What I’m Learning About Wild Garlic
by Naomi Marklew
a meditation following the vigil for Sarah Everard, March 2021
To the uninitiated among my friends
the wild garlic in the garden is not a problem.
‘Have you tried cooking with it?’ they ask,
forgetting how much I hate cooking.
I suspect this is actually false garlic,
a weed, or as one website puts it,
a gardener’s nightmare. A pest.
It has infiltrated the flowerbeds.
It must be dug out – bulbs, bulbets and all.
Pulling the leaves will merely release its stench
while the bulbs remain, biding their time.
You must dig up the full six inches of soil
taking care to include the bulbets
that can resemble little clods of earth.
You have to wait until the spring
for the bulbs to sprout leaves,
for the infestation to show itself.
By themselves, the bulbs look harmless,
pathetic even, lying exposed on the ground.
A small round head with a long limp tail.
But they have arrived in their thousands,
burrowing through the fecund earth.
I apologise if my metaphors are heavy handed.
I force my fingers into the warm and yielding soil,
clawing at it to loosen the clumps of bulbs.
Uncovered, they look like so many blind eyeballs.
The wild garlic bulbs have gone much deeper
than we’d imagined. I try to use my handbag-sized
weeding tool but it is hardly more effective
than clawing with my fingernails.
I straighten up every time I hear a footstep,
the creak of a shoe against pavement,
the jangle of change in a pocket,
the revving of a white van turning in the road.
I adjust my slouching jeans,
ensure that no bare flesh is on show.
The tulips and daffodils that had been surrounded
by the false garlic now seem unsure,
their lower parts are pale and unused to sunlight.
As if they’d grown accustomed to forcing their way
through the smothering growth,
or as if it had been protecting them.
As if it could take credit for their beauty.
The little grape hyacinths have been sacrificed
in the weeding. Their thin leaves too similar
to the false garlic, their buds still pale and unready.
I heave the tainted soil out of the beds,
pile it on the driveway, reeking,
awaiting transport to the tip.
The insidious garlic bulbs won’t all be gone
but next year they will be fewer,
easier to root out.