Guerrilla Gardening With Neighbors

Ann Naffziger--Ann Naffziger and her neighbors joined forces to create a “Sidewalk Garden” to replace a patch of unpleasant weeds.

Guerrilla Gardening With Neighbors

About 10 years ago, my next-door neighbor and I were commiserating that we didn’t have enough sunny space in our yards to grow as many tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant as we could eat. Privately, I was intensely jealous of our neighbor on the corner whose front yard got full sun almost year-round but didn’t take advantage of it, although the crabgrass there did.

Then, one day as I walked past the lot for perhaps the 100th time, an idea hit me. Why not ask the homeowner if we could garden the 3 x 80 feet strip of dirt between the sidewalk and the curb along the other side of her lot? It got full sun, it had been growing knee-high weeds as long as I’ve lived here, and it is technically public land, although etiquette seemed to require that we ask her permission. I broached the idea to my next-door neighbor who was immediately on board, and after checking with the homeowner, it was a go.

The next problem, though, was figuring out a source for irrigation water. I live three houses in from the lot in question, and my next-door neighbor lives four houses in; needless to say, we didn’t relish lugging watering cans that far. So, I approached the neighbors on the far side of the space — now a fourth family involved — and asked if we could hook up a hose and use their water. The homeowner agreed.

A few weeks later we had a garden clean-up day, the official beginning of our neighborhood guerilla garden. Half a dozen adults dug in with shovels, attacking the weeds which had been growing undisturbed for years. My two young daughters brought over a couple of our chickens to snap up insects and till the newly exposed soil. The presence of the free-ranging chickens brought more attention to our efforts as walkers, bikers, and even cars slowed down for a better look and stopped to ask questions.

Over the next few weeks, we continued to dig up the weeds, added wheelbarrows full of fresh compost and aged chicken manure, and started planting our first summer garden. Initially, we focused on only growing food. We fit in about a dozen tomato plants, many peppers, eggplants, basil, zucchini, winter squash, and even some beans growing up the stop sign.

My original partner on the project, now that he is retired, has taken over most of the responsibilities for the garden. He prides himself on his lettuce-growing capabilities, which include saving seeds for future seasons.

Like him, my family has found that we can’t weed, plant, or water at “The Sidewalk Garden,” as it has generically been named, without meeting at least one new person or long-time friend.

The Sidewalk Garden has evolved into an impromptu outdoor science classroom. Over the years, we have taught neighborhood children how to differentiate between leafy greens: lettuce, kale, spinach, and chard, and how to tell pole peas and pole beans apart. On another day I met a mother and her three kids with pads and pencils making a list of how many different vegetables were growing and how many ladybugs they could spot.

What started as a desire to grow more of our own food has since evolved into much more. Our next-door neighbors are like family now. I hope our small guerilla gardening experiment will encourage other folks to collaborate with their neighbors to put more land to use growing healthy and beautiful things.

Alameda Backyard Growers is dedicated to teaching our neighbors how to grow food. During this difficult time, our education program has moved online. Visit us at to join our mailing list to receive our educational newsletters and information on classes and events, locate the Free Seed Library nearest you, or join Project Pick as a fruit picker or fruit donor. Contact ABG at