I came across The Pothole Gardener last week and I knew an interview was brewing. I’m sure there are many cities with impressive potholes, and Montreal, with it’s extreme weather changes, is no stranger to dimpled and sunken streets and sidewalks. So, when I saw what Steve Wheen, Creative Producer at London’s Google Creative Lab, had done in the streets of London, I knew this would be something I would be revisiting in the future, with the intention of sprucing up things around here.
Read on, and you, too, will be inspired.
11 Questions with Steve Wheen, The Pothole Gardener
gave you the inclination to fill potholes with little gardens?
I was looking for a project based around happiness. I wanted to create happy
spaces. Originally I had grand plans to do massive installations, but then I
looked at tiny things and wondered if making an big impact related to making a
began to play around, I realized that somehow my little gardens, turning
something crappy into something a little happier, managed to have a really big
impact on people!
send their own pothole garden photos in to you on a regular basis from all over
the world. Did you think this would become a movement? I love that you’ve
made a world map of contributors, too.
really had no idea…I love it when people send me gardens! I love that people
are experiencing the joy that I get from creating the gardens. It’s about
getting out there, doing something and having an impact on your environment and
the people in your community.
something nice about the unexpected – the juxtaposition of the hard grey urban
environment giving way to soft organic sprigs of life. Do you feel there
are many layers to what you are doing, or is it more mechanical than that (ie:
is the pothole simply an opportunity to fill it up)? Okay – scratch that. There
are layers. There always are. Tell us about them.
The more I work on the project, and the more people I talk to the more layers I
uncover. I’m always fascinated with what people read into my gardens – my micro
doc Holes Of Happiness was all about that – I wanted to know what people
thought about my work, how it made them feel, and why they thought I did what I
wanted to turn something crappy into something happier. Potholes annoy
everyone, so I wondered about sprucing them up a bit. I didn’t used to have a
garden, and after growing up in Australia I always had a garden, so gardening
in the street always seemed like a good solution to not having a garden!
one level, I’m just making a little garden in the street. On another, I’m
spreading happiness. I have lived in London for 10 years and it amazes me how
people walk around in these little bubbles…how they don’t connect with their
environment. Somehow my little gardens make people stop, look and connect with
the world. Even if it’s only for a moment. People always ask why I do it when
the gardens sometimes don’t last very long…for me that’s the whole point.
You’re extra lucky if you get to see one of my mini gardens as it might be gone
in a blink of an eye.
like the element of humor, with the introduction of tiny garden furniture, road
signs, etc. Is this an idea you started with originally, or has it grown into
that? Do certain environments naturally lend themselves to tiny quirky
happened by accident really – I had created a couple of gardens and a
photographer I was working with suggested adding some props, so we dug around
and found some and that’s when the project really took off. I could really
start telling stories then, creating these mini scenes. Over time my gardens
have slowly become more and more complex.
5. I love
seeing the photos and videos of people’s reactions to that pop of botanical colour in the
middle of a sidewalk, or on the roadside. Do you ever find yourself worrying
that your newly planted pothole garden won’t last long? Have people written to
you about their experiences with the life expectancy of their pothole gardens?
indeed! Some of the gardens have remained alive for years! Others have been
stolen in a matter of minutes… As long as at least one person has seen it,
that’s all that really matters for me…
is really a guerrilla tactic you, and others you’ve inspired, are employing.
Do you see it as a way to fight the smothering effects of urbanization?
As a way to jar people into considering something other than their to-do
list on their drab commute?
think it definitely confronts people on their drab commute! I don’t see it as
fighting, or protesting…I hope it is more uplifting…
that you’ve been at it for a while, when you see a pothole somewhere, what’s
the first thing that comes to your mind? Are there certain factors that go into
helping you decide what potholes to fill (because we know there is no shortage
of potholes in the world)?
I’ve become a bit of a pothole aficionado! I can spot a pothole ready to garden
from a good 50 feet! I look for places to garden everywhere and anywhere!
Funnily enough in London different boroughs have different funding, so in some
parts there is not a pothole to be seen – in others it’s a gardeners’
then how do you decide what plants to use for any given installation?
plan my little gardens around events and things that are on my mind…I take a
lot of time to get everything in scale so that really dictates the plants and
props I use.
love to hear about a funny experience you’ve had while on this journey.
had many funny experiences – that’s what I love about it. I never know what is
going to happen on a gardening adventure! Maybe the police will come and say
hello (and even join in) or I’ll watch one of my gardens get stolen…but I think
the most fun I had was when I took Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall gardening. That
was amazing, and I’ll never forget it. She was delightful and one of my
favourite gardening buddies.
been featured in newspapers and magazines all over the world. Has it gone
to your head? Haha, I mean, do you ever tire of talking about it? What keeps it
fresh for you?
amazed that people are so interested in my little blog. What keeps it fresh is
other people sending me gardens. I love that. Whenever I get an email with a
garden attached it really does get my heart racing!
blog is about Art, Design and Human Nature. In your experience – with planting
and tending to, and observing the world around these little gardens – what have
you noticed about the people who have interacted with them/you?
find these gardens break down barriers. In a city where people don’t talk to
strangers – I’ve seen two strangers come together over one of my gardens,
strike up a conversation and then walk off down the road together.
Thanks, Steve, for lending us a few moments and letting us into your brain.
I have my eye on a few areas around the city that may see a little less pothole and a little more green in the coming weeks. Join me, won’t you?