What is guerilla gardening?
Andrea Bellamy |

I often find myself explaining guerilla gardening, and often I question whether I’m getting my description just right. This e-mail from Richard of guerillagardening.org is just the thing to clear the confusion, and I thought it was well worth reposting here.

Dear Troops,

On 18 May Anna from Vancouver enlisted at GuerrillaGardening.org. She is Anna 3000, our three thousandth guerrilla gardener. With this milestone, with the Northern Hemisphere summer approaching us and with a flurry of guerrilla gardening in the news again, it is time we looked at ourselves and asked WHAT IS GUERRILLA GARDENING? Should some one ask you I suggest you put in three minutes of study now by reading on, so you can reply to them with one sentence.

I shall assume we all know what gardening is. The question is what makes it guerrilla gardening rather than just gardening? Last week the New York Times and The Times in Britain reported the incredible two-day turfing of London’s Trafalgar Square with 2000 metres of grass as “Guerrilla Gardening.”

It looked amazing (we can debate this ecologically questionable short-term gesture another time), but was it really guerrilla gardening? It was done at night, it was incongruous, it turned a stone square into
something green… but does this make it guerrilla gardening? Not to me. It was a legitimate marketing stunt, funded by the London tourist board and installed by professional gardeners – it was what is commonly called guerrilla marketing.

Another new definition of guerrilla gardening popped up in a San Francisco newspaper last week. There they said it was “gardening public space with or without permission.”

That definition makes a lot of people guerrilla gardeners who are not and misses out all those guerrillas who garden private space without permission! Community gardeners, volunteer groups, even those municipal workers who occasionally ravage grass verges with their giant strimmers and ride-on-mowers (yes this last lot look like a highly mechanised force, but they are not guerrillas, they are just the regular army).

What is there guerrilla about gardening in public space with permission? The word guerrilla was coined in the early 19th century to describe the Spanish response to Napoleon’s invasion of their country. It means “little war.” If you have permission you have won the war. In fact you may not have even fought one. You are the lucky ones and should celebrate that victory and legality rather than pretending the fight continues. The guerrilla gardeners, who coined the phrase, in 1970s New York went legal as soon as they could and became community gardeners. This legitimization enabled them to achieve far more but would not have been reached without the initial guerrilla action.

Masquerading as a guerrilla belittles the endeavours of those who really are taking risks challenging access to and the condition of land, and it confuses those who might want to start doing it. “Guerrrilla” has become a groovy word, and some gardeners mischievously “sex up” their activity by slapping the G-word on it. This is guerrilla marketing not guerrilla gardening…

Guerrilla gardening is the “illicit cultivation of someone else’s land.” That is your sentence should anyone ask.

It is a simple strategy for winning access to space and a way of improving it sooner than bureaucracy will allow. It can be very politicised and it can be very low key. Sometimes it is a short-term gesture, but always it is done without permission. Those who have progressed to gardening in peace can celebrate, but do not forget your guerrilla roots. War can return, the land you have permission to garden may be taken away, and a fight will be needed.

I am approaching peace on some of fronts; tentative negotiations have begun about two locations in London. In those territories I will have become a Community Gardener and Volunteer Gardener. I shall not pretend this is still guerrilla gardening. On other fronts the guerrilla gardening continues.

Richard



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