The green-thumb revolution

Last updated 05:00 09/08/2009
On the verge: turning waste into taste.

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RICHARD REYNOLDS is obsessed with waste of a different kind - wasted green space. Reynolds, pictured, is a "guerrilla gardener" who believes that any vacant or unloved land should be either beautified or used to grow food.

Reynolds, a UK horticulturalist, founded a blog called in 2004 with a mission to "fight the miserable public flowerbeds around my neighbourhood". Now, people around the world post photographs of their subversive and often very beautiful accomplishments on Reynolds' blog.

"I do not wait for permission to become a gardener but dig wherever I see horticultural potential," Reynolds writes in his new book On Guerrilla Gardening A Handbook for Gardening without Boundaries.

"I do not just tend existing gardens but create them from neglected space. I, and thousands of people like me, step out from home to garden land we do not own. We see opportunities all around us. Vacant lots flourish as urban oases, roadside verges dazzle with flowers and crops are harvested from land that was assumed to be fruitless."

The book is an impassioned and practical look at the guerrilla gardening movement and offers plenty of advice for those who want to join in from what to plant, to how to dress so you don't attract unnecessary attention. Reynolds is waging a war on neglect and chooses his language accordingly: planting is referred to as an "attack", tools as your "armament", clothes as your "battledress".

Planting crops rather than flowers is the priority in less-developed countries. Reynolds says that cultivating someone else's land to grow food is often driven by desperate populations, as happened in the 1970s when landless Mexicans seized 600,000ha of agricultural land. Elsewhere it happens on a smaller scale, such as squatters in Kenya planting maize on highway median strips. In more privileged countries, self-sufficiency is the main driver to planting edibles the satisfaction of growing what you need, knowing it is healthy.

In another action called "guerrilla harvesting", Reynolds writes about people who don't plant but simply pick crops growing in public places, or from branches hanging into the street from private gardens.

Politics and sustainability aside, says Reynolds, the real motivation for him and others who follow his lead is a passion for gardening: "If I lean out of the window of my high-rise flat, I see below a thriving flowerbed in a street where there was once filth. I feel proud. It is a victorious landscape."

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On Guerrilla Gardening, published by Bloomsbury, distributed by Allen & Unwin, rrp $27.99.

- Sunday Star Times

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