06/19/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Guerrilla Gardening

Can a radical social agenda really take root in Los Angeles? Living in this city, I sometimes think that the stereotypes (and complaints) about the city might be accurate. On the down side, it's a sprawling, overheated metropolis of concrete rivers billowing out to the far reaches of the region's somewhat in-hospitable desert landscape. It's streets are lined with sinewy palms that offer little shade or respite from Southern California's severe sun. The city's architectural gems are frequently overshadowed by the bland neon strip malls that are often the central focus of neighborhoods. All of this non-interactive city design can leave one whimpering for a sense of connection to fellow Angelenos.

Despite this rather grim description of my current town, there's some amazing things happening below the surface. It might not be apparent to the naked eye when you're cruising the concrete on Pico Boulevard or inching along on the 405 freeway. This incredibly diverse city (someone once described it as the "Ellis Island of the 21st century") is filled with creative activists using renegade tools to push new social agendas that foster a sense of community in a city that often lacks such a physical and emotional space and literally build communities.

I had the extreme fortune of stumbling upon one such group last night while driving with my friend, Jenna. We were at Highland and Wilshire Boulevards (a fairly prominent intersection) and noticed a group of people in orange work clothes, gardening. They looked vaguely official in their work outfits and "slow down" signs, but I was suspicious. I quickly did a U-Turn and asked if they were "guerrilla gardeners." They gleefully replied that yes, they were and told us to join in.


Jenna and I, inappropriately dressed in sundresses and sandals (this is LA, of course), joined the group to plant an array of succulents and cacti in this little plot of previously brown, lonely dirt. It was a transformative experience. A random group of Angelenos were immersed in dirt, digging, planting, watering and nurturing beautiful donated plants. It was an instant community of people who all are committed to a greener, healthier city (and some said this was their only opportunity to garden) and transforming it in a somewhat radical, but harmless way. Guerrilla gardening isn't going to solve all of Los Angeles' problems, but it's one tool that can be used to connect people, build communities (literally and figuratively), say no to our concrete landscape and bring touches of beauty to otherwise forlorn stretches of the city.

Fortunately, guerrilla gardening isn't unique to Los Angeles. It's sprouting up across the country and around globe. Since it's a somewhat anarchist-style of gardening, if there's not a group in your community, simply start your own! All you need are some friends, garden tools and plants (which can be donated) to start a green revolution on a street corner near you!

Sarah's Social Action Snapshot originally appeared on