It probably never occurred to the lady tending the nasturtiums in front of the locked gates to a derelict industrial building in Highbury that she was breaking the law. For to garden on land which doesn’t belong to you without the permission of the owner is illegal. It’s difficult to imagine though that anybody would object to the brightening up of their environment.
Lady guerrilla gardener caught in the act, Highbury, London Borough – © Pat Tuson/GAP Photos
Guerrilla gardening as we know it now isn’t new, in New York the Green Guerrillas, radical gardeners led by Liz Christy, were greening waste land in the early 1970’s whilst hungry, landless people throughout the world have grown food wherever they could, the Diggers farming on Common land is a ready example of this.
Lavender harvest with Richard Reynolds and guerilla gardeners – Lambeth North, London – © Paul Debois/GAP Photos
It became popular in this country around 10 years ago when Richard Reynolds a middle-class lad living in a council flat in South London decided to improve his environment by planting flowers in the area in front of his tower block. With the support of some of the local residents he made illicit forays, usually at night, into the surrounding neighbourhood planting on bits of waste or derelict ground, in tree pits or on roadside verges and traffic islands. Later he started a blog on the subject which brought together other guerrilla gardeners from around the country and indeed the world into a global community.
For lots of frustrated gardeners with no garden of their own and a shortage of allotments to rent guerrilla gardening is a way of getting their hands dirty whilst cheering up their environment.
Variegated ornamental grass with Alyssum planted in a tree pit on the pavement of a residental street in Hackney – © Pat Tuson/GAP Photos
A good way to start guerrilla gardening is by planting up a tree pit, the area of soil around the bottom of a street tree, with a little imagination these neglected dog toilets can be turned into something beautiful.
Notice pinned on tree above a tree pit – © Pat Tuson/GAP Photos
Some streets are famous for their tree gardens, Ockenden Road in Islington where the beautifully tended tree pits won first prize in the new category of Best Tree Pit in the Islington in Bloom competition making gruella gardening part of the establishment. They even open for the Chelsea Fringe. Its rival Wilberforce Road over the border in Hackney has its own gardening club which takes over the street for a twice yearly plant sale. Everyone loves it and the Police turn up to eat cake not to arrest the organisers.
Wilberforce Road plant sale, an urban street event in the London Borough of Hackney – © Pat Tuson/GAP Photos
In my part of North London we have Forgotten Corners, neglected areas of public space that are visible from the road, which have been turned into places of beauty by members of Islington Gardeners. These are a great asset to bees and other wildlife and increase the biodiversity of an otherwise barren area. These sites are now quasi guerrilla gardens though as they have the blessings of the local authority that help support their upkeep.
Helianthus annuus – Sunflowers underplanted with runner beans growing in front of a street sign in London Borough of Islington – © Pat Tuson/GAP Photos
Perhaps the most effective guerrilla gardeners are the plants themselves growing on walls or in the cracks in pavements, where they flourish and self-seed themselves without regard to property.
Corydalis lutea growing from pavement agaist old, colourful tiled wall, West London – © Pat Tuson/GAP Photos
Pat Tuson lives in Islington, North London and is a garden and environmental photographer specialising in in photographing plants growing in an urban setting. Her website Greening the City can be viewed at www.pattuson.co.uk
View her collection on GAP Gardens by clicking here.