On Guerilla Gardening | Book Review

I didn’t know what to expect heading into this book; The back had no synopsis and all I had to go by was a pretty retro-artsy front and some enticing words. “Handbook for gardening without boundaries”? Sounds awesome! Sign me up!

Flower Power on the outside, very flower power on the inside as well. My notes for my review can be seen stuck between a few of the pages.

This book is a labor of love and passion. That was the first thought I had when I had finished the last page and tried to gather my thoughts. Well-crafted, almost poetic in its approach at times and as I went in expecting a handbook on how to plant flowers in the night as some form of flower-ninja, I got so much more out of the text within: I got inspired. More on that later.

Richard Reynolds, the author of On Guerrilla Gardening, has been attacking spots in London (and elsewhere) with plants for a long, long time. His blog over at GuerrillaGardening.org has been open since 2004 and is still going strong. This book I’m reviewing today is from 2008. That is a lot of time not only physically planting plants, but also reporting on the events of the “Guerrilla”-community all over the world.

So, what is a Guerrilla gardener exactly? Simply put: Someone that grows plants (vegetables, flowers, fruits) on a place someone else owns no mater if its public, private or abandoned property. Every neglected or non-planted spot is an opportunity for the guerrilla gardener to grow something.

The Guerilla is commander and front-line soldier all in one. It is the self-contained, independent nature of guerrilla fighters that makes their battle so effective. Free from cumbersome bureaucracy and chains of command, a guerrilla is unplugged, off-grid and powered by common sense” – Richard Reynolds

The first parts of the book covers stories and events of this community, creating an amazing backbone for the book to rest upon – The adventures told are unbelievably refreshing and warms the heart: From Saddiq, a prisoner of Guantanamo Bay that made a garden with just a plastic spoon and some seeds from his prison dinners to the anonymous Marijuana-farmer that almost got caught growing over 3000 plants on Rupert Murdoch’s Estate.

Sprinkled throughout the book is some amazing photographs that sets the mood for the text.

There is a ton of stories like the two examples given above and draws parallels from historical events,which gave me a lot of topics, names and organisations to research on and learn about beyond the pages of the book. That is something I always appreciate. There is always a great pleasure to read works from an author that have practical skills to match the writings. Getting his hands dirty, so to speak. Mr. Reynolds personal anecdotes gives a very personal insight to the world of the dissident gardener. I particularly like the recollections of his stint with the authorities that led to a government contractor having to refund money they collected from the state, but didn’t perform the work for. Work that Reynolds himself inherited – Free of charge and to the benefit of himself and his neighbors.

“There are some officials who are very serious trouble for the guerrilla gardeners. Their sole responsibility is to undermine and obstruct common sense; They expect the worst from people and spend their time looking for opportunities to prove their point” – Richar Reynolds

I guess you could write a book on the topic of urban folks transforming slices of their towns into green havens and make it completely free of politics. That is, however, not something Mr. Reynolds chose to do. The book is romanticizing the ideological within its realm and gives the subject a very political dress in spots here and there. I can’t claim to know where Richard Reynolds stand on the political spectrum, but the book has a very left-leaning atmosphere, with nods given to Mao and Che and often expanding in the region of egalitarian thought. It is not something that will ever bother me in the slightest, but its just a heads up for anyone picking up the book expecting it to be clean of politics (of any branding).

Photo from On Guerrilla Gardening, showing a harvest strewn across the authors living room floor.

The book has some chapters covering practical things for any aspiring guerrilla gardeners: Plant selection, where to grow, how to handle situations where you meet resistance (from both the public and authorities) and some ideas on how to make a little money from any green activity you do. Fusing these sections with the stories given in the earlier chapters should massage the imagination on whats possible to do with some seeds and a little spare time.

Personally, I’d loved to see bit more of the plant selection and entrepreneurial stuff to be included in the book, but since the book is a bit over 250 pages long as is, I guess the author had a hard time including everything under the sun in just one volume.

“Study the history of guerrilla gardening and you will unearth inspiration” – Richard Reynolds

As I hinted at in the opening paragraph, the book inspired me. As I was reading the book on the subway on my way to work I started to see the world of concrete, glass and steel through the lens of a guerrilla gardener. I was looking for spots that would be cool to plant something on. I started to think back to all the streets I had walked in my city – Where could I put up some ‘living graffiti’? I haven’t quite figured it out yet, but I’ve seeded a bit over 100 flowers that is waiting to pop up on my kitchen counter. Their new homes will be somewhere in Oslo, Norway, and I will document it here on the Utopium-blog. Grab a copy of the book and get inspired as well!

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