A July Sunday evening at the playground: a summer's dusk with the first stars coming out, and still lots of kids are here. (Some naughtier children have even climbed over the security fence and are testing the new adventure playground, unable to wait until official opening day.) And I am whiling away time pulling out bindweed.
This year's copious sunshine and rain have added up to copious weeds, and bindweed is one of the best, or worst, depending on which way you're looking at it. Ridiculously simple, it has snaky white roots that can regrow from the tiniest fraction, and horrible twiny stems which require rather involved untwining. In this case, from what seems to be every single rose in the entire park.
While I'm busy fiddling with the flower beds, feeling both justified and slightly meddling, someone peers over my shoulder. She watches me trying to free a little rose bush from the green net of stems. "Yuck, bindweed," she says. And then joins in. "I just see it," I find myself spluttering, "and it drives me mad." "Oh I know," she says sympathetically, piling in beside me, "I'm the same."
"What are you doing?" asks a puzzled, pretty girl in denim shorts, with long blonde hair, passing by a few minutes later. "We're weeding, Alice," says the woman, who turns out to be Alice's grandma. And here comes Alice's sister, too. "Which thing are you pulling out?" she asks, and we show her. "This looks quite pretty," Alice points out. "Well, it is quite pretty," I concede, "but it's strangling these roses." "Ah," they say, and then both start detangling with the concentration of scientists in the lab.
Two little girls in brightly coloured dresses wander up quizzically and ask what we're doing. And now I'm starting to feel slightly strange, as this isn't my home playground. "We're just trying to look after the plants here," I say, pointing to the hip-high pile of weeds we've accumulated, working as a four-strong team. They smile guardedly at our obvious eccentricity and leave us to it.
"But won't the bindweed just grow again?" asks Alice's sister, and of course, there's the real problem. The textbook solution to bindweed is to put bamboo canes into your garden at the beginning of the season, and to twine the bindweed up so that it grows only on the canes. Then, once the leaves are growing well away from your most treasured plants, treat with glyphosphate weedkiller.
But who wants bamboo canes in the garden all summer, covered in dying weeds? Not me. And there's something to be said for this slow, repetitive work, in honour of the refurbished playground; the shared nature of the enterprise and the impromptu work party, too, make me smile. We have a huge pile of weeds, and some rather happy-looking roses, to show for our labour. "Just wait till your parents hear what you did your first night in exciting London: pulling bindweed out of a rose bed," laughs Alice's grandma.
How to kill a killer
Your plants will be lusher and stronger, shading out 2012's weeds, with an autumn application of Westland Organic Farmyard Manure. £4.99, thegardencentregroup.co.uk
A layer of wood chips will discourage surface weeds from germinating, and provide a looser matrix for bindweed removal. J Arthur Bowers' bark chips, £4.99 for 60 litres, thegardencentregroup.co.uk
3. Keep Weeding
Little and often, if you can. Don't let weeds set seed: cut off flowers if you don't have time to weed. And start early: tackle weeds' undersoil root system in spring by forking gently over the top inch or two of soil, pulling out as much as you can.