• Poppy Okotcha

Plants That Help the Community

Guerrilla gardening is planting in public with purpose. The first thing to consider is what's needed from 'your' new garden and the plants you’ll grow?


If your priority is people, here are some ideas to consider!



What I mean when I say...

Plant = when you plant out a whole plant or bulbs

Sow = when you sow the seed for a plant



Happiness


“Will it lift people's spirits and brighten the neighbourhood?”


Having plant life around is a proven mood-booster. If you're looking to make a big visual impact, you might want some vibrant flowering plants, or ones that grow quickly, to fill up a space with foliage.



Colourful


Spring Colour

  • Bulbs ⚘ like crocus, daffodils, tulips, dwarf iris, snowdrops, bluebells, wild garlic. Plant in autumn and early winter.

  • Primrose primula vulgaris have edible, early flowers. Plant them in early spring.

  • Lungwort ⚘ little plant with pretty bell-like flowers, herbal medicine plant, early pollinator plant. Plant plants in spring.

Summer Colour

  • Sunflower ⚘ happy flowers! They can be huge, and have edible seeds for humans and birds. It's actually possible to eat the whole plant. Sow seeds in spring.

  • Borage ⚘ blue flowers adored by bees, edible cucumber like flowers and leaves. Self-seeds freely. Sow seed in spring.

  • Nasturtium ⚘ round edible, peppery leaves. Flowers loved by bees and edible. Crawls or climbs. Sow seed in spring.

  • Yarrow ⚘ a variety of flower colours to choose from, from pink to orange. Sow seed in spring or plant in autumn.

Autumn Colour

  • Dahlias ⚘ they'll flower till the first frosts, with lots of variety in shape and colour. Plant tubers in spring (may need to lift them in autumn).

  • Ice plant/Sedum ⚘ icy leaves and lots of little flowers in umbels, long flowering season. Plant in autumn or spring. Can propagate from cuttings.

  • Calendula ⚘ bright, happy daisy-like flowers will sometimes flower right into winter! Self-seeds freely. Useful medicinal herb. Sow seeds in spring.

Winter Colour

  • Winter heather Erica carnea is a brilliant evergreen pollinator plant. Plant in spring or autumn.

  • Cyclamen ⚘ a low-growing little plant, with lovely delicate flowers in late winter/early spring. Heart-shaped leaves. Plant autumn-spring.

  • Periwinkle ⚘ crawls and climbs, very enthusiastic growers! Pretty white or purple star-like flowers begin in late winter/early spring. Plant autumn-spring.



Big & Bold


Another way to get maximum visual impact is to grow big plants. You can start these plants from seed and they'll grow big in year 1!

  • Sage ⚘ will grow super fast and is edible too. Sow seeds in spring.

  • Perennial sweet pea ⚘ like sweet pea but will grow back year after year and has no scent. Great pollinator plant, enthusiastic climber! Sow seeds in spring

  • Foxglove ⚘ structural spikes, dramatic flower display in white to deep purple and everything in-between. Pollinator plant. Self-seeds freely, can tolerate shade. Sow seeds in autumn for flowering the following year. This plant is a biennial.


Great Smelling


Gardens are multi-sensory experiences! As well as visual impact, you might want yours to smell beautiful.

  • Honeysuckle ⚘ climber, likes its roots in the shade and top in the sun. Pollinator friendly too. Plant in autumn or spring.

  • Lavender ⚘ plant in autumn or spring.

  • Sweet pea ⚘ doesn’t like drying out, climbs, great for cut flowers. Sow seeds in spring or autumn.

  • Lemon balm ⚘ scented leaves, culinary and medicinal herb, good for pollinators when let to flower. Plant from spring to autumn.


Winter Interest


We're all a little less joyful in the Winter months, so it's important to choose plants that will stand their ground through the colder, darker seasons.


EVERGREENS

  • Pyracanthus ⚘ a shrub with berries for birds and structure for habitat. Plant in autumn.

  • Bay ⚘ shrub but can become a tree. Structure for habitat, leaves are used in cooking. Plant in autumn.

  • Sage, Rosemary, Thyme, Lavender ⚘ all culinary and medicinal herbs. All great for pollinators when in flower. Plant autumn or spring.

  • Strawberry Tree ⚘ confusingly, it doesn't actually grow strawberries, but has little round fruit, which are yummy all the same! It's an evergreen shrub or small tree with pretty, discreet flowers. Plant Autumn-Spring.

WINTER INTEREST

  • Evening Primrose ⚘ medicinal, pollinator plant, stems can be left as skeleton structure and for insects to hibernate in. Sow seeds in autumn will flower the following summer.

  • Ice Plant/Sedum ⚘ edible leaves, flower heads can be left as skeleton structures and as hibernation space for insects. Plant in spring or autumn.

  • Echinacea Purpurea ⚘ medicinal plant, pollinator plant with dramatic flowers. Flower heads can be left as skeleton structures and as hibernation spaces for insects. Plant root cuttings in late winter, sow seed in spring, plant plants in spring or autumn.


Utility


"What will the local community be able to use from this garden?"


One of the best things about guerrilla gardening is that it offers a route to self-sufficiency for communities who don't have the privilege of growing plants their own gardens.


Edible


A common question is "Can I plant food?"

If you're thinking of growing anything edible – vegetables, herbs, edible flowers or fungi – soil health is key. The last thing you want is to grow toxic food! So, unless you're certain that the soil is uncontaminated, start with 'beauty plants': as well as stopping you from growing poisonous food, this can help you work out how healthy the soil is.


Here's the best guerrilla food to grow. Remember: plants start with the soil, most veg crops need good rich soil to thrive, especially fruiting crops like tomatoes or squash.

  • Leafy crops ⚘ e.g. spinach, lettuce, chard. Sow in spring.

  • Berries ⚘ e.g. raspberries, blackberries.

  • Nuts ⚘ e.g. hazel. Plant bare-root from autumn to late winter.

  • Fruits ⚘ e.g. apple. Plant bare-root from autumn to late winter.


Medicinal

  • Chamomile ⚘ calming, make teas or balms. Good for pollinators, self-seeds. Sow in spring.

  • Valerian ⚘ a sedative, use the root in tea. Beautiful smelling flowers are good for pollinators. Likes moist shade. Plant in spring.

  • Calendula ⚘ makes soothing balm sow in spring.

  • Raspberry ⚘ its leaves are good for pregnancy and PMS. Plant bare-root autumn to late winter/early spring.


Health


As well as providing food and medicine, plants can act as air purifiers, and are used by urban planners and guerrilla gardeners alike to help clean city air.


Trees are especially good at this. Here are my top picks for guerrilla gardening with:

  • Silver birch

  • Yew

  • Elder

  • London plane

  • Silver maple

  • Honey locust

  • Pines

  • Cypresses. Plant all from autumn to winter.

Make sure you consider how large the tree will ultimately grow!




And there you go!


Remember, these are just my personal favourites and the ones I'd recommend. The joy of guerrilla gardening is that it's a personal, creative process. You can stick to these as you get started, use them as starting points, or ignore this list entirely. Just make sure you do your research around what's practical and safe – the rest is up to you!


Illustrations by Sara Jolly.