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Spread the Seed: International Sunflower Guerilla Garden Day Is Here


Spread the Seed: International Sunflower Guerilla Garden Day Is Here

May 1, 2024

There’s a certain romanticism to guerrilla gardening. Who wouldn’t be moved by the idea of clandestine gardeners planting on derelict land without permission for the sake of communal beauty? However, I suspect most of us are probably not quite bold enough to undertake the level of covert cultivation that would be deemed “guerrilla gardening.” But what if you knew you wouldn’t be alone in your small act of civil disobedience? What if there were an organized effort in which people all around the world would engage in minor garden-related delinquency on the same exact day?

Above: Sunflowers perking up a sidewalk in Brussels, France. Photograph by brusselsfarmer2 via Flickr.

On May 1, International Sunflower Guerrilla Garden Day (ISGGD), citizens will plant sunflower seeds on untended spots in their cities. The movement began as a grassroots effort in 2006 by a group of guerrilla gardeners, including one who calls himself Girasol 829, or “The Brussels Farmer” in Belgium. In the book On Guerrilla Gardening, Richard Reynolds explains its origins: “From the outset they wanted the project to link and shape both the physical landscape and the online landscape. They decided to plant sunflowers (Helianthus annus) all over the city and to encourage other people to do the same around the world.”

Reynolds continues: “For Girasol, giant sunflowers were the perfect plant to use. Not only would they be hugely visible within a short space of time, easy to photograph for the virtual-meets-real aspect of their art project, and easy and cheap to plant, they are also richly symbolic.” To these guerilla gardeners, sunflowers represented beauty, productivity, community, and optimism. They also happen to offer a circular and regenerative project: Guerilla gardeners can gather the seeds in fall to replay next May. In 2007, the founders deemed it an official day and in the years since then, the initiative has spread across the globe.

Guerilla gardeners planting in an empty patch under a tree. Photograph by brusseslfarmer\2 via Flickr.
Above: Guerilla gardeners planting in an empty patch under a tree. Photograph by brusseslfarmer2 via Flickr.

In New York City, where there is a long history of guerrilla gardening, activist gardeners in Queens from Smiling Hogshead Ranch have been celebrating ISGGD since 2015. Their efforts have led to city-wide sunflower seed planting, including the Seed the City initiative by Green Guerrillas, the non-profit group who famously took over derelict lots around the Lower East Side and turned them into gardens in the 1970s. Writing by email, Sarah McCollum Williams, the executive director of Green Guerrillas told Gardenista, “We are still distributing sunflower seeds for community gardeners and their groups to participate in this year’s International Sunflower Guerrilla Gardening Day, but we won’t have any public-facing events around it this year.” But that’s in part because the day has taken on a life of its own. It’s a sentiment that Girasol, the founder of ISGGD, shared in 2013 when he wrote, “This project has always been an open idea, to be reused, shared and spread and we are happy to see that groups everywhere do it on their own without waiting for our call to action.”

Above: Sunflowers dotting the median in London. Photograph by Richard Reynolds via Flickr.

So don’t wait for an official event: This is guerrilla gardening, after all! Getting involved is simple: Buy a packet or two of sunflower seeds and then look for vacant or abandoned lots, tree pits, sidewalks, or any area of earth that is not cared for. If the soil is compacted (which it often can be in these spots) use a tool like a screwdriver or even a stick to dig a hole for your seeds. Then push the sunflower seed into the ground, pointy side down, and cover the seed with soil and water it in. Wait three months and you will (hopefully!) be rewarded with sunshine-y blossoms to brighten a formerly neglected part of your neighborhood.

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