Guerrilla gardening

Guerrilla gardening

There’s a splash of colour in my garden that doesn’t quite belong there.

It’s a bright orange gladioli, standing tall and proud amongst the greenery and the pale pink flowers that I usually favour. My beloved aunt went to heaven years ago, but not before popping a few random bulbs into the earth when no-one was looking.

Even though it’s out of place, it reminds me of our many happy hours together in the garden. She constantly admonished me for ‘pulling the heads off weeds’ instead of removing them with their roots, and I still think about her every single time I pull a weed.

She taught me to crochet and how to make the best tomato and onion salad (slice everything thinly and sprinkle with vinegar and sugar). She would arrive unannounced with a fresh chicken in a string bag, ready to cook for dinner. She never rang before making the two-hour train journey from Sydney, and I often wondered what she would have done if we’d been away for the weekend.

Aunty Dorothy was the perfect friend. She was sometimes hard on her own daughter, but gentle and uncritical with me. Once she stayed with us for New Year and we had an impromptu party outside with our own fireworks (sparklers). The kids sang songs, and she recited a poem memorised from childhood.

I can’t quite see her doing anything illegal, but she always went out walking with a pair of secateurs in her pocket so that she could help herself to a cutting of any plant that took her fancy, so she might have been a secret supporter of the guerrilla gardening movement (people who cultivate plants on land they don’t own).

The term was coined by the Green Guerrillas, a non-profit environmental group based in New York in the 1970s who transformed a derelict site into a garden that is still protected as a city park.

One earlier radical gardener was Gerrard Winstanley (1609–1676), an English Protestant religious reformer, philosopher and activist. Winstanley was the founder of the English group known as the True Levellers or Diggers, who seized public land with the aim of growing food to give away to the poor. Diggers Seeds in Australia, known for its commitment to growing and selling uncontaminated seed and speaking out against the corporatisation of our food supply, is partially named in honour of this movement.

Guerrilla gardening is also popular in Berlin and London, where the movement is led by Richard Reynolds. He recommends using mature, flowering plants to make a significant, immediate impact, or planting seedlings which are easily identifiable as not being weeds. Guerrilla gardeners are dedicated to revitalising ugly public spaces but don’t recommend growing fruit or vegetables on public land as they are prone to pests and diseases and need proper care. Fruit and veg should be grown in community gardens where groups of interested people can look after them.

Our own Costa Georgiadis (a hippy if ever there was one) famously supports the idea of growing plants on public land, mainly verges, which are under-utilised spaces. As Costa says, “gardening is about communication, relationships, routines and life-enrichment” and I agree. Gardening soothes the soul and brings people together.