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Guerrilla gardening and planting tulips
Last 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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