Sarah with fellow gardener Ruth

Fed up with scruffy, overgrown public spaces, residents in parts of Milton Keynes have been getting their hands dirty turning the nasty to the nice, to benefit the community.
Sammy Jones talked to a couple of the guerrilla gardeners among us…

The seeds of the so-called ‘guerilla gardening’ movement were sown long ago, and in Milton Keynes the art of transforming unkempt public land into pleasant spots is positively blooming.

Wild geraniums and donated plants have replaced the brambles

It means that council owned spaces and other privately owned land that is unloved can be returned to fantastic flowering spots.

In Fishermead, one street corner that was overgrown and nasty is now clean, tidy and maintained. It’s a small triumph for the area, and one that attracts many nice comments from residents and visitors alike.

A recent Facebook post which shared the images whipped up a wealth of support.

‘That’s how you should look after where you live,’ ‘inspirational,’ and ‘looks amazing,’ were some of the comments left.

The maintained space stands out because it is an attractive haven in an area where flower beds and corners have been left to their own devices; brambles and weeds have taken over, adorned with stray beer cans and fast food wrappers.

‘Guerilla gardening’ brings about a more attractive place to live in and fosters a sense of pride in the community. It unites that community too, says Sarah Bohn.

Sarah moved into Great Linford a little over four years ago. Her garage sits adjacent to her property, and when she would look out at the dreary, muddy space around it, she would feel pretty miserable.

“It looked like the people who lived here before me had put something like weedkiller down, so it was basically mud and not very pretty at all,” she remembered.

“Someone had already planted a small amount of wild blue geraniums, so I decided to start clearing away some of the rest of the mess, so I would have something nicer to look at other than dead weeds and mud…”

Seeing Sarah doing her green-fingered bit encouraged others to get involved too: “Neighbours started coming out to offer plants for it, and slowly we got it planted up and things started growing.”

Gorgeous greenery and blooms replaced the mud and brambles

Encouraged by her efforts, other residents including Marion Gallagher and Ruth Panther decided to reach for the gardening gloves and more of the land was transformed.

“It took a lot of work at weekends, a lot of green bins and a lot of pulling up dead brambles,” Sarah said, “They had been there for 40 odd years I suppose, since the houses were built!

“We are lucky here in that we have a nice community spirit anyway, but it made things even better. When we were pulling out the brambles we had people come out to help us dig out the roots…I feel that it is a community garden,” she said.

With nothing more than time spent and a little hard work, an area that had been thick with brambles, weeds and tall grass was turned into something much more appealing.

Ruth is committed to the community, and remembers seeing Sarah hard at work which spurred her on: “Seeing my new neighbour gardening gave me the opportunity I needed to pop out and meet her, and welcome her to the area,” Ruth remembered, “Guerrilla gardening is responsible for our friendship and as Sarah says, we have chatted and got to know the other neighbours better.

“My interest is in seeing if I can get cuttings of my existing garden plants to grow, in order not to buy them! But the hard work has been done by Sarah and Marion who have both brought a bit of sunshine to the road,” she added.

When Great Linford Parish Council saw Milton Keynes Council map marking the areas for their transformation works, they spotted that Sarah’s garden was in line to be grassed over; all the hard work would have been for nothing! 

The Parish Council invited MK Council to come and see the beautiful garden and they kindly changed their maps to exclude this area. “When they saw it, they were perfectly happy with what we had done,” said Sarah, “They said they will leave it alone and let us look after it.”

Quite probably, some of you reading this would like to have a go but think, ‘I’m no gardener,’ or ‘It’ll cost a fortune and I can’t afford it.’ But you need to think again.

Sarah had never gardened before she took on this challenge.

“I am a novice gardener, and I am learning,” she admits, “We have some slightly more experienced gardeners in the close and they will come out and talk to me and I can ask them questions: ‘This tulip has done well in this spot, but not here, why is that?’ and ‘Do you think I should prune this back?’

“It is always nice to have more people to talk to and learn from.

“You need to have a bit of confidence when it comes to planting things up too; it might die, it might not die, it might do really well. People are sometimes a bit nervous about gardening, but most things will live and something is better than nothing.”

And what about the expense?

“Most people that have a garden will have something that they can give you, so if you can get the community to spare something small it will grow. It doesn’t have to be a costly thing. You don’t have to go to the garden centre and spend a fortune – I haven’t bought a single plant for the area that I tend.

“Recently all the geraniums were out, the poppies were out, foxgloves, primroses…all kinds, and pretty much all of it had been donated.”

And, if you plant it, flowers will bloom and visitors will fly in to use the ‘facilities!’

“The number of bees we had when the purple geraniums were out was amazing…they were just going bonkers!” Sarah said with obvious delight, “It was such a lovely thing to see. Everyone wants bees to do well, and to see an area that was previously just mud now supporting them was wonderful…”

We are always being told to get outside, that the fresh air is good for us, and that a connection with nature is good for our wellbeing, and during the lockdowns of the past year, that has been more important than ever.

The rewards of tending something as small as a strip of land in your road can do wonders.

“It’s definitely good for you and there is always something to do, something to look at or something to prune. During this last year or so it has been a lovely thing to focus on when other hobbies were completely shut down.

“It is a great distraction and a hobby that keeps on giving and giving…”

This street corner in Fishermead was transformed from an overgrown mess

Guerrilla  gardening: What does it mean?

To garden on land that isn’t yours, in areas not being properly cared for, and on abandoned sites believed to be neglected by the legal owner.

Why do it?

Because it brings the community together, encourages everyone to take pride in the area where they live and turns dreary spaces into blooming lovely places, helping to plant positive roots for the future.

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