Somewhere in St. Albert, there is a piece of public land that has been attacked by guerrillas.
They won’t say where it is or even give an approximate location because they want the effects of their Thursday dusk attack to last.
But they do not seek revolutionary social change or a radical overthrow of the civic government. These guerrillas were out for one reason and one reason only – to plant grapes.
“It’s somewhere in a public space in St. Albert. I can’t tell you where,” said confessed guerrilla gardener and former city councillor Neil Korotash. “The whole idea is to use a public space to garden. We keep it a secret so people don’t go and mess with it.”
Korotash admits it was his first arboreal attack but that he enjoyed the experience. At dusk Friday, he and an undisclosed acquaintance snuck on to a piece of public land in St. Albert and planted their grapes. To hear Korotash tell it, his accomplice had surplus grape plants and Korotash had no room in his garden. So they decided to try to improve what he described as an “overgrown public area.”
“It hasn’t been manicured or maintained. It’s just public space with tree shrubs, and some bush kind of thing,” Korotash said. “The land I used there was land that had been previously disturbed so I’m not disturbing any kind of native ecosystem.”
Korotash is one of a growing legion of gardening soldiers worldwide who attack undesirable plots of public land with soil, plants, shovels and sometimes even lawnmowers. Their goal is to make beautiful, or tasty, what once was ugly.
“I just think there’s so much public space in the city that could be used and there are some really neat examples,” Korotash said.
“It’s probably something that gives gardening an edge.”
But the municipal authorities might not agree with Korotash’s actions, despite the good intentions behind them. Aaron Giesbrecht, manager of policing services, said such conduct could be deemed to be illegal under the traffic bylaw.
“You can’t go onto public property and disturb that kind of stuff,” Giesbrecht said.
But while it might be illegal under the bylaw, Giesbrecht said municipal enforcement would defer to public works and how they view the planting plot. Glenn Tompolski, director of public works, said if it was a piece of public land, the grapes could end up being inadvertently destroyed if their location isn’t known.
“Until we know where that land is, and it might be an area that gets cut only a couple of times a season, if we don’t know it’s been infilled with something we could accidentally cut it down.
“If there are concerns, we would like to work with them and explain our service levels and what is impacting those.”
Mayor Nolan Crouse, when contacted and informed of the action and its intent, stated the city has programs such as Partners in Parks where individuals can care for public land. He questioned the guerrillas’ plant of choice.
“I don’t know if grapes will even survive,” he said, mentioning the city has planted saskatoon berries and raspberries in different locations in the city.
“I’m not disappointed that people want to give it a try. They just don’t seem to know we have a program.”
Korotash isn’t looking for trouble. He just wants to understand food better, where it comes from and, in the process, help add to the city’s appearance.
“I know guys in the river valley in Edmonton that have asparagus patches and fruit trees and it’s just wild,” Korotash said. “If this planting goes according to plan, we’ll see if we do it again.”
What is guerrilla gardening?
According to Edmonton Guerrilla Gardening’s blog (edmontongg.blogspot.ca), guerrilla gardening "is the act of gardening beyond our own back yards; sometimes without permission. It should be noted, however, it is never a guerrilla gardener’s intention to do harm."