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Guerilla Gardening: planting without permission – but with purpose

Words by Abi Scaife

Guerrilla gardening is direct action where people plant in public places – with purpose, usually without permission.”

Guerrilla gardening is a phenomenon that has been around since the 1600s, but has rapidly grown in popularity

For Ellen Miles, guerrilla gardening is an innately positive thing - about reclaiming public land and making a difference to the world we are living in. That’s why she set up Dream Green.

Ellen began Dream Green during lockdown as a way to get out into nature, but also to transform her concrete London Borough into something green. Dream Green is all about encouraging and enabling people to get involved with the guerilla gardening movement, to make our world a little greener.

“I have lived in Hackney my entire life, you know, born and raised, I live there now,” says Ellen. “I never really felt like I truly belonged, until I started doing this. I felt like a bit of a ghost floating through my neighbourhood – like I couldn't actually interact with it or impact it.”

It’s been well-documented that nature is good for your mental health - as is community. Dream Green is a movement that brings those things together, to help you bond with those in your world, and in your community.

“Guerilla gardening is a way of people being able to be active citizens,” explains Ellen. “What that really means is having a sense of ownership - which translates into a sense of belonging.”

One of the big questions Ellen often hears is - isn’t this illegal? While it may sound dodgy initially, the truth is that guerilla gardening exists in a sort of liminal space in law. It isn’t against the law, but it’s worth being careful if it’s something you decide to practice.

For those who are keen to start practising guerrilla gardening but are concerned about pitfalls such as these, Ellen's new book Get Guerrilla Gardening is available for pre-order now! The definitive guide to guerrilla gardening, this book will teach you to dream green - and give back while you're at it.

“A lot of people kind of defines guerilla gardening as being like, mischievous or naughty,” explains Ellen. “Actually, it's not [just] cool because it's breaking the rules. It's cool because it's creating its own rules, it’s trying to end the rules that say, ‘we can't do this’.

“It's cool because it's doing something meaningful and purposeful. It's not just about like, trying to feel rebellious as like an individual.”

On the Dream Green website, there are plenty of guides that can help you get started with guerilla gardening, helping to guide you through the pitfalls that can plague you when starting a new hobby (if you get imposter syndrome when you’re starting a hobby, you’re not alone!). 

There’s even a brilliantly handy guide on how to make ‘seed bombs’ (disclaimer: no actual explosives are involved). These are small contraptions mostly made of soil and seeds, that you can toss onto the ground where plants can grow, before sitting back and watching mother nature do all the work.

Through Dream Green, Ellen is encouraging people to get involved with their community, and their planet - to get their hands dirty and, for their own mental health as much as anything else, give back. You can guerilla garden alone, or you can do it together, with friends, families, or complete strangers that are just as passionate about the climate as you are. 

Whoever you choose to embark on this journey with, it is purposeful, and intentional, and is making a difference - and in what can be a stressful and confusing world, what is better than that?

“Things like climate change can feel very intangible and insurmountable and way too abstract and complex and big for us to tackle,” Ellen admits. “And the only stuff we can do in the face of it seems just like not doing stuff. Like, not taking a flight, not eating meat. I just feel like it's limiting.”

“With guerilla gardening, it's like a positive action you can take; you can see it, you can do it. And you immediately see the positive impact you've [made] with your actions, your own two hands.”

If you want to learn more about Ellen and Dream Green, you can do so on the Dream Green website. If you want to buy Ellen’s new book Get Guerrilla Gardening: A Handbook To Planting in Public Places, you can pre-order it on the DK website!

Charity check-in 

At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.

Every Can Counts. This is a not-for-profit recycling programme, encouraging people to recycle more often, to protect our planet. Support them here.

Trees For Cities. They are working to plant more trees within large metropolitan areas, for the betterment of people and planet. Support them here.

Climate Reframe.  Climate Reframe is committed to supporting the climate and environment movement in its transformation towards greater justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI). Find out more.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Climate Action.

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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