Wednesday, 1 July 2009

The Great Plantain Hunt

My mother hated plantains.
She kept a beautiful lawn in both the gardens that she made while I was living at home.
She spent a lot of time digging out the plantains that invaded those lawns, as well as her flower beds. She always said that it was the best method for getting rid of them, but you had to twist the root out too, to stop them growing back.

Mind you she spent an equal amount of time repairing the lawn after we had torn around it at breakneck speed either on bikes, trikes or go-kart. We were very rough tomboy children.

I have memories of her raking over the bald spots, erecting little barriers made of twigs with string strung between them and then sprinkling the little grass seeds, which resembled elongated, dry and sandy coloured grains of rice. From inside the house she would keep an eagle-eyed look-out and when she saw the sparrows or crows swooping in for dinner she would rush out waving her arms and calling "shoo, shoo!" to scare the scavengers away. Ordinarily she welcomed all wildlife to her garden (except aphids!) but at vulnerable times like that she protected her little charges with a determined vigour.

As I have mentioned aphids I also recollect her approach to getting rid of these little creatures. She was by chance a very organic gardener - it was not a religious zeal that drove her but, like others of her generation, it was economic as much as anything else. It was also the way she had learned how to do things. So greenfly, whitefly and blackfly were all squished off the leaves by hand. As it turns out though, this is also the most effective method of doing it.

Personally, over the years, I have tried various 'labour saving' alternatives including insecticides and the more organic soapy water techniques, but no matter how you slice it and dice it at the end of the day it is impossible to get the liquids to go everywhere and kill everything so there is always an element of just squishing!

And now, as I am recollecting my murderous mother ;-), I also recall her cleaning out the dustbin after its weekly collection. She would tip it over and as the remaining maggots squirmed out of it she would squish them on the concrete path outside the back door with the back of her trowel before hosing out the galvanised bin. I think slugs, found beneath dark and fleshy leaves, suffered a similar fate at her hands.

I do not wish to leave you with a terrible, ruthless image of my mother though. In fact she was a gentle person who took care of all sorts of helpless creatures and damaged children and adults alike. I won't say that she always saw the good in people, but if someone was in need, she would never turn them away. She made friends wherever she went, even some of our (the children) friends ended up being her friends too - so much so that they used to come and visit her long after we had all left home. I think they also liked her because she was a very interesting person too, she was incredibly well read and kept up on all current events and politics. She and my father used to have very lively 'discussions' at the dinner table which often resulted in great fury from my fiery-tempered father. Her calm, yet determined debating sometimes drove him to the brink of sanity and then the plates would start to fly too!

Looking back - I learned an awful lot at her elbow which has stuck with me forever. Some of the lessons - such as her debating technique took longer to master as I had unfortunately inherited my father's hot temper. But one lesson which I had long not thought of came back to me the day that I noticed my lawn was fast becoming a sea of flat, dark green leaves, which boasted turret-like flower stems at the centre. In fact it was not very much of a lawn at all, more of a home for retired Plantains. So I went to the shed and bypassing the very old and faded bottle of weedkiller (left there from a bygone era) I reached for my trusty trowel....

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