Despite the fact that gardening is as pointless as housework, only colder, filthier and you get scratched more, I have always enjoyed an afternoon with the secateurs and a trowel.
I find gardening calming and centring, despite having the very opposite of green fingers. I can’t make anything grow. Anything I plant, be it seed, bulb, rhizome or sapling, either never makes it out of the earth, or does so for one weakling season before fading into a brown mush, never to re-emerge.
But I am good at weeds. I can spot them out of the corner of my eye, and know exactly how far down to jabble my fork in order to pull out the tap root. Weeding is therapeutic – unlike dust, once a weed is gone it’s gone. Apart from one weed. The weed I know best of all: Ground elder. Ground elder is EVIL.
Ground elder doesn’t look evil, the way nettles do, or the frankly terrifying giant hogweed. But this is part of its plan. It has little green leaves, quite a nice green colour – quite nice leaves in fact, not spiky like thistles or coarse like dandelions. But that is just its cover story. The evil power of ground elder lies in its labyrinthine root system.
The roots are thin, maggot-coloured, and travel for miles. Miles and miles. At regular intervals they send up shoots with more leaves on, spreading more roots until there is a ghastly intertwined net underpinning your whole rockery.
These roots are sentient. They deliberately choose spots that makes them impossible to dig out; nestled down the sides of immovable stones or crazy-paving cracks, and, more nastily, in the middle of a clump of daffodils or crocuses. That way, when you try to tease them out, you pull up all your lovely innocent flowers as well.
And tease them out you must, for ground elder roots have a crafty survival mechanism. They are so brittle they snap when you grab them, so you leave half the roots still in the earth – where they regenerate.
Just the tiniest scrap of root holds enough power to take over your garden in a year. It will re-root itself, push out more evil rootlets and sprout those acid green leaves as soon as you turn your back.
Don’t leave the smallest speck of ground elder anywhere near the earth, and don’t, for the sake of the gods, chuck it in the compost heap. Burning is the only language ground elder understands.
Weedkiller? Ha! **bitter laugh**. Aren’t you paying attention? Ground elder is creeping and insidious – you find it nestled in among your lovely plants like a green cuckoo, starving them of daylight and nutrition. Spray it with poison and you spray them too.
I once spent a whole year getting rid of ground elder. Every time I went into the garden all I did was inch it out of the ground. I became a mite obsessed (you noticed?). I even started dreaming about it, about pulling those great long tangles of white roots out of the earth. I feared waking up one day to find it had reached the windows and was edging under the frames and sending its network of evil into the very framework of the house.
Somewhere there is a giant mother plant – Mother Elder – controlling all these roots, directing them towards each other so they can eventually join up and strangle the earth. One day my trowel and I will find Mother Elder and carefully take apart her roots, inch by strangulating inch. The bonfire will light up the horizon.
Until that day I burst forth on the first fine weekend of the year, gauntleted and armed with my favourite weeding fork, ready to hunt down the tiny shoots of ground elder that have re-emerged from the winter frost.
And when I find – and destroy – Mother Elder, all her insidious subsidiaries will wither and die, like Sauron’s army when the One Ring falls into the fires of Doom in Lord of the Rings. And I will have saved the world.