“iT’s in MY nATuRE TO spREAD An iDEA AnD gET pEOplE DOing iT. i wAnT TO EnCOuRAgE OTHERs TO gET invOlvED AnD EnJOY THE bEnEFiTs i’vE ExpERiEnCED.” In the beginning, his decision to garden guerrilla-style was nothing other than pragmatic. “The gardens immediately in the vicinity of the building were in a very neglected state, clearly nobody was looking after them. However, with the bureaucracy as it was, I wasn’t very optimistic that I’d have been given permission even if I’d asked for it. I decided I was just going to do it and face the consequences if necessary.” When no consequences materialised, Reynolds cast aside the clandestine approach and set his sights on land a little further a field – the roadside planters in nearby streets. Encouraged by his success, he set up a website and began to blog about his activities. “I have an advertising background and that’s what I like to do: build websites, get into projects, tell my friends about things.” Thinking he’d invented it, he coined the term ‘guerrilla gardening’ to describe what he was up to. On the back of his blog, Reynolds’ activities received a fair amount of attention. “I became guerrilla gardening’s accidental evangelist,” he recalls. As interest grew, he began to research the movements in whose footsteps he was, by chance, following. The community gardens of 1970s New York City seemed the most obvious antecedent. Here, city blocks left abandoned as the economy crumbled offered space for those remaining in the city to get back in touch with nature and their community. While some gardens were used for growing vegetables, others became public parks with flower gardens, lawns and benches – a godsend in a city where open space has always been at a premium. Sadly, as the economy picked up, that part of the city’s history was drowned under layers of concrete. Though many landowners were tolerant of the gardens when the land had no value, most of the greenery was replaced by apartment buildings when the boom-times returned. Not all has been lost, however. On the corner of Bowery and Houston Streets in downtown Manhattan, the garden of community activist Liz Christy remains. The more he learnt, and the more guerrilla gardening he did, the less ‘accidental’ Reynolds’ evangelism became. “Now it’s quite deliberate,” he observes. “It’s in my nature to spread an idea and get people doing it. I want to encourage others to get involved and enjoy the benefits
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I’ve experienced.” His website and blog, which have seen a lot of work since their inception, are just the starting point. In 2009, his book on Guerrilla Gardening was published. He’s given interviews and talks to audiences the world over. And he’s been involved in projects across the gardening spectrum, from presenting an exhibit of recycled plants at gardening establishment mainstay The Chelsea Flower Show, to gardening with residents and activists in Sipson, the village due to be demolished should a third runway at Heathrow airport ever be constructed. Aware that large-scale community gardening projects are difficult to bring about, Reynolds’ latest idea, which he calls Pimp Your Pavement, could be the perfect alternative for budding guerrilla gardeners. A tiny area – the patch of earth around a street tree, perhaps – could be the perfect place for a quick, cheap, solo guerrilla gardening mission. As Reynolds comments, bulbs, annuals like pansies or – if you’re lucky enough to have something they can climb through – sweet peas, are ideal, but really the only limit is your imagination. This ‘micro-local gardening,’ as he calls it, is also a great way to meet people in your area. Ten minutes digging near Reynolds’ home turf in Elephant and Castle proves him right, as a bus driver chats to us through his window while waiting at the lights. For Reynolds, guerrilla gardening is more than just a hobby with a bit of novelty. He sees it as a way everyone can be involved in reinvigorating our cities. Though some might see the word ‘guerrilla’ as little more than a way to make urban gardening sound edgy and exciting, it’s worth thinking about its true meaning – describing the tactics of small, independent social movements. Should we really be sitting back, demanding councils care for our local areas, when money is tight and communities are more fragmented than ever? Reynolds thinks not. For every barren tree pit or unloved roadside planter, there’s a potential guerrilla with a spare few minutes to sort it out.
So get your gardening gloves and seed bombs at the ready, because a revolution is in the air oLLy ZannEti www.GUeRRIllaGaRDenInG.oRG
The Dream Factory