Monday, 2 May 2011
Nothing but flowers
Television advertising has its calendar and right now we are definitely into 'outdoor DIY season'. We are encouraged to proof our sheds and decking with something noxious, to green our lawns and, most pressing of all, to exterminate those bothersome weeds. The language of weedbusting is tough and masculine, the voice as gravelly as the path through which the dastardly invaders are poking. Never fear, there are products out there which will (in bold capitals) KILL THEM DEAD (as if there were some lesser, half-hearted grade of killing). Weeds are to be viewed like viruses. Our mission, nay our duty, is to eradicate them before they overrun the neighbourhood.
Looking back, I'm quite sure weeds were against the law in leafy Surrey in the 1970s. If not quite a criminal offence, then an unkempt garden was certainly sufficient grounds on which to base a character judgement. If a neighbour couldn't keep his privet hedge trimmed or his path free of dandelions who knew what moral lassitude festered behind his front door.
Dandelions, actually, are a good case in point. They are the weed par excellence, singled out for special vilification. They are persistent and prolific. In the competitive world of weed extermination if your product can't deal with the dandelion it's not worth the price. I grew up with an ambivalent attitude to the 'tooth of the lion' (the name is a corruption of the French dent de lion). I told the time by dandelion clocks and the sunny yellow flowers were forever associated with warm spring days. But somewhere, somehow, I had it instilled in me that dandelions were bad. If I touched them the milky sap would blacken my hands and then I would wet the mattress. In fact the culinary and medicinal uses of the dandelion have been exploited for milennia; the flowers make excellent wine and the tap root can be ground into a substitute for coffee with similar purgative and diuretic properties. But in the collective memory of the people responsible for my education these virtues were only partially remembered, corrupted. Not for nothing was the dandelion nicknamed 'piss-a-bed'. Best give them a wide berth and tell the time from a wristwatch.