Activism and... Gardening

IssueNovember 2008

A very long time ago, in 1994, I managed to use my membership of the Royal Horticultural Society to obtain the freedom of an imprisoned peace activist!

There had been a protest in Farnborough, against the sale of Hawks to Indonesia, and my daughter had been arrested for filling British Aerospaces’ fountain with red dye and taken to the police station. I was asked to go up there and try negotiate her release since she refused to give her date of birth.

At the reception desk, I was asked whether I could vouch for the prisoner being who she said she was I said: “Yes.”

Then I was asked for some proof of my identity.

I searched and I searched, and all I could find was… my RHS membership card. I fished it out of my purse and offered it up for inspection.
It was accepted as proof of my identity (and perhaps of my respectability!), and my daughter was released.

Guerrilla gardening
I have been involved in other horticultural activist-related activities. My affinity group attended the Parliament Square guerrilla gardening event organised on May Day 2000 by Reclaim the Streets. There were thousands of people digging up Parliament Square, planting seeds and plants as a protest against capitalism (“Resistance is fertile” said the banner).
We decided that we’d wander a little way away, and found ourselves in Jubilee Gardens. (This was before that bloody turntable “London Eye” thing was dumped there.)
We planted some cabbages in the bushes around the edge of Jubilee Gardens, and they did very well there. I went back for weeks afterwards, and they were thriving.

In memoriam
Less successful was our planting of myrtle in St James’s, Piccadilly. Our affinity group had permission from the church to plant something to remember our dear friend the peace activist Audrey Schmidt.

Unfortunately, the gardener at St James’s didn’t water the plant and it did not survive. However, we did also plant some hypericum (a shrubby St John’s wort) and a Japanese anemone in remembrance of Audrey at the Peace Pagoda in Battersea Park, and those have survived.

These plants were, fittingly, taken from the garden of my aunt, another long-lived activist. One of the Peace News editors decorated a slate marker for Audrey, which I think still rests on the altar at the Peace Pagoda.

Before the bulldozers
I have two other plant-related stories. One is to do with Pure Genius, the 1996 land occupation in south London which saw (among other things) much planting using raised beds and spent mushroom compost because the land was quite polluted.

I didn’t do any gardening myself, but I did visit often, wondering at the things that sprang up naturally on the site, the natural succession of lovely plants.

I believe that Pure Genius was about to be declared a “Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation” when the bulldozers were sent in.

One of the lovely things that grew in Pure Genius (the land was owned by Guinness, hence the name) was the poppy.

In 1991, I helped to make a giant poppy wreath which had on the front of it the words: “We are running out of poppies”. We laid it at the Cenotaph as a protest against the (old) Iraq war.

The boxes of (artificial) red poppies needed to make the wreath were donated freely by the British Legion.

Woman activist, London

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