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Page last updated at 12:18 GMT, Thursday, 13 May 2010 13:18 UK
Highworth's guerrilla gardener

By Sarah Jones
BBC Wiltshire

Guerrilla gardening
In just over a year Highworth's guerrilla gardener has planted out over 100 plants

"I was very nervous the first time. I crept out. I had a dark woolly hat on and looked a bit like someone from the SAS and I was hoping the police wouldn't think that I was a burglar or something.

"But I kept it very discreet. I planted one plant and I think I planted a few seeds. I just walked by and chucked them down and disappeared."

It wouldn't occur to most gardeners to pull on a disguise along with a pair of wellies before heading outside for a potter.

But for Mark Wagstaff, living in a second floor flat in Highworth, gardening is not only a late night pursuit but technically illegal as well.

Calling the police

It was just over a year ago that the horticultural student entered the shadowy world of the plant-loving outlaw. And since his first act of random gardening - has been on a mission to fill the neglected public land around him with flowers and shrubs.

But what does it take to turn a wannabe horticulturist into an urban guerrilla gardener? For Mark it was the run-down verges of Highworth.

Mark Wagstaff - Guerrilla gardener
"I was hoping the police wouldn't think that I was a burglar or something."

"I noticed that there was a lot of abandoned land in my area with nothing growing at all," says Mark, "and I thought it could do with a few plants.

"So I crept out one night and stuck a plant in and thought well let's put some more in. So quite surreptitiously I decided to keep adding more and more and I sort of got hooked really."

Since then Mark has not only planted out over 100 bedding plants and herbaceous perennials, grown from seed on his window sill, but found homes for a number of shrubs and plants donated to the cause by people stopping him on the street.

But not everyone has been happy with his nocturnal landscaping. "I had one confrontation with a mother and her son," says Mark, "he ranted and raved at how I was making a mess and began pulling out a plant with threats of calling the Police. You can't seem to please everybody.

"I've put in other plants that have been ripped out. But if that happens I just replant them again or put something else in. I won't be defeated."

'You've been guerrilla gardened'

For many, though, Mark's marigold make-overs are more then welcome. In fact, bolstered by positive comments, Mark has become so confident that he's not only been tempted to take his trowel out in broad daylight but to put up a few 'You've been guerrilla gardened' posters in his wake.

But gardening by stealth, whilst dodging the council's long lasting weed killers, can be the least of an illicit gardener's problems. There's also the matter of looking after your newly planted flowers after-dark.

Mark Wagstaff - Guerrilla gardener
The Council put in a new bench after Mark planted flowers at an old bus-stop

"I live in a second floor flat," says Mark, "and in the summer I'm having to pop down with big barrels of water to tend them.

"So they need to be close to me so that I can dash out in the middle of the night and water them."

With a large statement flowerbed, brimming with violas and pansies, lavender and buddleia, already putting on a show - Mark has his eye on another neglected plot in need of the guerrilla treatment.

"There's another project that I want to do around the corner," admits Mark. "I think there used to be a flower bed there but it's very untended.

"It's right by the side of the road and quite open. So, I'll probably have to be out at about two or three in the morning to do it. But you get a line of traffic there and so it will be for people stopped to look at and just appreciate the beauty of flowers and life."

And for anybody wanting to get their hands dirty with a spot of guerrilla gardening Marks' advice is to find: "a disused area locally to you and just plant a few plants and see what happens."

And if you want to find out more visit: The Guerrilla Gardening Homepage

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