Friday seems to be developing into my book review day, which suits me nicely, as it gives me a reason to plough my way through my ‘to read’ pile and get my books back to the library in time!
The week’s book is ‘On Guerrilla Gardening’ by Richard Reynolds. First published in 2008, it remains completely compelling. For those of you who don’t know, guerrilla gardening is essentially gardening without permission. It’s often confused with community gardening (and many guerrilla projects do get approval to become ‘official’ at some point), and more recently it has been hijacked by companies and local authorities to promote green living, events or or products, but it has its true origins on the other side of the law. Reynolds—a guerrilla gardener himself— presents a fascinating history of guerrilla gardening, and then moves on to more practical ways in which to get involved in more gardening, wherever you live.The timing of this review feels quite apt, as May 1st, always a day for the people, was the International Sunflower Guerrilla Gardening Day. Sunflowers are a wonderful guerrilla gardening plant. Irrepressibly cheerful, they are also great for birds and bees, and provide food and a fuel source.
Although we might think of gardening as an essentially peaceful activity, once you realise that guerrilla gardening is often about food production, rather than just beautifying an area, the whole subject becomes more serious. It becomes all too clear why people mentioned in the book, including the Diggers of 1649, Che Guevara, people in 1970’s New York and people living landless and impoverished today, would attempt to garden on land that is not theirs. Often, municipal planting is uninspired, poor for biodiversity and useless as food. So, stealing out in the dead of night to plant food crops amidst the bedding plants starts to make sense. If you have no space of your own, making use of land that is neglected, ignored, or just too small for developers to care about becomes an attractive option, even if you know that it has little chance of becoming more permanent.
I’ve never really understood why we cannot always plant for food and improved biodiversity in our towns and cities. If trees are needed, why not plant fruit or nut trees? Why not use British wild flowers instead of uniform rows of identical bedding plants, or grow herbs in amongst purely decorative plants? A potager type approach to planting vegetables together with flowers would look brilliant, in my opinion. Perhaps tidiness is considered more important than food, but as we begin to realise just how much we need our pollinators to feed us, then we should be looking to improve the habitats to support them, and as more people turn to food banks to live, perhaps we should be thinking more creatively about using our public green spaces as places for food production for everyone. Dig for Victory is not just for war time …
There are signs of change. Incredible Edible, started in Todmorden, is now a global movement, and the Edible Bus Stop project in London is making use of small spaces to grow food. There are also some wonderful community gardens emerging, which, whilst not being guerrilla gardening activities are a clear demonstration of the winds of change emerging. Also, do have a look at TED talks for some inspiring gardening and food production stories.
If you’re looking for simple ways to add wild flowers for pollinators to an area, try seed bombs. There are several companies making them now, including Kabloom and Seedball or you could have a go at making your own. And if you’re interested in learning more about guerrilla gardening, do take a look at Reynolds’ Guerrilla Gardening website, which he’s been running since starting his own gardening in 2004 and do read this book, I cannot recommend it highly enough.
So, what started as a book review, has turned into a bit of a rant and a call to arms. But I’m writing this on May Day, so so be honest, that seems completely appropriate!
Have you ever taken part in any guerrilla gardening? Would you? How about joining a community garden? I’d love to hear your stories…