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
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