Guerrilla Gardening

Hilo has seen an unexpected outbreak of… pleasant greenery?

Sam Robinson takes gardening into her own hands.

Photo: Josh Fletcher

Walking around the bayfront in downtown Hilo, it’s not obvious that the streets here have been “guerilla gardened.” The hanging planters and garden plots seem like a natural feature in their surroundings.

Yet guerrilla gardened they were, just as in other places, from London to New York to Los Angeles, where groups of green thumbs are engaging in “illicit cultivation,” as they call it, in order to reclaim spaces, like overgrown traffic medians, that have been neglected by city governments or private owners.  Guerilla gardening isn’t focused on planting on city streets without the permission of authorities; rather, what makes this type of gardening so revolutionary is that it is a simple, sustainable and affordable solution to beautifying a community.

In Hilo, some of these plantings were done by Sam Robinson. She had gone to city officials to ask about planting fruits and vegetables, and was told that she would need permission from several agencies. She says she was “not going to wait for other people,” and instead, by the light of the moon and without bureaucratic constraints, started planting donated native plants around town. 

Although Robinson still does not have explicit permission to garden, nowadays, her gardening activities have become more organized through her efforts to involve local Girl Scout troops. For Robinson, connecting kids to their food source has taken precedence over her nighttime planting pursuits. She becomes excited simply describing how oftentimes when working outside with the Girl Scouts, community members will walk by and tell them how great their garden looks.

Encouraging people to take notice and responsibility for the environment is a primary goal of guerrilla gardening and certainly happening in Hilo. Robinson explains that we are lucky to live in a place where things grow so easily. In many cases, she says, “I just start the garden, people take notice and have continued to take care of them on their own.”