Meet London’s Most Subversive Gardeners


Les Steed takes a look at London’s green-fingered rebels.

Subversive Gardeners are a splinter cell of the international Guerilla Gardening movement. For those who do it, it is a clandestine way of scratching the green itch in London’s harder-to-reach places. 

The Guerilla Gardeners are a group of urban growers who have been planting in and around neglected public land over the last 14 years.

“It negates the preachy aspect [of environmental campaigning] which is the last thing that people want,” said Canadian designer and inventor Vanessa Harden, 30.

Much like her favourite fictional character, Q from the James Bond films, Harden has built gadgets that bring gardening to the next level: mechanised subterfuge.

Inspired by the cold war era of espionage, Harden has created “covert gardening pieces”.

Among her inventions are a fake camera that fires “seed bombs” (balls of sugarcoated seeds) and cases and bags that quietly drill holes and pop down a potted plant with the press of a button.


Although their activity is technically criminal, these rebels are unperturbed.

“We generally don’t have any bother once we explain what we’re doing but I had this rather sad encounter in Elephant and Castle with some police who were being jobsworths a few years ago. They ordered us to move on after threatening to arrest us,” said Richard Reynolds, the main organiser of London’s Guerilla Gardening chapter.

“It negates the preachy aspect of environmental campaigning.”

But there are always places where gardening subversively isn’t easy to get away with. Areas such as Westminster and the grounds surrounding MI5 and MI6, for example.

To get around this, the Guerrilla Gardeners have been using Harden’s devices to quietly practise their craft of adding a touch of green-fingered beauty to the city.

“These are everyday objects that you would never think twice of looking at, but then at a second glance you realise there’s something a little different about these objects,” said Harden.

All photos by Les Steed