The weeders shall in­herit the Earth

Country Life Every Week - - My Week - Wendy Holden

AWEED is just a plant in the wrong place’ I once read on some­one’s T-shirt. I can’t say I agree. A weed’s a weed and there are a lot of them about, grow­ing at amaz­ing speed. Net­tles that didn’t ex­ist in the morn­ing will spring up in the course of my writ­ing day, at the end of which I head out with my bucket.

Books take ages to write, but dig­ging up a few dock leaves will make a dif­fer­ence to the gar­den in min­utes. It’s the per­fect au­tho­rial an­ti­dote. At the mo­ment, I get an hour and a half be­fore it’s too dark, but soon it’ll be pitch black at 4pm. And what does the weeder do then, poor thing? I once read about a woman who turned her car head­lights on her gar­den, but that’s not prac­ti­cal given the lay­out of ours. Per­haps a miner’s hel­met?

Weeders are gar­den­ing’s un­sung he­roes. We hear a lot about Pax­ton, Rep­ton and Ca­pa­bil­ity Brown, but none of them would have got any­where without some­one to clear the dan­de­lions. Is there any finer sight in a gar­den, or one more ef­fort­ful to achieve, than lovely clear patches of earth around the flow­ers, yet the An­dré Le Nôtres of net­tle ex­trac­tion are lost to hor­ti­cul­tural history. They also serve who only kneel and weed.

Like John Lewis-stem­pel (‘I heard it on the ra­dio’, Septem­ber 7), I bone up on world af­fairs via Ra­dio 4 as I go. If the news is bad, PM can be a de­spair­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, so tear­ing grass from an over­grown fruit cage helps no end. The 6.30pm ‘com­edy’ slot can make one de­spair for dif­fer­ent rea­sons, al­though not if it’s Just a Minute. Dahlias will for­ever re­mind me of Will Self, who riffed bril­liantly on the sub­ject of ‘wan­der­ing lonely as a cloud’.

Gar­den­ing to the ra­dio, you lis­ten with in­tense con­cen­tra­tion. In­for­ma­tion roots deeply, like weeds. There’s a ter­race I cleared when Primo Levi’s The Pe­ri­odic Table was broad­cast and sev­eral stretches of path that have wit­nessed sport­ing fi­nals. Jazz Record Re­quests and the mar­vel­lous Words and Mu­sic on Ra­dio 3, I as­so­ciate with the veg­etable gar­den. How­ever, The Archers’ trial has got ev­ery­where, just as it has in real life.

I ripped out fern dur­ing evil Rob’s ap­pear­ances and cheered among the rasp­ber­ries as He­len found her long-lost back­bone. When I pass the cold frames, I think of Ur­sula, and Rob’s fa­ther, the ghastly Bruce, who was so aw­ful he was al­most funny, springs to mind by the green­house. I rather hope we haven’t heard the last of him.

It’s not only weeds that are spring­ing up. Mush­rooms are, too, some in ou­tra­geous shapes. A rather sug­ges­tive gi­ant stinkhorn pre­sented it­self the other evening. It re­minded me of last week­end, when friends came to visit and we took them to Chatsworth, which has an out­door ex­hi­bi­tion of con­tem­po­rary sculp­ture at this time of year.

Par­tic­u­larly strik­ing was Der Gerk by an artist called Er­win Wurm. It was es­sen­tially a huge, hairy cu­cum­ber point­ing sky­wards; a board ex­plained that it satirised so­ci­ety’s urge for ‘big­ger and bet­ter’. ‘I think we all know what it re­ally is,’ my friend re­marked.

What re­ally draws the tourists to Pax­ton’s gar­den at Chatsworth is the enor­mously high foun­tain that rises from the lake in a large white plume. Peo­ple go to great lengths to pose for pic­tures that sug­gest that it’s spring­ing out of their head—or other parts of their anatomy.

Our friend re­called that, dur­ing his many years at the Home Of­fice, when he passed Buck­ing­ham Palace daily, tourists would take pic­tures of each other hold­ing guards­men in their hands or bal­anc­ing Queen Vic­to­ria on their heads. We spec­u­lated that, as he was in the back­ground of all th­ese shots, he could be a cult fig­ure in Tokyo.

Do we in Der­byshire have the most orig­i­nal at­ti­tude to art and the hu­man body? A few col­umns ago, I men­tioned our hip­ster chim­ney sweep, who has a wood-burn- ing stove on his fore­arm. In the pub last week­end, the young bar­man had a stave with mu­si­cal notes swirling round his enor­mous bi­cep. He said it was a piece by Franz Dop­pler that he likes to play on his flute.

Con­tem­po­rary art makes a more pun­gent point at the splen­did York­shire Sculp­ture Park, just up the M1 from us. Along­side the Moores and Hep­worths is Let 100 Flow­ers Bloom by Not Vi­tal. A line of big sil­ver buds stretches along a for­mal grass walk, a ref­er­ence to Mao Tse Tung’s Let A Hun­dred Flow­ers Blos­som pro­gramme.

This 1957 ini­tia­tive in­vited dis­si­dents to make pub­lic their is­sues with the regime. The re­sult was that many of Mao’s crit­ics, far from blos­som­ing, ended up ex­e­cuted, a timely re­minder, per­haps, of where far-left ide­ol­ogy can lead.

‘A rather sug­ges­tive stinkhorn ap­peared the other evening

Wendy Holden’s new novel, Hon­ey­moon Suite, will be pub­lished by Head­line Re­view on Oc­to­ber 20

Weeders are gar­den­ing’s un­sung he­roes, often fight­ing a seem­ingly un­beat­able foe

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