The weeders shall inherit the Earth
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