The First Digger Was A Great Guerilla Gardener

360 years ago on April Fools Day, Gerrard Winstanley, became a very influential guerrilla gardener when he planted vegetables on an English hillside. The repercussions live on.

On 22.1.06, five Pollards Hill cyclists explored the area around Cobham (UK) where Gerrard Winstanley’s Diggers attempted to reclaim the land for common people in 1649. They photographed this mosaic.

In 1649 Winstanley became a founding member of the ‘True Levellers’, later to become known as ‘Diggers’, an English group of agrarian communists.

In that year on 1 April, Winstanley led a group in Surrey to plant vegetables on common land. Food prices were high, Winstanley was redundant and he despaired of the injustice of so much land being owned by so few. With the rallying cry that the earth should be ‘a common treasury for all’ he established a community of Diggers and passionately pamphleted his visions for a new society.

Other ‘colonies’ sprung up but after eighteen months the movement disbanded. Gerrard’s ambitions went well beyond growing on neglected land and his legacy lives on amongst political radicals as well as those with a streak of horticultural mischief.

His determination that ordinary folk should be able to dig for dinner is an inspiring legacy. It’s time to challenge conventional land use – even the US president’s family has dug up their lawn to grow food.

For a couple of months now Australia’s Digger’s Club has asked this question in its adverts: “Will Obama plant vegies at the White House?” Now they have, I guess the unanswered issue is – are the Obamas ‘Digger’s Club Diggers’ or ‘Diggers’?

Jerry Coleby-Williams
2nd April 2009