Bet­ter safe than sor­rel

Thanks to a vis­it­ing ele­phant, Toby has a prob­lem with a feisty pink sor­rel. Luck­ily, he’s found a way to deal with it

Amateur Gardening - - Toby Buckland -

AC­CORD­ING to my un­cle Jim, the in­de­struc­tible pink sor­rel that grows in al­most ev­ery gar­den in our town ar­rived in the 1950s hid­den in­side an ele­phant. ‘Nelly’, as the lo­cals unimag­i­na­tively called her, was the main at­trac­tion of a trav­el­ling cir­cus and the weed seed, ac­cord­ing to sleuths on the al­lot­ment, was in her feed.

Weigh­ing in at 4½ tons, Nel con­sumed a lot of food – dozens of bales a day – and pro­duced al­most as much ma­nure. It made her both a cul­tural at­trac­tion and a serendip­i­tous source of soil im­prover, which the town’s re­source­ful gar­den­ers col­lected by the bar­rowload and spread on their veg plots. But what a mis­take that turned out to be. Just as the mem­ory of the cir­cus was fad­ing, a sou­venir of Nel’s contributi­ons started to sprout.

With its del­i­cate pink flow­ers and shin-high sham­rock-like leaves, pink sor­rel (Ox­alis ar­tic­u­lata) looks as harm­less as a sleep­ing tiger in a zoo. But let it out and it’s any­thing but, as its true na­ture of spread­ing ag­gres­sively via tiny bulbs comes to the fore.

Al­though the ox­alis might have ar­rived through Nelly, it’s a na­tive of Me­soamer­ica or, as I like to call it, that thin bit be­tween the North and South con­ti­nents. It ar­rived here via traders around the same time as the aubergine, chilli, cour­gette, spud, tomato, pump­kin, sweetcorn and vanilla. Yet while these culi­nary de­lights are ten­der and re­quire re­sow­ing each year, the ox­alis is com­fort­able even in the freez­ing cold.

How­ever, I have come up with a plan for this prob­lem weed. Since the start of lock­down, the ele­phant in our room has 2

Ox­alis is ed­i­ble in small amounts, with a tangy flavour akin to sor­rel and de­li­cious in pesto. been the huge amount of pack­ag­ing that ar­rives with the al­most-daily home de­liv­er­ies, and so I’m repur­pos­ing the boxes as ox­alis sup­pres­sors.

Once opened up and the tape re­moved, even when wet the card­board keeps the ox­alis at bay be­cause, once in the dark, it soon gives up the ghost or, like bindweed, it comes to the soil sur­face where its roots are eas­ier to col­lect. One thing to re­mem­ber, though: sprin­kle com­post on top to hold the card­board in place and stop your gar­den from look­ing like a re­cy­cling cen­tre on a windy day.

The surest way to get rid of these bulbs, though, is to keep chick­ens as they seek out the bulbs and scratch them to the sur­face to eat.

Once it is in the ground, pink sor­rel (Ox­alis ar­tic­u­lata) will spread rapidly Pink sor­rel was in­tro­duced into my soil via ele­phant dung Card­board can be used to sup­press ox­alis

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