Guerilla Gardening

Melissa Casteel

Seeing Anew: Melissa Casteel – oil on canvas, 11” x 14”

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Landscape architect creates gardens and events to seed a spontaneous arts community

Melissa Casteel is a landscape architect and Principal of Mondo Land Planning+Design. In 2012 she partnered with community advocate Pat Tanner to co-found GROW, a volunteer organization for enhancing the downtown area and promoting community arts and activity. Melissa serves on the board of Main Street, and is the site designer and donor for Elm Street Cultural Arts Village.


I moved to Woodstock because we wanted to live … where I could make a difference.

Melissa Casteel speaks in measured tones, her voice often serious. At first she seems an unlikely advocate for arts and spontaneity. We sit at the Crossings in downtown Woodstock, where the morning sun illuminates her dark hair against the bright flowers all around us, fruits of GROW volunteer labor.

Ann: What is ‘landscape architecture’? How does it relate to GROW?

Melissa: One definition of landscape architecture could be ‘designing the human experience.’ It means people interact in a public space based on how it’s designed. People usually aren’t aware of that. A small example might be the color of these chairs.” She points to the bright periwinkle chairs outside PURE. “People don’t think much about the color. But it sends out a subliminal message. If these were plain wood, the space would feel more ordinary. A bright color says, This is urban, this has energy.

GROW stands for ‘Green Reaps Opportunity for Woodstock.’ The original impulse was to improve the downtown area. We do most of the plantings, and we coordinate the watering and adoption of the planters by the businesses.

A different GROW project made Woodstock one of the first two cities in Georgia to participate in International ‘Park(ing) Day.’ It’s a movement to take a piece of land the size of a parking space and transform it for one day into a public park.

The first year we created a public garden, but the second year we did a live re-enactment of the painting ‘Sunday Afternoon in the Park’ by Seurat. That got a lot of attention. Groups in other places have made parking spaces into free health clinics, built art installations, done free bike repair shops, even hosted a wedding. The vision of PARK(ing) Day is to challenge people’s ideas about public spaces and inspire them to participate in the civic processes that shape it.”

Ann: What do you envision for GROW in Woodstock’s future?

Melissa: My big wish list is urban art – murals and sculptures. Chattanooga has done a great job of that. The Beltline in Atlanta is another model. They have art and events that create a sense of community.

I’d like to experiment with guerilla gardening. You go into a public space at night, transform it with plants, art, whatever. People react in the morning by using the space in a totally different way. An example of a guerilla project might be to tape out a huge hop scotch grid on a street during the night.”

Ann: What GROW projects have received the most notice?

Melissa: The Christmas balls! These were huge, multi-colored balls we put up in the trees downtown. They had a Dr. Suess feel, and the trees came to life. The public response was overwhelming. People driving through were so excited, they would stop to tell us these were the most beautiful decorations they had ever seen.”

Ann: What do you want people to know about GROW?

Melissa: We’re not just a gardening group! We’re open to all ages, men and women. You can bring kids. There are social activities. The common interests of the group are garden enthusiasts, and public art.

I moved to Woodstock because we wanted to live in a small community where our daughter could walk to school, where I could make a difference.


In her quiet way, Melissa is shaping this town with a unique vision.


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