Guerrilla Gardening is nothing to do with gorillas! Basically, its about improving your local community for everyone. Noticed a weedy, abandoned patch of ground on your walk to the station or to the shops? Think it could do with a bit of brightening up? Don't wait for someone else to do it - guerrilla garden it! There is lots more information here - www.guerillagardening.org - and also, unsurprisingly, a facebook group. There are guerrilla gardeners all over the world, improving the environment for everyone with nothing more than some packets of seeds and a couple of hours work. 

 Guerilla gardening is not illegal. Often the patches are in public spaces - road verges, empty planters no longer cared for by the local council or just forgotten patches of ground. I've taken over the care of a couple of spaces locally; principally the planters at the base of my local War Memorial, which were for many years neglected and uncared for. Everyone disclaimed responsibility for looking after them - the church on who's boundary the Memorial sits said that they were the care of the local Parks and Gardens Department of the council, the council told me that they belonged to the Royal Legion, the Royal Legion told me they were the responsibility of the church….so I decided to do something about them myself. With a trowel, some fresh potting compost, some packets of bulbs from the Pound Shop and a bit of work, what were weedy disgraces to the memory of the fallen are now a source of colour and pleasure for everyone who passes them.  Pictures are further down this page. 

In spring 2011 I took my guerrilla gardening a step further and reclaimed a neglected flower bed at the base of the church tower in Eltham. This was completely overgrown with brambles. Clearing them back, I found several established clumps of nerines cowering. A couple of packets of wildflower seed mix gave a wonderful show all summer of poppies, cornflowers, evening primrose, love-in-a-mist and other wildflowers - and of course I completely neglected to take any photographs! I will rectify this next year! I've been gradually digging out the bramble rootstocks this autumn in an attempt to get rid of the brambles completely….

My latest project is a 1905 horse trough opposite the allotments at the top of Eltham High Street. I only noticed it a few months or so ago when I took over an allotment myself. Full of weeds and generally uncared for, ironically it stands right outside the gates of the local council's Environmental Curriculum Department offices - don't you think they would practice what they preach? The other day I decided to dig out the weeds and fill it with bulbs for the spring - daffodils, crocuses and miniature irises. It makes a perfect flower bed and there will be more pictures as things grow. 

 

                              

 

In the meantime, why not think about doing a spot of guerrilla gardening yourself? 

 

SEPTEMBER 2008

This is our local War Memorial -  it forms part of the boundary wall of our local church in Eltham, St. John's, (more commonly referred to simply as Eltham Church).  

You'll see that that there is a stone planter each side, and I noticed the other day what a shabby state they were in - full of weeds and generally uncared for.

Technically, they are the responsibility of our local Parks and Gardens Department, but needless to say Greenwich Council have never done a stroke of work towards their upkeep. So I decided that they would be my Good Deed. I spoke to the Vicar, who told me that they were technically looked after by the local branch of the British Legion, so I got in touch with their Secretary and volunteered my services. They were delighted with my offer, and in with my Garden Historian hat on, I proposed a planting scheme based on the Victorian "Language of Flowers". However, vandalism is a major problem apparently (although it pains me to think that there are those in our society who would desecrate a War Memorial) So I'm thinking about constructing a small frame of chicken wire through which to push the plants' roots to stop them being so easy to pull out.

The evergreen backdrop is to be of Rosemary (as everyone knows, "Rosemary for Remembrance") and Bay Laurel (for Glory). I'm trying to locate a couple of small Oak seedlings (both for "England" generally and Bravery) to add further green framework for most of the year. They shouldn't outgrow their welcome as the constriction of the roots in the planters should keep them in check. Subject to being able to find the bulbs in time, early spring should see blue Scillas ("Forgiveness"), followed by miniature daffodils ("Chivalry") and then purple Hyacinths ("Sorrow"). For early Summer, I"m planning Forget-Me-Not (does what it says on the tin!) and white Campanula ("Gratitude"). This will be followed in high summer by miniature red roses for "Love" (the site is quite exposed and windy, and therefore everything has to be as small as possible to avoid wind damage; if the vandals don't get there first of course) and Sweet Peas ("The Pain of Departure"). Late summer should see a blaze of poppies (the traditional flower of Remembrance Day) and Sweet Williams ("Gallantry"), followed in early autumn by Amaranthus Caudatus (Love Lies Bleeding). I"ll post regular updates here about the progress of the scheme.

4th October 2008  - Had a couple of spare hours on my hands today and decided to brave the cold wind and make a start, so armed with watering can, bucket of potting compost, secateurs, trowel, chicken wire and rosemary plants, went over to the church.  As I suspected, the soil in the planters was not only full of weeds, but it was practically dust, so decided to dig most of it out, mix it with fresh potting compost and replace it.  What I didn't expect to find was that in the bottom of each planter was a six inch layer of florist's Oasis!  I decided to break this up into chunks in order to give more planting depth, and mixed it with the new soil.   This done, I planted both the miniature daffodil bulbs (£1 for a bag of 25 bulbs (bargain!) from the local £1 shop - bought 3 bags) plus scilla bulbs I found at the local B&Q).  I covered these with a chicken wire frame.  They will grow up through this and this will hopefully give them a measure of protection from vandalism.

 More soil was then added, and then another layer of chicken wire.  I then planted two Rosemary plants in each planter, feeding the root balls through the wire, again for a measure of protection.

More potting compost topped this off, and I was pleased with the result.  Although it looks slightly bare at the moment, I hope to find both the bay laurel plants (local B&Q didnt sell them - how pathetic!) and the oak seedlings  shortly and add these.  Come the spring, the scillas should be up in February/March, closely followed by the daffodils.  Seeds of other plants will be added as and when appropriate in order to keep the planting going.  The picture below shows that I am off to a good start and the planters already have a lot more dignity than before (the rubbish truck in the background rather detracts, I'm afraid!)

 

11th October 2008  - lovely day for gardening.  Very relieved to find over the past week that the Rosemary plants remain unvandalised - feeling a bit "parental", I've been making regular checks on them!

I've decided against the Bay Laurel, as I thought the planters might end up looking too much like herb gardens!  So I went for miniature red roses today - not only are they symbolic of "England" but also "Love".  Three small ivy plants went in as well, for "Fidelity". 

The planters are now looking much better than before (now, if only Greenwich Council will do something about those ugly hoardings!).  Oak seedlings are on their way from Ebay and will probably be planted next week. Watch this space!

18th October 2008 - the Oak seedlings arrived from Ebay (I never do my plant shopping anywhere else, unless its at the local £1 shop; gardening never need be expensive) and were planted out.  They look a bit "upright" at the moment and will take a while to settle in - hopefully they will retain some leaves up to Remembrance Day.  I was also amazed at the sheer number of weeds that had germinated in the disturbed soil, so spent a very therapeutic 10 minutes ripping them out.  At this point, a kind lady approached me and congratulated me on the appearance of the planters - apparently the church congregation have started referring to me as "The Phantom Gardener"!

 

Apart from keeping the weeds down and the occasional watering (should there actually be any dry spells this autumn!), nothing else really needs to be done now until the late spring. The scillas should be popping up in February/March, closely followed by the daffodils.  I'll be starting some seedlings off of various plants to add to keep the display going once these show signs of waning.  I'm already thinking of making the planting a little more ambitious and am trying to come up with ways of securing some large pots to the structure of the memorial.

26th November 2008 - a trip to Woolworths yielded unexpected bargains - packets of bulbs of all kinds reduced from £2.49 to £1.  I actually had a £10 gift voucher with me, but the guy on the till was so gormless he actually only charged me £7 - no wonder they've gone bust!  Snowdrops therefore went into the planters. 

I've now decided to tackle the rather bare strip of earth beneath the church windows - there are some ratty looking rosebushes there and a moribund rosemary and not much else.  So in went daffodils, Black Parrot tulips and some Snakes Head Fritilary (courtesy of Woolworths).  I pruned the roses as well.   What I'd love to do is base the planting on plants that get mentioned in the bible - Im on the track of some cheap Madonna lilies but expect its too late to plant these. 

6th March 2009 - Just had time today to snatch a couple of "update" photos before the rain began.  Both planters are looking much better - the roses have survived the winter, and the daffodils and blue squilla are starting to pop through.

      
     

Over the course of the late autumn and early spring, I've also been pottering around in the borders that run beneath the church windows.  There was a moribund rosemary plant - I tried to save it but it seemed determined to die, and so I pulled it out,  replacing it with a new one from the local plant stall.  A chance find in the new 99p shop - a white rose called "Virgo" (which is as near as I could get to something with a religious theme) went in as well, as did the contents of a large packet of wildflower seeds (which havent come up yet!).

Right on the corner of the church wall, is what was obviously once a drinking fountain, engraved with the date 1886.  There's a metal trough underneath for the thirsty dogs of the parish.  Both the bowl of the fountain and the dog trough were filled with mucky water, cigarette ends etc, so I thought "right - they're next". Armed with  an old mug and trusty wire coathanger, I scooped out all the muck in the fountain bowl and managed to unblock the drainpipe which runs down through the wall into the trough, put some crocks round the drainage rose and popped in some spare daffodils I had knocking about (from the £1 bag I bought in October). Its not deep enough to support permanent planting, so I will be changing the plants over regularly.  Not sure whether to use the dog drinkingtrough for plants as well, or leave it for its intended use!

1st April 2009 - Spring has arrived in full force and the planters are looking fantastic.  Unfortunately, the snowdrops never came up, but they are notoriously difficult to grow from dry bulbs.  The scillas are in full force, the rose bushes have put out new growth and the rosemary looks fine (although it doesnt seem be flowering; I think this is because they were force-grown and are consequently still rather "soft").  The oak seedlings seem very slow in putting out leaves and are doing a very good impression of dead sticks!). The daffodils in the fountain, having attracted considerable comment, are almost finished and will need replacing with something else very shortly. 

September 2009

One year on, and its time for a rethink.  I must admit that I hadn't done anything very much to the planters during the summer; other things were forever happening and getting in the way, and they really rather got left to their own devices, save me shoving in a few spare sweet pea plants.  I did notice that the planters got dried out extremely quickly any time we had more than a couple of days of sunshine, and that something would be needed to rectify this.  I'd noticed also that there had been a couple of attempts at pulling the plants up - for some reasons the tiny oak plants seemed to bear the brunt of the attacks and both have now disappeared.  And when I passed the other day, one of the rosemary plants had been ripped up and was clinging on to life by a thread.  So, drastic action was needed. 

I've decided to do a replant for the autumn, but thought I should address the watering problem first.  So yesterday I completely emptied one of the planters of all its soil and lined it with plastic so that water wouldn't run away so quickly.  I mixed in new compost as the existing stuff was looking pretty tired and dusty, replanted the bulbs and rosemary plants, and put in new roses. I also added small pink cyclamen to provide colour during the autumn and early winter (departing rather from my intention to base the planting on The Language of Flowers.  Cyclamen, I discovered later, mean "diffidence".  Oh well, win some, lose some!)  I'm also after something to put in the centre where the oak seedlings went - maybe I will hang on until I find some Christmas Cherry plants.  Bulbs are starrting to appear in the Pound Shop, so I will look out for some crocuses for the spring as well.  Unfortunately I only had the time, energy and potting compost available to do one of the planters, but it looked much better after I'd finished and this made me feel considerably better about things.  I hope to have the time and energy to do the other one soon.

26th September   Devastated to walk past the War Memorial this evening and find that every single plant in the left hand planter has been ripped up by vandals.  Maybe I shouldnt have removed the chicken wire framing from inside.  I don't know whether to be really angry that people can be so thoughtless and disrespectful, or really upset.  I had planned to spend some time tomorrow replanting the right hand planter, but it looks like any work will have to start with a trip to the plant stall and then half an hour wrestling with a roll of chicken wire to make a new frame.  Which of course means that all the recently replenished potting compost will have be removed as well so that the frame can go in.

Evenutally, it was all done and replanted, but for some reason I never got round to taking any pictures - probably because every time I thought about it, it started to rain!  Anyway, the planters were in fine fettle for Remberance Day 2009.  Much as it saddened me to have do so so, I printed out some little notices, laminated them and stuck them in each planter....

 

This seems to have done the trick, and nothing has been pulled up since.  Whether or not its the war in Afghanistan bringing it home to the Thugs of Eltham that war is a very real thing and not just some strange historical concept, and that respect for the dead is a tangible thing, the plants have been unmolested ever since.  In a spare moment today I nipped over and finally took some pictures, although the weeds are having a field day!  It will need to be dry for a week or so (unlikely at the moment) before doing so is going to be practicable.  Anyway, enjoy the pictures!

 

  

 

 SEPTMBER 2010 update - Had another replant recently - in went bulbs of miniature daffodil, crocus and snake's head fritilary, with autumn planting of roses, winter pansies and some more Christmas cherry - last years' plant had obviously dropped some seeds, which had germinated all over the place, and I bought these home to keep the supply going for next year!  For some reason, the plants in the right hand trough always seem to do better than those in the left, possibly because of the way the sun falls - or doesn't fall - on the respective planters

Fortunately, there have been no more incidents of plants being vandalised - if there is anything good that has come out of the Afghanistan conflict, its a new respect for war memorials.

Around the side of the church, there's a small-ish bed that until last year was full of nothing but brambles.  I had a good hack at it, then promptly forgot about it, until yesterday when it popped into my consciousness again.  The brambles were slowly returning, but the bed itself was now swamped with the weeds that had lain dormant under them.  So I had a good hour's work cutting back the juvenile brambles and pulling out the weeds - of course only remembering to take a photograph once I was half finished

!

 

By the end, the bed looked like this - I'd uncovered the remains of what I think were a couple of clumps of nerines and some hollyhocks.  I let those stay, and opened several packs of wildflower seeds and gave the bed a good sprinkling. 

 

Then I had an idea, noticing the large number of pinecones lying around nearby.....