‘I wanted to find a way of making my neighbourhood greener,’ says Ellen Miles, London’s posterchild for guerrilla gardening.
The 29-year-old from Hackney began guerrilla gardening in lockdown 2020 at the age of 26, with the aim of contributing to her community and to ‘foster a sense of pride’ in her local area by making it look beautiful.
She describes guerrilla gardening as ‘the practice of adding plants to your neighbourhood in any suitable spot you can find’, and her efforts have garnered her nearly 85,000 followers on TikTok.
Prior to the launch of her social enterprise Dream Green which informs and equips people to guerrilla garden, Ellen had no garden of her own and was introduced to the idea by her activist friends who showed her Ron Finley’s Ted Talk.
Finley is a guerrilla gardener in South Central LA who planted a food forest of vegetables for himself and his community.
He claimed: ‘Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do in the inner city. Plus you get strawberries.’
It was a ‘lightbulb moment’ for Ellen who realised she didn’t need a garden to, well, garden.
Since she began she’s discovered the endless benefits to guerrilla gardening and she now has a book out, Get Guerrilla Gardening, to help others do the same.
She tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Guerrilla gardening is something that sits at the intersection of social justice and climate justice because having more nature in neighbourhoods is good for both people and the planet.
‘More beautiful and less derelict areas have a positive impact on people’s mental health.
‘On the planetary side, we are in the sixth mass extinction right now so adding nature to biodiversity depleted areas helps restore ecological resilience, missing links in the eco system and halt and reverse that extinction trend of plants and animals.’
So, if you want to grow your own guerrilla garden Ellen has a beginner-friendly step-by-step plan in the form of the seven Ps.
Ellen says: ‘Some people want to grow food because they live in areas where access to nutritious food is really limited.
‘Some see themselves as rewilders so they want to create eco-corridors and boost biodiversity, others do it as a climate action to reduce air pollution.
‘Some people are doing it because they want to make their area more beautiful.
‘Whatever reason you want to start guerrilla gardening, they’re all completely valid, but you just need to know from the outset “what’s the purpose of this garden?” and then that will inform what you plant there, who gets involved and where you do it.’
‘There are so many areas of public soil that have been left to go bare because either the council has run out of the time and resources to look after them or there was never anything there to begin with,’ says Ellen.
‘Street tree beds are often left really bare. Think about how much light it gets, which direction it’s facing in, soil texture and acidity then that will define what plants you choose.’
While you can guerrilla garden as a ‘solo mission’ it’s nice to do it with a group.
Ellen says: ‘The more people get involved the more ambitious you can be. Bring in people with different skills like woodwork or painting or a horticultural expert or someone who is good at community organising.
‘Having the community involved means people can help protect your guerrilla garden, keep it watered, they’ll champion it if the council come knocking and want to get rid of it, and it’s more likely to stay.’
This is the stage where you design your garden.
‘What is it going to have in it?’ says Ellen. ‘Is it going to have native wildflowers in it, tomatoes, mint? What will work in the space? Maybe you want really low maintenance plants you can chuck in there and not think too much about them again.’
Ellen says: ‘It can be really fun to find interesting ways of getting your hands on stuff for free and sustainably, so instead of buying new tools, what can you borrow or find on Freecycle?
‘Rather than buying plants that have been grown overseas and shipped over in plastic containers can you get donations from your neighbours and save plants from going to landfills from garden centres?’
What you need and where to get it:
Plants, gardening tools, gloves, compost, mulch, water and bin bags.
Where to get them for free or cheap:
- Community gardens
- Facebook Marketplace
- Local recycling projects
- Fundraising or crowdsourcing (try Spacehive)
- Garden centres (for unwanted plants)
- Tool libraries
- Ask friends or neighbours
‘Planting is the crux of guerrilla gardening,’ says Ellen.
‘It can be a huge action day with lots of people planting bulbs in street tree beds, planting shrubs or trees, or it could be as simple as scattering wildflower seeds onto a road verge.
‘The planting bit can be fun, you can bring speakers and play music and get the community involved.’
The final stage is to protect your garden.
Ellen says: ‘Become this gardening angel and keep it there, the creation is just the start of the story. You can grow and develop and water it so it continues to thrive.
‘Check what plants are doing well and which ones aren’t and then you can adapt your planting and grow from there.’
A note on legality
‘There are no specific laws against guerrilla gardening. Certain councils will have their own views on it. The things people get pulled up for are public nuisance, obstructing paths or vandalism,’ says Ellen.
Ellen has received comments on her social media from people of colour concerned that they’d be penalised more harshly for guerilla gardening, and acknowledges the privileges that enable her to do so.
‘I would love to encourage everyone of every ethnicity to guerrilla garden, but I think we have a duty as white people to step up and be the point of contact.
‘This is another reason why guerrilla gardening as a community is helpful, it’s good to have other people there and on your side and if you are a white person in a group of guerrilla gardeners it’s worth, as I do, delegating yourself to be the spokesperson should anyone show up and start asking questions, just to take the heat off of people from ethnic minorities.’
It might not feel as spontaneous, but to avoid any backlash, it’s worth double checking whether the spot you’ve got your eye on owned by a private landowner, or speaking to your council before you go wild.
Get Guerrilla Gardening by Ellen Miles, £16.71
Ellen’s book with helpful tips on getting started, even if you’ve never gardened before, is out on June 8.
Do you have a story to share?
Get in touch by emailing [email protected].
Source: Read Full Article