In a street near my house someone has done some simple guerrilla gardening. Perhaps that’s the wrong description as the gardener in question is a lady of a senior age. Perhaps “granny gardening” would be a better name for her activity. Anyway, she’s put in plants around the bases of the large trees that line the street. The flowers are bright and summery; like a flashbulb going off in your face – in a good way. I don’t know why she’s done it but she’s decided to spread some cheer and not wait on anyone else to pay for her floral finessing.
Over in south London my friend Peter lives across the road from a strip of neglected land, about a metre deep and 10 metres long, that runs alongside the edge of a small industrial unit. Over the past year he’s slowly adopted the site, first sneaking in a mini copse of silver-birch trees and then edging the whole thing with box hedging. It looks great.
These are just two instances among a slew of green-guerrilla endeavours of people making their mark on the city. But it’s not easy. There has been a spate of stories in the popular press in the UK about councils and local authorities moving against the public-spirited gardeners – even pulling up their plants or threatening them with legal action. “That’s public land, you know. It’s not for you to decide what happens,” they harrumph.
But good cities know when to relax the rules and let people express themselves. We have all had enough of graffiti taggers but there are street artists who make a city look better – who adopt a wall and actually make something that people will love. And they do this without permission.
The nice guerrilla gardener and the street artist have a lot in common – they want to make a difference without filling out a form; find a place in our cities where they can express themselves. So the yellow pansies I see of a morning are more than landing pads for bees. They are a bold statement that our cities need some rebels, some rule breakers, some urban improvers, and some nice flowers.
Andrew Tuck is editor of Monocle.