Alys’s big adventure

Regular readers of intoGardens will by now be familiar with Alys Fowler and Paul Debois’s quirky forays into film making. They were caught willow weaving in our Winter Episode and checking out city blossom in Spring. You will be delighted to know that they are now in south London. The sun is shining and all is well with the world. What better way to spends a day than going on an adventure? Nothing over strenuous or anything involving specialist equipment or extremes of discomfort: just a good old fashioned Big Day Out. Alys and Paul are on their bikes and off to do a bit of Guerilla Gardening.

Words & Film: Alys Fowler and Paul Debois

Anybody who has not heard of Guerilla Gardening must have been living in a bit of a bubble for the last few years. It is an idea that began in about 1973 in New York when a remarkable woman called Liz Christy took over a derelict lot in the Bowery area and, with the help of her Green Guerrilla Group, transformed it into a garden that still exists (and, incidentally, is home to the tallest Dawn Redwood tree in Manhattan).

The basic principle is that if a piece of ground (public or private) is standing unloved and neglected then people should move in and plant it with whatever seems appropriate. Seems like a perfect solution to all those horrible empty areas be they roundabouts, borders or even tree pits on busy streets. The noisiest Guerrilla Gardener in England is Richard Reynolds who has done amazing things around the Elephant and Castle, written a fine book on the subject called On Guerrilla Gardening and has lectured all over the world.

We are loafing around the gentler end of the movement in that we are not invading a flyover under cover of darkness armed only with some assorted Petunias and a tray of tomato plants. Our day starts, as all good days should, with a cup of tea and a sit down. Their first stop is the wonderfully named Battersea Flower Station* which is tucked in behind Nine Elms Road.  It is a completely unique place for planty people a million miles away from the commercial garishness of most garden centres.

It was founded by Lisa McCormack who left her high-powered job in marketing to set up the Flower Station along with John Schofield (a gardener since infancy). The idea was to create a community garden centre where local people could get whatever they needed and could also contribute their skills to the enterprise. As it says on the website “if you make jam, or pots or bunting we would love to hear from you”. They have a resident florist, Rebecca Clarkson, who (aided by her lop eared rabbit) offers beautiful arrangements of perfect simplicity. They offer free balcony and garden consultations and will come round and plant up your windowboxes – provided of course you live somewhere in South West London – and have red sheds full of plants and accessories.

The whole thing is, as you can see in Paul and Alys’s film, cosy, comfortable and friendly. There should always be space for independents: especially in the middle of big cities. Having rested up the next stop is a scabby patch of dirt beside the road, what better place to plant stuff and bring a small smile to the careworn faces of homeward bound commuters?

Viva la Revolucion!

* For those of you who are unfamiliar with South London let me briefly explain. On the south side of the river Thames is the shell of a vast power station. Four huge chimneys tower over the river: it was begun in the 1930s and was fed huge quantities of coal from barges that chugged up the river.  The point of this little footnote is to explain the pun: Battersea Power Station/ Battersea Flower Station. Get it?