District police say that guerrilla gardening technically constitutes unlawful entry, a misdemeanor. But, says D.C. police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump, “nothing like this has come to our attention.” Although there have been reports of gardens being bulldozed to make way for development, gardeners say the issue of small-scale gardening is typically hashed out between property owners and the people doing the planting.
Permits for planting
Not everyone at Gran’s workshop is a guerrilla gardener. Some of the young people attending the class — run by
Knowledge Commons D.C.,
an organization that provides free public workshops on a variety of subjects — have secured permits for their plots.
This spring Sarah McLaughlin, 25, and her boyfriend Josh Singer, 31, started a community “parken” on a 2.7-acre parcel of unused land north of Howard University. They named it Wangari Gardens after Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Prize-winning Kenyan environmental activist. (Although it took months, Singer was able to obtain a public-use permit from the Department of Transportation, which oversees the land, to garden there.)
“We’re a real D.C. love story,” McLaughlin says with a laugh as Singer puts his soil-stained arm around her after a long day of gardening. The couple fell in love at the Occupy D.C. camp in McPherson Square, where they were both living this past fall. Singer works for D.C.-based nonprofit group Casey Trees, which helps local schools and urban communities plant trees. McLaughlin is a manager for Old City Green and teaches an after-school garden and nutrition program at D.C. Prep Public Charter School in Northeast.
“We saw the land near where we have a group house, and we wanted to use green space to build community,” says Singer, who’s wearing an “I Dig Trees” T-shirt under his Carhartt jacket. So far, McLaughlin and Singer have helped the community plant 59 garden plots in Wangari Gardens, each tended by neighbors who live nearby and pay annual dues to grow food and flowers in a raised garden bed with advice from experienced gardeners. (On a recent visit to Wangari, several longtime residents said they were happy with the garden because the land had been vacant for so long.)
Singer has put $3,000 in soil and other supplies on his credit card. But he hopes the garden will flourish and that he will eventually obtain sufficient funding and grants to add a dog park, a butterfly/native plant garden and an outdoor classroom. On Sunday, Wangari will host a Repurposing Space Day to showcase ways that local organizations can reuse vacant or underutilized land in the District.