Auckland’s creative co-working space BizDojo Co.Space and British Council NZ hosted a presentation on 3 April by Richard Reynolds, a passionate and charismatic gardener and founder of Guerrilla Gardening UK.
With guests wondering “What is guerrilla gardening?”, Richard was very quick to clear up that it had nothing to do with animal gardening, or dressing as a gorilla to do your gardening.
Guerilla Gardening, put simply, is “gardening without boundaries; gardening land that isn’t yours, without permission”.
Guerrilla gardeners decorate public spaces for many reasons. Whether making a public statement, using it as a social meeting, or just doing it for the love of gardening, it brings people together and enhances communities.
Despite these connections and the positive results, guerrilla gardening continues to be a secret society of sorts.
Although technically illegal, Richard argues that it is not immoral, and he hopes by talking more about his and other people’s involvement it will encourage more people to open up about their own experiences and bring guerrilla gardening into the public eye.
“It could evolve from illicit informal actions into a social practice that the whole community can get involved in.
“I started by only gardening at night, but as my confidence grew I began going out during the day and I met a lot of people as a result.”
Richard has been gardening public spaces across London central for the past nine years, brightening up sidewalks and ‘pavement pimping’, finding groups of likeminded people along the way.
Richard explained the three main motivations that drive people’s guerrilla gardening.
2) Social Entertainment: Gardening in a public place can be very social, people often stop for a chat or to find out more about what is happening.
3) Love of Gardening: Guerrilla gardening can be traced back to 1970’s Manhattan where groups of students started community gardens.
Guerrilla Gardeners are constantly facing challenges and obstacles. Local authorities often do not support them, saying gardens can attract vermin or may be a danger by covering traffic sight lines on intersections.
“It’s very frustrating that clearly people agree with what I’m doing but nine years on I’m still having battles with local authorities,” says Richard.
Vandalism and littering can become an issue when a garden is not maintained, and pets can also cause damage.
“If it looks respectable it generally gets respected. As soon as it gets overgrown it gets targeted. Run-ins with dog owners is something I have to deal with a lot.”
Despite the challenges, guerrilla gardening can be a great social practice, as well as making a positive impact on the community.
Richard says he guerrilla gardens for both the social side and his personal love of gardening which started at primary school when he looked after the school garden in break times.
“I like to work on the more visible gardens as it’s more social, that’s why I choose pavements.”
He says people will often stop and ask what he is doing, and slowly more people have been learning and joining him to get involved.
“For two seasons we managed to have sunflowers growing in the council’s weedy rose beds. It was really satisfying actually.”
“I also see it as a social experiment. When you plant something in a public place and wonder whether people might pick them, and you walk past after a couple of weeks and the tulips are still there you feel better about the place you live in.”
Richard has often self-funded his gardening and has turned down some financial offers from major corporations.
“I want people to see it as a hobby. Spend as much money on it as you would any hobby.”
“What they [major corporations] are trying to get out of it doesn’t line up with what I’m trying to do with it.”
However, Guerrilla Gardening UK has started fundraising to fund some of their projects, and Richard has suggestions for gardeners looking for support.
“We’ve started harvesting the lavender we plant, drying it out and turning it into fragrant pillows that we sell. Fundraising now brings in about £1000.”
So what does the future hold for Guerrilla Gardeners UK?
An agreement with the local council has provided Richard and two others an empty lot of land to lease and run as a community garden. He hopes over the next few years it will develop enough to prove a community garden is something that is worth the council getting involved in.
Richard has also noticed new guerrilla gardens popping up around London city.
“I will be walking along and I’ll see flowers in a tree base on the pavement that were exactly the same as in someone’s garden nearby and I’ll start asking around and find other guerrilla gardeners.”
Fancy yourself as a Guerrilla Gardener?
Richard says there are four tools of the trade:
The final tips that Richard left us with were:
Find out if your local authorities will support a community garden or initiative, it all depends on the personalities involved whether it will start conversations that might provoke support
Take to the streets
Look out for patches with a lot of greenery so you know something will grow there
Start small, one small patch at a time
Talk about what you are doing, the more people you tell the more will get involved and your support will grow
Bring guerrilla gardening into the public eye – write a blog, and get others involved too
Also, check out the Guerilla Gardening piece on Seven Sharp:
Stay tuned for more developments from our Edible Gardens project for 2013-14, including the development of an urban physic garden later this year.
Please contact gareth.farry@britishcouncil.