by Tim Barton
Wednesday 26th May, at the Friends Meeting House in Hastings, saw a full house for Guerrilla Gardeners Chris Tomlinson and Jan Goodey. Chris is from St Leonards, runs an allotment, and is a freegan; Jan is involved with Brighton's 'Lewes Road Community Gardens'. Their talks introduced Guerrilla Gardening ideas to a local audience of interested parties, some of whom already had a real awareness of the subject, and some of whom had only heard a little before. The evening was 'dedicated to Is A Car Necessary'.
Chris spoke first. He talked of being the entire current membership of the Hastings & St Leonards Guerilla Gardeners, and of his hope that others will be inspired to join in. The Guerrilla Gardening idea has, in its current form, come over from the US (see Avant Gardening: Ecological Struggle in the City & the Worldon Liz Christy and her Green Guerrilla group, active from 1973 in the Bowery Houston area of New York). Chris looked at its roots in older traditions, including Gerrard Winstanley's 17th Century experiments in Kingston, Surrey with the Diggers. The thread of anarchism in the green movement might be argued to run right from the Diggers and Levellers through to today's Guerrilla Gardeners, and allied groups. Chris himself first became aware of the ideas behind these movements via bands such as The Levellers and Crass (based around Dial House, an open house / intentional community near Epping, Essex), and from activism at the Twyford Downs protests.
He began his Guerrilla Gardening in the early hours, cultivating neglected patches of land in his neighbourhood, but police harassment (from unmarked cars doing 'stop and search', legislated under the Thatcherite 1984 PACE act, and further enhanced under Blairite 2000 anti-terrorism legislation!) meant he shifted his stints at it from 2am to daylight hours. He targets unused land, currently maintaining 8 patches. He avoids council land and private private property where possible, unless he has permission.
Plants laid in include Apple and Pear trees, plus some vegetables such as spinach and brassicas / nasturtiums (more time intensive, so done more locally than trees), and flowers too (such as poppies). He likes to set in clover and other easy to grow green manures first, to fix nitrogen etc. To get seed to hard to get at bits of neglected and derelict land, Chris recommends 'seed bombs' (or seed balls).
Chris recommends the book On Guerrilla Gardening: A Handbook for Gardening without Boundaries by Richard Reynolds (see books in the column to the right - book attained via the links there, which are Amazon.com, will allow a small donation to running the ESEI website: meanwhile, the paperback is available in the UK from Amazon.co.uk at this link). Meanwhile, Chris researches at the public library and on websites such as RHS Online. He keeps a notebook full of times and locations that he has planted. He strongly suggests wearing gloves, due to urban detritus such as needles and broken glass.
He recommends starting with a window box for those not yet brave enough to go for neglected land not owned by yourself, as a way of getting the skills and idea sorted in your head.
There are many reasons to consider such an approach to the urban landscape, besides aesthetics. It gives a measure of preparedness for peak oil and economic downturn, teaches self-sufficiency and gardening techniques in a public way. Chris sees the movement as dovetailing with others, such as permaculture, the 'free economy' movement and other skill share organisations, and the transition town movement (Hastings has a transition town group, based in St Leonards - email firstname.lastname@example.org for info).
The consumerist lifestyle is in direct opposition to our sustainability as a society. Chris sees his activities (including as a freegan) as pointing the way to a more appropriate lifestyle. We have basic needs such as food and shelter: money has no real value, nor do excessive amounts of possessions, the spread of supermarkets and superstores represents problematic over-development way beyond needs, creating 'need' out of mere 'wants'. Pandering to this is, ultimately, destructive of society, environment and community. As one of aspect of an alternative lifestyle, Guerrilla Gardening is sustainable and efficient.
Chris has a slogan for those intrigued by Guerrilla Gardening - "Don't Just Talk, Do It!".
On Mayday 2010, on Parliament Square, The People's Assembly has passed the following edict On Peace:
Jan Goodey spoke next, of Lewes Road Community Gardens (LRCG) in Brighton. Jan cycled over. It is 36 miles from Brighton to Hastings, but is quite hilly and it is difficult to avoid dangerous roads, so he was knackered - he planned to get the train back.
Jan spoke of the 70's New York origins of modern day Guerrilla Gardening, and of it's US base from which he gained inspiration. He is interested in the Democracy Village outside Parliament, where in addition to anti-War protest etc, there is also a healthy interest in taking back the land and gardening it. He spoke of the context in Britain, of Todmorden, Kew, Bristol and the many other Guerrilla Gardening ventures across the country.
Personally, he began gardening many years ago, when on the dole in Harlow, Essex. He started an allotment in Moulescomb when he moved down to Brighton, where he concentrates on fruit and veg. Like Chris, he too has kept copious notes over the years, of things he has learnt and advice he has been given. The LRGC is based on an old derelict Esso garage site. It is a half-acre plot. When they group gardening it started, in early 2009, they first sought the landowners permission. They have cleared the plot and planted raised beds (sweetcorn, broccoli etc), put in a circular turf area and made found-wood furniture. The BBC have run a story on the venture, and it has become a cause celebre - one man even fetched in some prime turf in his van, all the way from Portsmouth. They have council support, and more ventures for local vegetable growing are being looked into. The Green MP, Caroline Lucas, has been supportive, and, publicly at least, the other parties have also voiced support.
Nonetheless, Tesco supermarket chain wish to develop the site as a Tesco Express, and council support exists for that too. Locally, there is already a Spa and a Co-Op and there is a Sainsburys nearby as well. Due to the greedhead attitude of the supermarket, to what is surely a superfluous development, the LRGC are considering resisting any eviction order and squatting the land (although they do have their eyes on another derelict site nearby). They already have a 24 hour presence to protect the site from incursion and are running a local campaign to 'Say No! to Tesco on the Lewes Road' (email email@example.com; tel: 07757903748 / 01273-241920). The news of the threat was announced last November (in The Argus). The group have already been served with a two month notice to quit the plot (see below). The group is setting up a land trust as part of their campaign to keep the site, but reckon they need a cool million to buy out the land from the developers.
The local community wants to avert the eviction. Why?
The group run Workdays on the first Sunday of each month, to encourage involvement from the wider community. They have shown films (such as 'Age of Stupid') against the walls of the adjacent building, garnering an large audience on occasion; they have had bands on (curfewed at 9pm to avoid causing upset); they have a regular market on the plot; they have received donations including statuary; and a mural has been painted on the walls (see pictures above). At least two or three people are onsite everyday, and a few lock-ins have emerged into the light of day to garden, as the venture rebuilds community spirit.
After the talks, the room was invited to ask questions or otherwise contribute. A woman from Crowhurst Community Agriculture talked about their project. They have developed a garden on a bit of old farm land on the Link Road route: they also use workday's to get people involved, and are very environmentally conscious. The council plan to run the greenway for cyclists right through it. Other projects that were mentioned include the Veg Box Scheme, based at The Bridge center on Priory Road (email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone them on 01424-710492) and the http://bohemiawga.weebly.com/index.htmlBohemia Walled Garden.
Another person mentioned the old law that a person who erects a roadside dwelling and assembles the walls and roof between dawn and dusk of the same day cannot be evicted, wondering it is is still extant, if unused. This seems unlikely, but many old and unused provisions are still on the statute books, so it may be worth researching. If it is still an existing law, it may help get eviction notices quashed (at least until it is - promptly, no doubt - repealed). I myself have come across this idea (historically), in Colin Ward's Cotters and Squatters: The Hidden History of Housing.