Seed-bombers strike in Jozi

2012-02-25 15:54

AMBush Gardening Collective is on a secret mission to green neglected urban spaces

Digging up a guerrilla gardener is quite an underground affair.

It’s not that these covert gardeners don’t exist. The growing host of guerrilla gardens popping up in neglected urban spaces across the country is certainly proof of that.

But guerrilla gardening necessitates a bit of a maverick streak, a touch of cloak and dagger. And much of the petal power lies in the element of surprise.

After exchanging coded emails, I eventually meet the guerrilla gardening team of AMBush Gardening Collective. They describe themselves as a group of ecoartist/activists, sustainable designers, social change makers, performers, recyclers, evolutionaries and, of course, guerrilla gardeners.

AMBush has guerrilla-gardened Hillbrow, Diepkloof, Krugersdorp, Cape Town, Standerton, Pietermaritzburg and Durban.

Members WayWord Sun and Liliana Transplanter – they insist on never using their real names – agree to meet me at the vegetarian mecca that is Fresh Earth in Emmarentia.

WayWord Sun’s get-up is ingenuous. I first mistake him for a gardener in his green overall. But then again, that’s exactly what he is.

Petite Liliana bikes in five minutes later, dreadlocks flying in the wind.

She laughs when I ask her about the secrecy and night missions. Their secret-mission gear is gardening utensils, a host of plants and Wellington boots.

Guerilla gardeners don’t ask for permission when they see a vacant, neglected lot they want to green. They simply pitch up one day with their shovels and plants, and dig in.

But like any covert mission, they do reconnaissance beforehand.

Says WayWord Sun: “We speak to the communities that live in the area beforehand to see what their needs are. These gardens are in essence for the communities in the area.”

In Europe, guerrilla gardeners have been accused of vandalism. Because guerrilla gardening is gardening on another person’s land without permission, there is always the danger of being arrested.

“But we have never felt threatened or even been chased away,” says Liliana.

“I think it is different in South Africa. We get chased, but by kids who want to be part of the mission. People want their spaces to be greened.

Laughs WayWord Sun: “People think we are crazy.”

During the global climate change discussions in Durban last year, AMBush tackled what they call a “disgusting” lot on the outskirts of Pietermaritzburg.

Says Liliana: “We drove around and saw this little rooftop filled with garbage and waste, but out of it a tree
was growing.”

WayWord Sun got pricked by a discarded syringe and had to get a tetanus shot.

It turned out to be their most challenging mission.

A lot in Standerton near a taxi rank was also difficult.

Says Liliana: “People kept telling us we were going to get robbed. Afterwards, we found out we had picked a very dangerous area to guerrilla-garden.”

The first mission they did was on an empty lot on Louis Botha Avenue, near Hillbrow, last year. The garden still exists, but Liliana admits that it is a challenge to keep it going.

“I can’t simply go alone and water the plants because afterwards we discovered that there is a ditch behind the lot with drugged-up vagrants.”

Overseas, seed bombing – an exercise in which guerrilla gardeners drive past an empty lot and chuck a compressed ball of soil and seeds out of their window – is growing. It’s the original drive-by blooming. You can even find seed-bomb vending machines in the US.

Liliana says seed bombing is the next frontier for AMBush Next on their list? A lot in Yeoville. Intelligence gathering has begun.

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