London People: Richard Reynolds
Interviews with people, who live, or work, in London who have made an impact on the city; each in their own way. And their relationship with the capital.
by Sarah Kinson
Richard Reynolds is a Guerrilla Gardener; his weapons are a fork and spade. In night-time raids, he transforms a small unused plot of space on a roadside or roundabout into a tiny green oasis.
Where did you grow up?
In a small market town called Holsworthy in North Devon. There is a big farming community there and it is a complete contrast to London. We were an hour from the nearest cinema. As children we made our own fun by playing cards or ball games and playing in the garden, rather than going out and buying stuff.
What was your first impression of London?
I first came to London ‘to see the sights’, when I was eleven. It was like WOW - proper bright lights; country boy comes to the city. I wrote a diary and kept all my bus tickets – I still have them. I remember thinking, one day I will live here.
When did you first arrive to live in London?
I arrived in September 1998, a fresh faced graduate from university with a job as a trainee adverting planner. I found a house share in Maida Vale, a leafy part of town, and I walked to work in Paddington. It was a great life – but it wasn’t sustainable!
What parts of London have you lived in?
I lived in Maida Vale for two years and on the edge of Borough Market for four years. I house sat in Islington briefly, and then I moved to Elephant and Castle, where I’ve been for four years. So, I’ve seen North and South, posh, and concretey!
What do you like about where you live now?
I think Elephant and Castle is a brilliant. It is incredibly diverse and I enjoy that. Living in a communal building, you really can’t help but meet your neighbours and talk to them because you are sharing the lifts and corridors. There is always something going wrong and so always a subject to talk about.
What’s the view from your window?
Singing the praises of high-rise living - my view is a spectacular panorama of Battersea Power Station, the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament. And I can see many trees from here. It is a very inspiring view. The sky is so changeable. I ‘m forever grabbing the camera and taking another snap of it.
Describe a normal day at work
I am a freelance advertising planner by day, so I might cycle over Waterloo Bridge to an office in Soho. Later, I’ll come home and check emails from guerrilla gardeners all over the world. Then in the evening I might pack up my tools and meet others at a traffic island, or road-side verge for an hour and a half of weeding or planting.
Generally it’s very positive. If we’re near traffic lights, a car will stop and the window might roll down. The driver will thank us, or ask why we aren’t wearing furry guerrilla jackets. Or, most often, ask if we can come and do their garden.
Recently, a Transport for London road re-surfacer came up to us and said: ‘What are you doing with our plants?’ We just kept calm and told him we had planted them all.
So, what is so important about a bit of greenery?
It is living! I think people forget that; they think of a plant as a lamp stand. But your garden isn’t just another room in the house. It’s more like having a pet or a child; it needs love and attention. The more love and attention you give it, the more you will get back from it. And that is good for the soul.
Can we all have green fingers?
Yes! But I meet a lot people who are scared. They are intimidated by some of the gardening programmes on TV. Millions of people are being mislead and frustrated because on TV, they use expensive and unnecessary materials. It’s sad because gardening can be very cheap and simple.
Is London a good place to bring up children?
I don’t have any children but I think it is a good place because there is so much opportunity to be inspired and stimulated. For parents, it can be stressful. Living in London is a bit like growing up in a sweet shop - fantastic for the child - but not every parent would want that. I think I grew up in the equivalent of a greengrocers - very healthy and hearty.
What do you do to relax?
I started guerrilla gardening to relax. When I first started working in advertising the job was really frustrating and I didn’t have a garden of my own. I wanted to create something and make it beautiful.
In advertising you make something entertaining or beautiful, in the hope that people will change their behaviour. And in a way, gardening in public is also a form of communication. But you don’t want people to buy something, you just want to cheer them up, and hopefully inspire them.
What is the worst thing about London?
It’s that we are so pre-occupied with our private spaces and possessions - and this is an ad man speaking! If we step outside we will get more out of living here. I don’t mean that in the sense of sacrifice or charity. I don’t see being a guerrilla gardener as being a do-gooder. I do it because it gives me a lot satisfaction.
What is the best thing?
I tell people that I live in the capital of the world. It is fantastic the Olympics are coming here because London – more than any other city in the world - represents all the countries taking part in the Olympics.
If you only had one more day in London (i.e. you had to leave tomorrow) what would you spend your last day doing?
I would meet with fellow guerrilla gardeners and make sure the gardens were OK.
Where do you want to end up when you when to pop your clogs?
I can’t answer that at 31! I don’t think you can decide that until you can look back, hopefully at four score and ten, and work out how you can sum up your life.
last updated: 30/10/2008 at 13:18
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