Grab a Spade and Get Digging!
Illustration from "Grand voyages" by Théodore de Bry, 1596, The New York Public Library/Rawpixel (public domain)

Grab a Spade and Get Digging!

An Interview with Witold Szwedkowski
Marta Anna Zabłocka
time 14 minutes

Witold Szwedkowski, poet and Urban Guerrilla Gardening activist, talks about backyard policy, the spade as a tool of rebellion, and the subversive potential of the pumpkin.

Let’s start with a mindful walk. Think about what you see – how many trees do you pass, what are they, do you know them? The guerrilla needs to survey their area of operation. They must estimate the strength of the enemy – the enemy being the excessive use of concrete. They must sound out the weak points and attack there, firing off seedlings, plunging in a shovel. The guerrilla does not lash out at officials, drivers, or those who are disgruntled at the sight of falling leaves. The guerrilla is against the overuse of concrete – vast stretches of granite, oceans of asphalt and rivers of bitumen. These are the things that leave cities lacking in greenery. And we fight lack of greenery guerrilla-style.

Marta Anna Zabłocka: Why ‘guerrilla’? It’s not the most obvious word to pair with ‘gardening’.

Witold Szwedkowski: Guerrillas are associated with insubordination and illegal activities. But it needn’t be that way. The guerrilla movement involves civic, spontaneous, grass-roots activities that are born of opposition or objection. It indicates a general will to change. Guerrillas might be young people who feel angry and rebellious, or older people with their lives in order who want to improve the reality around them, acting on behalf of their children and grandchildren.

Urban guerrilla gardening is a civic responsibility favouring greenery in public spaces and the deliberate planting of trees and flowers so that city dwellers like us are better off. It’s nothing new, nor is it a Polish idea. In fact, I came across this term many years after I started my activities. And although there are plenty of guerrillas around, sometimes you have to give a new meaning to the known in order to demystify and revive it, allowing it to materialize in the public consciousness. The first time I came across the term ‘urban guerrilla gardener’ in Zielone Miasto magazine, I thought: “Oh, that’s bang on!”

So where did the idea to spontaneously focus


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