Thursday, June 24, 2010

On Guerrilla Gardening: A Review

The book "On Guerrilla Gardening" is subtitled 'A Handbook for Gardening without Boundaries'. The author, Richard Reynolds has been called the founder of the Guerrilla Gardening movement. While he admits being flattered with the title, he rejects the notion he is the founder. Nonetheless he may one of the more internationally known GG's, what with this book and his website GuerrillaGardening.Org.

Before I begin with the review, I should tell the story on how I got the book. You're now thinking, 'you went to a bookstore and purchased it, wow exciting story'. Partially correct. I went to the Indigo bookstore in Burlington Ontario, just down the street from the MEC store. The family went down to check things out and we ended up in the Indigo store, I had bought a new bookbag at MEC, by the way. I decided to do a search for the book on the computer but didn't find much, I believe I spelled the name wrong. One of the staff approached me and ask what I wanted, I gave the title and commented my inability to find it. I left, she went back to her work. A few minutes she returned with a copy of the book, it was in the bargain part of the store. It was priced for only $5.99 and after she had made the effort to look I bought it. So let me give strong words of support to Indigo and in particular the Burlington Ontario store, 1250 Brant Street. So cheers to the staff.

What about the book, it begins with what should be is the motto and manifesto of the organization, "Fighting Filth with Forks and Flowers". Mr. Reynolds gives some history, considering the history of the guerrilla movement in the political world, he quotes from such famous guerrilla, which is the Spanish for 'little war'. He quotes from Che Guevara and Mao Zedong. He uses them since they do describe what can be considered the operational manual for guerrilla gardens. While they are important, he considers Gerrard Winstanley, a Christian radical who lived during the time of the English Civil War as thee spiritual and philosophical father to the movement. He encouraged people to farm on land and not to worry about ownership, since he didn't believe in private ownership of property. While at the same time, Reynolds admits Winstanley spent too much time writing about gardening, rather then gardening and annoying potential allies. In other words he made a bit too many enemies, when some of them could have been friends to himself and the movement.

The whole idea behind Guerrilla Gardening is to plant flowers and food on land that is barren and under utilized. He gives his own experience, he moved into a large apartment and noticed the front 'garden' was anything but a garden. He began to clean it up and planted flowers. All this without the permission of the owners of the apartment. This is one of the chief ideas of guerrilla gardening, you find some soil, clean it up and plant something, it can be flowers which does enhance the area and the surrounding area. You might note that the wikipedia notes seem to indicate the political philosophy of the Guerrilla Gardening, this is the not the point of the book, this is not a manifesto, it is a handbook. While he discusses the political use of gardening, to him its all about turning unused and under used land into something pleasant to look at and helps the community.

He spends a fair bit of time considering the work of the Green Guerrillas of New York City; they commenced their work to beautify the New York City starting in the 70's. This was when, to use Reynolds own words, the Big Apple was rotten, there was a lot of empty space and park land that was abandoned. To this group they simply went through what fence existed, if such a thing existed and began to plan gardens. It meant cleaning up the land, putting new soil and planting the seeds. They succeeded because there was really no clear claim on the property and the City didn't have the resources to deal with them. In fact their work has been recognized and honoured by the city. Of course, during the time of Mayor Rudy Giuliani, they were considered communists.

The book is part history, part interview and part handbook for becoming a guerrilla gardener. To Reynolds it is a simple as a few seeds and a few gardening tools. It is that simple and while it may be considered illegal, because you are 'trespassing', you are doing all this to improve the environment. He interviewed a lot of people from all over the globe to hear their stories, including some funny one. He warns of potential problems, from dealing with stuffy municipal bureaucrats who believe that it should be illegal for people to have fun, especially in the public realm. Other problems may be theft, people not understanding, and the occasional drunk. For the latter he suggests get them involved, one person was involved and worked very hard for an hour of so, and all he asked was money for a can of beer. Reynolds suggests such people because they work, will take ownership of the property and protect it.

While not political, he does talk about some political actions that has taken place, in parts of the world such as Mexico, Brazil and Guantanamo Bay. In the first two, landless farm workers have risen up to take over underused land to feed their families. Of course for them, the government fought back, defending the rights of the landowners rather then the people. There has been defeats and victories. For the last place, the detainees have taken upon themselves to work the land and plant seeds that have come from their food. They have grown successful gardens, even though they have received no help at all from the US government.

The book is filled with ideas to start your own gardening action from what to wear, what to use to what to plant. It is filled with some very good ideas.

It's also about becoming a part of the soil and the environment. It's learning how to plant a sunflower seed and watching the riot of colour that will come about in a couple of months. In our urban world, we might think that soil is dirt and it is an annoyance rather then soil that will sustain our world and our place in it. It is connecting ourselves with nature in the middle of our urban environment.

It is an entertaining read, one reviewer describes it a manual, a manifesto and a coffee table book, there are some delightful photographs of the effort of GG's around the world.

If you're not sure you want to read the book, may I suggest you visit his website. There you will read what is happening with the GG movement, plus there are a lot of great photographs and videos. Well worth the time, plus he will suggest you buy his book.

I want to join him and suggest you buy the book, or find the book at your local library.

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