Digging Up Buried Treasure

I have of late been making the closer acquaintance of my garden fork, also known as a digging fork, which is most certainly the use I have been making of it. I hatched a plot over winter to turn an overgrown section of lawnish area (presently hidden from the house by a derelict shed) into a vegetable garden.

The patch started out looking like this:

overgrown lawn with nasturtium and rundown shed
Derelict shed to the right, with detached pieces of itself leaning against it drunkenly.

Observant gardeners among you will have noted that the section or plot in question appears to be mainly growing nasturtium. Appearances can be deceptive. Under what one might call the canopy of nasturtium lurks all manner of things, most notably mint.

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Convolvulus: A Commination

I’ve always liked the idea of being a gardener. I took Horticulture in the fourth form, and Agriculture/Horticulture in the sixth form. I even toyed with the idea of becoming a landscape architect. Gardening is a classic Little Old Lady enthusiasm, and an area in which I have always felt I fell short of true Little Old Lady-hood.

sea-of-flowers-217683_640Because when it comes down to it, I have seldom ever actually gardened, and I think the reason for this lies in my childhood. We moved house frequently, so while there was always gardening to be done, we seldom hung around long enough to see the fruits of our labour. In fact, when I had to grow a garden for school (back in my primary days) I had to grow it at a friend’s house, so as to ensure continued access.

The result of all this was that I subconsciously filed gardening under ‘thankless toil’ and never did it unless I had some particular reason to – such as the vegetable garden I grew in the fourth form. My excitement when I saw something I’d planted actually produce knew no bounds. I even dragged my mother out to look at them when she got home. I don’t think she understood why I was so excited about pea plants producing peas, but she duly admired them all the same.

My enthusiasm – particularly as far as weeding was concerned – was rather dented by that same garden, however. While getting down to weed’s eye level to wreak havoc on the little pests, I discovered that weed’s eye view is also really-quite-large-frog’s-eye-view. I don’t know which of us had the worst fright.

frog-48239_640
So without anything much to motivate me, I seldom gardened; and my occasional bursts of enthusiasm were not enough to make the garden thrive. Such enthusiasm as I had was dampened by the regularity with which the weeds returned and the seeds I’d planted failed to grow. Now, however, being the sole lady of this little demesne, I find that my attitude to gardening is slowly changing.

Instead of the source of unremitting toil which will never render any return, I am beginning to look on the garden as something which is mine to nurture, and which will repay my efforts on its behalf with Good Things – food, and pleasant scents, and leafy sun-dappled shade.

So I have started to garden, little by little. I have dipped my toe into pruning, weeding, planning, repotting, planting – including some seeds which actually sprouted (magic beans from my mother). We’ve even eaten some of the produce of our garden (mint, nasturtiums, redcurrants and lemons). And yet, into this nascent Eden has crept a snake: the accursed Convolvulus, or bindweed.

Field Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) (7171469057)The Caped Gooseberry has been waging daily war on it for weeks (my hero!), and yet the evil flourishes. “Have at him, chop him up, turn his roots upward to the sun, don’t let him have a fibre in the shade, if you do he’ll turn himself  t’other side up and be as green as a leek in two days,” as Thoreau observed in Walden.

Convolvulus is like the plant version of the Black Death: even a tiny bit of infection left behind can turn into a full-blown epidemic in a matter of days. If it was edible, we could feed the world with it. As Dave Barry said of crabgrass, “it can grow on bowling balls in airless rooms, and there is no known way to kill it that does not involve nuclear weapons.” And unlike bubonic plague, its victims don’t have a 50% chance of survival. If they aren’t rescued when the Tendrils of Relentless Destruction coil around them, they will be gradually choked to death. It is the Boa Constrictor of the plant world, and it grows a good deal faster.

And so I have been moved to compose this comminatory sonnet, addressed to the vile midnight strangler that creeps about my garden.

Convolvulus arvensis (akkerwinde) How I do loathe thee! Let me count the ways:
I loathe thee to the depth and breadth and height
Thy tendrils reach, and roots spread out of sight
Which all within their choking grasp embrace.
I loathe thee with the effort of each day’s
Repeated work, as my man fights the fight.
I loathe thee, as do all who see aright;
I loathe thee with the fullness of my phrase.
I loathe thy hypocritical false flower,
As with pure white thou seek’st to fool the eye;
I loathe thy strength, thy killing wield of power;
Thy weakness, using others to grow high.
And so my curse, from roots to usurped tower:
To twine about thyself, and, strangling, die.

with a nod to Elizabeth Barrett Browning
and No.43 of the Sonnets from the Portuguese (they aren’t)

Vegetable Total Depravity

“I believe that I have found, if not original sin, at least vegetable total depravity in my garden; and it was there before I went into it. It is the bunch, or joint, or snake-grass,—whatever it is called…. This grass has a slender, beautiful stalk: and when you cut it down, or pull up a long root of it, you fancy it is got rid of; but in a day or two it will come up in the same spot in half a dozen vigorous blades. Cutting down and pulling up is what it thrives on. Extermination rather helps it.

Warming-Skudbygning-Fig19-Paris-quadrifolia“If you follow a slender white root, it will be found to run under the ground until it meets another slender white root; and you will soon unearth a network of them, with a knot somewhere, sending out dozens of sharp-pointed, healthy shoots, every joint prepared to be an independent life and plant. The only way to deal with it is to take one part hoe and two parts fingers, and carefully dig it out, not leaving a joint anywhere. It will take a little time, say all summer, to dig out thoroughly a small path; but if you once dig it out, and keep it out, you will have no further trouble.

“I have said it was total depravity. Here it is. If you attempt to pull up and root out any sin in you, which shows on the surface,—if it does not show, you do not care for it,—you may have noticed how it runs into an interior network of sins, and an ever-sprouting branch of them roots somewhere; and that you cannot pull out one without making a general internal disturbance, and rooting up your whole being. I suppose it is less trouble to quietly cut them off at the top—say once a week, on Sunday, when you put on your religious clothes and face,—so that no one will see them, and not try to eradicate the network within.”

Charles Dudley Warner, My Summer in a Garden