Juan de los zapatos: Meet the guerilla gardener of Malasaña

Juan de los zapatos: Meet the guerilla gardener of Malasaña
Juan Perez creates the flower pots on Calle Pez. Photos: Fiona Govan / The Local
His creations have become a tourist attraction with visitors stopping to admire and pose for photographs.

Anyone who has strolled along Calle Pez in the last year will have seen the unusual floral arrangements and wondered at their creator.

The Local tracked down Juan Perez, a long-time resident of Malasaña and the man behind the quirky trouser flower pots that lean against lampposts the length of the bustling street, adding a splash of greenery and colour.

“They used to call me Juan de los pantalones,” said the bespectacled retired engineer as he stuffed a fistful of damp earth inside an old Converse mounted on the wall.

“But now I am Juan de los zapatos as I am concentrating on shoes now.”

Perez, now 70, has lived on Calle Pez for 30 years and can often be found tending his flower pots or refilling his ingenious watering system with his faithful Alaska, a scruffy rescue dog,  at his heels.

In summer it is a battle to keep the plants alive in the scorching heat of the Madrid sun, but Perez has devised a method.  A filled plastic bottle connected to each pot with a cord placed into the earth ensures a constant supply of water.

“I water every day during the summer months but just once a week in winter,” he explains.

“I love flowers and I love gardening but as I don’t have one in my flat, I decided to make the streets my garden – that way all the community can enjoy.”

Instagram is full of posts of his guerrilla gardening which include a whole family of trousers – infants included – on the wall of an old squat about halfway down the street.

It’s rare not to find someone stopped to photograph or pose in front of wall garden opposite the recently re-opened and refurbished Malasaña classic, El Palentino.

“This street has changed a lot since I lived here,” recounts Perez. “The last old-fashioned shop La Moda just closed down and now it’s all bars and restaurants.”

But he insists the neighbourhood feeling has not been lost. “There is still a sense of community here, people stop and tell me how much they love my flowers, they donate shoes and colourful trousers so I can make more.”

Perez pays for the pots, earth and plants from his own pocket. “It’s only a euro or two here and there, what else am I going to spend money on?” he shrugs.

But neighbours, fellow residents in Malasaña, donate the most important part of his creations, the clothing and footwear that hold up the planted pots. “Boldly printed trousers work best, any size, and any type of shoes, even heels.”

He eyes my own footwear, a well-worn pair of ankle boots. “There’s not long left in those,” he chuckles. ”When you’ve had enough, you know where to find me!”

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