Learn wild gardening – lesson 2: finding plants

What can you plant in an urban guerilla garden? See what grows between the stones, says gardening blogger Sparclear

illustration ipad urban guerilla gardening

Gardening. Laura Eades 2014

My flat looks more ‘patio’ than ‘paradise’. Help!

So. You arrive in a new place. Asphalt for your balcony, narrow windowsills, and lollipop-pruned ornamental cherry trees in the street below. Paving tidied using doses of chemicals at midsummer.

Time to wild it up!

See what survives spontaneously

Walk around your neighbourhood every day until its climate and conditions are familiar to you.

As the winter solstice passes, ferns in wall crevices will recommence their unfurling. Seasonal cold promotes seeds to germinate into sapling trees on the edges of parks, and after a rainy spring the cracks between gates, walls and pavement will have acquired soft coats of tiny seedlings.

For this walking I carry two shoulder bags, a trowel and a small sharp pointed kitchen knife, some gardening gloves and my sharp eyes with me always to cast about and discover what is stirring out there.

The results are encouraging, instructive, humbling. How amazing that the human arrivistes have not interrupted Earth’s constant urge to re-green herself!

Where to look

Some places you find your plants will be nature reserves: protected land like wild parts of parks or cemeteries. My rule for myself is not to take from those: it feels like stealing.

Instead, I look anywhere I know is destined to succumb to weedkillers and machines and trampling. Footpath edges, neglected park borders and beautiful unspoilt churchyards and cemeteries are all good hunting grounds. Some of these yield potted plants from their waste bins as well as from the masonry, usually short-lived greenhouse varieties – still, it’s great fun reviving them for the coming summer. Along suburban streets many gardens spill seedlings outside their gates and over their fences.

I’ll ask permission to take cuttings from shrubs as I find the householders never refuse and we often have delightful ‘rewilding’ conversations.

What not to choose

I avoid species destined to turn into a nuisance (this takes a bit of knowledge – for example, sycamores and knotweeds and mile-a-minute climbers). In the built environment, many are over-vigorous to the extent they will clog underground pipes & topple brickwork.

Take tiny

The smaller your seedling to start with, the better its chance of success as a transplant. To move a rooted plant ease it out of the ground with plenty of its original soil sticking to the roots, wrap it in a tissue or sandwich bag, and dash home to pot it on to its new life. Now you’re gardening. Taking note of the conditions it chose for itself, try to replicate them at home. Some will appear where they got  full sun on stony thin soil, others thrive in shade and damp. Use your observation skills to find the best copies around your home site. This is one advantage of having plantpots, you can move them until you, and the plants, are happy with the aspect.

Looking for seeds – and ahead to next year

As summer ends and the seedheads dry out, the shoulder bag fills with my collection kit: little tubs with lids, sticky labels and a pen to say the species and date. Where only one or two specimens are growing, leave their seeds for the winter bird life, which stays healthier on material like this than on commercial grainss and fats.

Just choose your harvest from places which have plenty, and at home, dry them out more in paper bags. Before Christmas many of them can find their way into gaps in your window boxes. Next year, these plants can be left to broadcast seeds unaided, regenerating the whole neighbourhood’s stocks of wildflowers. How marvellous this will be for the creatures!

What six-legged guests am I aiming to invite?

Ah yes! The insects! We’ll look at a few of them next time.

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Enjoy gardening and want to share what the joy of it is for you? Never tried it? Gonna give it a go? You are welcome to leave comments. Just click on the pale grey dot with a plus sign below the blogpost to open the comment thread.

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