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Sunday, May 26, 2013


The apparently trivial issue of dandelions has rent our community once again. Every Spring, the advent of these cheerful yellow flowers brings forth the best, and worst, in our fellows.

In my opinion, gardening is an exercise in humility. Spring comes, hope blooms and one rushes to dig and sow, hoe and weed. Many plants are honest and just die straight away, some grow well, some pretend to grow but languish until they finally expire with a defeated is a matter of allowing Nature to have her way, while still getting some reward, of beauty or something to eat.

That said, the most useless struggle, is the one against dandelions. While these do have some utility in that the leaves, rootas and flowers can be eaten, it is not common to find anyone who admits to liking them. I did once make wine with dandelion flowers at the suggestion of a winemaking book. The result was truly horrible. It had a flavour similar to some unpleasant medicine that I was doctored with as a child. I couldn't drink it. I eventually gave the whole gallon to a student friend because he claimed to like it. Strangely enough, he stopped coming to classes shortly after and we lost touch with him. I doubt if the wine was responsible for his dropping out, but I suspect that it was involved. Living with dandelions is not that hard. Leave them in the lawn and remove them from the vegetable garden and flower beds is my compromise.

Dandelions are one of the free riders upon human behaviour. There are many of these, birds like starlings, pigeons and sparrows, rodents like mice and rats. If people are the mechanism that grass uses to spread its genes to every continent (with the present exception of Antarctica), dandelions are inevitably carried with them. We give dandelions the best environment to live in - a lovely sunny lawn with gaps between the grass leaves into which a dandelion seed is evolved to parachute. If we really wanted to eliminate them, we should stop planting lawns at all. Lawns containing only one species are a doomed artifact of our obsession with controlling Nature. A monoculture that needs to be constantly patrolled and chemically treated for the invasion of dandelions and other plants and animals. The waste of resources is enormous.

My own lawn is a happy mess. To lie on my lawn is a pleasure today, surrounded by dandelion, violet, strawberry, and ground ivy flowers. The bees and other insects like them as well. In a few weekks the clover and ranunculus will bloom and then the whole garden will be abuzz. I have no problems with animals "ruining the lawn". If any plant can survive the weekly mowing except ragweed and poison ivy it is welcome to live in my lawn. The dandelions seem to do very well for the month of May and then retire. Other plants start to take over. It is a small ecology, showing competition and co-operation.

I think my neighbour hates me. The elderly man whose house backs onto mine has a Lawn Order kind of lawn. Regular mowing, weed'n'feed, watering, aerating, rollering and eliminating the inevitable dandelions with chemical weapons. One Spring he sneaked ten feet over the boundary to spray the dandelions in my lawn with herbicide. I suppose he thought that their spiral death agony over the next few weeks was invisible. I eat food grown right where he sprayed and even if it says that it is safe on the bottle, it's still poison. His later attempt to stop the dandelion encroachment by erecting a fence was pathetic. I don't think that chainlink will stop them, even if it has barbed wire along the top!

And thus the little irritations between neighbours continue. I like to have blank floors and flowers in my lawn. As long as it is sort of green and sort of level it's a happy place. You may like to have flowers on your carpets and a clean lawn. Congratulations! You have a hobby that will keep you occupied for life while struggling against the inevitable! The dandelion legions are on the move and they are coming for you!

1 comment:

Rob said...

The scourge here is bahiagrass. All out war to eradicate it is futile. I try to keep it out of the gardens and out of my lines of sight but I've made my peace with the patch over there behind the Bradford pear tree.


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