You perhaps associate the word ‘guerrilla’ with something wild and dangerous, but guerrilla gardening is something rather different. Around here though it is part of an increasing frustration at the slow progress or inaction of those in authority. Because of the recession the local council has had to cut back services – although not pay for its many officials. One of the first thing to go in this ward was planters or rather their contents. Bright, sometimes gaudy, blooms that brightened up the area, especially in those places where individual gardens are few and far between. It was agreed more than a year ago that the actual planters could be used by local people to grow crops. Then came the frustrating bits – you have to have insurance, you need a licence, soil must be tested for toxins and all the rest. In the meantime we’ve had an election and many councillors have been replaced. And so we had to start negotiations all over again – with no effect whatsoever..
Which explains why broad beans have suddenly appeared in a large council owned planter not far from here. Also strawberry plants, garlic, cauliflowers and squashes. ‘You’ll get vandalism’ we were told – so far the total is one strawberry plant mysteriously missing. The beans are doing better than the ones in my garden and the whole thing is a talking point. Children from nearby schools have learnt to graft apple trees and soon these will be planted in the country park which has taken over the disused mining areas of former days.
We get requests all the time to create a garden – behind the library, behind the recycling plant, near the children’s playground and so on. Far more requests than we can deal with, but we plough on … or at least dig on.
As for being guerillas. Mostly we are ordinary, often middle aged, people without an aggressive bone in our bodies, who just want to make a difference. Civil servants, a teacher, the unemployed, a couple of engineers, a teacher of tai chi, former miners, a chef, a van driver, the retired and the every young. Over a cup of tea and a slice of home made cake we swap ideas and hints, as well as reports of all those frustrating meetings with councillors, and we make a small but appreciable difference. We did ask permission, and no one has actually said ‘No’.
In Scarborough, not many miles north of here, similar planters full of vegetables and herbs are in the middle of the main shopping street.
In Sheffield unused orchards are being reclaimed and green bombing takes place i.e. handfuls of seed filled balls of compost are lobbed over walls into the waste land around factories and small businesses. Poppies work well.
There are even special days. Last October 9th was International Tulip Guerrilla Gardening Day when hundreds, if not thousands of people planted tulips in places such as outside motor way service stations and other neglected public spaces. May 1st 2011 was Guerrilla Sunflower day – we’ll have to wait a few more weeks to see the results – but the birds this next winter will enjoy the seeds.
There have been ‘Adopt a country road’ schemes, and never have so many daffodils screamed ‘Spring is here’.
There are tiny patches of land all over the place if you look carefully – around bus stops – do you prefer nettles and thorns or French beans and marigolds? In cities, trees often have areas of grass at their base. Drop a few seeds accidentally next time you pass one.
Enjoy this beautiful world, and let’s keep it that way.