Sunday, December 27, 2009


Rosamund Rowe describes an encounter in her book 'A Fringe of Leaves', an account of her attempts to break in her “half-acre paradise.” On a warm day, “a tad self-conscious,” doing she says what the Greek botanist Theophrastus advocated in 250 BC (gardening advice is as old as civilisation) with hat and sunglasses she strode around dipping the hearthbrush into a bucket of cow manure and water flinging droplets over the lawn, the borders, the rockery, the veggie garden, the orchard and the paddock. "The drops sparkled in the sun as they arced through the air before falling on the vegetation and I was just beginning to feel a spiritual oneness with my piece of earth when I caught sight of a man on the causeway watching me with open mouth. Tossing him a greeting as nonchalantly as the situation allowed I carried on. ‘I thought only priests did that sort of thing,’ he called and walked on, shaking his head.”

Last summer, with back-pack and paraphernalia, looking like a crature from outer space, Bruce, our mower man, sprayed the dandelions that were rampant in the lawn. Successfully, there are only one or two showing this year, a small enough quantity for Anne to take her frustrations out on.

In my gardening days when I had to spray I’d put on a large sunhat and big sunglasses, wear a bandanna over my nose and mouth and have garden gloves. I too would have looked a sight.

Not so in my youth. Dick, my stepfather, had a benign growth on his back which prevented him carrying the spray-pack. So it became one of my summer jobs to spray the gorse and blackberry around the farm – about a week’s work. Mum always wanted us to leave some of the blackberry bushes – she used the fruit for jam. Dick would say “Hell’s Bells, woman, the birds will spread the seeds.” But secretly he’d tell me to leave one or two of the bigger bushes. I enjoyed the chore – it was part of the process of breaking in the land.

Looking back, however, I’m appalled. They were innocent days. No one gave a thought to any consequences. The herbicide was 245T. I would have a sun-hat. On a hot day I’d wear nothing else except shorts, socks and boots. The spray came out as a mist. I must have inhaled a fair quantity over the summers. I suspect my present reduced lung capacity is partly an outcome of that experience. The medicos say probably so but there is nothing they can do about it. Further, the machinery leaked at the pump, little rivulets ran down my body. It is so easy to be wise after the event. I was pleased to see how responsible Bruce was last summer.

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