An Introduction to Guerrilla Gardening

By GLOBUS Correspondent, Gwendolyn Tan

This is the second piece within GLOBUS’ new series ‘Sixty-Second Sustainability’. Within this piece, GLOBUS Correspondent Gwendolyn Tan provides insight on the phenomena ‘guerrilla gardening’, and all the benefits this grassroots movement helps to sow.

“Let’s fight the filth with forks and flowers”

Richard Reynolds, Guerrilla Gardener

This story did not begin in 1973 when the term “guerrilla gardening” was first coined. While the term came about due to Liz Christy and her friends spreading seeds across vacant lots and planting trees,  before eventually establishing a community garden now called the Bowery Houston Farm and Garden, the activity of illicit gardening can be traced back further. Richard Reynolds, a key figure in the guerrilla gardening community and founder of guerrillagardening.org, traced it back to the 17th century in Britain when socialist Diggers fought for their right to cultivate common land, in the wake of land ownership laws and high food prices. The term “guerrilla gardening” was only coined later in the 1970s and came from ‘Christy and her Green Guerrillas’, who thought their tactics were similar to guerrilla fighters working at a grassroots level against those who held power. From this, they started a global movement. 

At its heart, guerrilla gardening is “for anyone interested in the war against neglect and scarcity of public space as a place to grow things”. This simple principle behind guerrilla gardening makes it easy for anyone to join the movement. One can choose to plant herbs and vegetables in unused grass patches, or make and throw seedbombs, often clay balls containing seeds, into fenced-up uncared-for spaces. Not only that, but as little land is needed and one can choose to plant seeds that do not require constant care, guerrilla gardening is an activity that’s easy to join in on.  

There are many benefits to gardening as a whole, as the growth of vegetables and flowers can provide food to families, connect us with nature, spruce up local infrastructure and cheer up the local population. Considering all the benefits it therefore provides, it seems rather counter-intuitive that guerrilla gardening remains an illegal activity. After all, it encourages individuals to be respectful to their surroundings and brings people together to solve local problems. 

 
Additionally, the illegality of guerrilla gardening is, at its heart, a debate about private property. Although people join guerrilla gardeners to encourage self-sufficiency, beautify their surroundings, reclaim urban land for public use and good, or even just bring back food-growing skills, there are some guerrilla gardeners who do it precisely to make a political statement.  

Another question at the heart of this issue is if guerrilla gardening still remains as such if the activity is legalised. For example, guerrilla gardening has been legalised in Munich, and the Green Guerrillas are now a well-established non-profit that has legal permission for their garden. As such, guerrilla gardening has, in a way, transitioned into ordinary community gardening. However, this is not something to bemoan, rather it is admirable that such civil disobedience has transformed the nature of sustainability and helped in establishing formal community gardens.  

Useful links 

Chilman, T. (2013). Guerilla Gardening Takes Off – Why Not Get Involved?. [online] Sustainable Business Toolkit. Available at: https://www.sustainablebusinesstoolkit.com/guerilla-gardening/ [Accessed 15 Sep. 2019]. 

My Green Pod. (2014). Guerrilla Gardening. [online] Available at: https://www.mygreenpod.com/articles/guerrilla-gardening/ [Accessed 15 Sep. 2019]. 

Green Guerrillas. (n.d.). Our History. [online] Available at: http://www.greenguerillas.org/history [Accessed 15 Sep. 2019]. 

Binder, A. (2014). Guerrilla Gardening in Manchester: Exploring Perceptions of Guerrilla Practices. University of Salford. 

Annie Crane, Leela Viswanathan & Graham Whitelaw (2013) Sustainability through intervention: a case study of guerrilla gardening in Kingston, Ontario, Local Environment, 18:1, 71-90, DOI: 10.1080/13549839.2012.716413 

Header Image: Photo by Kyle Ellefson on Unsplash

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