Good Things Come To Those Who Ask — A.K.A. Guerilla Gardening

by Katy on July 27, 2008 · 4 comments

I have a method for getting great stuff. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

I simply ask people for things that seem to be on their way to the landfill.

For example:

There’s a mini-mall a few blocks up the road that is getting a fancy-schmancy overhaul. In the 12 years we’ve owned our house, this property has been home to a series of unsuccessful Asian restaurants, laundromats, a rather seedy convenience store and a pizza joint. It’s always been poorly kept up, with lots of litter blowing around and a general air of neglect.

However, there’s always been a small, oddly kept up garden planted with pretty flowers and even a lovely pear tree. It stood out as an oasis of hope among the vista of plastic bags and cigarette butts.

With the hubbub of construction, the plants were getting sadly trampled. They were certainly no longer getting watered.

I needed to save those plants!

Cycling by yesterday, I noticed a number of people at the site and swerved my bike over.

Taking a deep breath, I asked one of the workers if I could dig up the plants. He pointed out the new owner of the complex. He told me to take all I liked. He didn’t care.

So yesterday evening I grabbed a couple of five-gallon buckets, a shovel and my ever-present Discman with the audio book of Jasper Fforde’s Something Rotten. (I’m addicted to audio books from my local library — it’s the only way I get any fiction read.)

My husband’s parting shot: “When the police give you one phone call, make it your mom.”

Thanks. Good to know.

I started with the gladiolas, and moved along to the long thin yellow iris I’ve always thought were so much prettier than the squat purple freebies lining the north side of my house.

At that point a man came along and asked if I was the new landscaper for the development. Defensively, I explained that the owner had given me permission to dig up the plants. It turns out he’s the next-door neighbor who had originally put in the garden. His wife then joined us and was over the moon that her plants were not going to waste. She also pointed out where she’d planted an expensive variety of daffodils. Cool.

(Whew! Not going to have to make that one phone call after all.)

I was only able to dig up maybe one-tenth of what was there. But I plan on going back in a day or two to salvage more of the iris for my ongoing backyard project.

Here’s the thing: I’m sure many people have walked by this spot and noticed the trampled flowers. But I was the only person to actually talk to the owner and get permission to salvage them. My next-door neighbor mentioned she had been lusting after the gladiolas herself.

Yes, it’s hard to overcome one’s natural shyness. It’s kind of embarrassing to ask someone to simply give you their stuff.

What’s the worst that can happen?

The person says no.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Dan Wood July 27, 2008 at 8:00 am

My mom always would say “It never hurts to ask…”


Tony Wolk July 28, 2008 at 1:41 pm

Kate, Saturday we did something inspired by you: We’d been up on Flagg Mtn for 2 hours, all by ourselves (w/ Ramira), then came home. Lindy was too shy and was being a nay-sayer, but I went next door to the log cabin with new folk living there and invited them to dinner. Both had been St. Vincent doctors (an internist who’s presently staying home with her 2 and 3-year towheads and an oncologist who’s now practicing in Salem and is thrilled with the move (the lack of competition, etc.). I made potato kugel (grating potato and onion with the Museum of Modern Art grater that cost 75 cents at a garage sale years ago–I have an illustration of it in a MOMA book from 1955 (under Industrial Art)–it’s a Griscer, and it grated without liquizing 7-8 potatos and an onion in 5 minutes, hand-powered); Lindy made a salad; there was ice cream for the boys, Ramira bit no one, though the 3.5 year old pointed at the ceiling at one point and said I see water. Yes, Ramira locked in our bedroom couldn’t hold it in. Luckily she chose to pee on the rubber exercise mat you gave us found on the NYC subway. Great moment, Niagara Falls in Rhododendron. Fascinating dinner table conversation, the mom a Finn from upper Minnesota, Dad from Allentown, PA. Hey! We’ve got neighbor friends in the woods–they come up about 1-2 times a month. It’s a variation on your ASK, the worst they can do is say no or be Bush Republicans. Dad


wida July 3, 2009 at 4:01 am

good info.thanks!


Katie August 7, 2011 at 3:50 pm

I’m reading archives again! This is wonderful. Bulb flowers are my favorite. Another frugal aspect – biking/walk around your neighborhood means you’re more likely to notice potential freebies like this.


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