BUENOS AIRES (Reuters Life!) - Forget potted plants and privet hedges; a group of Buenos Aires artists want to make the Argentine capital a free-for-all kitchen garden, turning neglected parks and verges into verdant vegetable patches.
Following in the footsteps of "guerrilla gardeners" who have been scattering flower seeds in vacant lots and roadsides in cities such as London and New York since the 1970s, the Articultores group is taking the concept a step further.
Armed with vegetable seedlings and seed bombs -- seeds packed with mud for throwing into neglected urban spaces, their goal is to provide organic food for city residents.
"We want to make the city prettier, but in a different way. The zucchini plant can be as beautiful as an orchid, but it can be eaten," said Articultores coordinator Judith Villamayor after watering vegetables planted next to a parking lot.
"Our goal is for people to find carrots, courgettes or quinoa when they take a stroll ... and we want to show them how to care after the crops," she said.
The Articultores, whose name roughly translates as Arty Farmers, have thrown thousands of seed bombs in and around the sprawling capital city since they started meeting in 2009.
Although providing free vegetables amid soaring food prices in Argentina lies at the heart of the group's raison d'etre, they call their raids "performances" that aim to inspire people to shun supermarkets and go organic.
The group runs workshops in schools and members encourage residents to save fruit and vegetable seeds to grow their own, and to nurture the fledgling vegetable gardens.
"I should come back in a few weeks to see how the plants are doing ... I hope someone gives them some water here," said Sol Ulacia, a 29-year-old Mexican student, after planting corn seedlings in a rundown public garden.
Group members say getting residents to pick up the baton is their biggest challenge.
A plot in the Bohemian neighborhood of San Telmo, where they planted quinoa, carrots and avocados a few months ago, has become strewn with garbage.
"We have to clean the litter away and encourage them to look after the plants," Villamayor said. "It shouldn't be strange to see a neighbor watering a public garden. Food, vegetables, that is the universal language."
Guerrilla gardeners have traditionally operated under the cover of darkness to avoid detection by local authorities, but the Articultores say the police have never troubled them and that doing raids during daylight helps raise public awareness.
"Only once I was stopped by a policeman. He asked me whether there were marijuana seeds in the bomb. I said 'no' and gave him one. He gave it a sniff and said we could continue," said artist Martin Maistrello.
(Writing by Eduardo Garcia, Editing by Helen Popper)