Guerrilla gardening takes root in Los Angeles
Under cover of darkness, gardeners plant and maintain neglected plots of public land.
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But most cities, including London and Los Angeles, aren’t quite there yet, and so the 27-year-old music and drama teacher who organized the Hollywood Freeway offramp project is intent on staying covert and anonymous — even requiring that his crew use aliases such as his own, “Mr. Stamen,” or “Phil O’Dendron.”Skip to next paragraph
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“If authorities come by, there’s no leader,” he yelled as his fellow gardeners dispersed over the median. “Nobody knows anybody.”
As the gardeners weeded and picked up trash — including a green sleeping bag and some underwear — a few police cruisers drove by, but none stopped.
Gardening on public land without a permit is against the Los Angeles city code, said Cora Jackson-Fossett, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works.
Violators can be fined and go to jail, she noted.
“It’s just in a city of this size, and in any municipality you have, there’s rules and regulations, and we need everyone to follow them,” Ms. Jackson-Fossett said.
Still, many who guerrilla garden in Los Angeles and elsewhere said they have never faced any serious legal threats. Often times, police or other city workers will stop and ask what the gardeners are doing then move on when they hear the innocent answer, “I’m gardening.”
Most guerrilla gardeners don’t go to the same lengths as 'Mr. Stamen' to stay anonymous. Some, like Reynolds and Bunnell, have even moved into the sunlight with their work.
Bunnell said he gardens mostly in the early morning hours on his way to work in order to maintain a low profile.
But after getting positive feedback from residents in the area and encouragement from a city official, Bunnell decided to approach the city about a larger garden he has in mind — one that would beautify as well as prevent erosion.
“I’ve been wanting to do this project for a long time,” he said of the mile-long site on a bluff in Long Beach. “I’m hoping that they will just let me do a little area of it just to see how it would work out.”
It also seems that Bunnell’s attempted collaboration with city officials is becoming less of an exception in the guerrilla gardening world.
James Caviola, an attorney who lives in Seal Beach, started guerrilla gardening about 12 years ago with just one tree in front of his house.“My goal was to beautify the neighborhood,” he said.
Mr. Caviola said he eventually raised money to help elect tree-friendly council members, and he’s now working with the city to put trees on street medians and sidewalk parkways.
He does the work for free with the help of the corporation he created, Trees for Seal Beach.
Caviola said his sanctioned, out-in-the-open gardening no longer qualifies him for guerrilla status — unlike Mr. Stamen, who didn’t finish his work on that Saturday night until after 2 a.m.
Mr. Stamen and his guerrilla group have filled about a third of the median with succulents such as grasslike flax, aloe and red, blue, pink and yellow kalanchoes — all donated by members of the group. They plan to finish landscaping the rest of the patch soon.
A sign sticks up from the dirt at the edge of the median closest to Sunset Boulevard.
“Guerrilla Gardening,” it reads. “Please water me.”