OPIRG: Something greener than grass

Photo from a 2013 guerrilla gardening project in Peterborough. Photo by Zara Syed
Photo from a 2013 guerrilla gardening project in Peterborough. Photo by Zara Syed

When telling friends from out of town about Peterborough, there are a few things that are sure to make your list: frigid temperatures in the winter, its vibrant (or boring, depending on your perspective) downtown, and of course, its greenspaces.

While we are just getting glimpses of it now, the City of Peterborough in the summer is decidedly green, from grass-lined bike paths to a grass-lawned city hall; from large grassy front yards in the boroughs to small grassy front yards in the student areas.

Grass lawns have their roots in European aristocracy, but have become as Canadian as maple syrup. Having a neatly trimmed lawn today is a status symbol indicating that the household has the disposable wealth and time to keep up with lawn maintenance.

It is also contributing to a monoculture, a harmful ecological process which discourages diversity and contributes to several negative ecological repercussions.

Envisioning alternatives to uniformly mowed lawns means envisioning alternatives to the way our city runs. With thousands of people in our community resorting to food banks every month, why aren’t we using our lawns to grow food for ourselves and our neighbours? With a near-constant reminder in the news of dying pollinator communities, why are we favouring grass over milkweed, yarrow, and dahlias? And, with pride for our city’s beauty ingrained into our relationships, why aren’t we working together to beautify public spaces?

Guerrilla gardening is one way to radically transform these spaces, by reclaiming the city’s greenspaces as public and digging into our municipality in a meaningful way.

Guerrilla gardening is, essentially, gardening in spaces which we as gardeners do not legally have access to. It is also one way to directly take action in our municipality against the issues facing our community.

It can be anything—a vegetable plot in a grassy area often overlooked, wildflowers poking their way up through cracks in back alley pavement, or a native pollinator habitat growing on an otherwise unused front lawn.

You don’t need a background in gardening to be a Guerrilla gardener—for most of us, this project is our first experience with gardening. What you do need is a creative vision for our municipality and a commitment to taking direct action to make these changes happen.

While Guerrilla gardening hopes to speak to specific issues such as food insecurity and disappearing pollinator habitats, it is also a sign of something bigger. It is grassroots resistance, minus the grass. It is a call to re-examine property laws, and reconsider who really owns public land. It is a form of protest against disengagement.

Above all else, it is fun—an important tenet of political resistance often overlooked.

Next time you see an abandoned flower plot or a patch of soil which could sustain growth, don’t walk away; dig in.