‘In 2004 i moved to a high rise tower block in Elephant and Castle, London. I have no outdoor space, and was feeling the itch to garden. I’ve always gardened and I was missing it. The council weren’t doing anything with the neglected flower beds outside, so I thought I’d just take them on. I blogged about it, coining the term ‘Guerilla gardening’ - only to discover later that the term had been around since the 70s - and accidentally kickstarted the modern flowering of guerilla gardening.
I still live in the same tower block; I continue to look after the beds, and I get invited to talk about what I do and what I’ve learned, around the world. The largest and most spectacular patch I look after is a huge raised bed on a traffic island, almost the size of a tennis court, near Lambeth North tube station. That was just grass and cabbage palm, and it’s now got lavender, shrubs, a cherry tree and Californian poppies! The beds beneath my block are now legitimised and contain a shrubbery, apple trees, elders, hollyhocks, lilacs, hydrangeas, sweet box, fuschias, fennel, roses – a real hotch-potch, cottage-garden.
In other parts of London - Lambeth and Camden, councils are encouraging, and provide guidelines and resources, but the need to be a guerrilla where I am continues. I look at cities like Rotterdam, Amsterdam, even Los Angeles, where there’s so much empowerment for people to go and garden in public spaces, it changes the whole character of the city and very few places in Britain are like that.
I have two children, the older of whom, Zoya, is two and a half, and it’s great fun having a young companion to do the gardening with me. For her, it’s an adventure, her eyes light up when we go out. She likes digging and finding worms, and she’s a natural gardener. Unfortunately, particularly in the inner city, a lot of children are told “Don’t get dirty, be careful, you’ll get infected or hurt yourself” but I’m a bit more relaxed about that. She’s also very good at spotting litter. She’s got a good eye – she sees things from a different angle to me so sometimes spots things I don’t see.’
Make your part of town green and more serene
- THROW SEEDBOMBS Make your bombs at home with clay-heavy soil, pack some seeds into them, then lob them onto scrappy patches of ground on the off-chance that something might grow. Use a native seed mix and make sure that the waste area isn’t completely compacted or full of grass. It’s fun to go back and to look out for what’s grown there.
- BRIGHTEN UP TREE PITS Tree pits are the beds around the bottom of trees. Make the tree pits a little big bigger, and ideally give them a bit of an edging. Remove any sand - be careful not to damage the roots of the trees - put in some good top soil, some manure, invest in the fertility of the soil, and it’ll be a lot easier. You could scatter seeds - calendula, sunflowers, californian poppies, that kind of thing. If you have a bit more money, put in some small plants - foxgloves or hollyhocks.
- SCATTER SEEDS Last year, there was a lot of construction work near us, which meant there was a lot of freshly turned soil along the edge of pavements. We scattered a box of white alyssum seed all along the edge of a path, and it was an absolute triumph.
This article was first published in The Green Parent Issue 71. To read content from all our back issues subscribe to our digital editions and get full access to our archive.