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Baltimore City

Armed with seeds

Whether she is throwing seed bombs, planting trees on neglected city streets or growing dandelions in art galleries, "guerrilla gardener" and artist Marian April Glebes is driven by the belief that we can heal the environment - and our communities - by growing things. A native of Silver Spring and a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art, Glebes is pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in UMBC's imaging and digital arts program. Meanwhile, the 26-year-old tends her own garden at her home in the Stone Hill section of Hampden.

Q: How did you start combining gardening with art?

A: I have an untamable need to put my hands in the soil and make things grow. Galleries can be these very sterile places - white cubes. I wanted to work with something more tactile. I want to dissect the notion of art needing a gallery space and put art into the hands of people who talk. Most recently, I've been working with dandelions - photographing the seeds and even planting them in galleries.

Q: Why dandelions?

A: Americans spend millions of dollars on lawn care. Dandelions are a bizarre sort of terrorist to our idea of the American dream, yellow spots popping up on these fields of green. Little kids love them - they make wishes and there is this magic fun of blowing seeds around. But adults fear dandelions because they threaten the perfectly green manicured lawn, a very controlled space.

A: So what exactly is a seed bomb?

Two other artists, Jaimes Mayhew and Kathryn Williamson, and I started a collaboration called Services United and created a project for the Baltimore Bioneers Conference with the theme "Using Nature to Heal Nature." The first guerrilla gardeners in the '60s made seed bombs, so it was a way of reconnecting with those roots. We make them from red clay powder, humus, and seeds for English thyme, white sweet clover - which is a ground cover that replenishes nitrogen in the soil - and black-eyed Susans, the state flower. You can throw them anywhere on the soil and chances are they'll start growing. Then when you walk past it, you have a connection to that site.

Q: What is a guerrilla gardener?

Guerrilla gardening is planting without permission. It's an underground taking-back-the-land movement, a hidden but also obvious action, like planting flowers on an abandoned lot. It's accessible on a lot of different levels, both by the people doing the planting and the people walking by. You're collaborating with nature, so it's pretty hard to stop. And who would prefer an empty lot to a garden anyway?

Q: What do trees and other plants bring to city neighborhoods?

A: Studies have shown that neighborhoods with more trees have less crime. Gardens and any kind of plants get people outside and having conversations with each other. There's a pride in your neighborhood when you look around and see plants, and the more pride you have in the place where you are, the better care you are going to take of it. When people are outside gardening, they're cleaning up debris, they're healing the soil and they're talking with their neighbors. And there's a pride you feel when you grow a vegetable in your backyard. There's nothing like that feeling.

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