In the last few years, guerilla gardening has taken off in the United Kingdom: activists have thrown seed bombs into parks to transform them into wildflower meadows, herbs have been planted around trees, pavements have been “pimped” by the planting of flowers and roundabouts have become vegetable patches.
Guerilla gardening in Munich has been legalised and spaces in New York that began in this fashion are now official projects. Illicit gardening in Britain has been dated as far back as the Diggers of the 17th century, socialists who strived for the right to cultivate common land. The movement was founded by Gerard Winstanley in 1659. The First English Civil War had ended in 1651 and there was much talk of alternative forms of government to replace the old order. One of Winstanley’s most oft-repeated quotes is, “Words and writings were all nothing, and must die, for action is the life of all, and if thou dost not act, thou dost nothing.”
One to speak in favour of guerilla gardening is Joanna Lumley, who was a Bond girl in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969, a star of the 1970s cult television series, The New Avengers, and revived her fame as Patsy in the much-praised comedy series, Absolutely Fabulous. Speaking on the first day of the Chelsea Flower Show, she said guerilla gardening had improved her neighbourhood, cheering up the local population and encouraging people to take care of their immediate environments and make friends. She added that it has even cut crime – there’s no vandalism because people treat the area with much more respect.
Guerilla gardening can be conducted secretively, by night, or openly. Unused and uncared-for spaces in most built-up areas provide opportunities: by pavements, at the side of overpasses, or on motorway entrance ramps. Supermarket chains could be amenable to having their land improved. Little land is required. Weeds, trash and other forms of waste may have to be removed.
The choice of plants has a profound effect on the success or failure of the venture. Plants should be able to survive with intermittent care. They should be able to grow naturally in the chosen area. Native plants will thrive with the available sun, rain and temperature swings. You’ll be able to drop “xeriscaping” into conversation – the use of drought-tolerant plants to beautify locations.
It will be necessary for plants to be inexpensive, as they will have to endure the onslaughts of such things as vandals, animals, or even budget-conscious gardeners. But gardeners could provide assistance if they lacked space but didn’t wish to discard healthy plants.
Maximal positive environmental impact will be derived from plants that provide habitats for birds, butterflies and other native species. The best plants will have an impact on people, making a place green and bright. Fertiliser can be employed, although it shouldn’t be something you wouldn’t want in the local water system. Signs could be posted to inform people to make them conscious of the effort and less likely to trample it or allow their dogs to employ it as a bathroom.
A book, On Guerrilla Gardening: A Handbook for Gardening without Boundaries by Richard Reynolds, contains even more information. You can also watch a fascinating TED Talk on Guerilla Gardening here
Timothy Chilman used to work in IT. Once, in Sydney, he was turned down for a job because he was “too flamboyant” (“Someone who wears green tartan suspenders to a job interview probably isn’t going to fit in here”). Timothy then became an English teacher. University students in Bangkok complained that he was “too enthusiastic” and company students in Prague complained that he was “too theatrical.”