Gardening, a tranquil activity, becomes decidedly less so when coupled with ‘guerilla’. No doubt there are countless interpretations of this term, that is in fact a more or less harmless activity. Guerilla gardening can be loosely defined as “the illicit cultivation of someone else’s land”; if the practice is legal, it isn’t guerilla. The broad aim of this practice is to take back forgotten areas, regardless of who owns them, and ensure they are used to their full potential.
Who are guerilla gardeners?
The reasons for becoming a guerilla gardener are many; for some it is a subversive hobby while for others it is a means of survival. Some urbanites are possessed by the need to grow something, and lacking their own land, utilise neglected spots of earth. Some want to beautify their neighbourhood by tackling the plethora of barren areas.
For many in the developing world it is simply a survival strategy of growing food anywhere possible. In rapidly expanding cities, many highways are lined with crops as the growing population of urban poor struggle to adapt their once rural livelihoods to the city. In Honduras, peasants are reclaiming land expropriated by the transnational company Chiquita by subversively replanting their own crops.
‘Guerilla gardening’ as a term was most likely coined in reference to the subversive movement in Western cities that sparks intrigue and illicits tactful back-turning from the authorities. These guerilla gardeners are making a peaceful yet forceful political point about urbanisation and land distributions inequalities.
Are gardeners now vandalists?
Despite its classification as a form of ‘criminal damage’, guerilla gardening seldom harms anyone so it meets little resistence from the authorities. Use of privately owned land only becomes an issue if the gardeners begin to make a profit, or if the owner has plans to develop the site. This is more of an issue in developing countries where crops are often grown for profit.
The law relating to public spaces is murky and open to interpretation. As gardeners are generally saving authorities time and money by tending to public spaces, they are often left to their own devices. However, guerilla gardeners tend to operate at night or early morning to avoid unpleasant questioning. Much to the dismay of gardeners, there has been the odd occasion where immaculate gardens have been destroyed by the authorities.
Seed bomb brigade
A much extremer form of this practice, actively imitating guerilla methods, is the deployment of seed bombs. Seed bombs, crafted from clay, compost and seeds, are launched into areas otherwise inaccessable to the green fingers of guerilla gardeners. A seed bomb landing in a disused, barren urban eyesore will over time transform the space into a wilderness of foliage and flowers.
Technically, guerilla gardening is easy to define. However, with many different faces, causes and affects, it is not a cohesive concept. In constant flux, its’ nature morphs from generation to generation with every participant conceptualising it differently. To the Latin American peasant it means something else entirely to the chic urbanites of London. As a movement that blurs the lines between urban and rural, and in fact attempts to remove such a boundary, it is worthy of our attention.