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THE WEEDS SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH

Summer 2022

In her remarkable poem Mushrooms, Sylvia Plath wrote ‘Overnight, very whitely, discreetly, very quietly / Our toes, our noses, take hold on the loam’. Although she was talking about fungi, she may as well have been referring to weeds. Because they, too, are one of nature’s unstoppable forces.


During the summer, when the days are long and the weather’s balmy, the non-stop growing of the weeds is almost palpable. If you had very sharp ears and a moment to pause, you could probably hear them creeping out from the soil and multiplying exponentially. In my imagination, they squeal with joy as they pop to the surface, unfurl their leaves to soak up the the sun and get to work spreading at double-quick time.


All gardeners will be familiar with the scenario: you get down on your hands and knees and laboriously hoik out couch grass, cleavers and docks. You step back, congratulate yourself on a job well done and head off for a much-deserved cup of tea. On returning, you discover some nettles and maybe a dandelion or two have seized the initiative and taken control of the field of battle. It’s easy to despair.


My veg patch is plagued by weeds that I can’t even identify – no amount of Googling can turn up what they actually are. In the big scheme, it doesn’t make much difference, but I’d like to be able to put a name to the face of my adversary. They have pointed leaves striped with burgundy and they grow like there’s no tomorrow. I may be paranoid, but it seems like they have a strategy, as they always pop up in a row where I’ve planted some seeds. Presumably they’re hoping to trick me into believing that they’re innocent parsnip, beetroot or radish babies.


While having an endless supply of on-site weeds is irksome enough, imported weeds make me almost apoplectic with annoyance. Having suffered a complete non-starter when it came to germination of cucumber seeds, I bought a couple of plants from the garden centre. Lo and behold, a few days later and the compost around them was teeming with optimistic little weedlings with greenhouse domination on their minds.


It's a struggle to find a bright side when it comes to uninvited plant guests, but I’ve scraped the bottom of the barrel and found one. At least these unidentified weeds are easy to pull out. They put all of their energy into getting out of the ground, so there’s not much going on in the root department. This means they can be tweaked out in moments between finger and thumb, which is enormously gratifying. The same can’t be said for groundsel, which is known to creep into the flower border and set to work rooting down to the bedrock. That’s when I give up on my fingers and turn to the tomahawk.


While I’ve been tempted to buy many ultimately useless garden tools in my time, the tomahawk has more than earned its keep. It’s a hatchet-y little fellow with which one can chop away demonically at the toughest of stems. Presumably, it would be most correctly referred to as a hand hoe, but I feel more empowered with a tomahawk in my armoury than a lowly hoe. Sometimes I use in on the easy-to-pull-out weeds too, just to show them who’s boss. Although, if I’m being honest, I know exactly who has the upper hand in this relationship.