The new year is a perfect time to try out new ways to improve your impact on the environment. An easy to begin 2024 is by trying out guerrilla gardening.
Guerrilla gardening involves growing plants amongst bare grey urban landscapes, often without permission from the authorities. It is viewed as a form of peaceful rebellion against urbanisation and its destruction of natural landscapes, as well as addressing inequalities in land ownership.
One of the most common ways of guerrilla gardening is through seed bombing. A seed bomb is a small ball of clay and compost holding seeds, usually wildflowers. To plant them requires no time nor effort: just throw them onto exposed soil. This allows seeds to be sown in obscure places, or where a gardener is unable to spend time preparing the ground for conventional growing. This easiness makes them a favourite staple of guerrilla gardening since they make planting accessible to everyone.
Seed bombs are readily available to buy, or are easy to make if you have the time. It requires nothing more than mixing seeds, compost, clay power and water into small balls, and then leaving them to dry until they are ready to be planted on bare patches of soil.
There are many benefits of such an exercise, one being that it boosts biodiversity. Since the Industrial Revolution, the UK has lost nearly half of its biodiversity, which has negative effects on ecosystems, such as the declining population of bees. 35 species of bees in the UK are under the threat of extinction, so reintroducing biodiversity back into cities is more important now than ever.
Biodiversity contributes also to the well-being of people. Natural green spaces provide pleasant spaces to relax and socialise, allowing communities to be built in local areas. Research suggests that people get more enjoyment from spending time in green spaces when they perceive there to be a high level of biodiversity. Furthermore, studies have found that more green spaces in urban areas contribute to higher well-being and reduced depression.
Despite these benefits, many may be hesitant to try guerrilla gardening due to the common misconception that it is illegal. Guerrilla gardening is not illegal. Although there are laws in place which make it more difficult for guerrilla gardeners, such as vandalism, trespass, public nuisance, public endangerment, and environmental laws (such as not spreading invasive species), it is possible to practise guerrilla gardening without receiving such accusations.
Hesitancy may also arise from the inability to garden due to an absence of land on which to practise. Guerrilla gardening attempts to deconstruct these ideas about the ownership of land by highlighting ethnic, class and income inequalities in land ownership: half of England is owned by less than 1% of its population, and black people in England are nearly 4 times as likely as white people to have no outdoor space at home to grow in. By transforming public spaces, gardeners without their own plot of land can feel empowered.
The phrase ‘guerrilla gardening’ was first coined in 1973 by a group of New Yorkers who began to plant in neglected areas of the city. At this time, there were around 25,000 vacant lots across New York City, a result of the financial crisis. To combat such dereliction, some residents by the name of the ‘Green Guerillas’ started planting in these abandoned areas.
The Green Guerillas are active still today and continue to view community gardening as a “radical act”. Their aims include cultivating community gardens, sustaining grassroots groups, growing food, engaging youth, and addressing critical issues about the future of food justice and urban agriculture. They have been awarded for such work as recently as February 2023 with the Community through Collaboration Award from UHAB (Urban Homesteaders Assistance Board).
Although Durham was named the UK’s greenest city by The Solar Centre, there are always ways to improve the city, both for its wildlife and for its people, and guerrilla gardening may be the way to achieve such an aim.
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