Planting a great idea

Seedbombs are little ‘mud packs’ of flower seeds flung randomly to bloom, and prettify urban areas says Suzanne Harrington.

SEEDBOMBS are not an obscure super-food actress Gwyneth Paltrow would feed her children. Nor are they something expensive and age-defying you might smooth into your face. They are not dangerous, or illegal.

No, seedbombs are fun, simple and gently subversive. Seedbombing is about making your world a little more beautiful, without having to ask permission or go formal. They are something anyone can do, anywhere, anytime. They are guaranteed to spread not just flowers, but small bursts of joy as well.

So what are they? Seedbombs are little balls of compost and clay stuffed with wildflower seeds, which can easily be flung into places that could do with some beauty — wasteland, unloved urban areas, anywhere abandoned or forlorn. Ugly corners, forgotten alleys, barren stretches of ground can all benefit from this simplest and most hands-on form of guerilla gardening.

Seedbombing is pared down to basics, or as seedbomb innovator Josie Jeffery (pictured far right) says: “here you have in the palm of your hand a little revolution, something that can change the face of the earth, something that contains the early stages of a field of wild flowers, edible crops, or a herb garden.”

It is a simple, positive idea. You make the seedbombs at home, at little cost, using mud and seeds. Once you have completed your seedbombing checklist (see below), you are ready to walk and launch. You chuck them as you go, even from a car or bicycle or train window, so long as you have good aim.

“I use seedbombs to mark journeys,” says Josie, who is a horticulturist and author of a beautiful book about the practice, Seedbombs: Going Wild With Flowers.

“A walk to work or school can be seedbombed, to make an ordinary walk more of a delight — you can see the flowers germinating, growing, attracting bees and insects.

“Seedbombing creates a habitat for city wildlife. It makes places for bees to collect pollen from native wild flowers without having to go so far out of town. We only use native wild flowers so that the seedbombs don’t interfere with nature’s balance, or introduce plants that would take over and smother our native plants,” she says.

“There is a sense of unpredictability with seedbombing. Its random nature is what attracts people, the magic of waiting to see if this strange little ball will grow, if it actually works.”

Josie, 33, is a horticulturist and garden designer with a difference; she embodies the DIY aesthetic of punk, rather than stuffier formal garden design. She is a passionate advocate of seedbombing, saying that the small balls of seed-filled mud “can make ugly, forgotten land beautiful and useful again, restore plant and wildlife populations, nourish and feed the soil, people and animals, bring communities together, educate, and, importantly, bring joy.”

The concept of seedbombing comes from an ancient Japanese practice, tschui dango (‘earth dumplings’), which was revived by a visionary 20th century microbiologist and farmer, Masanobu Fukuoka, who “greened-up” ravaged land all over the world via seedbombing.

“He believed that mother nature takes care of the seeds we sow and decides which crops to provide us with, like a process of natural selection,” says Josie. She also cites New York’s Green Guerilla gardeners, who began the guerilla gardening movement in 1973 when a woman called Liz Christy gathered friends and neighbours to clear out a vacant lot and create a vibrant community garden in the space.

“The Green Guerillas have beautified many desolate spots around the city and still operate today,” says Josie. “Their mission is to bring the people together to create and educate through community gardens.”

Josie’s upbringing instilled in her a love of nature and the “magic of propagating” plants from seeds and cuttings. Growing up on a bus from the age of three, she travelled around festivals like Stonehenge and Glastonbury with her parents and four siblings, and was home-educated. The family earned their living by busking — they played a lot of traditional Irish folk music — and lived off the land when they weren’t travelling. “There is an Irish connection on my dad’s side,” she says. “He taught us to play the tin whistle when we were very young.”

The Jeffery family also travelled with circuses and stayed in rural communes where they grew their own food, before settling on land in Wales in 1991. “I became interested in horticulture during childhood,” she says. “My family and I used to forage for wild foods when we were travelling around Europe. I remember stuff like picking wild garlic and making nettle soup.”

When Josie moved to Brighton in 2003 with her partner and three young sons, she missed rural living. “Living in town, I missed the countryside connection, and so I studied horticulture and garden design, although my designs were often deemed a bit too radical,” she says. “But I loved learning about the plants, and I got into propagating, which seemed more magical than formal design.”

Since writing her first book on seedbombing, Josie has developed a technique she calls ‘seed smudging’. “Basically, it’s the same recipe as for seedbombs, but with a bit more water,” she says. “So you can smear the mixture into cracks in the ground, or holes in the wall, and watch flowers grow out of it. The thing to make sure is that you use plants which will not cause structural damage.”

Children love all of this. Seedbombing is the ultimate in making mud pies — except that they are mud pies with a purpose. Get mixing, get mucky, and get seedbombing; your kids will walk miles, without even realising it. And they’ll want to revisit their route, to see how their seedbombs are doing. You can start in your garden, your window box, your pathway, and before you know it you’ll be slinging seedbombs everywhere. It really is magic.

* Seedbombs: Going Wild With Flowers by Josie Jeffery, Leaping Hare Press, £9.99

SEEDBOMB BASE RECIPE – MAKES 6

* 5 tablespoons seed compost

* 4 tablespoons terracotta clay powder

* 1 teaspoon seeds (base this on poppy seeds as a size guide, add half a teaspoon more as seeds go up in size)

* I teaspoon chilli powder as a pest deterrent (optional)

* Sprinkles of water at intervals (about 20ml)

* Liquid fertiliser if NPK is absent in the compost 1. Pour compost, clay and seeds into a bowl, and stir until mixed. 2. Add water very slowly until mixture is doughlike and sticks together. 3. Separate into six even sized lumps. 4. Roll into smooth balls. 5. Place in an empty egg box to store. Now you can launch them immediately or dry them for up to 48 hours.

SEEDBOMBING DO’S AND DON’TS

Do check if the land is a conservation area before seedbombing it.

Don’t seedbomb land being used for agricultural purposes.

Do check if derelict land is about to be built on.

Do choose your seeds carefully — non-invasive, and the right plant for the right place.

Do use native plants and plants which attract wildlife such as bee or butterflies.

Don’t throw seedbombs randomly, without looking.

Don’t throw them in your neighbour’s garden without consent. Don’t throw them where they cannot thrive.


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