Guerrilla Gardeners Carve Out Plot on Marine Barracks’ Sidewalk
by Larry Janezich
Wiki: “Guerrilla gardening is the act of gardening on land that the gardeners do not have the legal rights to cultivate, such as abandoned sites, areas that are not being cared for, or private property.”
Guerrilla Gardner’s, DC was busy on a plot of public land at 9th and I Street adjacent to the Marine Barracks last week, as a group of resident volunteers joined forces with the transformative activist group to remake an asphalt rectangle into a greenspace garden of native plants.
The idea originated with the Marines two years ago, who were having drainage issues at the 9th and I Street corner and wanted a rain garden there. After floating the idea, they were stymied by a prohibition on spending funds on lands the Marines don’t own and the refusal of the city to relinquish control of the land.
Ninth Street resident Karl Kindel learned of their intent from the beginning in the annual pre-parade season meeting the Marines host with the nearby neighbors. It was six months later when they learned of the obstacles.
The idea lay dormant for months, until Kindel’s chance encounter with Jim Guckert who he encountered restoring a call box at 8th and I. During the ensuing conversation, Guckert explained the mission of his organization, Guerrilla Gardeners, DC, which he had incorporated last year, after finding out there was a national and international movement which identified and named a practice he’d been following for 15 years. The conversation inspired Kindel to recruit the organization for the Marine’s rain garden project. Guckert took a look and told Kindel Guerrilla Gardeners would like to get involved and offered to join forces to lend whatever assistance they could.
It was a fruitful collaboration, leading to a meeting with the Marines and the enthusiastic embrace of Col. Donald Tomich, which led to re-starting the project. The Marines couldn’t fund the project, Tomich told them, but could offer materials and plants.
Kindel solicited funds from neighbors, raising $1100 in two weeks – half the amount needed. Kindel and Guerilla Gardeners split the remaining cost. They rented a jackhammer and a dumpster and with some assistance from the Marine’s landscape contractor, removed 10 – 12 tons of asphalt last week. Volunteers put down new soil and planted native plants – Arrowwood, Black Eyed Susan, and Cardinal flowers. The Marine’s landscape contractor will maintain the garden.
Guckert was also responsible for the original guerrilla gardening which transformed the pocket park on the SW corner of 8th and I into the beautifully manicured fiesta of decorative plants and blooms currently on full display cattycorner from the Barracks. Fifteen years ago, Guckert – who lives on I Street across from the pocket park – and four of his neighbors constituted the informal group that took upon themselves the beautification of the – then neglected – plot of land. Guckert says they were guerilla gardening before they knew it had a name. He incorporated the organization as a 501C3 nonprofit in September of 2019, after an article in the Hill Rag sparked community interest and requests for assistance on misused, unused and neglected plots.
The group has no boundaries and pursues gardening where no gardening is being done – just doing it – as people make known plots that are candidates for improvement. Since last fall, Guckert estimates 15 to 20 tree boxes have been improved in hopes it will inspire nearby residents to maintain them.
Guerrilla Gardener’s funding comes from a grant from donations and a grant from the Capitol Hill Foundation. To donate, volunteer, or see their website, go here: https://guerrillagardenersdc.org/