In the dead of night a clandestine group of street artists transform neglected, urban areas into colourful representations of modern life.
Under the cover of darkness, the gang work tirelessly, avoiding the gaze of the local constabulary, to create their masterpiece. But these are no graffiti artists leaving their tags on shop front shutters, upsetting the elderly with their efforts. On the contrary, their work would bring a smile to the face to the most supercilious of art critic. Meet Richard Reynolds and the Guerrilla Gardeners...
- What is Guerrilla Gardening?
The illicit cultivation of someone else’s land – usually public and neglected land.
- Why did you set up GuerrillaGardening.org?
First as a personal blog of my own solo activity, in October 2004. But since then it’s grown into a hub for guerrilla gardeners of all kinds, all over the world.
- How many people are now involved now?
Nearly 6000 have signed up to GuerrillaGardening.org, and I often meet many more just getting on with it in their neighbourhood.
- Where can we see your work?
Mostly around SE1 (Southbank and Waterloo). The “London Lavender Field” is a huge double traffic island on Westminster Bridge Road just south of Lambeth North Tube. There are the cascading planters beneath Perronet House on London Road, other small beds around this area – and a large triangle south of Blackfriar’s Bridge with huge display of sunflowers in summer. Permission was never sought for these gardens. It’s only been granted lately in the beds outside Perronet House, where I live.
- Some might say you’re the Banksy of the gardening world. How does it feel when the public react to your work?
I see a reaction when I’m out there gardening. If there’s a few of us, people often stop to share their surprise, interest and thanks with us. It’s all part of the satisfaction – not just sharing the garden, but making people realise that we just love to do it, that it’s not a job, but something that brings us all some pleasure – hopefully! The giant sunflowers opposite parliament brought some smiles and turned heads. The difference for me between Banksy’s work and guerrilla gardening is that anyone can quite easily guerrilla garden, and there’s less of an obvious statement or gag about what we do.
- Have your efforts to brighten up urban spaces ever got you into trouble with the law?
I was threatened with arrest for criminal damage for preparing a flowerbed on the Elephant & Castle roundabout. It’s on You Tube.
- What piece of work are you most proud of?
The Lavender Field. It’s massive; it’s not just beautiful but fragrant. The owners of the land (Southwark Council and Lambeth) have ignored our work, so we just get on with it. For three years now at the end of the summer we’ve cut back the lavender and made hundreds of scented pillows with the harvest.
- What’s happening with guerrilla gardening in 2009?
I want to spread the message far and wide. I’m off to Botswana, Linz, Zagreb and numerous UK village halls, getting people to guerrilla garden locally. As for my patch, there’s always more to be planted, weeds to clear and locals to win round. I’m also seeing more and more people get into sunflower planting. Two years ago guerrillas in Brussels declared May 1 International Sunflower Guerrilla Day and it’s been catching on. I hope 2009 will see even more prolific sunflower planting.
- Amplify want to bring a touch of GG to the office with a desktop gardening kit. What are your top five tips for desktop gardens stay healthy and blooming?
- Avoid plants that need lots of natural light – unless you’ve got a bright windowsill
- It’s easy to kill plants with too much water. Once a week max unless it’s baking hot.
- If you’re buying pot plants, re-pot them into slightly bigger pots with fresh soil fairly soon. Plants thrive in pots just a bit bigger than their roots. Like kids and their shoes, give them bigger pots every year or so if they’re young.
- If you kill something don’t fret. It’s only a plant! Have another go, learn from your mistakes.
- If it thrives take a cutting and make some new plants for free. Cuttings from lots of house plants are really easy. Begonias for example can be picked as leaf and stem, put in a vase for a few weeks until they root then planted in a new pot of soil.
- What types of plants thrive in the office?
For beautiful leaves and something out of the ordinary, Purple Shamrock (Oxalis triangularis) or Begonia rex. The old favourite, and almost impossible to kill, Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) and Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum wallisii) which purifies the air. Cress (Lepidium sativum) and basil (Ocimum basilicum) grow easily from seed – and you can sprinkle them on your lunch.
- What advice would you give to any wannabe Guerrilla Gardeners?
Get out there and do something simple – like sow some sunflowers or plant bulbs near to where you live. With each small victory you’ll be encouraged to do more, share your success and get more people involved.