Book Review: On Guerrilla Gardening

For interesting and inspiring read, full of humorous anecdotes and useful information, I recommend Richard Reynolds’ On Guerrilla Gardening.

gardening
This is the edition I have. I initially picked it up because of it’s colorful hardcover; I love hardcovers! A positive case of judging a book by its cover?

the book

For a while I couldn’t shake the slightly weird feeling of reading a manual on an activity as whimisical and adventurous as guerrilla gardening, but the book is a useful guide. It has two parts, The Movement and The Manual which neatly divide up the high minded idealism and cold blooded pragmatism, which Reynolds is at pains to stress throughout:

You can dream of a grand transformation, but don’t rush to create it. … In their hearts most guerrilla gardeners are idealists, but we need the measured pulse of a pragmatist too if our gardens are to flourish. (pgs 159-160)

There are lots of quotes from Mao that need only a bit of tweaking to make them appropriate, and it’s strange to think what could be achieved if people used their passion and talents and time and resources to create beautiful things rather than to destroy and dominate.

It’s very inspiring and after finishing it I wanted to go out into the world, seeds in hand, and plant sunflowers absolutely everywhere.

sunflowers
The author himself and some sunflowers. Photo from theguardian.uk

He’s a good, funny writer and there are lots of amusing and relevant anecdotes, but I feel as if the book is slightly too long. It’s a bit like the third Lord of the Rings film; it’s beautiful and entertaining and a great, well told story but you can’t help checking your watch as yet another ‘ending’ plays out. Just chuck the ring in the volcano and be done with it already!

Another problem I have with the book is that the pages are glossy. This makes them hard to read under direct light, such as from a lamp and means that they lack that nice papery feel and smell. It also means that they’ve been treated with bucketloads of chemicals, which is kind of ironic.I dunno, maybe I just got a fail copy.

Lastly, all of the photos in the book are of beautiful, well tended gardens. I wanted some before and after photos to really get inspired, or some photos of a wilting plant to reassure me that not every plant is amazing, or some schematics of possible garden layouts because I freaking love diagrams.

plan
Isn’t that just the most satisfying thing? Image from seedandbean.com

the book and geography

He talks about the kind of problems guerrilla gardening battle – for example neglected land, vacant land, land scarcity – and about the things that it creates: beauty; community; food; shade.

Neglected, rubbish strewn, weedy or just plain ugly land (especially in cities) is such a shame.

Land is bloody scarce (especially in cities) and this utter waste is unfriendly to look at and makes people sad as they see their community and urban environment in disrepair. I don’t know about you, but things such as planter boxes that are filled with cigarette butts or bare dirt alongside foot paths make me sad.

doing it wrong
Planter boxes: you’re doing it wrong. Clearly, this society has failed to correctly utilise this resource and therefore geography is broken and people are sad.

This all displays a bad relationship between society and it’s immediate space; the built environment. It’s the kind of thing that makes we geographers sad, especially when people are crying out for healthy food and a place to build communities, as experienced by Ron Finley.

This book offers a lovely, fun idea to combat these problems and create better relationships, both between society and the urban environment* and between groups and individuals within society. (Any statisticians out there will be hearing ‘ANOVA’ at this stage.)

On Guerrilla Gardening offers many exciting and uplifting stories about little impulsive actions becoming community gardens, award winning spaces and beautiful environs.

ccg
The Clinton Community Gardens in New York tend to come up a fair bit. Photo: Anne Bremer

So read the book! It’s great.

metadata

Title: On Guerrilla Gardening: A Handbook For Gardening Without Boundaries

Author: Richard Reynolds

Date Published: 2008

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Rating: I give it seven out of ten sunflowers.

*Oh man, I love that phrase. It’s totally the nexus of all the interesting things.

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Poor Pitt the Younger

Poor Pitt the Younger.
He must have had a rough time with geography at school, having to learn useless things like capital cities instead of awesome things like about methane clathrates, which are solid chunks of methane (a bit like ice) that sit on the ocean floor and in the permafrost that can be found in the northern parts of the northern hemisphere.

How are they related to geography? Well as we know, humans are massively changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere, which is causing the permafrost to melt, releasing all this methane. That’s pretty bad as methane has a global warming potential (GWP) of 72 over 20 years, making it exactly 72 times worse as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over the same time period.

The tricky thing with the methane in the permafrost is that the more it melts the more methane will be released so it will get warmer so it will melt more so more methane will be released so it will get warmer so it will melt more … this could go on for a while. That’s what we call a positive feedback loop. They are bastards to model, so we don’t have a great understanding of them and climate change science is full of them.

methane
Methane release is wack. PHOTO: sandiegofreepress.org

So maybe Pitt the Younger was happy with his crappy geography classes, safe from the knowledge of methane and over grazing and erosion and land clearing and water pollution?

I think what I’m trying to say is that while a solid understanding of geography (or science in general) can be depressing (see discussion of methane, above), it is important have that knowledge and be excited about it (as PtY clearly wasn’t) so we can start solving those problems. The permafrost would still be melting even if we didn’t know about it, knowing about it helps as you need to identify a problem before you try to solve it.

Actually, really what I’m trying to say is that we should all watch Black Addder.