We live in a circle of little houses all looking onto a sizeable communal area with a central lawn surrounded by shrubs and plants. We have an elected garden committee who administer funds raised by a small annual fee. The committee have found an excellent local professional gardener who cuts the grass and tends the plants. To keep costs down (our annual fee has actually reduced over the past 10 years), the committee members and others regularly pitch in to hand weed, install new plants and water.
As always in a group of 16 households, there have been disagreements and differences but nothing too difficult. Everything in the garden, as they say, is lovely. Well, not quite. A couple of years ago, an unwelcome intruder made an appearance that has grown into an invasion. One plot of shrubs and plants has been joined by wispy little green feather-like greenery. And thereby hangs the tale.
Our not so dear green place has been invaded by what the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) advised was mare's tail or horsetail. Quickly, we sought advice on the internet and sprayed it with Kurtail Evo, guaranteed to do the trick. Several dead shrubs later, the little green wisps returned with the heat of spring. And flourished. More research opened a right can of worms. We, and possibly the RHS, were confusing two different plants. So, into the Latin, we had to go.
Mare's tail is Hippuris Vulgaris,
an aquatic plant found in shallow ponds and streams. At one time, it kept its distance in Eurasia, North America, Greenland and Tibet. No longer. For a mere £4.98, you can buy it from the delightfully named Puddleplants UK, stick it in your pond and watch its hermaphroditic expansion. A weed it is not but, unhelpfully in our era of climate change, it is a prolific producer of methane. Not the best of news but not the problem in our plot.
We had horsetail: Equisetum Arvense
. A living fossil, our wee weeds can be dated back to over 100 million years. They dominated the Paleozoic forests providing food for dinosaurs. The roots go down seven to 10 feet. Trying to dig them out is not advised. Chemical treatments, as we had found out, do more collateral damage than anything useful. To be blunt, we have them and they ain't going to leave.
In times past, clever folk boiled and dried one variety to perfect a tool to scour pots, engendering another nickname: bottlebrush. It was used by hurdy-gurdy players to remove resin build up on their instrument's wheels. In Japan, they still boil and dry an Equisetum
variety for use as a final polisher on woodcraft.
In horticulture and agriculture, one extract has been approved as a fungicide and another controls a range of fungal problems on crops such as peach leaf curl and mildew on grapevines. Some believe it makes a herbal tea or a bath additive good for gout. It is definitely toxic to horses. None of these are immediately relevant to we 16 landowners but something to file away.
At least it is not a thug plant – that gardeners' list of brutes such as sumac, golden rod and mint that batter neighbours out of existence. Horsetail will just keep popping up and we will have to keep pulling it out. One day, not in my lifetime, it might give up but having left the dinosaurs in its wake one doubts it. Death and taxes, death and taxes...
Last Saturday, I did something I have never done before. I went to the theatre in shorts. This was because in London we have been having a heatwave and I could bear it no more. Since I grew up in the days when going to the theatre was going out somewhere posh – it cost more than the pictures after all – not being smartly dressed was difficult to accept. By smartly dressed, I mean a jacket and tie.
As a journalist, one was always told one should be dressed in a style that meant you could go anywhere at any time – the need for that came home when out of the blue the newsdesk said I should go to a memorial service at Westminster Abbey for Harold Wilson. It had been a hot morning and getting ready for work I had debated putting on my lightweight red summer jacket or the black one. Luckily, I chose the black one and, armed with my Metropolitcan Police pass, managed to blag my way past the coppers on the door and reach the Abbey PR – someone I knew slightly – and got in to the service. But had I been wearing a bright red jacket? No chance.
As I was staggering into the National Theatre on my stick through a side entrance – the main one was clogged up with outside drinkers enjoying the sun – a security lady appeared out of nowhere and gave me a distinctly iffy look. I don't think I looked like a down-and-out escaping the heat. I soon discovered the lobbies were full of the middle classes wearing shorts and clutching bottles of water, so I smiled and tottered on.
Nobody, of course, dresses up any longer to go to the theatre – the days of black ties in the stalls and circle have long since gone. Getting my clothes together for a coming trip to a country house where they stage operas, maybe not one as grand as Glyndebourne but grand enough, I discovered I had lost weight since the last time I went there and wore my dinner jacket. Something had to be done to stop my trousers falling down – and quickly. Amazon came up with braces which I have never worn before being a belt man. It all goes to show there is a first time for everything.
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