Once, not so long ago, the countryside in the United Kingdom was filled with flowers and native plants. Every hay meadow, every lane, roadside, and woodland had an intricate and astounding array of plants such as cowslips, mullein and self-heal. They have become so depleted that it is now illegal to pick wild flowers or dig up plants from the countryside. I am told that there is now a 96% loss of native plants in our countryside. This has shocked me into action.
Once we begin to learn about them, value them as essential to our eco-system and things we can eat, and begin to test and value their medicinal properties for, we can no longer dismiss these plants as weeds! We begin a journey of discovery and interconnection that connects us to our furthest ancestors and to the plants themselves.
Many of the native plants have a long flowering season and are essential food for our pollinators, our bees, butterflies, birds and wildlife. Many are the country plants of the old cottage gardens, the old fashioned plants grown before the current trend for exotics, hybrids and imports. I am always moved by their apparent frailness, and yet they are the survivors. They have adapted and evolved here for thousands of years and are filled with the life force of these lands.
We can all play our part in restoring our native plants by growing then in our gardens and by re planting them out along the lanes, footpaths, woodland edges and anywhere we identify as places they might grow.
Guerrilla Gardening is a movement that began in New York in the 1970s, when a group of activists and artists decided to 'green' their city. They took over abandoned pieces of land and grew flowers and vegetables. They encouraged anyone to get involved and together they created beautiful gardens in the middle of the city. The city authorities began to notice improvements in people's wellbeing and in the general look of the area as more people began to plant up planters and take a pride in their community. Eventually many of the guerrilla garden sites became permanent community gardens making the city a better place to live and work in. As a movement it has been spreading around the world ever since.
There are many different ways to guerrilla garden and many different reasons to want to do it. It may be that you simply love gardening; it may be that you have no garden of your own; you may want to get more involved in your local community and plant community vegetables and edible plants; you may want to improve the look of a neglected or run-down area; you may want to plant more trees or make more fruit trees available for all the community; you may want to help the bees and plant more of the native plants they love; or your passion may be to plant herbs and medicinal plants or to plant native fruit trees for the birds and for foraging from. You may work alone and unnoticed or be part of a larger more focused guerrilla gardening group.
Choose to grow native plants that are hardy and fit the places you are planting them out in. Choose to plant the one that have pretty flowers, so that passers by will appreciate them. Choose places to plant that you walk by often so that you can keep an eye on how they are doing.
Look for Suitable Places to Plant out Native Plants: Scout out and about for land that could be used for guerrilla gardening. Look for neglected corners or verges, forgotten town planters, neglected traffic islands, land beneath high-rise flats or abandoned pockets of land that have become waste ground. There might be pieces of land that are 'grey areas', with no one particularly interested in them. Playgrounds can often do with a bit of beautification - talk to young mums and see if any are interested in growing edible and medicinal herbs and wild flowers along the edges.
Make Seed Bombs: Children love making and throwing seed bombs! Using a mixture of sand, clay and compost, mix with native wild flower seeds and then add a little water and press them into balls. Leave to harden off a little in egg boxes, but it is good if they are still damp inside. It is always best to scatter them when it's likely to rain. The seed bombs can also be thrown along field edges, and any other place you can find in your locality where there is some soil and native flowers have a chance of growing.
Create your own Native Seed Clusters: Sprinkle native plant seeds into homemade cardboard tubes or loo rolls filled with peat-free compost or soil. This creates seed-cluster plugs, which are easy to transport for planting out. When the seed clusters have become established, put each one in a paper bag or wrap them in paper cones and stack them side by side in plastic food trays. Identify where you will plant them. Slice into the ground with a sharp thin bulb-planting trowel and slot in the seed-cluster, cardboard roll, paper bag and all. Take a bottle of water with you and water them in. Eventually one or two of the plants in the seed clusters will become dominant and grow to maturity. Once this happens the plant forms its own seeds and the cycle of growth can begin again, hopefully unaided by you!
After Care: Don't forget to go out with watering can or bottle of water to give the plants a drink if it is dry and in some cases weed around them while they become established.
This is a case of one small act having the power to create a big change. Nature is good at adapting and regenerating given half a chance. Your actions can transform an area, save the lives of many bees, butterflies and birds, or create a new environment for a new ecosystem to evolve and grow in... and on top of this, it is so much fun! Glennie Kindred writes about finding simple, heartfelt ways for us to make connections to each other, the Earth, Nature, the Elements and Spirits. How to grow native plants along with their extensive herbal and kitchen uses can be found in her book Letting in the Wild Edges.
My guerrilla gardening article in JUNO also ran with this inspiring story by Josie Gritten...... How I started my Seeds of Change by Josie Gritten, Snowdownia
It started with a seed-as all gardens do, the seed of an idea. We had been lucky to move from our cramped, moldy bungalow into a new, super-insulated, solar-paneled council house. With no garden. Well, technically there was a 'garden', but the tiny square of concrete and patch of boggy grass gave me no joy and I longed for the wild spaces of our previous home. I began to look further and my seed was sown. I heard talk of the council spreading slate waste on the wide verge opposite the four new houses, and my seed began to germinate.
I talked to the other residents and a group was formed; a 14-year old as co-chairman. We applied for grants and before long a tiny shoot was searching for the sun. We were given free wood from a barn conversion; we borrowed diggers and bought job lots of tools cheap at auction. Little by little our garden grew and our community with it. We planted seeds and as spring turned to summer our garden flourished. We picked flowers, vegetables and herbs; shared them with local families and watched with quiet joy as passers-by enjoyed our garden blossoming as they walked their dogs. My tiny seed was becoming a strong tree - growing and blossoming with each passing season, each gathering of families to weed, sow and reap.
One day I planted a cherry tree. A few children came to see what I was doing and next thing I knew we were turning a new patch of wasteland into a garden - planting apple and plum trees, flowers and veggies; the 'work gang' eagerly waiting for me with wellies, forks and spades when I'd get back from the school run. As we planted the last tree one of the boys said to an older girl; "It's your turn next to decide where to make a garden." She looked around, spotted another unused, council-mown patch of grass and said "What about there?" And I felt my tiny seed breath and blossom. There is vision here now - and excitement and a feeling of anticipation for the future. I can't wait to see how it will all look in 15 years' time when the village is full of fruit trees and anyone can come along and pick enough for jam, apple pies, cherries and cream. And so I pass this seed on to you, so it may become your seed too. Nurture it, grow it, share it and be blessed.