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il faut cultiver notre jardin - shadows of echoes of memories of songs
j4
j4
il faut cultiver notre jardin
We finally bought a lawnmower and mowed the lawn. That is, we mowed the area we're choosing to call the lawn, in the hope that a combination of linguistic imperialism and rotating knives will gradually tame the lawless forces of nature. Significant portions of the "lawn" were in fact large clumps of nettles and brambles, dark forests and thickets among the rolling fields of the rest of the garden; one corner was almost entirely bindweed; and another was a sad little rubbish-heap of stones and tiles and bits of wood.

Some of the nettles succumbed to the mower, others got secateured down to the ground, some lived to sting my wrists another day (three-quarter-length sleeves and short gardening gloves are a bad combination for nettle-wrangling). I pulled up about a mile of bindweed (and removed a pot of paint from underneath it), hacked back a few brambles (eating the blackberries first) and sorted through the miniature midden: a heap of broken tiles, some lumps of concrete, several half-bricks, some scrappy pieces of wood and MDF, a couple of plastic bottle-lids, an old cigarette lighter, and a large curved white bone like a rib. Bleached bones and stony rubbish. My own tiny waste land.

In the process of attacking the abode of stones and the pit of vines I uprooted an army of woodlice, several small spiders, one enormous spider (the sort so big that I could hear its feet clacking on the wood of the fence as it stalked indignantly out of reach), two small brownish frogs, an even smaller yellowish frog which sprang up out of the chickweed like a jack-in-the-box, small yellow-shelled snails and even smaller slugs, a tiny caterpillar all curled up like a soft green ammonite, and a couple of huge hairy caterpillars which seemed to be doing their best to battle the bindweed by eating it all.

To the spiders and frogs I must be Shiva, Destroyer of Worlds. No, nothing so important, just some sudden hairy mammal crashing oafishly through their threads and burrows. I hate wrecking these little ecosystems, I would love to leave the beetles and caterpillars to their business and take my big feet of fail elsewhere; but like the rest of my species I was born selfish, and the creatures were in the space that will be my vegetable patch, and the nettles and brambles were in the space that will be my tidy little English lawn (or at least some soft grass to sit on in summer). I have never been a committed gardener; I hack at things in fits and starts, small splashes of effort followed by long stagnant periods of apathy, and I think underlying the surface laziness (and the general sense of futility which taints all tasks which are explicitly fighting entropy) is a feeling that my attempts to curate the wilderness are not just hubristic but an offence against the order of things. It doesn't help that the only plants I recognise are weeds: I can pick out our groundsel, chickweed, nettles, dandelions, bindweed, brambles, rosebay willowherb ... but show me a 'proper' plant and I'll shrug in confusion. I like the look of the bright flowers and well-defined leaves of well-ordered gardens, but I know the raggedy plants that grow out from under things. I pull them up in handfuls every now and then out of some misplaced sense of duty, but they grow back in a heartbeat.

Every time I lifted a stone, something small scurried out from underneath it, rushing around in the unwelcome light, a many-legged burst of busy energy, until it found another dark hiding place.

I think part of my problem is that I empathise too much with the insects.

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Comments
oldbloke From: oldbloke Date: September 20th, 2009 08:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
The only way you'll stop the brambles growing back through whatever you try to put in is to use Roundup on them now and every time they show their heads.
They move bloody fast too, so don't let up on them.
Leave some in a corner somewhere for making pies or jam or bramble rum.
j4 From: j4 Date: September 20th, 2009 09:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
Planning to keep the garden as organic as possible, so no Roundup, thanks!

There are lots of better places than our garden to go blackberrying round here (we've already had plenty from the towpath!) so if I do by some miracle manage to get rid of all our brambles, it'll be no great loss from a fruit point of view. But I suspect there'll always be a handful or two to eat while gardening.
oldbloke From: oldbloke Date: September 20th, 2009 10:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, the Roundup wouldn't be on any produce...

They're a bugger to get rid of any other way, and they do take over, very very quickly, if you don't get out there and deal with them on an almost daily basis.
We had our garden terraced, which basically meant it was all ripped out and then put back, and they survived that. I swear the runners can grow a foot a day if you don't watch them.

We get a lot from our local towpath, but this year the roadside by the railway track actually had the best when I was able to go. Peak season was while we were away though.
j4 From: j4 Date: September 21st, 2009 08:31 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm not trying to kill them off altogether, just keep them back. It's not impossible, and I'm not going to lose sleep over the fact that the garden might not be perfectly tidy (did you actually read my post?).

oldbloke From: oldbloke Date: September 21st, 2009 10:42 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, yeh, just don't underestimate the task, that's all.
Worse than triffids, they are.
j4 From: j4 Date: September 21st, 2009 10:49 am (UTC) (Link)
It just goes to show you can't be too careful.
pseudomonas From: pseudomonas Date: September 21st, 2009 09:26 am (UTC) (Link)
maybe the answer is to put down stuff that you like and which will compete vigorously. Then you can let the rosemary and rhubarb and horseradish fight it out with the nettles and the bindweed and sit cheering them on. I'm sure the invertebrates won't care either way. But ianag.
pseudomonas From: pseudomonas Date: September 21st, 2009 09:29 am (UTC) (Link)
er, or get good at nettle soup and nettle beer. Both nice, though I think they're something to do with young nettle tops in the late spring. In Oxford I got the nettles from the canal towpath.

Edited at 2009-09-21 09:30 am (UTC)
j4 From: j4 Date: September 21st, 2009 10:00 am (UTC) (Link)
I like this idea. GARDEN WARS!

Was planning to try nettle soup, but yeah, I gather it has to be the young tops, & we moved in a bit too late for that. The nettles in the garden now are big woody old things that I reckon would be about as tasty as chewing a pair of wellies. :-}

Nettle beer sounds ace, I will investigate.
pseudomonas From: pseudomonas Date: September 21st, 2009 10:06 am (UTC) (Link)
You basically use nettles instead of hops, so you boil them in water (in a cloth, I think I did) and then add malt and ferment.
j4 From: j4 Date: September 21st, 2009 10:08 am (UTC) (Link)
I have never made any beer before so wouldn't know what to do with hops either. :-} I googled & found a recipe - does that look plausible? I like the idea of feeding my beer marmite on toast.
pseudomonas From: pseudomonas Date: September 21st, 2009 10:37 am (UTC) (Link)
I'd use malt extract (maybe with some honey in there) rather than sugar (adjusting weights as appropriate), and dried beer yeast is probably easier to get hold of these days, but that sounds the sort of thing, yes.
j4 From: j4 Date: September 21st, 2009 10:41 am (UTC) (Link)
adjusting weights as appropriate

Not sure what you mean -- what's the appropriate way to convert weight-in-sugar to weight-in-malt-extract-and-honey? (Sorry if that's a completely thick question -- with baking I'd just guess based on the consistency of stuff, but beer-making sounds even more chemistry-ish than cake-making, and I have no idea what consistency to expect cos I haven't done it before.)
pseudomonas From: pseudomonas Date: September 21st, 2009 10:43 am (UTC) (Link)
I'd guess by reading the jar and looking at the carbohydrate or sugar content.
pseudomonas From: pseudomonas Date: September 21st, 2009 10:44 am (UTC) (Link)
I've not done much beer, but for dry mead, 3x450g jar honey per gallon.
pseudomonas From: pseudomonas Date: September 21st, 2009 10:50 am (UTC) (Link)
I like these guys - they're friendly and when I was last using them would send you one or two sachets of yeast in an envelope without ridiculous postage charges (though their website doesn't mention that now, so YMMV).
pseudomonas From: pseudomonas Date: September 21st, 2009 10:38 am (UTC) (Link)
that site has NETTLE HAGGIS!
j4 From: j4 Date: September 21st, 2009 10:44 am (UTC) (Link)
OM NOM NOM!

Bah, it's from 'Food for Free' - I am sure I had a copy of that once, but can I find it? Can I bobbins. Maybe time to buy a new one...
pseudomonas From: pseudomonas Date: September 21st, 2009 10:46 am (UTC) (Link)
I wish I knew more about fungus. Madingley Rise is full of tasty tasty looking mushrooms, but I don't know which ones are likely to be a Bad Idea.
pseudomonas From: pseudomonas Date: September 21st, 2009 10:53 am (UTC) (Link)
a heap of broken tiles, some lumps of concrete, several half-bricks, some scrappy pieces of wood and MDF, a couple of plastic bottle-lids, an old cigarette lighter

and a broken bedstead there?

OK, will stop spamming your LJ now
j4 From: j4 Date: September 21st, 2009 12:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
:) It's okay, you're not spamming (but I had to look up the quote...)
k425 From: k425 Date: September 21st, 2009 11:45 am (UTC) (Link)
a many-legged burst of busy energy

You have a fabulous way with words.
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