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Guerrilla gardening takes root in Los Angeles

Under cover of darkness, gardeners plant and maintain neglected plots of public land.

By Laura E. DavisAssociated Press writer / July 8, 2008

CLANDESTINE PLANTING: Guerrilla Gardeners' work on a freeway off-ramp in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles last month. Getting approval to beautify public property can be cumbersome, so guerrilla gardeners in cities worldwide take matters into their own dirt-caked hands.

Chris Carlson/AP

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — More than a dozen people, some wearing orange protective gear, pulled rakes and shovels from a dingy shopping cart and started working on a parched patch of land along a busy off-ramp of the Hollywood Freeway.

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It was a Saturday night and drivers whooshed past on their way to the Sunset Strip club scene.

But the crew was undeterred, and by the wee hours, they had transformed the blight into bloom with green bushes and an array of colorful flowers.

City workers on overtime? Nope, no budget for that. These were “guerrilla gardeners,” a global movement of the grass-roots variety where people seek to beautify empty or overgrown public space, usually under the cover of darkness and without the permission of municipal officials.

“What we’re fighting is neglect,” said guerrilla gardening guru Richard Reynolds of London, founder of the website guerillagardening.org.

Getting approval to beautify public property can be cumbersome, so guerrilla gardeners in cities worldwide take matters into their own dirt-caked hands.

“We try not to let bureaucracy stand in the way,” said accountant Steven Coker, who maintains an unsanctioned garden across from his house near an exit of the Santa Monica Freeway in West Los Angeles.

After starting his garden about 12 years ago, Mr. Coker has tried several times to officially take over its upkeep but to no avail.

Los Angeles Councilman Tom LaBonge said he supports guerrilla gardening as long as people don’t present a safety hazard or impede traffic.

“I’m a guerrilla gardener, but I’m mostly just a maintenance guy,” Mr. LaBonge said. “I pull weeds when I’m out walking. Everyone is welcome to do it. The city needs help.”

Scott Bunnell, who has maintained a guerrilla garden on a median in Long Beach for about 10 years, said he wants to demonstrate that low-maintenance gardens are possible in southern California’s arid climate.

“Maybe I can help (show) municipalities, cities and whatnot by using dry, tolerant plants ... that they could make good use of the landscape,” he said.

Mr. Reynolds said the modern form of guerrilla gardening started in the 1970s in New York, where the movement has reached its ultimate goal — gardens planted without permission are now maintained by the city’s parks and recreation department. He said Montreal is close to sprouting some synergy with guerrilla gardeners.

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