Back to index of Nerve 24 - Summer 2014

Fireweed*

By Sandra Gibson
Photograph by Geoff Edwards

The Instant Gardener - March 2014

After a winter of water, spring came early - except where it was drowned. Even if I hadn't noticed the increased activity in the hedgerows and skies, my local supermarket was on the case, replacing the redundant pile of snow shovels (honestly - red snow shovels) with a whole wall of potting compost and about-to-sprout spring bulbs. So I bought my display of daffodils: neatly packaged and untouched by weather - there had been no autumn delving to plant bulbs in cold, gritty earth for me! Two days later, my garden enlivened by nodding heads of colour-book yellow, I went back to the supermarket to buy more, only to find that the pots of hyacinths - purple-blue hand grenades of scent only the day before - showed signs of neglect. Their tiny bed of compost had dried out and the hastily opened flowers looked sad and faded. It felt as if spring was carelessly over. The next day I went, spring was in top gear again: the dying plants had all been superseded by new blooms, zinging with molecular activity and leaping off the shelves in search of green fingers.

I have found that all supermarkets are culpable of plant neglect. Because the amount and calibre of their compost is carefully calculated, plants have a very brief shelf life and then they are discarded. Why hadn't someone watered them? We've had a whole winter of the stuff! But in the micro-economics of our times, it was more 'efficient' to neglect the plants and bring in fresher replacements with just the right amount of nutrients remaining in the pot. And as customers we all conspire in this. These days it is possible to select an entire, perfect flower bed, put it in your trolley, pay without money and have it home and in place before Pointless comes on. Such instant gratification allows us to miss the early stages of propagation, careful pottering and nurturing. Of responsibility. The commodification of gardening, like everything else, has altered our emotional relationship to it. We have accepted the brief moment of plant perfection that is seized and sold to us; we have witnessed the careless consumerist attitude that rapid obsolescence represents.

It's a slippery slope. Thank goodness for the sanity of such places as Todmorden (see Nerve 22); let's fight for the survival of our urban allotments and public green spots; let's acknowledge that life in all its forms is cyclical and cannot be tidied away so that only the perfect forms have prominence.

To read other Fireweed columns click here

*Also known as Rose Bay Willow Herb, the prolific wild flower called Fireweed, five feet tall with spikes of magenta flowers, cheers the hearts of those whose cityscape has become a bomb site or whose buildings have been cleared by machine. The dormant seeds spring to life after destructive events such as forest or man-made fires, hence the name, Fireweed. This occasional column (more of which is on the Nerve website) celebrates the persistence of wildlife in urban conditions.

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