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Guerrilla Gardening in Hillsdale

Posted April 2, 2020

Improving Hillsdale, one overgrown patch at a time

Various online sources describe “guerrilla gardening” as an unauthorized act of gardening, sometimes simply to beautify and improve neglected public spaces, sometimes as a gesture of social or political activism. Wikipedia helpfully explains that the term “guerrilla gardening” first emerged in New York City in 1973 and that the concept has spread around the world, even as far as Hillsdale in Portland, Oregon. Ok, I made that last part up--Hillsdale does not feature in the Wikipedia article. But we do, in fact, have our very own guerrilla gardener here in Hillsdale.

The formerly overgrown patch awaits spring bloom

Lee Jimerson first noticed the spot with the overgrown blackberries while picking up trash along Capitol Highway with the Saturday morning “Usual Suspects” crew of volunteer litter-gatherers. Later, seeing it daily on his morning commute, it really started to bother him. Stopped at the light waiting for traffic to clear, he realized that the overgrown patch of blackberries and weeds spilling over into the road didn’t look very nice, especially with the restoration work done in the last decade to the bridge over Bertha Blvd. “There was this nice bridge that had just been rehabilitated, and right in front of it a big old pile of blackberries,” he remembers.

So one day in April of 2019 he grabbed some clippers and hiked over to the spot where Capitol Highway heads toward Multnomah Village along the bridge over Bertha Blvd, right where Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway starts. He cleared the blackberries and the weeds and even scattered some wildflower seeds that first year. The seeds didn’t take, but Jimerson kept tending the patch, returning with his gardening tools every few weeks to continue the battle with the weeds and invasive plants and to nurture a young volunteer tree.

He scattered more seeds this year, some a few weeks ago and more just this past weekend. If spring rains keep up (not very much in doubt in Portland), passersby may start to see more green in the coming weeks, and maybe a few weeks after that even a beautiful wildflower garden in place of the overgrown blackberries. As Jimerson says, “A sign of hope before you cross the bridge.”

Is Jimerson’s gardening a simple of act of beautifying a neglected space? Certainly. But maybe there’s a touch of activism involved as well. As he learned from his experience picking up litter in the neighborhood, “There’s always garbage. If you picked it up yesterday, there’s always more today.” Maybe the activism is the hope that this act of gardening will encourage us all to take better care of our shared spaces. We don’t all have the time, inclination, or ability to hack away at blackberries, but we can all find something in our community to hack away at, even if it’s as simple as picking up the trash we find on our daily travels.

Valeurie Friedman


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