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Lansing's Guerrilla Gardeners commit radical acts of beautification with seeds and shovels

Shawn Dyer and  Jamie Schriner kneel over a flower bed pulling weeds and using a screwdriver to make holes for seeds.
Sarah Lehr
Shawn Dwyer, left, and Jamie Schriner plant succulents in Lansing's Old Town neighborhood as part of the group Lansing Area Guerrilla Gardeners.

Across Greater Lansing, people are committing radical acts of beautification.

They’re arming themselves with seeds and shovels before seizing weeds and taking over empty flower beds and overgrown lots.

They call themselves the Lansing Area Guerrilla Gardeners, and they're a local offshoot of a decades-old movement. Guerilla gardeners across the globe care for public or neglected land, often without formal permission.

Among them is Lansing resident, Jana Nichol. Where some see a drab alley, Nichol sees opportunity.

Jana Nicol guerrilla gardening
Sarah Lehr
Jana Nichol, left, and Jamie Schriner engage in guerrilla gardening by gathering weeds and brush in northeast Lansing.

"I got a parmesan cheese can full of … wildflower seeds," Nichol remembered. "And I went through an alleyway and just sprinkled them last fall. So, I'm gonna see if they come up this year."

She joined Jamie Schriner and Shawn Dyer one sunny spring afternoon in Lansing’s Old Town neighborhood where they pulled weeds and trash from grassy medians and rights of way.

Dyer used a screwdriver to bore holes into the dirt between sidewalk cracks and near curbs. There, he planted a hardy green and purple succulent called hens and chicks.

“It's super neat because there you can put them in sand, rocks, just about anything and that root will just kind of seek out water and nourishment and stuff and then kind of grab hold," he said.

Dyer and his friends adopted the Guerrilla Gardeners label in 2021, although they’ve been leading stealthy community cleanups and carrying out surprise acts of gardening for years.

We sneak in, we garden, we make it look better and then we leave.
Jana Nichol

As Nichol described it: "We sneak in, we garden, we make it look better and then we leave.”

A Lansing Area Guerrilla Gardeners Facebook page has close to 100 followers, where members can share tips and plan events.

They’ve worked with groups like the Old Town Commercial Association to organize tulip planting sessions on the northeast side. Sometimes, the guerrillas ask local business owners for permission before installing perennials in privately-owned spaces like flowerbeds lining a storefront.

But Schriner says much of guerrilla gardening involves unauthorized micro-projects like yanking weeds from an abandoned lot or planting columbine flowers in a public park.

“No one is going to get angry with you for picking up trash and planting some flowers in a clump of blighted property," she said.

Lansing Area Guerrilla Gardeners logo
Sarah Lehr
The Lansing Area Guerrilla Gardeners logo, designed by Shawn Dyer, is on display in Lansing's Old Town neighborhood.

She advises: if you see a spot that needs some extra love, don’t wait for someone else to clean it up.

“Everyone assumes ‘Oh, the city will come and maintain it and do this,'" she said. "And, you know, the reality is the city doesn't have the staff or the funding to do it. It's our neighborhood. We should do what we can to make it look better.”

Lately, Nichol’s favorite guerrilla gardening tactic is scattering seeds while she zooms through Lansing on an electric scooter. She suggests upstart gardeners come prepared to wage war on weeds with a spade, a bucket and a pad for kneeling on hard surfaces.

But the grassroots movement isn’t about fancy equipment. Guerrillas say it’s about getting down in the dirt to take ownership of their communities.

Their motto: Making Lansing pretty one plant at a time, whether you f— like it or not.

Sarah Lehr is a politics and civics reporter for WKAR News.
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