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Recommended: "Backstory: Green-thumbed guerillas hatchingsecret plots!"

  • Subject: [cg] Recommended: "Backstory: Green-thumbed guerillas hatchingsecret plots!"
  • From: ripley@iglou.com
  • Date: Tue, 23 May 2006 15:18:19 -0400

ripley@iglou.com recommends this article from The Christian Science Monitor

Thought you all might find this article from the Christian Science Monitor interesting.  My apologies for any cross-postings.


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Headline:  Backstory: Green-thumbed guerillas hatching secret plots!
Byline:  Brendan O'Neill Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
Date: 05/23/2006

(LONDON)In Stratford, in the farthest reaches of East London, a band of 
guerrillas has taken over a plot of land. It's the wrong side of 11 
p.m. on a hot, sticky night, the air heavy with rain that refuses to 
fall. Passersby - some full of a night of revelry, others only now 
dragging home from work - gawp at the guerrillas as they lay claim to a 
patch ofground at the entrance to a small block of apartments.

"We have reclaimed it from the local government!" says a youthful, 
ruddy-faced guerrilla, brandishing his "weapon" defiantly.

Another looks out for "the law," which might decide to barge in and 
break up this miniature invasion of one of London's flattest, most 
featureless suburbs, better known for having a big train station than 
for underground activity.

What's going on? Why has this bit of East London gone all El Salvador 
for the evening?

These are guerrillas with a difference. They're "guerrilla gardeners" 
to be precise. Their weapons are shovels and trowels, and they plant 
shrubs and chrysanthemums, not bombs. They're here to make green a gray 
patch of land.

It's true: If ever two words didn't feel right together, it is 
"guerrilla" and "gardener." The first conjures up images of Che-style 
idealists with make-do weaponry and homemade uniforms launching 
surprise attacks against a hated government; the second conjures images 
of the retired middle classes daintily trimming hedges or adding dashes 
of flowery color to beloved bits of land in front of their 

"We like the contradiction in the phrase 'guerrilla gardening,' " says 
Richard Reynolds, erstwhile leader of the movement thathe kick-started 
into existence two summers ago. Initially it was just him, on his 
lonesome, carrying out "solo missions of horticultural regeneration."

"I saw neglected, orphaned land around the dual carriageways [divided 
highways] of the Elephant and Castle [a big, smoggy, concrete 
intersection in London] and decided to do something about it," says Mr. 
Reynolds, an advertising account planner by day.

From these inauspicious roots, the movement has grown exponentially, 
sprouting new chapters from Vancouver to Brussels and inspiring more 
green-fingered do-gooders to venture out in the dead of night to 
prettify ugly urban spaces.

The movement's aim is simple: to make public space more attractive. 
Activities are organized via the website www.guerrillagardening.org. 
Typically, a resident who's had enough of living in a cityspace where 
things are vastly more gray than green, writes to the site and asks for 
help. The guerrillas decide which cases are most pressing, then ready 
"troops," and descend on a section of the chosen spot to sprinkle seeds 
of hope and regeneration.

On this recent night in Stratford, 54 of the "green-fingered 
terrorists" (Reynolds's words) are braving the humidity to transform a 
walled-in garden in front of a block of flats that hasn't been tended 
by local authorities for three years. It could easily, with a bit of 
TLC, host grass and even flowers. By the end of night, the guerrillas 
hope, it will. They are crammed onto the tiny plot, each digging, 
weeding, and gravelling.

"We're taking responsibility for our city," says Amy Littler, an 
actress, ripping some weeds from the earth. "This is about reclaiming 
public space."

From whom?

"From whoever should be caring for it, but clearly isn't," she 
declares. "They have left bits of the city to go to wrack and ruin, so 
we are standing up and saying, 'No, that mustn't happen.' We are 
bringing beauty back to the city."

This is a truly internationalist guerrilla group: James McMillan, a 
young oil company employee now working in London, is from Australia. 
He's come to Stratford to "put something back, I mean literally to put 
something into the earth of this city. I get a kick from the thought 
that ... a resident might wake up tomorrow and think, 'wow, someone 
cared enough to plant some shrubbery outside my front door while I was 
asleep.' "

Laura Galea, a Tasmanian studying in London, hopes her stint in 
Stratford will "lift someone's spirits." A group of 15 American 
Baptists are here to do a good deed during their tour of London.

Guerrillas believe this is as much political as horticultural, that 
they're having an impact on society, even rejuvenating democracy. It's 
reflected in their language, suggesting they're not only planting 
shrubs but challenging authority. Reynolds refers to "sleeper cells" 
waiting to "blitz our city with plants." Their "invasion" of Stratford 
aims "to create a new democracy of gravel and sparse ornamental grass," 
to "liberate this patch from long-term miserableness."

Authorities tend to turn a blind eye to the nighttime antics, say 
experienced guerrillas. And it's not inconceivable that financially 
beleaguered local governments might even be grateful. Residents seem to 
like the results, but they aren't quite transformed. Take Frances 
Barrow, who lives near a guerrilla-makeover done last month. "Yeah, it 
looks better," she says, "I hope somebody keeps it up."

Yet Karen Campbell, a senior consultant for the Union Baptist 
Association in Houston pitching in this evening, sees this as a 
religious experience: "We are redeeming a plot of land, and what a 
powerful metaphor that is - to redeem land for the good of people. For 
us, this is very much a Christian act."

As diverse people break dirt together and plant "seed bombs" on what 
is, in truth, a pretty insignifi- cant plot,guerrilla gardening can 
seem as much a search for meaning as it is an act of charity. It makes 
Mr. McMillan feel "useful [and] important" as a break from the office 
monotony. And for Ms. Galea, "it is better than just going out and 
getting drunk, which is one of the only options for young people these 
days. This is more enjoyable - and the effects last longer."

Perhaps guerrilla gardening is a response to the alienation of urban 
life - the distance urban residents and workers can feel among the gray 
monoliths owned (and neglected) by faceless bureaucrats. Guerrilla 
gardening looks like an attempt not only to make cities more colorful, 
but also to take symbolic ownership of them and make them more livable.

But guerrilla gardners make "a spectacle of civic duty," suggests James 
Heartfield, an urban issues writer. "People are always doing good 
things that make their cities nicer places, but they don't necessarily 
advertise it or invite the media along to watch. These guerrillas seem 
to want to make a statement about themselves and their values, as much 
as to transform patches of urban land."

In Stratford, it's now after midnight. The plot is transformed: On a 
budget of 264 ($500), weeds have been plucked, a ton of gravel laid, 
the mud enriched, shrubs planted - and, if the locals care for them, 
they'll bloom into full-on plants and flowers.

"Look what we've done.... We've made a small but important difference 
in a big city" says Ms. Campbell.

It seems that both a patch of land and the guerrilla gardeners 
themselves have been transformed by the night's experience.

(c) Copyright 2006 The Christian Science Monitor.  All rights reserved. 

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