Richard Reynolds is not a radical. With his mild mannered Britishisms and unassuming style, one wouldn’t take him for a law-breaker. And to him this is all for the better. As a leading guerrilla gardener, he’s been spreading the gospel, planting seeds and saplings around his native South London, and networking diverse compatriots into a united global front. But don’t think for a moment that his project is an explicitly political one. He simply sets out to “fight the filth with forks and flowers.”
On Guerrilla Gardening is Reynolds’ new book, already on shelves in the UK, and available stateside May 31. Given the author’s dedication to the subject, one would expect a polemic, something apocryphal and stirring – the “Our Bodies, Our Selves” of guerrilla gardening. Reynolds, however, intentionally and neatly avoids this, depoliticizing the subject in favor of casting the net far and wide. Whoever you are, whatever your motivations, you can be a guerrilla gardener.
Divided into two parts, On Guerrilla Gardening covers first the movement, giving a breakdown of the reasons gardeners take to the streets covertly – from beautification to business – and identifying the enemies, scarcity and neglect. You’ll also find in this section a history of guerrilla gardening, which, according to Reynolds, has its roots in early English rebel rousing and class struggle.
Part II is a manual for the new guerrilla gardener, and details the necessary horticultural tools and knowledge. Advice ranges from the practical to the tactical, with tips on strategy – what to wear, how to come and go from a hit – and operations – how to be an effective leader, and how to best issue propaganda. At the conclusion, Reynolds addresses legitimation; when to go legal and how to handle the transition when it becomes necessary.
“Guerrilla” translates from Spanish as “little war,” a military tactic made infamous by Che Guevara and Mao Zedong. Unfortunately, Reynolds has no qualms about adopting this militant rhetoric, and uses it to frame his approach to the book. As a pacifist, I found the association uncomfortable and tenuous – why celebrate war in a book about one of the least violent political acts of our time?
Despite the fiery language, and while guerrilla gardening is an illegal activity, it’s main supporter prefers a more modest approach:
Your role is to convey that you are . . . just an enthusiastic average gardener who is keen to take responsibility for public space
At first I was disappointed by the lack of politics. I am still saddened that Reynolds lambastes the use of guerrilla gardening as an artful form of protest. But he is a serious gardener – guerrilla or otherwise, his passion is for plants. To him, guerrilla gardening is a unique art form, the legality of which is, to paraphrase his own words, “a silly quirk of the world we live in.” The powers that be can’t dissuade him from gardening, or from empowering a burgeoning movement. The idea is contageous:
Guerrilla gardening is itself a global movement working towards lots of little victories. It is not a monolithic campaign fighting for one big universal outcome, but instead seeks countless independent local initiatives.
His is a libertarian approach that, as a thought leader, he should be commended for. Certainly anyone who can span the diverse opinions, motivations, and concerns of guerrilla gardeners worldwide deserves a medal.
On Guerrilla Gardening hits shelves this weekend, and is recommended reading for any aspiring guerrilla gardener. It will remain on my shelf (or be lent to the first interested party) as a go-to guide for a greener, more beautiful Boston.