On Guerrilla Gardening: A Handbook for Gardening Without Boundaries by Richard Reynolds

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On Guerrilla Gardening: A Handbook for Gardening Without Boundaries by Richard Reynolds

Category: Home and Family
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sharon Hall
Reviewed by Sharon Hall
Summary: Guerrilla gardening is a form of direct action, reclaiming abandoned land and giving it a new purpose. It is also a political stance, challenging issues of land ownership, the misuse of urban land and the deterioration of the urban environment. This informative, entertaining and inspiring book outlines the history of the movement and gives many examples of individuals who have strived to make a difference. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: May 2008
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 0747590818

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The term "guerrilla gardening" was first used in New York in 1973 to describe the transformation of a derelict private plot into a garden, although the actual practice is much older. As an environmental movement, guerrilla gardening is a form of direct action in which flowering or food plants are established on an abandoned piece of land, without the owner's permission, saving the land from neglect or misuse and giving it a new purpose. It is also a political stance, challenging issues of land ownership, the misuse of urban land and the deterioration of the urban environment.

Richard Reynolds is a guerrilla gardener based in the UK. Since 2004, he has been working to improve the environment in London's Elephant and Castle, by cultivating neglected public planters at the base of a tower block. His informative, entertaining and inspiring book, part polemic, and part handbook, encourages others to follow suit in reclaiming and improving public space for the enjoyment of all.

In the first section, Reynolds states his position, looks at the role of the guerrilla fighter in a wider arena than gardening, and describes the guerrilla gardening movement, using examples of the transformation of roundabouts, verges and vacant land in Europe, the US, India and the Far East. Individual guerrilla gardeners are identified by their name and sequential number: Lucy 579, an artist in South London, scatters wildflower seeds as she walks around, particularly targeting Hither Green railway station, whilst Denise 183 has planted daffodil bulbs on the embankments of the M42 in Worcestershire.

The most well-known examples are where guerrilla gardeners have transformed urban spaces into community gardens. One such project is the Common Ground Community Garden which was established in Reading in 2007 by local residents, squatters and activists (motto: Resistance is fertile), on derelict council owned land. Despite efforts to evict those concerned and demolish the garden, it is still there, and has inspired other people in the area to establish similar projects.

There are plenty of arguments to support this type of action including improving the local environment and making for more attractive places to live and work, involving and empowering people in individual and community action, providing places for local people to relax, gardening for health, and providing a vehicle for individual expression.

Scarcity of land and its neglect are examined in depth. The effects of neglect go deep and contribute to an urban environment which feels threatening and dangerous. Changing the notion of "public" space as being someone else's responsibility into one in which responsibility is shared is a crucial issue. Aside from land owned but not yet developed, a huge area of land is accounted for by the accumulation of small pockets of "orphaned" land such as verges and traffic islands. Although such land is mainly the responsibility of local authorities, little is usually done except to maintain road visibility. Guerrilla gardeners "foster" these sites by clearing rubbish, planting and nurturing.

(Not featured in this book and not yet allocated a number, Sharon of East Sussex has planted courgettes on the public verge as a gesture to the powers-that-be and also because she's run out of space in her own garden.)

The notion of weeds is an interesting one. Although some activists would weed a plot in order to establish flowers or vegetables, other guerrilla gardeners champion weed species, considering them worthy of nurture in their own right, respecting their tenacity and ability to survive in the smallest and most inhospitable places.

The second section of the book contains suggestions for plant species suitable for guerrilla gardening, such as species which are drought, wind or salt resistant and alkaline, shade, or poor soil tolerant. Scattering seeds, including the use of seed "bombs" is covered, as are tools and clothing. Suggestions for choice of location are made: publicly owned and publicly accessible land is preferred, rather than trespassing on privately owned land.

I found this book very inspirational. It is full of examples of people going out there and doing something to make a positive difference to our urban environment, as individuals and as groups. The whole spectrum is represented, from political activists seeking to draw attention to land wastage and neglect, to people who simply like gardening and who quietly go about planting. It is very thought-provoking, challenging the reader to reconsider the issues surrounding the designation and care of public land, and of collective responsibility.

If you liked this you will probably enjoy looking at a self-sufficient approach to living as set out in The Self-sufficientish Bible by Andy Hamilton and Dave Hamilton.

Booklists.jpg On Guerrilla Gardening: A Handbook for Gardening Without Boundaries by Richard Reynolds is in the Top Ten Green Books for Eco-Warriors.
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Buy On Guerrilla Gardening: A Handbook for Gardening Without Boundaries by Richard Reynolds at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy On Guerrilla Gardening: A Handbook for Gardening Without Boundaries by Richard Reynolds at Amazon.com.


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