Guerilla gardners are radically seed bombing vacant spaces to create lush gardens.
Last year, a group of guerrilla gardeners broke into a disused plot of land in central Brighton and set up a community garden called The Mound. The land had been derelict for the last 14 years and the gardeners wrote to the land owners saying they would vacate as soon as development on the site began. The land owners were – perhaps understandably – unamused at the squatting and responded by sending in bulldozers to level the 20 square meters of vegetable patches, blooming flowers and educational resources, returning the site to its previous state of neglect. Rumor has it a colony of rare crested newts was also lost in the process.
Today, however, the land is a thriving green meadow of mustard and poppies, thigh high shining green weeds and bright yellow thistles, all thanks to an extensive campaign of seed bombing.
The seed bombing phenomenon seems to have bloomed from nowhere; radical gardeners making little muddy balls from damp compost and mixed seeds and throwing them into any unloved urban area where the plants might take.
Josie Jeffery is the author of Seedbombs: Going Wild with Flowers and widely considered the go-to authority on seed bombing in Brighton & Hove. She says seed bombs originated in ancient Japan and were revived halfway through the 20th century by philosopher and microbiologist Masanobu Fukuoka as a way of introducing revitalizing plants to tired soil that had been exhausted through over use. The little muddy grenades were then adopted by the New York Green Guerrillas who used them to begin transforming run down areas with bright flowers and greenery.
From there, their popularity has spread weed-like, across the world. Josie became interested in them in 2008 when her studies in horticulture and an overheard snippet of a radio interview led her to the work of Fukuoka. She says: “When I first started making them nobody knew what they were. I loved seeing the looks on people’s faces when I explained what they were because they are funny little things, a ball that looks like a truffle and grows into a plant.”
It was a fascination that coincided with a collective gardening mania in Brighton & Hove. The Lewes Road Community Garden, another patch of derelict land squatted for food growing, had just been established, and the now huge movement towards personal food growing was emerging. Josie says: “People wanted to reclaim the available space in the city because gardens are so small. It appealed to radicals and then it spread and people asked me to do workshops in schools and at different events.”
Before long, children as well as those radicals were chucking seed bombs over fences, into disused street planters or empty tree pits.
When The Mound was first occupied in early 2011, Josie helped gardeners line the soil with hundreds of seed bombs. It was a dry summer and with no immediate water source on the site, the bombs failed to germinate. Subsequently, The Mound met its end, but the big yellow digger wasn’t just destroying the visible plants, it was also spreading the invisible seeds.
Vera Zakharov was a regular visitor to The Mound and after its demise attended a memorial ceremony for the space, where participants walked through the city with signs and plants. At the site at the end of the procession, the group stood and hurled seed bomb after seed bomb over the eight foot high metal fences. She says: “It wasn’t revenge, it was about sovereignty. The developers had made a very active statement that they had no need to engage with community members, even though its presence affected us. We were saying that regardless of the law, you cannot stop human interaction with a space. In that way it was an act of defiance.”
There has since been a lot of rain to wake up the seeds and through the gaps in the newly reinforced fence passers-by can see a huge green meadow filled with wildflowers. Josie is very happy about it.
“After The Mound was levelled everyone forgot about the seeds but now that they’ve grown it’s so exciting. Even though it’s not a garden any more we’ve made sure it still is,” she says.
Vera says: “it’s such a meaningful thing. Seed bombing is activism. It allows us to continue a relationship with the spaces around us, even if the law says we can’t.”
Make your own seed bomb
1. Use water to dampen compost, or a clay/compost mix
2. Add a mix of seeds – salad leaves or wildflowers – and roll in your hands to make a ball
3. Push it into the soil in an appropriate place, or throw it at an urban wasteland
4. Wait and hope!
Remember: Only use native, non-invasive species. The law around seed bombing private land remains unclear. Do so at your own risk.