The truth about... Weeding

WEEDING IS the kind of job (see also pruning and picking) that one ought to be able to achieve with a certain glamour; dressed in a floaty frock, equipped with artisan-made rustic trug, delicately plucking with finger and thumb an intrusive sprig here, a misplaced leaf there. After all, a weed is, of course, only a poor innocent little plant growing in the wrong place. In fact, though, weeding is more akin to all-in wrestling, because weeds cling tenaciously to life and, like icebergs, eleven-twelfths of them are hidden below the surface. Start tweezing out one small and innocent-looking buttercup: it will reveal that it is connected with runners like industrial-strength steel cable to a dozen concealed cousins lurking in the very middle of a prized specimen shrublet some way away. Hauling up the buttercups demolishes the shrublet at the same time, of course. Yanking out really tenacious beasts like dandelions is a task best farmed out as practice for the local tug-of-war team. Failing that, the traditional tool for this is an old teaspoon, which is small enough to get right down to the bottom of the root. The cutlery option is a popular one: Kipling, in his encouraging poem, "The Glory Of The Garden", mentions "grubbing weeds from gravel paths with broken dinner knives".

Buttercups and dandelions and such, however, are positively benign compared to the real nasties: bindweed, ground elder, creeping thistle, Japanese knotweed, giant hogweed, horsetail and the like. Brutes like this can sink roots six or seven feet into the soil, which makes a teaspoon or indeed a trowel, spade or industrial digger seem a rather pathetic weapon against them. And some of them, when attacked, fight back: the sap of the giant hogweed causes severe blistering. Any of these lurking in the herbaceous borders means a real slash-and-burn-and-poison fest. To make a completely clean start, cover the offending area with old carpet or heavy-duty black plastic and leave it for a year or two. This looks horrendous, though in its favour it is certainly low maintenance. Alternatively, give up and move house.

Should a mysterious plant appear that stands around five feet tall, with a long tendril coiled in a cup, strange stems that make an odd clicking sound, and a tendency not to be in the same place every day, do not attempt to haul it out. Call the police, fire-brigade and army: it is a triffid.

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