Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Buzz

I recently watched River Cottage Spring and River Cottage Fall, and am totally delighted with two projects I saw on the series: guerilla gardening, and urban beekeeping. I wondered if such things were going on around Seattle.

The bees were the easy part: Yes, it's legal to keep bees in many cities around Puget Sound. I've enjoyed talking to representatives from the Puget Sound Beekeeper's Association when I've seen them at the Puyallup Spring Fair, but it never occurred to me to wonder whether it's possible to keep a hive in the middle of Capitol Hill. If my building's shared gardening space was a few feet bigger, the answer would be yes. Each city has its own rules, of course. Here's the PSBA website if you're interested. Not only does it seem satisfying as a hobby, but having healthy hives around will help keep neighborhood gardens and native plants in proper shape. (And I see the PSBA sells honey at a few places around town. I'm looking forward to trying it.)

Guerilla gardening is less specific, but the idea is simple: Grow something on otherwise unused land. A fully legal version of this exists in Seattle, in the form of "traffic calming devices", also known as roundabouts. Most of these are a concrete ring filled with dirt, and are officially maintained by neighborhood volunteers; in areas with a high number of renters, it can be hard to keep track of who said they'd do what--and of course, like all volunteer projects, results are unpredictable.

After a year of complaining about the overgrown mess that was my "traffic calming device", I took matters into my own hands and pruned trees, ripped up half of a euphorbia jungle, and planted several dozen mini daffodil bulbs, for some low-growing color. After hauling away a bag of trash and five giant yard waste bins, I got online and realized what I'd just done was not only legal, it was encouraged. You can register as a volunteer for one in your neighborhood.
There are basic common-sense rules about keeping good lines of sight, and the city is in favor of low-water-use plantings, but there are fairly simple ways to add some edibility to the roundabouts. Culinary lavender is an easy choice; so are nasturtiums and all sorts of thyme and rosemary. Fruit trees or smaller blueberry bushes could work, too, if you're willing to provide some extra water.

There are other ways to guerilla garden. I've seen a few fenced-in lots filled with wildflowers within walking distance, and I bet people have been lobbing seeds over the tops of the chain links. A piece from Crosscut gives a few suggestions on how you can make this happen in your neighborhood.

Starting in a few more weeks, I'm going to be posting photos of spots on my street that has turned the planting strip into an "urban bird sanctuary." Not only are the plants lovely, they feed birds all year long--purple and Cassin's finches, northern flickers, bushtits, nuthatches, and several kinds of sparrows and chickadees. The only real maintenance is in the winter--lots of pruning and leaf clean-up.

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