Since he first began blogging about his illicit gardening activities in 2004, Richard Reynolds has almost single-handedly turned the underground business of being a guerrilla gardener into a high-profile occupation.
Recently voted the 24th most influential gardener in Britain, Reynolds (aka @Richard_001) has taken the Duchess of Cornwall on a tour of guerrilla gardens in London, designed a GG themed installation in Selfridges, and had his book On Guerrilla Gardening translated into French, German and Korean.
Reynolds defines guerrilla gardening as gardening land without permission – this is usually public land but in some cases more adventurous guerrilla gardeners have trespassed onto private land to wield their hoes. Reynolds undertook his first covert mission in the neglected flower beds outside Peronnet House, the residential block in Elephant & Castle where he lives. He recalls, "I thought, right, I’m going to sort this out: I don’t want to complain about it, I want to have the fun of doing it myself." With gardening in his DNA – both his mother and grandmother are avid gardeners – Reynolds was unfazed by the challenges of unauthorised urban gardening. Once embarked on cultivation of obviously neglected land, he found the powers-that-be were usually happy to turn a blind eye. Indeed, on occasion, they have even been known to take the credit for the hard, often nocturnal, work put in by Richard and his fellow guerrillas.
As more troops have rallied to ‘fight the filth with forks and flowers’, Richard’s forthright approach to his obsessive hobby has evolved into something that might even be termed ‘responsible guerrilla gardening’. Careful now not to overcommit himself too far from home, he ensures local guerrillas are in place to care for new gardens being created, since well-maintained plots are less likely to be a target for vandals and litter.
Frustrated by the ‘professionalisation’ of gardening as seen on TV, Reynolds has harnessed the informality of social networking media to encourage would-be guerrillas to "just get stuck in – learn from your mistakes and if something dies, try something else". His snappy website has become the global hub of the guerrilla gardening movement from where Reynolds launched 'Pimp your Pavement', a campaign to liven up London’s sidewalks through the power of plants.
Consistent aftercare aside, cheap, practical plant choices are essential to successful guerrilla campaigns, and Richard recommends easy, gently invasive annuals such as calendula, nigella and Californian poppies that provide lots of colour over a long season. Sunflowers are another GG favourite and the focus of International Sunflower Guerrilla Gardening Day, held every May Day. Richard’s own preferred guerrilla plant is fragrant, evergreen lavender and it features in his favourite stealth garden, the ‘lavender field’ near Lambeth North tube – "it’s the largest one I look after and the most spectacular. It’s the best place to garden because of the conversations I have with passers-by. They are so happy with it, particularly when the lavender is in full bloom and covered in bumble bees. You can smell it before you see it!"