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Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom: Radical Gardening

Wednesday, August 8, 2012 @ 08:08 PM

Why do you garden? For tranquillity, peace or creativity?

Or to start a rebellion perhaps?

Radical Gardening Cover

Thought-provoking or what?!

Some may think of gardening as a bit of a suburban, tame and rather gentile pursuit, but, here is a book to make them think again. Are we talking vegetable plot, or political plot?

“Certain gardens are described as retreats when they are really attacks” Ian Hamilton Finlay

In fact war, peace and politics don’t usually spring to mind when we think about gardening, but look a little closer at Britain’s favourite pastime and you’ll find that gardens have long been breeding grounds of radical ideologies, political struggle and social change. It’s about the role of gardens in western history, with specific focus on Britain and the United States.

Winston Churchill with a grass mohican

Winston said “War is the natural occupation of man…war – and gardening”

In Radical Gardening: Politics, Idealism & Rebellion in the Garden, George McKay, Professor of Cultural Studies at Salford University and an expert in counter-culture, explores the ways in which gardening and the garden have been, and remain, central to radical politics, from the Hyde Park riots of the 1860s, through the social utopianism of the garden city movement, the progressive left-wing and even the Nazi versions of organic gardening. It also looks at foreign plants and the politics of immigration, peace gardens, gay gardens, counter-cultural gardens of the 1960s, and up to the ‘guerrilla gardening’ on urban wasteland today.

A Victorian poster demanding the removal of fences around London Commons

Fascinating stuff…

For Woolly Green readers who are either allotment holders (or would be if they could get their hands on one), or for those outside of Britain who haven’t got a clue what an allotment is, there is a fascinating history of how allotments came about, beginning with the allotments Act of 1887 with many different types of cultivation from fuel (firewood), field (grazing) and gardens (mainly vegetable growing) and have evolved to the generally local authority owned vegetable plots we know today.

It is a fascinating history that is quite uncomfortable in places, but I can’t recommend Radical Gardening highly enough for anyone who is interested in why gardening is important in a broader context. It is a fascinating look at a side of gardening that is hardly ever considered: the way gardens have shaped communities, people and their use of the land.

Gardeners who see their work as important and are interested in the broader context of their work as well as historians, and activists will find Radical gardening: Politics Idealism & Rebellion a fascinating addition to the Woolly Green Bookshelf.  In fact, I’ve found it difficult to put down.






One thought on “Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom: Radical Gardening

  1. Pingback: | Win a Copy of George McKay’s Radical Gardening | Woolly Green

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