By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Like Bunnell, Martinez says her knowledge of plants and gardening is self-taught.
“I think it comes from a place of going against the norm,” she says. “It’s tied in with guerrilla gardening in that it’s very empowering to do it yourself. It’s the same with growing your own food. I do not rely on corporate agribusiness to feed me. I feed myself. I feed the soil, and the soil feeds me. It’s the same result with guerrilla gardening. I’m not waiting for the city of Long Beach to make my hood look better; I’m going to do it.”
A self-described punk, Martinez first learned of Bunnell’s gardening efforts after coming across his blog, SoCalGuerrillaGardening.com, during a Google search on Long Beach gardens. Martinez, a recently laid-off accountant for “a large engineering firm in Orange County,” was interested in installing a couple of gardens in her Wrigley neighborhood. Though Martinez has been an avid gardener since childhood, she had no idea where to start: tools, plants, supplies, location. So she contacted Bunnell for help.
“I knew he was doing something in Long Beach, so I was trying to get him to my little part of the neighborhood,” Martinez explains. “My area is in need—dire need—of gardening. And what he’s doing.”
After a few months of MySpace messaging and commenting, Martinez finally persuaded Bunnell to work her neighborhood into his schedule. “Because he’s the man with the plan.” She pauses a beat. “A man with the plan and the tools.”
Two gardens of drought-tolerant succulent plants were soon installed in vacant medians at the intersections of Willow Street and Daisy and Eucalyptus avenues. With tons of help from Bunnell and volunteers, Martinez and crew knocked out both neighborhood plots in a single morning.
“All the plants were provided by Scott. We didn’t have to do anything, which was amazing,” Martinez raves.
She says the work went fast—thanks to the sheer number of plants provided and amount of volunteers from an e-mail blast sent out by Bunnell in preparation for the gardens.
“We had two teens come out from a group called South Central Resistance, a few neighbors, a gal from San Pedro and another guy from downtown Long Beach,” she ticks off. “I was surprised by the turnout we had of people who weren’t residents of the immediate neighborhood.”
She says she would love to do future guerrilla gardens on her own, but it’s a matter of timing and mostly a lack of funding and plants. Much like Bunnell did, Martinez says she definitely plans on using the Internet to help spread the word.
“I have my Twitter linked to my Facebook linked to my MySpace linked to my blog, so when I Tweet, it goes to all those social networks,” she says. “Especially with Twitter, it’s effective because of re-Tweeting. People may not necessarily want to join us, but it does raise awareness.”
In addition to safety precautions and having all the necessary tools and manpower, she says, she thinks the largest obstacle is just getting enough plants to fill a space. Fund-raising and getting plants affordably? Not so easy, she says.
“I know I have one cactus that I want to separate, and I want to stick it somewhere,” Martinez explains. “But it’s one cactus at a time.”
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Of course, there is also that whole pesky (slightly) illegal aspect of guerrilla gardening.
While prosecution is rare, one could easily risk the removal of an entire garden—as well as oneself.
“If it’s Caltrans property, that’s our right of way, or on the side of freeways or highways, anybody who wants to access that area would need to apply for and get an encroachment permit,” explains Tracy Lavelle, Caltrans office chief of public information. “If anybody does get into our right of way without a permit, it is considered illegal encroachment, and they would be told to vacate the area.”
Lavelle goes on to explain their Adopt a Highway state program, an opportunity to sponsor specific sections of highways. “It’s where community groups and individuals and constituents are permitted to have access to our highway right of way in order to maintain or clean it. We do highly discourage anybody going out there to plant trees or flowers, mainly because of safety,” she says. “But if anybody wishes to beautify an area for us, we’re willing to work with them. We do accept donations: If someone wants to provide the flora to us, we’ll go out and plant it—they would just need to identify their location so it’s mutually beneficial. We’re willing to work with someone who wants to beautify highways.”
With private property, however, charges such as trespassing are among the risks.
So while guerilla gardening is slightly illegal, most gardeners like Bunnell and Martinez aren’t too worried about that.
“The thing with guerrilla gardening is that you’re gardening in a public space without permission. You kind of have to come from a place where you can take it in your own hands—which is what my permission is,” Martinez says. “I’m very active in my community and in my association. City projects take forever to get off the ground. I cannot wait for government, and I cannot wait for someone else to take care of something like this or landscape projects. By the time they approve a stupid tree to plant for me, I was going to take it in my own hands, and I’m going to do it.”