On the corner of Agricola and Bilby Street, an empty lot has been turned into a not-so-secret, but nevertheless very magical, garden. The process started three years ago, when a young woman living nearby discovered the lot, and made a habit out of sitting on its concrete foundation to soak in the summer evening air. It was a difficult time in her life, she recalls, and putting some plants in the lot’s desolate ground gave her something to celebrate and nurture while working through a tough summer. And like that, she created a little piece of home away from home: a peaceful haven just steps away from a busy city intersection.
Over the years, the Bilby garden has grown immensely. Among other things growing there today, I spotted cabbage, squash, carrots, and sweet smelling lavender. But not only plants flourish on the corner of Bilby and Agricola: the gardeners who tend to it these days report that passersby are often curious to see them working away in the garden. This enchanting place animates discussions about plants, food, and uses of city space. In this way, by its very presence, the Bilby garden fosters community in the neighborhood, as folks stop to admire a flower, eat a strawberry, or have a chat with one of the Bilby gardeners.
This year Carey and Sera, the secret gardeners on Bilby Street, finally met the owners of the land upon which the garden sits. The owners don’t reside in the area, and are happy to see the space being used in such a positive way. Neighbors also have generously supported the garden through donations of water, plants, and conversations. Carey and Sera are very grateful to all the folks in the neighborhood who have supported them in their garden work. Their experience of transforming the Bilby lot has helped them solidify a sense place and identity in the neighborhood, and has changed their relationship to city spaces.
The Bilby garden is a quintessential example of what has recently become a new buzz phrase and a growing environmental movement: “guerrilla gardening”….
The first time someone mentioned this to me years ago, I responded, astounded: “gorilla gardening?!”. I thought it was a joke. I quickly learned that guerrilla gardening involves neither violence nor large apes. So what is it, then?
There are many ways to define and to practice guerrilla gardening. Mary Henry refers to it as sneak attacks on areas in her neighborhood that have become horticultural wastelands. As HRM city gardener, David McLearn has shown, tucking veggies in our city’s flower beds, there is so much that can be done with the space and resources around us.
I like to think of guerrilla gardening as a way to spread beauty in our city, and to reclaim unused public space to grow food and medicine. It is at once a deeply poetic and political act. It’s also really fun. You can get together with friends, dress up as ninjas, and go on a nighttime pea-planting mission, or wake up before dawn to plant a blueberry bush in that abandoned lot on your street. You can ‘arm’ yourself with seed bombs to deploy on rooftops and concrete spaces, or you can simply head out in broad daylight with some seeds, a bag of compost, and a trowel. There are plenty of creative ways to ‘green’ your neighborhood, and there are lots of books and inspirational projects on the web with helpful tips on transforming urban spaces.
- Just like any garden, guerrilla gardens need to be cared for and loved. Remember to check up on your guerrilla garden sites frequently, and tend to them appropriately.
- If you can’t use the food/medicine/flowers that your guerrilla gardens produce, think about sharing with a friend or donating it to a local food bank.
- Try to use native seeds and plants. Non-native species can be invasive and harmful to surrounding ecosystems.
- You can check with your local garden store to see if they have any plants or seeds that they were going to dispose of – they might donate them to your cause. Or, ask a friend with a garden for a cutting.
Go out and give it a shot! If you need inspiration, visit the Bilby garden on the corner of Bilby and Agricola Street. If you’re looking for some partners in gardening, check out the facebook page for Halifax’s wild-harvesting guerrilla-gardeners.
***A special thanks to the Bilby street gardeners for sharing their stories, and for brightening our city!***
Written by: Sonia Grant