TCS: Guerrilla Gardening – Making Sense in a Senseless World

   Good Morning!


Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers
on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum,
so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in
your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.

In the world at large, people are rewarded or punished
in ways that are often utterly random. In the garden,
cause and effect, labor and reward, are re-coupled.

Gardening makes sense in a senseless world.
By extension, then, the more gardens in the world,
the more justice, the more sense is created.

– Andrew Weil


May 1, 2007International Sunflower Guerrilla Gardening Day was launched by the guerrilla gardening group The Brussels Farmers, which they declared in their Journée Internationale de la Guérilla Tournesol. Guerrilla gardening is a growing movement to turn neglected or misused land into something useful, like a vegetable patch or more attractive, by planting trees or flowers. International Sunflower Guerrilla Gardening Day has since been taken up by guerrilla gardeners in other countries. In the Southern Hemisphere, other plants more suited to their approaching winter months are planted.

(As you can see, this happened on May 1, while today is May 2 – which is my regular posting day – so this isn’t a date error, it’s applause and encouragement for an ongoing green movement.)


A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill
for learning how to grow in rows. – Doug Larson


Some gardens are highly regimented – all straight lines and squares, the trees and plants standing in rows, like stiff soldiers waiting for the order to go into battle in some pointless war. These gardens have never had much appeal for me.

The idea of guerrilla gardening – going behind the enemy lines of urban ugliness to plant trees or flowers or vegetables, sometimes in defiance of ordinances and property rights, to transform trash-filled spaces into beauty for the weary and food for the outcast – now that has a lot more appeal.

When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not.                             – Georgia O’Keefe


Ah! Sunflower!

by William Blake

Ah! Sunflower, weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the sun,
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveler’s journey is done;
Where the youth pined away with desire,
And the pale virgin shrouded in snow,
Arise from their graves, and aspire
Where my sunflower wishes to go!

“Ah! Sunflower!” from The Complete Poetry & Prose of William Blake, 1988 Revised Edition – Random House

 William Blake (1757-1827) was born on November 28, in London, England. He was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Largely unrecognised during his lifetime, he is now considered a seminal figure of in the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. Best known for his Songs of Innocence and Experience.

Gardening is not a rational act. – Margaret Atwood


Hope in Elizabeth

by Kathleen Norris

From the train
it’s a city of roses
and rose keepers,
bald men in spectacles
and torn shirts.
There are miles of roses
in Elizabeth, New Jersey,

backyard arbors
shadowed by refineries
and the turnpike,
jungles of scrap,
still brown water, and poisoned marsh.

None of this matters
to the rose keepers of Elizabeth.
From the backyards of row houses
they bring forth pink roses, yellow roses
and around a house on its own
green plot, a hedge of roses, in red and white.

Surely faith and charity
are fine, but the greatest of these
is roses.

“Hope in Elizabeth” from The Middle of the World, © 1981 by Kathleen Norris – University of Pittsburgh Press

 Kathleen Norris (1947 – ) American poet and essayist; arts administrator of the Academy of American Poets (1969-1974). She and her husband went to live on the South Dakota farm she inherited from her grandparents in 1974. After her husband’s death in 2003, she moved to Hawaii. Her books of poetry include Falling Off; The Year of Common Things; and Journey: New and Selected Poems, 1969-1999.

The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul. – Alfred Austin


The Sunflower

by Dora Greenwell

Till the slow daylight pale,
A willing slave, fast bound to one above,
I wait; he seems to speed, and change, and fail;
I know he will not move.

I lift my golden orb
To his, unsmitten when the roses die,
And in my broad and burning disk absorb
The splendors of his eye.

His eye is like a clear
Keen flame that searches through me; I must droop
Upon my stalk, I cannot reach his sphere;
To mine he cannot stoop.

I win not my desire,
And yet I fail not of my guerdon, lo!
A thousand flickering darts and tongues of fire
Around me spread and glow;

All rayed and crowned, I miss
No queenly state until the summer wane,
The hours flit by; none knoweth of my bliss,
And none has guessed my pain;

I follow one above,
I track the shadow of his steps, I grow
Most like to him I love
Of all that shines below.

“The Sunflower” from Poems by Dora Greenwell, 1889 edition

 Dora Greenwell (1821-1882) English poet and essayist, born into a prosperous family, which fell on hard times in 1848. This led to her submitting her poetry for publication. Her first volume was published that year, and it was successful enough to be followed by a second volume in 1850. She lived her life in the homes of relatives and friends, including two of her brothers who were clergymen. In 1861, a more prestigious publisher issued a collection combining her newest poems with some that had been previously published, and then some smaller volumes as she submitted new work. Many of her poems had Christian themes, and some of them were set to music as hymns, but she also wrote in support of education and legal rights for women. Her health declined after an accident from which she never fully recovered, and she died at age 60 in the home of her brother, Reverend Alan Greenwell.

Your mind is the garden, your thoughts are the seeds.
The harvest can either be flowers or weeds.
– William Wordsworth


The Summer Day

by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean –
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down –
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

“The Summer Day” from New and Selected Poems, © 1993 by Mary Oliver, Beacon Press

Mary Oliver (1935 – 2019) American poet who won the 1992 National Book Award for her New and Selected Poems, and the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for American Primitive. “The Summer Day” is one of her best-known poems. In 2007, the New York Times described her as “far and away, this country’s best-selling poet.” In her poem “When Death Comes,” she wrote “When it’s over, I want to say all my life / I was a bride married to amazement. / I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.” She died at age 83 in 2019.

Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for
the soul. – Luther Burbank


The Sunflower

by James Montgomery

Eagle of flowers! I see thee stand,
And on the sun’s noon-glory gaze;
With eye like his, thy lids expand,
And fringe their disk with golden rays;
Though fixed on earth, in darkness rooted there,
Light is thy element, thy dwelling air,
Thy prospect heaven.

So would mine eagle-soul descry,
Beyond the path where planets run,
The light of immortality,
The splendour of creation’s sun;
Though sprung from earth, and hast’ning to the tomb
In hope a flower of paradise to bloom,
I took to heaven.

“The Sunflower” is in the public domain.

James Montgomery (1771-1854) Scottish hymnist, poet, editor, abolitionist, and advocate for ending the exploitation of child apprentices, such as chimney sweeps. The son of Moravian missionaries, he was sent to be trained for the ministry at the Moravian School near Leeds. After his parents’ deaths in the West Indies, he left school and became an apprentice to a baker, then to a store-keeper, but left to make an attempt at a literary career in London, which failed. He then worked for the editor-printer of the local newspaper in Sheffield during a time of political suppression in Great Britain. Montgomery was given the paper when his employer fled England to avoid political prosecution. As the new editor, he was twice imprisoned on charges of sedition, first in 1795 for printing a poem to celebrate the fall of the Bastille in revolutionary France, and again in 1796 for criticising a magistrate for forcibly dispersing a political protest in Sheffield. He published poems written during his captivity as Prison Amusements (1797).  When other newspapers began being published in Sheffield, he sold the paper, and concentrated on writing poems and lyrics for hymns. He died in Sheffield at age 82.

Everything that slows us down and forces patience,
everything that sets us back into the slow circles of
nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.

– May Sarton


There Is Another Sky

by Emily Dickinson

There is another sky,
Ever serene and fair,
And there is another sunshine,
Though it be darkness there;
Never mind faded forests, Austin,
Never mind silent fields —

Here is a little forest,
Whose leaf is ever green;
Here is a brighter garden,
Where not a frost has been;
In its unfading flowers
I hear the bright bee hum:
Prithee, my brother,
Into my garden come!

“There is Another Sky” from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson – Pantianos Classics, 1924 edition

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) American’s best-known woman poet and one of the nation’s greatest and most original authors, lived the life of a recluse in Amherst Massachusetts. She wrote nearly 1800 poems, ignoring the traditional poetic forms prevailing among most of the other poets of her day. The extent of her work wasn’t known until after her death, when her younger sister Lavinia discovered her cache of poems.

There is nothing I like better at the end of
a hot summer’s day than taking a short walk
around the garden. You can smell the heat

coming up from the earth to meet the cooler
night air. – Peter Mayle


Planting the Meadow

by Mary Makofske

I leave the formal garden of schedules
where hours hedge me, clip the errant sprigs
of thought, and day after day, a boxwood
topiary hunt chases a green fox
never caught. No voice calls me to order
as I enter a dream of meadow, kneel
to earth and, moving east to west, second
the motion only of the sun. I plant
frail seedlings in the unplowed field, trusting
the wildness hidden in their hearts. Spring light
sprawls across false indigo and hyssop,
daisies, flax. Clouds form, dissolve, withhold
or promise rain. In time, outside of time,
the unkempt afternoons fill up with flowers.

“Planting the Meadow” was originally published in the May 2001 issue of Poetry magazine

Mary Makosfske – American poet, prose writer, and retired teacher who grew up in Washington DC. She earned an M.A. in English at the University of Minnesota. Her poetry collections include The Disappearance of Gargoyles; Eating Nasturtiums; World Enough, and Time; and Traction. She has won several awards, including the Robert Penn Warren Prize from the Cumberland Review, and the Richard Snyder Memorial Publication Prize from Ashland Poetry Press.


The butterfly counts not months but
moments, and has time enough.
– Rabindranath Tagore


Winter Garden

by Matsuo Bashō

Winter garden
the moon thinned to a thread
insects singing.

“Winter Garden” from Bashō: the Complete Haiku – Kodansha International,  annotated 2013 edition

Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694) the most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan, considered the greatest master of haiku; his success came early in life, but later he took to wandering through the country in search of inspiration.

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.
– Audrey Hepburn


What I Would Like to Grow in My Garden

by Katherine Riegel

Peonies, heavy and pink as ’80s bridesmaid dresses
and scented just the same. Sweet pea,
because I like clashing smells and the car
I drove in college was named that: a pea-green
Datsun with a tendency to backfire.
Sugar snap peas, which I might as well
call memory bites for how they taste like
being fourteen and still mourning the horse farm
I had been uprooted from at ten.
Also: sage, mint, and thyme—the clocks
of summer—and watermelon and blue lobelia.
Lavender for the bees and because I hate
all fake lavender smells. Tomatoes to cut
and place on toasted bread for BLTs, with or without
the b and the l. I’d like, too, to plant
the sweet alyssum that smells like honey and peace,
and for it to bloom even when it’s hot,
and also lilies, so I have something left
to look at when the rabbits come.
They always come. They are
always hungry. And I think I am done
protecting one sweet thing from another.

“What I Would Like to Grow in My Garden,” © 2018 by Katherine Riegel –
appeared in Tin House magazine, Spring 2018

Katherine Riegel is the author of two poetry collections, What the Mouth Was Made For (FutureCycle Press, 2013) and Castaway (FutureCycle Press, 2010). She is the co-founder and poetry editor of Sweet: A Literary Confection.



About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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