A Constant Gardener, by Peter Sear

More and more people live without green space. If it is essential to us, being deprived of nature is bound to result in rebellion. The fight back began several years ago, but nobody could have imagined its collective potential.

When we are starved of something that is an essential to us something deep inside us begins to scream and a tipping point is reached. As the tide of concrete and tarmac smothers the last of nature in our towns and cities Guerrilla Gardeners have come forth to fight back in rebellion. Richard Reynolds is often referred to as a pioneer. Living in a high rise flat on a roundabout in South London, listening to traffic and surrounded by antisocial behaviour and sirens, he decided to break the law himself. He began clearing litter and gardening on public land without permission: fighting his little war with flowers rather than bullets.

Winston Churchill once described War as the ‘normal occupation of man.’ When asked if he was sure about this, he changed his statement to ‘war and gardening.’

Contact with nature is a natural requirement of life. Guerrilla Gardening is itself an organic movement, springing up when and wherever society demands, all over the world, answering the call of the collective. Now a worldwide movement, you can now go to the Guerrilla Gardening website, get your own troop number and start fighting the good fight yourself. We need contact with the earth and its life. We need opportunities to view plants rather pavements of litter. Guerrilla Gardening is changing the lives of the troops and the people that see their work. Even detainees in Guantanamo Bay have been Guerrilla Gardening, in attempts to make their surroundings a little more bearable:

‘Saddiq 754, built his garden in the grounds of the prison by softening the sun-baked soil with water at night and gradually scratching away at it with a plastic spoon until he had enough soil to plant seeds that he’d saved from meals. He and fellow inmates have grown watermelon, peppers, garlic, cantaloupe and even a tiny lemon plant. Saddiq’s lawyer had regularly pressed the Joint Task Force at Guantanamo to build the prisoners a garden, but they had refused. He was astonished to hear that Saddiq had just gone ahead anyway.’ (Reynolds 2008: 10)

Now, all over the world people are throwing seed bombs from their car windows and turning derelict ground into allotments. Opportunities for planting are meticulously sought.

There is scientific evidence, should we need it, that nature is a positive influence on our psychology. A study, at the University of Essex, found that 71% of people enjoyed reduced levels of depression and tension after walking in a green space. (Ives 2008: 10) ‘We grieve at some deep level for that close connection with nature we once experienced in an earlier period of our history.’(Marcus 2006: 285)

In nature we enjoy the texture created by a cluster of trees together; the scene is something that is more than the sum of its parts. Urban planners prefer to set a tree in a concrete square, every thirty-five feet, its closest roots imprisoned by a grid of iron. It is somewhere for litter to gather; better than no tree at all, but the beauty it offers is limited by design.

When we book a holiday a primary motive might be to seek greater contact with the natural environment. We are well aware that it will reduce stress and feed our soul. ‘One way to reconnect with your soul-level is to spend time alone in an outdoor place . . . you may feel yourself attracted to a flowering tree, a patch of sunlight, a rock . . . Ask this rock or tree what it has to tell you.’(Marcus 2006: 285)  – Now try the same with concrete.