Sparrow and Finch Gardening Guerrilla gardeners are digging up urban revolution

Guerrilla gardeners are digging up urban revolution

Students, academics, and business people are all part of the movement. Also included in its ranks are planners, architects, chefs, community workers, etc. Would-be guerrillas can enlist in a troop online through sites such as, a forum established by Richard Reynolds (“Britain’s 24th most influential gardener”), deemed the father of the modern guerrilla gardening movement. The movement has been growing in recent years. This is partly due to the growth of Twitter and other social media platforms that make it easier to organize digs.

In general, guerrilla gardening is a way to beautify neglected land or cultivate space through urban agriculture, which involves growing fruits and vegetables within a city. Incredible edible Todmorden is a famous guerrilla garden project that began in 2008. Residents “adopting” areas of town plants without permission. The local authority was impressed by the displays and ideas and began working with the guerrillas. Incredible Edible Network, now an international movement that promotes urban agriculture, was born.

Before and after guerilla gardening.

Underground, overground

In the Midlands of the UK, I conducted an ethnographic study between 2010 and 2013. After a lot of searching and luck, I found three groups willing to participate in the study.

First, a group of local authority workers named their collective F Troop. This was in reference to the 1970s American Western television show, which featured cowboys gallivanting about without much of a strategy. The troop realized that this name was a reflection of their practice, where members would arrive at the dig site and plant randomly. The group planted nasturtiums and spinach along the barrier of a dual carriageway in an inner city. The group’s main motivation for engaging in such an activity was to experience the thrill of transgression by messing up with council land.

Second, an older woman, furious at her local authority for not cleaning up the alleyways in her area, decided to do it herself. She replaced it with raised beds where she planted vegetables. The third group was a group of women who converted a large space in an area with a low income into a community garden. They wanted to get fresh produce to the people who were in need, as the majority of the population around the site was malnourished. They chose the guerrilla approach because they believed that getting official permission would be too difficult and slow down their activities.

The three examples above show the range of people involved in guerrilla gardens: from the middle-class radicals of F Troop to the more working-class group who adopted an area for the surrounding community, guerrillas have come from diverse backgrounds, and each has different reasons for their actions.

The ethics and practicalities for a researcher to interact with an activity in a legal grey area are difficult. For example, cities where the guerrillas above practiced can’t be named because the identities of the people involved must remain protected. The fact that I was in the Special Constabulary of the police at the time added an extra layer of difficulty.

The interest in guerrilla gardeners is growing, but it’s largely portrayed in positive terms. Despite the fact that many guerrilla gardeners colonize spaces without the permission of local authorities, they also do so without the consent of nearby residents. You may not even know that guerrilla gardening is taking place on your street corner or even on the grass verge.

Not everyone is happy, as revealed by interviews with residents living near the colonized gardens. Some people were upset that they weren’t involved or confused by the appeal of producing food in harsh environments. The F Troop, in particular, would not maintain the site, and it would quickly fall into disrepair.

The future of the guerrilla garden

The Incredible Edible Todmorden case shows the power of guerrilla gardening. Underground gardening has been the source of many large urban agriculture initiatives, including New York’s Community Gardens and Havana’s allotments. Carrot City is an exhibition about urban agriculture that I brought to the UK in 2012.

While guerrilla gardening can improve the environment, it is important to dig deeper and give a more objective view of the actions taken. This includes not just what they do but also their impact on their community and surrounding area.

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