Having Discovered a Thirteenth…

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

Right. So. Yet another reason why I can not grow edibles in the Guerilla / Street Garden.

The other night we stepped outside for a walk to discover a giant patch of bright blue paint slapped onto the raw brick wall of our building… much of which splattered onto my plants below.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

There are so many reasons why I think this is a bad idea:

      1. I actually kind of liked the graffiti.
      2. The paint serves as an enticing canvas for further graffiti, which means this is only going to spiral into a never-ending sloppy application of paint that will inevitably fall onto my plants and the soil. Even my illustrator neighbor who is not into graffiti remarked that it was hard to resist the temptation to make a picture on that nice colorful background.
      3. Who paints over beautiful, aged brick? People pay big bucks to have that stuff REMOVED.
      4. The painters will also trample on my plants.
      5. DUDE. That blue! This is not Miami Beach.

And one reason for the pro side to this argument:

      1. The City has a policy about graffiti that holds building owners responsible for graffiti removal. They will actually fine the owner if the “offending” graffiti isn’t removed in a timely manner. Now I may not be a retail business owner but even I can see that’s a little unfair. People are not going to stop painting on buildings. The owner of my building could have paid someone to remove the graffiti but my guess is that whatever-colored paint was the cheaper alternative and he went ahead with this insanity for that reason. The only positive in it from my perspective is that the chemical used to remove spray paint from the brick is probably more toxic than that paint. So over time, repeated removals with toxic paint remover would have a much longer and damaging effect on the garden.
Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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30 thoughts on “Having Discovered a Thirteenth…

  1. that’s such a shame. maybe you could get the building owner to get some school kids to paint it legally — a “mural” rather than “graffiti”?
    and put a plaque up–that always makes things “official”

  2. That would be nice. We have had terrible luck with murals in this neighborhood. In a neighborhood full of artists they somehow find the worst.

  3. on the trellis idea: See I kind of don’t care about it from that perspective. He had suggested putting ivy plants in and I was like NOOOOOOOO. He also kind of has it in his head that since I did this whole garden thing on my own perhaps I would like to take up further work that saves him money? Oh and makes his building look good too… on my time and dime.

    So any solutions that make this my responsibility are out.

  4. Too bad they couldn’t have painted it that beautiful grey/black color you featured a week or so ago. Maybe you should “graffiti” it a bit with that color by painting the whole wall. I just don’t get why that color was selected. I have done a lot of painting in my building (sort of for my landlord) and he has agreed that I can deduct the cost of supplies and a little more (for labor) from my rent when I do projects like that. It’s worth it for me b/c it makes my “home” more comfortable. Any chance he’d go for that? (But, I know what you mean about taking on ever more responsibility — most of the time…not worth it)

  5. Tracy: I think the choice was based on cheapness. I’m guessing he got a giant tub of it from one of those paint places that sells off-color paints. We woke up one morning to discover the halls had been painted this color. It has since been toned down, thankfully.

  6. What Renee says — grow your plants UP! Forget the trellises though, vandals will only break them. Instead, grow thorny climbers like roses or brambles (or whatever will work in your zone). You might even mix in some fast growers for coverage while your thorny plants are getting established.

    Google for tips on attaching wires to brick without damaging the brick wall.

  7. I’ve got two thorny rose bushes growing and one large bush on the right side. Most of the other stuff along the back wall are perennials that die back. But they do get tall during the summer months. He went a little crazy with the paint because most of what he covered didn’t have graffiti. The taggers are mostly respectful of the plants and don’t do any tagging where the plants are very tall during the summer, fall, and some of the winter. Most of what looks low is only low during the spring when the plants are just coming back.

    Believe me, the taggers are not really the problem here.

  8. we actually did a graffiti mural on our builing in response to some really ugly graffiti tags. we got the ok from the city and funding from a local organization, and it ended up really transforming our neighborhood. check it out here.

  9. ugh. my first reaction is for you to graffiti it yourself (maybe some clouds?), but as you say, it would require time and effort on your part. bah. the only other suggestion is to put plants there that pop against the blue…

  10. it sucks that they were so rude to begin with, but I’m learning that everyone has a different idea of respect (some simply have no idea of respect)

    You know, maybe you should build is a forest of bottle trees–they would look really good against the turquoise and are supposed to ward off (or collect) bad spirits. :)

    I’m sorry people are such douche bags, though.

  11. I have clematis tangutica on my house, and it grow back each year bigger. This clematis dont die to the ground, the leave are growing on last year steem, so it cover really well. Maybe you can add some really big sunflower to. The sunflower they sell to feed the bird are cheap and really big.
    Because that color is really bad.

  12. It’s a shame, but sunflowers are a definite no in that garden… people are too enticed to rip off the heads and I end up with a bunch of huge decapitated stalks!

    There really aren’t any solutions to this situation. I will talk to him and ask his people to be CAREFUL next time. I deal with a lot of crap around this garden and just wanted to vent.

  13. Wow, after reading this and your 12 reasons article, all I can say is your beautiful street gardens have a lot of lessons to teach-about life, death, learning to let go-it could really be a quite profound thing. But I’m sure you already know all that :)

    At my farm, we a have a large parking area, yet sometimes people feel inclined to do absurd things-one woman backed up so far she actually ran into the log border of my bed! (if she would have crushed the bulbs, I think my usual pleasant manner would have also been crushed. And then she didn’t even say anything about it! She just parked there. But I’m over it…sort of.) There have been many assasination attempts on our little asian pear tree, despite our attempts to make it as conspicuous as possible. This year I’m in uber-paranoia mode thanks to my really dumb placement of a saffron crocus patch. Thankfully, they survived the massive dirt scraping and upheaval from snow plows, but the idea of the lawnmower attacking them is just too much. In fact, I’ll be putting a fence there today.

    I guess garden paranoia is prevalent everywhere, even for us country mice-it just takes different forms. I’m really amazed with how you can let go and just keep on keepin’ on. Bravo.

  14. Oh Sara… I very much relate to when you said, “I’m over it… sort of.”

    You must tell me about your saffron crocus experience. I started a patch last fall at my community garden. I have grown them in pots but felt it was time to branch out.

    Yes, I often say that this garden has taught me a lot about human psychology… and of course my own psychology is a big part of that learning.

  15. Gayla, is that a hand-made stick fence you used, or what?
    I just guerilla planted a neglected city-made bed down our block with some midwestern perennials. It’s only 4×10′ or so, yet is next to a corner store with high foot and dog traffic. As much as I tried to create a berm, we’ve already got lots of trampling action.
    You are so right about such spaces teaching a lot about one’s self, but sometimes good fences make good neighbors, etc…
    (Btw, I’m in Chicago and I like the blue paint. We’re a similar climate to Toronto’s, with more grey days than sunny and I’m of the opinion we need more Miami Beach colors around here!)

  16. Lisa: Yes, that’s a fence I made using bamboo. Small fences are absolutely critical even if just to signify, “Here is a garden.” Only goes so far though.

  17. In some urban settings in the U.S. there are urban renewal programs where local artists are able to paint beautiful murals on brick walls of buildings, under passes and retaining walls. This in part to remove an open space that might tempt taggers.

    The idea is that if there is a beautiful mural, taggers will respect the other artist’s work and leave it alone. It seems to be working mostly and we are able to have artists display their works in a large scale all over the city.

    Maybe your illustrator friend could be enticed to actually design something lovely and submit this idea to your local city councel. It could be done in the fall when the plants are mostly dormant.

  18. cool, i’d like to try it.
    a couple more q’s: but are they just little individual teepee shapes lined up, or is it all connected in some way? and tied with twine at the tops?

  19. Gayla, I just moved into a ‘new’ (actually really old) Toronto house this past winter. I want to plant a gazillion veggies in the back garden, but I’m a bit worried about if the soil is safe. I keep reading everywhere that I should get the soil tested – but noone says how to do that or who can do that. Do you have any recommendations for an aspiring toronto gardener????

  20. One of the advantages of being a gun-toting, rural dwelling redneck is that we can just shoot the little buggers when they sneak onto our land with their spray cans. Added bonus: their bodies make excellent fertilizer once hidden in the flower bed.

  21. Hi Gayla,

    May I suggest that you get a few small cans of odd colour paint, as you mentioned, from the paint stores, cheap. Then each time an “artist” sprays “art” on the wall, you just put a rectangular block of colour over JUST the area that was tagged. Use the bricks as a grid-guide. …By the end of summer, you wil have a nice art-wall that looks like a historical-happenstance Mondrian painting.

    Also, if you think that a few custom trellis’es-s-s would ward off the graffiti, then design them up and I’ll build and deliver them to you. Make sure you design them using 4 foot lengths (or shorter) of 1″ x 1″ wood, no curved wood. Send me a Adobe Illustrator EPS vector file, make it to scale. Then you mount it to the wall, and train the plants onto it. Same goes for a taller street fence.


    P.S. Sorry Ladies, this offer good only in Toronto, for Gayla, as I can only scrounge a certain amount of dumpster-dived premium wood.

  22. It’s interesting that most people do not know that paint is very bad for brick. Brick is porous and needs to breath. Painting over a brick wall traps moisture in the wall. As the wall temperature varies, the moisture changes between vapour, water and ice thereby deteriorating the mortar and the brick. Over time, the mortar will crumble and the bricks will chip and fall out. That cheap blue paint is going to cost your landlord a lot more than scrubbing off the graffiti. Unfortunately, if he takes the paint off now he will probably leave blue paint chips all over your plants.

  23. Alphatango: Thanks very much for your generous offer. Dumpster diving for garden items is awesome! The ready-built trellises you get in the stores are cheaply made and expensively priced.

    The thing is though, I don’t want to change the garden. The garden is good. The garden is great. I love the garden. I also don’t want to do any wall painting. I don’t own the building. I don’t even mind the graffiti. I think it looks nice. It’s the landlord and The City who have a problem.

    I really just wanted to vent because the garden has suffered SO MUCH FREAKIN damage over the last year and it’s kind of extra shitty when it comes from my landlord and my neighbors.

    Despite everything that has happened in that space I am not going to stop gardening there. I will replace every plant that is killed. I will continue to take care of it and work at it. I just need to vent about it every once and a while.

  24. Thanks for the articles about this. I live in SF, where I’m trying to start a garden on the side of my son’s school in the Castro. Yesterday, I plucked yet another needle out of there. And I’m positive someone is sprinkling broken glass on the beds. And oh, yeah, people pull out plants all the time, doesn’t matter that it’s clearly a school. At least I don’t live in the neighborhood. Can you imagine spending over a million dollars on a home and still the junkies dump needles at your neighborhood’s school garden?

    I will not be beaten by a bunch of sad people who have lost all love/respect for themselves/others.

  25. I really like the colour. It kind of compliments the foliage in the picture, and it sure ain’t drab. Though, next time get someone who knows how to work a paintbrush and a ladder.

  26. I’m a nerd and I LOVE the color! (I’ve spent far too much time traveling in Central America apparently!) I actually just spray painted a few large containers that exact color because it looks so great with foliage. Too bad the building owner didn’t do a better job. I mean – if you’re going to go for color, you may as well do it properly! (I agree though – it’s going to make a perfect canvas for more street artists…)

    I say hang a trellis!!!

    Luckily in Philly we have a very strong mural/mosaic program…

  27. Arg, that color is something else. And sadly, when we bought our house, it was only maybe one shade off from that. *shudder* After that much color, we painted the house a nice gray. Boring old gray.

    Good luck this year Gayla, I really hope this is the worst you have to deal with, but it stinks to start out that way. I’ve always kinda wanted a brick wall to plant on though, after Mizz Stewart ran an article several years ago (before I gave up on the magazine, maybe 2005?) about how to cover your divider walls in those weird sub-divisions that are springing everywhere. Mostly it was mounting planters to the wall and planting hanging plants, with some ivy for filler. It was so pretty and calm looking that it’s stuck in my head all these years later…can i come borrow your ugly brick wall for a bit? lol

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