Guerrilla gardening and planting tulips

by Kate Bradbury

Last Sunday was International Tulip Guerrilla Gardening Planting Day.

Tulip flowersLast Sunday was International Tulip Guerrilla Gardening Planting Day. To mark the occasion, guerrilla gardeners (so called because they grow plants on public or private land without permission), planted tulips all over Europe in tree pits, neglected flower beds, traffic islands and even motorway service stations. Some came to Hackney and planted up concrete troughs around the corner from where I live.

In spring, the tulips will provide a dash of unexpected colour, as a cheerful surprise to passers-by. In most situations this will be lovely, but in order to plant the tulips, the Hackney guerrilla gardeners ripped out a fair amount of established, flowering ivy.

Tulip lovers might argue that ivy is not very cheerful, pretty or colourful, but its value to wildlife is enormous, especially at this time of year. It provides year-round shelter for a wide range of wild creatures, and in autumn its flowers and berries feed wildlife far later than most garden plants.

Last year I spoke to Richard Reynolds, author of On Guerrilla Gardening: A Handbook for Gardening without Boundaries, about the potential impact the practice had on wildlife. He said he struggled to find evidence that guerrilla gardening threatens wildlife biodiversity, and that "typical starting points are compacted mud, inconsequential rye grass and very common weeds in tree pits. What’s added" he said, "is more likely to be wildlife friendly.”

Tulips are not more wildlife friendly than ivy.

I went down to the site, where the ivy had been left on the pavement ready for the council to come and collect. On some of the leaves were ladybird pupae, while spiders spun new webs in the wreckage. There may also have been chrysalises of the holly blue butterfly, whose caterpillars feed on ivy in summer. They're probably in the local refuse tip now.

It's not just guerrilla gardeners that are seduced by, and grow pretty, colourful plants at the expense of wildlife habitats. But neglected areas provide important wild refuges in our ever expanding cities. Rather than removing the wild plants, perhaps the gardeners could have planted the tulips among them. Rather than tulips, spring bulbs such as crocus, snake's head fritillary and snowdrops, could have been planted to provide a much-needed early source of nectar for bees. How about an International Bulbs-for-Bees-Among-Wild-Plants Guerrilla Gardening Planting Day instead?

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Gardeners' World Web User 14/10/2011 at 13:54

Good post Kate - thanks.

Gardeners' World Web User 14/10/2011 at 14:15

I love the idea of guerrilla gardening - greening up our drab urban areas and adding a splash of life and colour to the monoculture of grass that is often grown on roundabouts and other public areas. I am sure that the organisers didn't intend for existing native plants to be removed or damaged, but perhaps they just need to give a bit more guidance to the well-intentioned guerrillas who join them on their adventures.

Gardeners' World Web User 14/10/2011 at 15:31

There is lots of innovative wildlife friendly planting using native species being done by local authorities on verges and in public areas, which never gets the headlines it deserves.

Gardeners' World Web User 14/10/2011 at 16:51

Guerrilla gardeners deserve medals and there own TV show! M.O.G I totally agree we have a great area near us that everyone admires. It has hedgehog houses, slate and tiles and old wood mixed in with wild flowers it is superb. Thanks Kate....all you have to do now is set the date for the first 'guerrilla day'

Gardeners' World Web User 14/10/2011 at 17:23

Oh come on! One isolated event of tearing down ivy.. and in almost all other instances guerilla gardening is a very positive movement I'd say. I really don't understand the point of this rant. The expense guerilla gardening has on wild plants is at least in my part of the world almost non-existent. Mostly guerilla gardening is done where nothing else grows..?

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