Matthew Engel: The Terrorsof Dandilions, Herefordshire

PUBLISHED: 15:13 26 November 2010 | UPDATED: 15:14 20 February 2013

dandelions

dandelions

All winter they lurk unseen in their underground bunkers, awaiting their moment. In March the first spies are sent aloft, sniffing the air, making sure the guard is dozing or distracted and that the way ahead is safe. It always is.

All winter they lurk unseen in their underground bunkers, awaiting their moment. In March the first spies are sent aloft, sniffing the air, making sure the guard is dozing or distracted and that the way ahead is safe. It always is.

"C'mon!" someone will hiss. In early April the vanguard appears. By the end of the month they are everywhere. They flaunt themselves brazenly, but briefly. Then they spread their message, one of almost Biblical retribution. "You think we are many now. Next year we will be strengthened a thousandfold."

And it takes one puff of wind to prove them right, though they will even suborn children - our children! - to do their dirty work.

Where can we turn for help? The government, uncharacteristically, refuses even to pass a law against them. The EU and UN ignore the problem. What IS the point, I wonder, of having the SAS based in Herefordshire if it does nothing to stop this ruthless and insidious threat?

Like the great heroes of fiction, I often feel alone in my quest to save the world from an enemy bent on world domination. Even my own family - to be honest, especially my own family - think I'm an obsessive crank. Yet I know that if I do not act, they will defeat us and impose their will.

Dandelions!

Oh, they have their defenders, who can get quite sentimental. Delicious in salads; horses love them; make a wonderful wine, you know; excellent for the kidneys....blah, blah, blah. The dandelion has even tried to insinuate itself into our affections with its vaguely poetic name - from the French dent-de-lion, lion's tooth, though the French actually prefer to call it pissenlit, which means simply piss-in-bed. (And English country folk supposedly called them pissabeds, though it's not a word I've ever heard anyone in Herefordshire actually use.)

Look, I am not an intolerant fellow. All God's children got a place in the choir, and that applies in the garden too. There is nothing more boring than a pristine, sanitised lawn: buttercups and daisies are part of the appeal. I will happily tolerate a few less attractive lodgers, provided they keep quiet and don't make a fuss.

But dandelions are ugly. Their yellow is not nice and buttery; it is the sickly yellow of rape fields and parking restrictions. And they aren't interested in compromise; they want it all. Each head is said to produce between 54 and 172 seeds, maybe 2000 per plant, 40 million per acre.

They are cowardly too. They lurk in roadside verges, knowing no one will get them there. But they won't take on the big boys at the back: the dog's mercury and the goose grass. They shove themselves to the front where the competition isn't as hot - dainty little cowslips and the like - do their work, blow their seeds away and take cover again.

By the time the cow parsley has appeared in late May to take command of the situation, the dandelions are back below ground, contentedly pouring themselves a drink, putting their feet up and doubtless watching trash TV and playing loud rap music. They are, in short, bad neighbours.

My theory is that they may be gaining strength in our countryside from changes in grazing patterns. With more livestock farmers opting to lamb late, the fields can be left ungrazed in the crucial springtime weeks. Notionally, that might allow more wild flowers to gain a foothold. In practice, it means dandelions.

The books say the only remedy is to root out every plant individually, which may be feasible if you have a town garden and the strength of Samson. But it doesn't work if you have a bigger plot in open country. I try to collect the heads in an attempt to stop them reproducing, hoping they'll get the message and give up. All I've achieved so far is backache, stained fingers and ridicule.

In April, we turfed a small area of what had been overgrown shrubbery. The first dandelion appeared on May 4. I swear it was thumbing its nose at me, and grinning.

Pending my recuperation, Sam Llewellyn will take over this slot.

Whyohwyeohwye@aol.com

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