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The Green Life: This Gardener Turns Potholes into Tiny Worlds

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January 09, 2012

This Gardener Turns Potholes into Tiny Worlds

Valance-RdThe Pothole Gardener finds holes in urban spaces, then patches them up with plants. In the miniature scenes he creates, pansies grow larger than park benches, bicycles lean against daisy stems, and cyclamen tower above knitters’ armchairs.

Londoners stop to stare, but they’re too tall to drive through a hyacinth forest, picnic under the Chinese lanterns, or play tennis beneath the mums. Only a Lilliputian could live in these worlds.

A former guerrilla gardener, Steve Wheen wants only to beautify his city with his diminutive designs. He realized he could tell a story and fill a pothole at the same time: “I’m leaving a beautiful little scene in a big, dirty city. I hope it gets people thinking."

Everyone hates potholes, he explains. But when people see his pothole gardens, "They always smile — often after looking somewhat confused — and that’s why I do it.” Passersby stop to take photos, and children ask endless questions, adoring these whimsical fantasies.

Valance-Rd-4Wheen recalls his earliest gardening memories of helping his grandfather plant daffodils. It was serious business: His grandfather bred the first red trumpeted daffodil. Growing up in Australia, Wheen’s garden spaces sprawled. But as an adult living in East London, his tiny flat offered no planting space at all. “Not having a garden made me hit the streets with my trowel and pansies.”

So far, he’s inspired an international following of fellow pothole-fillers, from a lady in Paris to a group in Montreal. Wheen receives photos of pint-sized plots in bloom from all over the world. And he occasionally takes requests — though he stays away from busy highways.

His street and sidewalk creations might last a few months or a few minutes. One tenacious daffodil sprung up a year later. The Pothole Gardener says he has no favorite. He loves each one. “These are little moments of happiness, small and fragile.”

--Carolyn Cotney / images: The Pothole Gardener

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