Choosing Plants Based On Your Site
If you choose plants tailored to your chosen guerrilla gardening spot, they are so much more likely to thrive!
In this guide, expert grower and guerrilla gardener Poppy Okotcha breaks down the factors that are essential to consider when choosing plants to suit your site...
What’s the soil like?
The soil is the foundation of what you can grow. If you don't know what type of soil your spot has, check these 3 easy ways to test soil (no apparatus needed!)
Sandy soil often has low fertility and drys out very easily, so these hardy plants will work well:
Verbena bonariensis ⚘ great for cut flowers, purple flowers on long slender stems. Sow or plant in spring.
Root veg ⚘ like carrots and parsnips, sow in spring.
Meadow crane’s bill geranium ⚘ has lovely purple to white flowers. Attractive to pollinators, self-seeds. Sow spring to late summer.
Generally high fertility, but easily becomes compacted and can get waterlogged.
Brassicas ⚘ such as kale, sow successionally from spring.
Anemone x hybrida ⚘ has lovely open flowers. Great for cut flowers. Plant in spring or autumn
Roses ⚘ (Rosa canina is the English wild dog rose), great for pollinators and birds, visually stunning, Rosehips can be gathered in autumn which are super high in Vit c. Climbs. Plant in autumn or spring
Cranesbill geranium ⚘ has flowers from pink to purple to white. Pollinator plant. Sow seed or plant plants in spring.
Nasturtiums ⚘ easy to grow and very low maintenance. In fact, nasturtiums are one of those plants that actually thrive better the more they're left alone.
If it’s a spot where a building was, or builders rubble is, you'll need Alkaline-tolerant plants:
Marigolds ⚘ sow marigolds in spring
Lilacs ⚘ plant in autumn or spring
Wild marjoram ⚘ plant in autumn or spring
Lavender ⚘ plant in autumn or spring
'Remediative' plants naturally help to extract toxins from the soil.
Sunflower ⚘ Helianthus are brilliant in so many ways. Bright, big, pollinator-friendly, edible* and soil remediators – they're one of our top picks for guerrilla plants! (Illustrated)
Willow ⚘ Salix alba removes pollutants deep in the soil. Can be grown from cuttings stuck in the ground. Plant cuttings in early spring, plant bare root from autumn to winter.
Mustard ⚘ Brassica juncea is super effective and has little yellow flowers that are beautiful and loved by pollinators. Self seeds freely. Sow seed in spring.
*Although each of these plants may usually be edible (or medicinal in the case of willow), if you're using a plant as a soil remediator... don't eat it! It will have absorbed the toxins.
These plants will help restore fertility to nutrient-drained soil.
Comfrey ⚘ a dynamic nutrient accumulator, which means its roots plunge deep into the soil and bring up nutrients that are stored in the leaves and eventually rot down into the soil surface. Great for chop and drop to build and protect soil.
Nettles ⚘ high in nitrogen so great for a compost heap or for home fermented plant feeds. Grows from root cuttings. Grow this plant with caution!! it will go rampant if unchecked!
Clover ⚘ fixes nitrogen into the soil. Sow in spring or autumn.
Lupin ⚘ fixes nitrogen into the soil. Sow in spring.
Vetch ⚘ fixes nitrogen into the soil. Sow in spring.
These plants have root systems that will break up compacted soils.
Mustard ⚘ sow in spring.
Alfalfa ⚘ sow in spring.
Fruit trees! Plant them all as bare root from autumn to spring.
How much light does the spot get?
Different plants require different light levels, if you plant a sunflower in a dark spot it won’t be happy and you’ll be able to tell!
To check the light in a space:
1. Find out the orientation of your site. Where are North, South, East and West? Try using the compass function on your phone or on maps. If you’re happy to invest a bit of money, try the app “Sunseeker”, which will tell you where the sun is in the sky at different times of the year! In the UK, South-facing gets the most sun.
2. Identify any obstacles that might cast shade. Are there any walls, trees or buildings in the way? If you have time, visit your site at different times of day to see how the light changes.
A big building to the South of your chosen patch would block a great deal of direct sunlight.
A high wall along the West side would be blocking out the afternoon sun. Afternoon sun is warmer and more intense than the morning sun.
A great big evergreen tree will cast shade bellow it all year round, while a deciduous tree (one that loses its leaves in autumn) will cast seasonal shade. Notice if the shade below the tree is dark or dappled.
Best for sunny spots
Best for shady spots
Foxgloves (Illustrated above)
Lettuce and chard like some shade
Berries like blackberries, raspberries and currants do well in dappled shade.
How wet or dry is your site?
If your chosen site is very shady it’s likely it could be wetter than if it were in the sun.
Take a look at the soil, is it very damp or is it dry?
Can you spot a water source like a broken gutter or rainwater overflow pipe?
Is the spot at the bottom of a slope or hill?
Mediterranean herbs such as thyme, lavender, rosemary
Wild meadow flowers like poppies and cornflowers
Damp loving plants:
Rhubarb ⚘ plant from autumn to early spring (Illustrated down below)
What's in the air?
If you can, try to take note of how exposed your spot is. If your spot is sheltered, you don't need to worry, but if it's windy you'll need plants that can weather it.
Mediterranean herbs ⚘ including rosemary, thyme, sage.
Seabuckthorn ⚘ large shrub becoming tree height. Beautiful thin silver leaves, clusters of orange berries in autumn which are super high in vitamin C. Nitrogen fixer. Watch out it has thorns! (Illustrated)
Bay ⚘ evergreen shrub, can become a tree. Culinary and medical herb. Good for creating a hedge barrier.
Gasses dust and grime can affect the plant’s ability to “breathe”. Some plants are more tolerant of pollution than others. Notice where your site is located:
Is it beside a busy road, factory, or airport for example?
Plants that are tolerant of air pollution:
Buddleja ⚘ is a butterfly plant, a very tough plant that is keen to grow! Plant autumn to spring.
Honeysuckle ⚘ climbing, wonderful scented flowers for pollinators. Birds love it too. Plant autumn to spring.
Where are you planting?
Choose low-growing, shallow rooting plants with low water-demand, so they’re not competing with the tree (especially if its a young tree).
Plant any deeper rooting, thirsty and hungry plants outside the drip line of the tree.
Choose shade-tolerant plants. Spring bulbs found in woodlands like bluebells and wild garlic work great bellow deciduous trees, taking advantage of the spring sunshine before the tree has leaves.
PLANTS FOR TREE BEDS
Spring bulbs ⚘ Plant in autumn and early winter.
Wild garlic bulbs Plant in autumn or plant in the green in early spring.
Lavender (if there’s enough sun!)
Climbers (such as ivy, honeysuckle, hops), which can engulf a young tree.
Water-intensive plants (such as hollyhocks and sunflowers), which may out-compete a young tree.
Local meadow mix ⚘ these include a combination of native wildflowers and grasses. Sow in spring and autumn.
Oxeye daisies ⚘ large perennial daisy, flowers through spring and summer. Sow seed in spring
Ragged robin ⚘ native wild wetland plant with pretty pink flowers, sow seed in spring or plant plugs in spring
Red campion ⚘ bright pink native wildflower, often found in woods and on verges. Sow seeds in spring.
Poppies ⚘ (Papaver rhoeas is the British wild poppy) they have edible seeds, and tolerate very poor soils. Sow seed in spring.
Mexican fleabane ⚘ has daisy-like flowers, retains foliage through winter. Self-seeds! Sow seeds or plant in spring.
Campanula ⚘ pretty purple bell-shaped flowers, will retain foliage through winter. Likes damp shade, self-seeds. Sow in spring.
Creeping thyme ⚘ thymus serpyllum will tolerate some foot fall, smells good underfoot. Plant in spring or autumn.
Bee balm ⚘ has architectural, spaceship-like flowers. Medicinal plant. As the name suggests amazing fro bees. Sow seeds in spring or plant in spring.
Cracks and crevices
Remember, these are just my favourites! Guerrilla gardening is a personal, creative process and while these may help you if you're getting started, there are so many more possibilities when it comes to planting.
Illustrations by Sara Jolly.