Seed Bombing Little Beirut

Recently, an unidentified plant I rescued some four years ago began to flower. I couldn’t recall if it had before, but as the buds grew fuller and more colorful, they began to form purple speckles the like I know I’d never seen on any plant of mine before. With a few minutes of searching online I was able to confirm they were in fact orchids, their exotic variations having long been the subject of novelists, painters, and poets.

This revelation gave me a sudden, unexpected appreciation for the years of greenthumbing I’d practiced in my home. I realized that starting as a small boy, I’d always kept a multitude of plants around. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of gardening in rural Michigan, my mother showing me how to snap open raw pea pods and eat them right off the stalk. In moving out West, it turned out I wasn’t alone.

In Portland, community gardening is as American as apple pie and loaded firearms. Here, the thought of maintaining a grass lawn that could otherwise grow food is frowned upon. And the practice of seed-bombing is just about the most satisfying act of tactical urbanism one can enjoy, whether solo or with a group of comrades. It’s something I’ve done numerous times with friends. Now that a frigid December has locked in and we’re facing potential single-digit overnight lows, I feel a palpable urge to launch seed-packed balls of dirt through the air to their inevitable earthen targets.

For those unfamiliar, seed bombing is remarkably simple. Get some wet dirt. Get some seeds. Mix the dirt and seeds. Then pack them into golf ball-sized spheres. Let them dry. Load them onto your cargo bike on what will hopefully be a sunny day. Rally some friends, go ride to where you want to throw your ordinance and let the firing commence! Slingshots are optional. Most of the seed balls will break up on impact, and this is fine. If they don’t, that’s fine too.

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You’ve probably seen the Janes Howard Kunstler TED Talk in which he sardonically castigates the tragedy of suburbia, taking special care to eviscerate the bland, cookie-cutter shrubs and plastic looking flowers that make up the ‘nature band-aids‘ of suburban sprawl. And with good reason. These displays of plant life feel like they were designed to numb the senses, not enrich them. We need greenery that’s more stimulating. Urban foliage shouldn’t trick us into thinking we’re in the wilderness, but it should remind us that wilderness is where we came from.

With its seeming randomness, diversity, and complex interconnectivity – wild flora nourishes the soul when it surrounds us. A mundane row of hedges or a boxed-in crop of ivy? Not so much. While Portland is definitely not the suburbs, there are parts of this city suffering from a visible lack of greenery. While groups like Friends of Trees are doing good work to fix this, they can’t be everywhere. This is where seed bombing and guerrilla gardening can fill in the gaps while providing the ‘bomber’ or gardener with a necessary role in shaping the city itself.

Adding edible plant life to the various corners and crevices of your metropolis may not deliver a high yielding crop, but it can enliven street space and the otherwise dull urban fabric we experience daily. With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to collect a few dozen images from Tumblr as inspirado while this week’s chill sets in. Hopefully, my budding indoor orchids will help hold me over until the outdoor Cascadian growing season returns to Little Beirut.

Be sure to check out the cultivating TED Talk from legendary South Central guerrilla gardener Ron Finley at the bottom of this page.

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