Look away now if you are of a nervous disposition. I have found that different areas of the country support a specific band of brutal flower stranglers. In Devon I entertained dock, a perennial serial killer which had neither pity nor remorse. When we lived in Yorkshire I had to cope with vast thickets of Himalayan balsam, which fired salvoes of seed so fiercely that they hurt when hitting unprotected flabby thighs. In my Telford garden on heavy clay, the largest dandelion I cultivated reached three feet tall, with a similar length of taproot. All parts of the plant are used in herbal medicine for a multitude of intestinal woes, skin scabbiness and muscle pains. There does not seem to be a shred of research to back up claims for these miracle cures, so sup your dandelion infusion with scepticism and caution. I suspect that the number of uses relates directly to the ubiquitous nature of the plant. Still in the Midlands, Convolvulus seized everything it could reach in a cloying grip of suffocation. Ripping it up and digging out the roots only seemed to annoy it.
Lysichiton americanus (skunk cabbage)
Currently I am working on sandy soil which encourages all of the aforementioned enemies of the estate, with a few notable additions. A few years ago I planted borage, with a view to sprinkling sky blue blossom over a leafy salad, in a desperate attempt to make something special out of a meal that contained few calories. Now the stuff is everywhere, seeding itself like Genghis Khan, with about the same care for the wishes of others. Each plant sinks a remorseless moisture and nutrient stealing system, which grasps the vitals of more delicate specimens in a lethal choke hold. The foliage is lush, tough and barbed beneath with tiny spines, so getting it out is similar to an encounter with a herbaceous iron maiden.
Acer palmatum (japanese maple) ‘Bloodgood’
I’m going to try to talk about singing nettles. You will have to excuse me if I leave to sit in a darkened room to weep. Anyone who tackles this monster in shorts is desperately foolhardy or enjoys being tortured. I endeavour to employ total body coverage despite occasional summer heat waves. The plant’s defence consists of a poison sac beneath hairs on a trigger, designed to find the gap between glove and sleeve, or t-shirt and trousers. You can tell when I have been on the war path because I’m twitching, itching and look more lumpy than the Elephant Man.
Dear reader, I suffer from ground elder. Let me hear your groans of sympathy, for I deserve them. When we moved in some thirteen years ago, the filthy stuff grew unchecked across the entire garden. When I started my assault with hope and a spade, I found a twelve foot canoe beneath its bursting seed heads. True story. A friend dug out her raised bed and sieved the lot in an effort at eradication. Tiny bits of the beast, too small for the human eye to see, escaped the pogrom and not only survived but thrived. I visit her sometimes and we drink tepid tea from paper cups and eat cake on cardboard plates without forks, as she’s not allowed anything sharp. The nurses look at her vacant smile, loosen her straitjacket and tell me that she’s having one of her rare good days.