“it is the self contained, independent nature of guerrilla fighters that make their battle so effective. Free from cumbersome bureaucracy and chains of command, a guerrilla is unplugged, off-grid and powered by common sense. “
writes Richard Reynolds in his book, On Guerrilla Gardening. His well organized informative book outlines the answers to all ones questions, who what when why, would bother planting seeds and cultivating vegetables and flowers in next doors vacant lot only to have the whole thing plowed under by the authorities. The second section is a manual for all would be guerilla gardeners. Throughout his book Reynolds cites many examples of individual guerilla gardening activities, how they succeeded or did not succeed against the establishment.
Guerilla gardening has its roots in the philosophies of Mao tse-tung and Che Guevara whose books, Yu Chi Chan( On Guerrilla warfare) details Mao’s account of his 1937 campaigns against the Japanese army in China and La Guerra de Guerrillas ( Guerrilla warfare) written in 1961 after Che successfully overthrew the regime of Fulgencio Batista in Cuba.
Being a more passive activity guerilla gardening uses flowers instead of bombs to make its point. However, because it is done illicitly it is often done at night, surreptitiously when no one is looking. The purpose is to appropriate a piece of public neglected ground, planter, grassy verge or boulevard with the intent of making it beautiful, productive or both. With an eye to site conditions, weather, accessibility of water and how empathetic passersby’s, locals and authorities will be, suitable trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals are chosen, planted and nurtured.
According to Reynolds starting small on a site close to where you live ensures a better success rate. The old adage of planting the garden now and asking for forgiveness later is a good mantra to adopt. Encouraging curious locals to help is another tactic aiding the guerilla gardeners goal.
Reynolds says the first guerilla gardening activity can be traced back 5 centuries.
King Charles had just been beheaded the year was 1649, the place- England. Unjust land rights, record high food prices and the fact that the average person owned no land, prompted a group of hungry men and women to put the wasteland in their neighbourhood to good use. Led by Gerrard Winstanley they called themselves The Diggers. Armed with spades and packets of seeds they set to work. More people joined the effort. Soon, those in charge in London heard what was going on. Worried the diggers would disturb the peace they hurried over to see for themselves. However, everything went well and the diggers were allowed to continue, with the assurance that local authorities could be relied on to keep order.
Similar groups sprang up in other areas. Increasingly the Manor Lords, not liking the independent nature of the diggers, began to respond aggressively, digging up their cultivated fields and imprisoning the gardeners. Several priests, who sided with the manor lords, helped crush the diggers resolve.
guerilla is a Spanish word meaning ‘little war.’ guerrilla gardeners attracted by the exciting rebellious image of the movement are anxious to turn every bit of space into a garden. With rising oil prices, worries abut climate change, and the fact most people on the planet do not own land turning every spare bit into a productive garden seems like a sensible thing to do. Growing food and flowers will not only feed us, the plants themselves will help reduce carbon levels, pollution and noise. as well gardening is therapeutic.
When I’m in my garden pulling weeds watering seedlings or planting things time slows. I notice worms curling away from the blade of my hand shovel frogs the same colour as the soil hopping away from my fingers brightly coloured spiders, beetles, butterflies, grasshoppers and others going about their daily business I can recognize what each vegetable or flower looks like as it sprouts, useful knowledge when weeding. For me the garden is an escape, an antidote to harried modern life.
The Guerilla Gardening movement has a worldwide ardent following and an admirable goal. Easily accessible shared land should be made available to everyone who wants it, for the cultivation of food flowers shrubs and trees.