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The Dirt on "Girlilla" Gardening

An all-girl gardening crew ventures into the wilds of West Asheville.

by Kelly Drake and Jess McCuan . photo by Hannah Combs

They’re not afraid to get their hands dirty. Nor are they afraid to raise a few eyebrows. Lauri Newman, owner of the landscaping company Farm Girl in West Asheville, has been beautifying West Asheville since 2004. She does plenty of traditional plantings—often for hip businesses like Sunny Point and The Admiral. Wherever she can, Newman and three female employees use edible plants, herbs and flowers like zinnias and snapdragons.

But Newman has also been going out on a limb lately, venturing into ugly and unruly urban spaces—planting trees in Haywood Road’s traffic medians, for example, and cleaning up vacant lots near the Gas-Up and Harvest Records. She calls it “girlilla” gardening, mainly because she and a handful of female volunteers green up spaces in hopes that others will do the same. “The whole point is to make it catching,” she says. “The more people see it, the more things will get planted.”

But not everyone approves of Newman’s radical approach to horticulture. Organizers of the West Asheville Garden Stroll, coming up Saturday, September 11, considered honoring Newman for her beautification work around West Asheville. But at the last minute, they decided not to give Newman an award because guerilla gardening is often illegal. Famous guerilla gardeners in New York City and London have been known to transform derelict lots into gardens without permission, sneaking in to dig late at night. Garden stroll organizer Annie Higgins, who also runs a landscaping company, says she personally doesn’t have any problem with Newman’s tactics, but sponsors of the stroll don’t want to encourage trespassing—even if the end result is green. “It’s the opposite of graffiti,” Higgins says.

Newman says nothing she does is illegal. “I’ve always gotten permission and lots of thank yous,” she says, noting that the only thing that could be questionable is the fact that she’s nailed sunflowers to a telephone pole near her shop on Haywood Road. Newman, who spent 13 years in the biopharmaceutical industry, says most people, especially the volunteers, love her girlilla projects. She doesn’t plan to stop giving them time and cash anytime soon. “There’s no reason street trees can’t be fruit trees and our shrubs can’t be blueberry bushes,” she says.

Posted on Friday, August 27, 2010 at 09:07PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | Comments5 Comments

Reader Comments (5)

Lauri that photo is most wonderful. I so have to steal the watering cans on the pole idea for my eyesore pole. Perhaps I will bump into on the stroll or see some of your girlilla work in West Asheville that day. I reblogged this to a little wider gardening world,
August 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher C NC
Great photo and article on FarmGirl. I have watched Laurie and her crew tackle many great projects and have much respect for her work. Laurie and I agree that there may have been some facts that were a bit skewed in the article and wish it hadn't focused on controversy, but realize that we both value that collaboration that comes with great community events like the Stroll and community gardening.
August 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnnie Higgins
Thanks to Verve for the FarmGirl Girlilla article...hope it will help us get some more Girlilla Gardening partners-there is lots more work to do! And thanks so much to the West Asheville Garden Stroll folks for all their wonderful gardening outreach and Garden Strolls. I loved being on the tour last year with the Sunny Point Garden. The Garden Strolls are a great and effective way to show people what is possible and inspire people to install or add to gardens at their own homes. I appreciate very much having been considered for an award and have no issues what so ever with the West Asheville Garden Stroll's decision. I garden because I love to, it is what I was born to do...to Garden and to be Elder's mom. So..plant more fruit trees, and edibles in public spaces and don't be afraid to do it yourself!
August 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLauri Newman
"Viva La Earth"
August 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLauri Newman
GIRLILLA GARDEN PROJECT: SUNDAY FEB 6TH FROM 10AM-1PM AT THE HARVEST RECORDS AND GAS UP. LOTS OF WINTER CLEAN UP TO DO TO GET READY FOR SPRING PLANTINGS & MULCHING. IT WILL BE LOTS OF FUN!
January 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLauri Newman

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