Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Ground Elder.

In a book whose name I cannot recall, Miss Marple puts her wise old head on one side and says: ‘When you get ground elder really badly in a border, there is nothing to do but dig the whole thing up and start again.’

She was using ground elder as a metaphor for some kind of fiendish crime of course, but I have always worried about literal ground elder. My dear little garden is plagued by it, and I am too much of an old hippy to allow it to be sprayed. I once had to stop a tall gentleman with a fanatical gleam in his eye from dousing it with Agent Orange. (I didn’t even know that was legal.) He had the hazmat suit on and everything. ‘No, no,’ I cried, hanging on his arm like a 19th century damsel. I practically added: ‘Pray, sir, do not,’ in swooning accents.

So, every year, I pull out the mean little elders with my bare hands. I never win the battle, but my battalions keep marching on.

This morning, I saw to my horror that the things had gone crazy. Spring-time ground elders every damn where. I fell to my knees and started digging them up with my fingers. Stanley the Dog thought it a very poor sort of a game.

I uncovered some enchanting little vincas and some tiny box plants and rescued a lovely peony from despair. I am not digging up my bed and starting again. I’m going to go on battling.

I thought, as I crouched low with determination, my hands in the good Scottish earth, that I have ground elder of the mind. I don’t think I can ever dig up that mental bed up and start again. I think I have to keep pulling the stuff up by the roots, every day.

I think it is a lot to do with people leaving. My dad left, when I was seven, and I think that is one of the defining features of my life. I adored my father, and I missed him. He came to see us and I went to stay with him, but it was not the same. I missed him then and I miss him still.

Even though my rational mind knows that all humans are different individuals, with different lives and different thoughts and different loves, I have a magical part of my brain which really does suspect that everyone is just like me. (You can see this as horrid narcissism, or being a hopeful citizen of the world. I can’t decide.) I think that somewhere in the most nutty corridor of my mind I sort of believe that everyone has a red mare and is a politics geek and knows by heart the poems of Yeats. I don’t refine on my father leaving, because that part of me secretly believes that all fathers go. But they really don’t. Lots and lots and lots of fathers stay. Of course, some are dead bores and some are workaholics and some are emotionally absent, but some are not. They are there, at the breakfast table, entwined in their children’s lives. They know the small things, they get the private jokes, they understand the heartaches.

I believe in stoicism, and I’m not going to make a three-act opera of something that happened forty years ago. But it did happen, and I think one must mark it. The ground elder that springs from that leaving has to be pulled up, or it will choke the whole. It’s not a sorrow or a pity, so much, it’s just a thing. It is there. The beloved was beloved, and then he was gone.

That’s my thought for the day. It’s about balance, I think. I think one has to acknowledge the griefs of life, the ones that leave little scars and tics and scratches in the mind. One not need be defined by them, or sunk by them, or unhinged by them, but one must know they are there. And then, you just pull the buggers up, one by one.

Or something like that.


Today’s pictures:

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The little Paint filly and Stanley the Manly this morning. Stan is helpfully eating up all the hoof parings from the farrier’s recent visit. They are like gourmet treats for him:

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The duchess stopped doing her donkey ears for three minutes and put on her show pony face. I’d put my camera onto a new setting by mistake, so she’s come out rather more amber than usual, and I quite like the effect. It’s got an old school feeling to it:

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And the same again here. It’s like we’ve gone back to 1962:

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  1. I've identified the ground elder and pulled some of it up but it won't go away. I might have to try eating it.

  2. Love the purple hellebores.

  3. Now you have led Red into an interweb paddock all of her own I hope you will write more stuff like this, like you used to do. I loved it then, and have missed it, and am glad to see it back. It really is impossible for a non-horsey person (however much we love them aesthetically, or whatever) to follow obediently in your footsteps as you adore her. But we have - most of us - had dads.


  4. This is such a gorgeous analogy and so helpful. I was wrestling with some ground elder of my own. Now I feel like I've just had a good hauling-up by a wise friend.

    As for the horsey stories, although I have never sat a horse, which you can hardly imagine, your stories are like parables, earthy, homey, and completely relatable.

    Through all your self-attributed grumbling and impatience, you shine with loving.


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