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  • Blair Anthony Robertson / brobertson@sacbee.com

    Amy Parker hopes to find a new caretaker for the guerilla garden she started in Land Park.

Guerrilla gardener hopes to find an heir to Land Park plantings

Published: Tuesday, Jul. 16, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1D
Last Modified: Thursday, Sep. 5, 2013 - 10:03 pm

Amy Parker's so-called guerrilla garden started with a simple burst of inspiration while she was out for a walk with her dog.

They strolled past a stretch of land along Sutterville Road in Land Park that looked unkempt, overgrown and more than a little ugly.

"I thought, 'What can I do to make my community look better?' " recalled Parker, a veterinarian.

That was 3 1/2 years ago. Gone are the pile of rubble, the weeds, the eyesore. In their place is a little piece of gardening magic, one of many guerrilla gardens throughout the region that transform overgrown lots, strips of hardpan and weed-rich medians into something particularly pleasing to the eye.

Now, Parker is moving to Southern California and she hopes someone will continue what she started. Recently, she planted a handwritten sign asking for a caretaker to take over the garden. If that happens, Parker will leave the plants there. If not, she will dig them up and take them with her, dreading the thought that they will be abandoned and die.

To the busy veterinarian, the garden became something of a part-time lifestyle choice. She tended to her hobby, bought new plants and met all kinds of new people. Many folks were curious; others were suspicious – especially when Parker found herself digging around in the thick of night during winter months.

"This project turned out to be much more than I expected," she said during a recent visit to the garden, next to an abandoned stretch of railroad tracks on Sutterville between Interstate 5 and the Sacramento Zoo.

Once she decided to make the garden, Parker spent her spare time tilling the soil, pulling weeds, planting roughly 35 drought-tolerant plants and, to her surprise, watching others follow her lead.

One mysterious person stopped by and installed more plants. A man who lives nearby offered his water spigot so Parker no longer had to transport bottles of water. (Now she connects three 100-foot lengths of garden hose). Someone else decorated the garden for Independence Day.

Along the way, during any number of otherwise solitary gardening sessions on land that everyone used to overlook, people would stop and strike up conversations.

"A lot of older people, especially old guys, seem to love chatting with me about the garden," she said.

Guerrilla gardens – gardening on land without official permission – are not necessarily as daring or rebellious as the name suggests. They're everywhere – in the suburbs, in urban areas, along highways and down quiet cul-de-sacs.

"This happens all over the country," said Bill Maynard, Sacramento's community garden coordinator.

Are they legal? Yes and no.

Maynard says there is no specific process in place to, for example, adopt a traffic circle and start a garden. In the Pocket area, residents have been trying for six months to get official permission to begin beautifying a large traffic circle, but the public input period "has been a six-month pingpong match back and forth," Maynard said, noting that the circle may finally become a garden sometime in the fall.

But many like Parker are doing it without all the paperwork. And what are they going to do, cite her for make an ugly piece of land look much nicer?

"I enjoy this more than landscaped gardens because they have a charm about them that professional landscaping doesn't have," she said.

Her favorite plant on the plot is a Peruvian orchid. There are also rock roses, bronze fennel, yuccas, catnip, Scotch broom, purple prickly pear and one very healthy – and very fragrant – desert sage.

Parker estimates she spends about three hours a month at the garden, but says a new caretaker could manage the plot in even less time, given the low watering needs of the plants.

Though the vision was hers and she installed most of the plants, Parker insists the garden itself belongs to everyone.

"I love it when I come out here and something's been done or added," she said. "It's so cool. I think people realize it's a public thing."

GARDEN HELP

Anyone interested in caring for the garden Amy Parker started can contact her at (916) 704-2453.


Call The Bee's Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. Follow him on Twitter @Blarob.

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