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Gardeners Brighten London Under Cover of Dark


Some of the grayer parts of central London have been getting a little more colorful, courtesy of a group of London gardeners. They go out under the cover of night and plant flowers and plants on public land and in traffic circles. The group calls itself the Guerrilla Gardeners, and the numbers have swelled from one founding member two years ago, to about 30 today. NPR's Rob Gifford went to meet them.

ROB GIFFORD reporting:

It's 11:00PM at night and darkness has long since descended on central London. I've come to an area about half-a-mile south of the River Thames, just across from the Houses of Parliament; and I'm just approaching a large traffic island in the middle of the road, and on the traffic island, these two huge flower beds with about 25, maybe 30 people all digging away and planting things. And I'm hoping one of these people is Richard Reynolds, the father of the London guerrilla gardening scene.

Hi, are you Richard?

Mr. RICHARD REYNOLDS (Founder, Guerrilla Gardeners): Yes, I am.

GIFFORD: Hi, hi, nice to meet you. So this is guerrilla gardening?


GIFFORD: Tell me what is guerrilla gardening?

Mr. REYNOLDS: It's about making public space a little bit nicer. I started doing it because I moved to an apartment that came with no garden, but what it did come with was a lot of grotty land outside that nobody was doing anything with. So I thought, well, I might as well make that my garden.

GIFFORD: But what about the local government? What do they think about this? I mean, presumably, what you're doing here is, strictly speaking, is illegal, is it?

Mr. REYNOLDS: Yeah, I think I'm a vandal, but I'm a vandal with plants and I think it's common sense. Every Englishman likes his plants and his flowers and everyone's turning a supportive blind-eye to me, so far, if they're in authority.

GIFFORD: Okay. I think I'll just go and have a chat with some of your friends, if I may? I'll come back and talk to you in a moment.

Ms. CLARA GOLDSMITH(ph) (Guerrilla Gardener): My name is Clara Goldsmith.

GIFFORD: You live around here?

Ms. GOLDSMITH: Yeah, I do actually live just across the road, so it's very convenient for me.

GIFFORD: And do you have a day job, as well?

Ms. GOLDSMITH: I do. I work in the music industry.

GIFFORD: Right, so you have a law-abiding job by day and you come and break the law at night, do you?

Ms. GOLDSMITH: Well, the music industry people break more laws than you do gardening...

GIFFORD: Okay, let's not go there. Now, why have you come out? Why do you love this guerrilla gardening?

Ms. GOLDSMITH: I mean, it's really the kind of ethos of it, which is improving your local environment, which is rewarding, to me anyway. And, it's fun, as well.

GIFFORD: Great. Thanks a lot.

Ms. GOLDSMITH: Thanks.

GIFFORD: I'm just going to cross the road here and see what the passers-by here think about this. Lady pushing a bike--can I ask your name please?

Ms. CLAIRE WALKER(ph): Hi, my name's Claire Walker and I think this is actually fantastic. You can smell the fresh earth coming off their forks and spades. They're working so hard.

GIFFORD: Richard, I just want to have a final word with you. Someone's told me about another concept that goes with guerrilla gardening: seed bombing. What on earth is seed bombing?

Mr. REYNOLDS: Seed bombing is when you take seeds, a bit of compost; you wrap it up into a little ball--a bit of water in there--and you bomb a derelict bit of land. It's the easiest way of being a guerrilla gardener.

GIFFORD: Drive-by guerrilla gardening?

Mr. REYNOLDS: Absolutely, yes! You can do it in a second. All the preparation goes on at home and you can download a seed-bomb instruction manual--the original manual written in 1973 by the Green Guerrillas of New York--you can download it from my website.

GIFFORD: That sounds like it could be potentially criminal. You really are the anarchic fringe of horticulture.

Mr. REYNOLDS: We don't have a Department for Homeland Security, so I think I'm okay.

GIFFORD: Okay. Well, good luck with it. Thank you very much, Richard Reynolds, guerrilla gardener.

This is Rob Gifford, NPR News, with the Guerrilla Gardeners of South London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Rob Gifford
Rob Gifford is the NPR foreign correspondent based in Shanghai.