The Guerrilla Gardeners’ Rooftop Offers a New Take on New York City Living
In Search of a Greener New York is an ongoing Garden Collage series of explorations about sustainability efforts in New York City and beyond– including the people, places, and ideas that are making Manhattan a healthier, happier place to live. In this column, we spotlight individuals who are making New York a “greener” place in an attempt to discover how, exactly, they are doing it. This week, GC spotlights The Guerrilla Gardeners, a duo proving you can do gardening your own way, no matter where you are.
On a mid-summer afternoon earlier this year, GC visited the home base of partners-in-crime Drew and Serena, a pair better known as The Guerrilla Gardeners (inspired by the movement of the same name from the 1970s). Drew and Serena run an enviable Instagram that features the progress of their defiantly charming rooftop garden on the Lower East Side. While the Guerrilla Gardeners’ garden may be small in the grand scheme of things, in an asphalt, efficiency-driven city like New York, the simple act of gardening can be revolutionary: a reclamation of space for something that is ultimately more in line with nature.
“My apartment uptown is a 50-story building, right, and so there’s no real open roof space at the top that you can do it,” Serena explains of The Guerrilla Gardeners origins. Her nostalgic desire for a single tomato plant in the off-season was what got The Guerrilla Gardeners started in the first place. “I asked Drew, ‘Please, can I just use your apartment to house a tomato?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, obviously.’ But the tomato never really came. Nobody had them.” After a futile search, Serena wound up with two pepper plants, and things escalated from there. Drew jumps in: “So it started with the request for a tomato plant, and then when I didn’t get her a tomato plant, 35 other plants showed up.”
The Guerrilla Gardeners have done some work with local schools, but most of their presence is online, engaging democratically with the worldwide gardening community through Instagram. Drew confesses, “I love seeing the comments more than anything else, because we’ve kind of built this international community of gardeners where all of these people come to a centralized place and they talk and they discuss. You get a sneak peek into their lives.”
Still, the duo’s guerrilla gardening practices aren’t always well received. Gardening (capital G intended) can sometimes be a staid practice, with certain concrete expectations of how plants should be. Serena points to a bok choy plant with small yellow flowers, “You’re supposed to cut the flowers off but I think they’re pretty. So oftentimes I’ll post pictures of that and people are like, ‘Cut them off! You’ve got to cut them off!’”
Two years into their guerrilla gardening adventure, the pair have learned a lot about the resilience of plants; plants themselves are quite the die-hard revolutionaries, taking root and sticking around even where they don’t belong. Of course, those years haven’t been without their fair share of challenges and failures (Manhattan construction crews and Northeast weather are two formidable forces)– but it’s earned the two their guerrilla cred.
Drew and Serena’s advice to aspiring guerrilla gardeners? Drew answers instantly: “Start with kale.”