Saturday, 13 September 2008

Book Review - On Guerilla Gardening

I suspect Richard Reynolds would be a formidable opponent at Risk. His - is it too early to use the term ‘cult book’ yet? - On Guerrilla Gardening is certainly a valuable vade mecum for anybody interested in illicitly improving the local landscape, but it also contains the kind of tactical and strategic savvy that you normally associate with a Garry Kasparov or a Ferdinand Foch.

Indeed, while growing things is at the heart of what Reynolds is writing about (“politics and sustainability aside, the reason I became a guerrilla gardening is because I love gardening”), there is a very strong emphasis placed on the ‘guerrilla’ aspect of his sallies: the book is liberally strewn with canny quotes from fighting folk such as Mao Tse-tung and Che Guevara, he talks knowledgeably about fellow ‘troops’ making ‘sorties’ and ‘strikes’ in the middle of the night to cause ‘shock and awe’, and he recognises the vital importance of propaganda – especially blogging and other social media – in winning hearts and minds.

The book - a comfortable size which uses photographs well and has attractive endpapers - is divided into two sections, The Movement and The Manual. The first part explores the philosophy behind nipping out in the middle of the night to turn untended urban roundabouts, unloved medians and even Guantanamo Bay into small oases of delight. Reynolds also gives us a whistlestop tour through the movement’s history from the time of the 17th century Diggers (hats off to Gerrard Winstanley) through the turbulence of flower power to the posturing of millennium protestors.

In part two he gives general advice on what to plant, where to plant it (or in some cases, lob your homemade seed bomb) and what to wear. I suspect much of the horticultural part of this section will not be a revelation to most of the Garden Monkey’s readership, but for the many quite keen yet spectacularly ignorant gardeners such as myself it is very useful indeed.

There’s much more to this call to arms though. Despite largely positive notices in the national press, reviewers seem to have largely missed or ignored a central aspect of this book. Reynolds himself claims that guerrilla gardeners’ main enemies in the 21st century are scarcity and neglect, Dickensian evils not usually associated with gardening handbooks but which he believes require radical solutions. While he specifically states that his warriors should act legally, On Guerrilla Gardening feels like a handbook to non-confrontational campaigning and a manifesto for social change. What we plant is important, he argues, but so is why we plant it, whether it’s for aesthetic, economic or health reasons. It’s not surprising to discover the title and chapter headings are set in a type designed by William H Page, not only a lover of ornamental gardening but also a community activist. For this reason, it’s likely to find a place on my bookshelf between Tom Hodgkinson’s How To Be Idle and Antonia Swinson’s You Are What You Grow.


Thanks Alex - More on Guerilla Gardening can be found here


patientgardener said...

I really enjoyed this review. Its not a book I would buy as having seen some documentaries on the subject I thought the book would be abit evangelical for me - I'm sick of eco-warriors at the moment! They are taking over at work, they are even auditing the contents of our office bins!!!!! But its nice to get a feel for the book and I suppose its something I might pick up provided I wasnt feeling hacked off with eco-warriors

Leatherdykeuk said...

I'll have to get this. My father was a guerilla gardener in his day. He used to be a roadside repairman for a breakdown service and every year would harvest a big bag of lupin seed from his garden and then lob a handful onto motorway embankments. Those lupins on the M42/M5 and M5/M6 junctions are his.