Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Dig for victory

Armed with nothing more than trowels and a vision, guerilla gardeners are part Alan Titchmarsh, part Che Guevara. Their green acts of disobedience are transforming cityscapes around the world. By Joanne Clarkson

September 1, 2004
4 min read

What is it?

The pursuit of planting up vacant corners of the city is not just a game of aesthetics. Guerilla gardening can also be about regenerating urban social spaces that we are otherwise told to avoid. And it helps ward off rats, dirty needles and rubbish tipping within the disused nooks and crannies on desolation row.

Stories from the trenches

In the 1980s disused lots in disadvantaged areas of New York were turned into gardens for local Puerto Rican, Colombian and Polish communities. One of the better-known examples of what is known in the US as “avante gardening” was the Chico Mendes Garden in the Little Puerto Rico district of the city: a high-yielding vegetable patch was cultivated on what was formerly a useless area of waste ground. The garden was eventually bulldozed in 1997 thanks to the efforts of New York’s Republican mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his developer cronies, who were seeking to gentrify the area.

Closer to home, thousands of guerilla gardeners descended on Parliament Square in Westminster on May Day in 2000. The activists sowed the seeds of anti-capitalist sentiment on a grand scale, and distributed to their fellow demonstrators more than 10,000 leaflets stating: “Guerilla gardening is not a protest; by its very nature it is a creative peaceful celebration of the growing global anti-capitalist movement.” Their actions had a long-lasting impact: several months later a crop of marijuana plants was found sprouting in the shadow of Winston Churchill’s statue.

Sowing the seed

The online information network Primal Seeds is a hub of resources for guerilla gardeners everywhere, and supports grass-roots movements around the world. It aims to challenge the streamlined monoculture of monopolistic agribusiness, and promote instead a kind of food production that is based on diversity and community. The site is a useful primer for budding eco-rebels, and has information on soil health, methods of compost and how to make your own “quick rot guerilla pots”.

Around 97 per cent of the UK’s vegetable types have been lost in the past 100 years. In an attempt to halt that process, Primal Seeds supports the swapping of rare, local seeds by small community groups. Seed-swapping meetings, such as Seedy Sunday‘s occasional gatherings in Brighton, are market-style events that help maintain the tradition of sowing “heritage” seeds from local areas that are specially suited to local conditions. Sharing older varieties of seeds helps protect biodiversity. Corporations like Monsanto, in contrast, develop seeds that are designed to become sterile after one season: the emphasis is on profit at the expense of sustainability.

Getting your hands dirty

So why not cultivate your local area? Try railway embankments, back gardens, golf courses, roofs, car parks, even cracks in the pavement: anywhere where there’s a bit of soil. “The flower beds in your town centre could be growing your crops, right in the heart of the consumer landscape of burger bars, chain stores and supermarkets,” advises Primal Seeds.

Plant all kinds of seeds. To ensure a lurvely spring bloom, tulip and daffodil bulbs are best planted now. Or just spread wildflower seeds in areas that get lots of sun and be patient.

If you’re more adventurous, take small cuttings of a variety of plants from city parks, where you can really take your pick (it’s not really stealing), and sprout them at home – thereby increasing the odds of survival. Use recycled plastic containers as plant pots (yoghurt cartons with punched-out holes in the bottom are always good). Then go forth and brighten up nearby derelict plots.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair

A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook

‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali

Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.

Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent

Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art

Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs

Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox

Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite

Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead

Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee

Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power


3