The green light
Tim Young - 15 March 2011
I’d heard before we took on the allotment that it could be good for the soul; apparently all that digging and fresh air can do wonders for one's inner karmic zen (or whatever). I’m not sure how my inner karma is doing so far, but on Sunday, as I peeled back one of the black winter covers, I was certainly in need of some zen. I was expecting a strip of beautifully clear earth; I was confronted by my very own seed bed of dandelions.
As I stood there I counted 32 separate plants, and as investigated further I discovered many more that hadn’t yet pushed through the earth. I’m not entirely sure why the cover had failed so drastically, but clearly the lack of light had done very little to inhibit the growth of the terrible Taraxacum. Possibly the wind lifted up the edges of the cover over winter, or possibly the cover just wasn’t very good (it was one of the mypex type woven plastic things). More probably the dandelion is the cockroach of the plant world, and somewhere, deep below my soil is a kind of malign ‘mother root’, conscious and omniscient in its environment, straining every fibre to send out its minions to populate the earth. It is very clear to me that one day dandelions will evolve to the top of the global food chain; it’s just a question of when.
Possibly I exaggerate, and to be fair I always loved dandelion clocks as a kid, but, really, is there any more heart-breaking noise in gardening than the soft hollow crack of a dandelion root breaking deep in the earth as you dig?
And what actually happens to the broken bits of root? You can see where it came from, you can double dig that patch of earth, you can get down on your knees and sift through the soil with your hand, but find the broken bit? Not a chance. Again I suspect it’s the mother root, identifying the hive is under attack, and withdrawing its front line troops immediately.
Anyway, the sun was out and the birds sang, and a passerby wouldn’t have recognised that an intense private war was occurring in front of their eyes. In a couple of hours I managed to clear about half the interlopers (minus three or four broken roots that remain MIA) and I covered the rest for another day. This of course meant that my path/bed building is now officially 'behind', and for the first time I wondered aloud just why I’d bought into this crazy scheme in the first place.
That all said, as well as the slow clearance of some of the dandelions, there was another less tangible benefit of the day. As my mind wandered I had a sudden realisation about the deeper meaning of one of my favourite bits of prose. F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby concludes with one of the most famous passages in American literature:
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther.... And one fine morning — So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
It’s a wonderful piece of writing, and I’d always imagined the green light was some kind of metaphor for the innate optimism of living, the human urge to get up each morning and ‘be better’ than the day before, ultimately for the tricks we all play on ourselves that allow us to ignore our inexorable march towards mortality. I realise now I was wrong. It’s clear to me now that, like me, Fitzgerald had obviously had a bad experience digging dandelions. . .
Tim is editor of the Soil Association's Living Earth magazine, and has written on food, health and consumer issues for the last ten years. When not at work Tim is normally being run ragged by his two young sons. In 2009 Tim started trying to grow vegetables, and last year he took on an allotment. Two years later he is still trying to grow vegetables, and is very hopeful that one day soon he will have some success.