planting trees in a woodland – especially when there’s more pressing work to be done elsewhere. Leave wild spaces wild. Remember, we’re working with nature, not against it.
Start looking, and you'll soon find there are plenty of neglected spots to guerrilla garden…
Five places to guerrilla garden
Finding threadbare or empty soil is the easiest way to start guerrilla gardening – and you may be surprised how much of it’s around! Just take a walk around your neighbourhood with your eyes to the ground and you’ll soon discover plenty of patches that are notably lacking life. Once you start looking, it’s a blessing and a curse; your eyes will be forever open to the ubiquity of barren street-side soil.
You can also decide to build onto paving, tarmac, concrete, or another hard surface. This opens up many more potential locations (most urban land is paved over), but necessitates an added step: either adding planters, or "depaving". The bonus side to building planters – or repurposing things into planters – is that you can control the type of soil that goes in.
By no means an exhaustive list, these are some of the most common, best-suited spots for guerrilla gardening...
#1 Street Tree Beds
Street tree beds (aka tree pits) are gaps in the pavement that trees are planted into. Fair and square! You’ll find them in most neighbourhoods, and they're a great place to start for beginners.
You'll usually find such beds totally bare around the tree trunk. This is an unnatural state of affairs: wild trees usually have various smaller plants growing beneath them. Planting under street trees can help recreate this healthy ecosystem, while also encouraging soil health, and ensuring the tree gets plenty of water when you water your garden.
However, planting the wrong sorts of plant or using harmful planting methods can damage trees. Read our guide to greening tree beds to find out what to plant and how.
#2 Road Verges
Road verges are the strips of grass (and usually nothing more) that sit at roadsides. It’s a catch-all term that includes the areas between roads and pavements, as well as the edges of motorways, dual carriageways, and so on.
With the help of local kids, prolific guerrilla gardener Grace Hills has transformed the residential road verges of Eden Crescent, Leeds into a vegetable patch, wildflower meadow, and miniature orchard.
#3 Abandoned Public Planters
Public planters can be abandoned due to lack of funding, or confusion over who’s responsible for the spot. This giant bed had been left abandoned for years because the council thought the estate’s Tenants & Resident's Association (TRA) were responsible for it, while the TRA thought the council was!
Eventually, some of the Somerford Grove estate's residents got together to create Somerford Grows, a resident-led initiative to reclaim the neglected grounds. “We bonded over a shared desire to improve the estate, bring the community together, and foster a sense of belonging and ownership,” say founders Robin, Tassia, and Sulehka.
#4 Vacant Lots
A finite resource, land should be used to maximise good for local ecology, community, and economic empowerment. Yet vacant urban land is a common sight. About 17% of land in the USA’s big cities lies vacant or abandoned, while around 10% of the nation’s census tracts are identified as food deserts. In the UK, it’s common for allotment waiting lists to be years long, while developers buy up plots of land as an investment, leaving them empty – and wasted as a social resource – for years.
Understood in this way, reclaiming vacant land as a resource for public good is a reasonable and necessary act! London's Garden of Earthly Delights was created when Extinction Rebellion protestors broke into a vacant brownfield site and transformed it into a vast guerrilla garden.
#5 Walls and Fences
We tend to think of gardens in terms of a horizontal plane but – in places filled with tall, walled buildings – there’s plenty of opportunity to grow vertically. Grow up walls or fences using climbing plants, or create planters to affix onto sturdy surfaces (make sure they're not going to fall on anyone!).
Finding a place to create your guerrilla garden is just the first step! You'll also need to know your garden's purpose, decide what to put in it, get the plants and parts, and (if you like) gather a community to help, as well as doing the planting itself, and protecting your garden afterwards.
To find out how to do all these things (and more), aided by illustrated 'how to's and photos of green transformations, grab a copy of Get Guerrilla Gardening: A handbook for planting in public places (2023).
Ready to GET GUERRILLA GARDENING?
Our handbook has all the information and inspiration you need to start greening your streets. Follow the tried and tested action plan, packed with expert advice, photos of green transformations, and illustrated ‘how to’s.