Those Useless Trees — Guerilla Gardening with Agave

Those Useless Trees — Guerilla Gardening with Agave

If you’ve ever strolled through the streets of Los Angeles, you may have noticed the dirt squares along many sidewalks. These squares, often referred to as “tree squares,” are spaces where the city occasionally plants trees. However, not all of these squares are occupied by thriving trees. Some remain empty or have been taken over by guerilla gardeners like myself.

While it may technically be illegal to plant in these squares without a permit, the truth is that few people are bothered for doing so. In fact, I’ve had a couple of encounters with the police while planting, but I prefer to err on the side of caution. On the other hand, planting in road verges, the space between the sidewalk and the street, can sometimes result in complaints from certain individuals, especially if you plant fruits or vegetables. However, planting in road verges was approved by the Los Angeles City Council in 2015. The city even pledged to plant and maintain 90,000 trees by 2021, with a rate of 20,000 per year, but it’s unclear whether they achieved that goal.

The city has an approved tree list, which includes a few native species that are suited for our semi-arid conditions. However, if you wait for the city to plant them, you may be waiting for a long time. That’s where guerilla gardening comes in. Guerilla gardening is a form of tactical urbanism and environmentalism, and it allows individuals like myself to take matters into our own hands.

When I first started guerilla gardening, I would often plant succulents like aloe, jade, and euphorbia, all of which are native to Southern Africa. However, these days, I prefer planting agave. Agave plants are indigenous to the Americas, and some species are native to Southern California. They are not only beautiful but also more compatible with our local ecosystem. Foxtail agave, in particular, is a great choice as it doesn’t have sharp spines that can harm humans or dogs.

Planting agave in tree squares and road verges can be challenging, especially in heavily trafficked areas. But the bigger the plant, the better its chances of survival. It’s important not to get discouraged when plants vanish or get destroyed. Psychopaths are people too, and not everyone appreciates the beauty of guerilla gardens.

However, there are also empaths out there who appreciate and contribute to guerilla gardens. One of the most rewarding experiences is when someone tends to or adds plants to a guerilla garden. I’ve even seen people harvest plants from these gardens and spread them to new spaces. Foxtail agaves, in particular, are easy to propagate. Most agaves produce basal shoots or bulbils that can be harvested and planted.

While agave may not provide as much shade as trees, they do improve air and soil quality and add beauty to their surroundings. They also have culinary uses, and some species are used to make tequila, pulque, and mezcal. Planting agave is not only beneficial for the environment but also for your mood. So why not give guerilla gardening a try? Invite a friend and see the impact you can make.

Those Useless Trees — Guerilla Gardening with Agave

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, essayist, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”

Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LA, Amoeblog, Boom: A Journal of California, diaCRITICS, Hidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft Contemporary, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, the book Sidewalking, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured as a subject in The Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, CurbedLA, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW’s Which Way, LA?, at Emerson College, and the University of Southern California.

Brightwell is currently writing a book about Los Angeles, and you can follow him on Ameba, Duolingo, Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, Mubi, the StoryGraph, and Twitter.