My annual battle with ground elder has now resumed.
It’s not that ground elder is in any way harmful or even ugly: it just takes over.
For those of you who subscribe to the Tasmanian Journal of Agriculture, you will already know that is “one of the worst garden weeds in perennial flower gardens.”
And on arriving here at Christ Church vicarage all those years ago, this perennial plant from the carrot family had taken over the entire garden. There was not one square inch not overwhelmed by aegopodium podagraria.
So I sought advice from one of the most experienced gardeners in Aughton, a man who had worked the land here over his entire life. Tommy Halsall, who in his family tradition had faithfully served both as verger and sexton here at Christ Church.
He paused as he considered the enormity of the task facing me. I knew I was about to receive the definitive answer. And it was stark:
Given that was not an option open to me, I had to go for the lesser option, one which was to be no less drastic. This involved spraying the garden with huge quantities of the now-controversial Roundup. This glyphosate not only kills ground elder through it root system but alas, everything else.
Not a flower survived the onslaught. But it meant a totally new start for the garden, a new life had begun for the vicarage grounds.
But it means a constant vigilance – for ground elder is always there, poised to make a comeback. Whenever I see its distinctive leaf, I act. It may be raining, the weed may be inaccessible, I may be late for a funeral, but whatever, I pull it out with its root. Right away. No compromise.
For the fight against ground elder requires total commitment – vigilance and prompt action.
(Hey, a magpie has just attacked my study window– is there a link here?)
I’m not sure whether Jesus was referring to ground elder in his parable of the sower. But you will remember how “Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants.” (Luke 8:7).
Later Jesus has to explain all this to his disciples. “The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature”(v14).
The problem with ground elder is that you think it has gone when it hasn’t. And if you allow just a small growth, what you don’t see is the rapidly-spreading root system under the ground. Hence, my zero-tolerance policy.
As Christians we need to be ever-alert to what is growing in our heart. It may well be sinful, dangerous. Gossip, pornography, jealousy, theft. However, small it needs to go, promptly. Otherwise it will spread to cause major problems in our lives and the lives of those we love. Root it out.
So we read in Hebrews: “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (12:15)
Or as the Message translation puts it: “Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent.”
As one gardener reflects in her blog: “If we let but one sin go unattended, we can be left dealing with its repercussions for a long, long time.”
But just as dangerous it when just an ordinary, everyday activity, apparently harmless, takes over our lives: shopping, golf, EFC. Years ago I resolved never to play a computer game after a friend staying overnight played on my pc until he eventually retired to bed at 4.30 am.
Again it is so easy for us to spend our time and energies, devote our creativity and imagination to pastimes which just pass the time. That’s all they do.
I am no gardener but I do know that time spent weeding in May pays dividends. Prompt action now, even on a tiny ground elder leaf, saves a lot of back-breaking work in August. The longer you leave it, the more drastic the solution.
So we need the Holy Spirit to show us where in our lives we need to pull up from the roots. And to give us the resolve so that we live fruitful lives for the Kingdom of God.