Here, there and everywhere – Fionnuala Ward on dandelions

An Irishwoman’s Diary

Dandelion seed heads. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Dandelion seed heads. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images


Joe Biden got all romantic a while back. It made the news. On the way to the presidential helicopter with his wife Jill, he stooped down to pick a dandelion and handed it to her.

He’d have been spoilt for choice in my garden. I sit at my kitchen table most days now staring out at a sea of yellow. I watch as they come to life mid-morning, when the sun slowly sweeps over the grass. Unfurling in the brightness.

There was a time, of course, when dandelions were considered the enemy. A sure sign of chaos and indiscipline.

Back then, the very presence of these flowers signalled a laissez faire attitude towards not only gardening but quite possibly life itself. If there were dandelions in the garden, God knows what else was going on inside the house.

Best to quicken the step and move smartly away from any residence with those tell-tale blooms running rampant.

But not anymore. We love dandelions now.

Of course, it’s all about the bees and keeping them onside. During the first lockdown, one managed to get stuck between the two sliding doors into the garden and it took all kinds of manoeuvrings with a variety of kitchen implements to coax it back out into the sunshine.

And in the midst of all that gentle nudging and encouragement, there were flashes of times long past, when the mere sight of a wasp or a bee on the inside of a window warranted their immediate smushing against the glass by magazines and newspapers ferreted out from underneath cushions.

But not now. Never now.

Back then there was a hum in gardens. A summer hum of insects. A friend talks about arriving to her home place in Tipperary, having driven from Dublin, with a windscreen full of dead insects.

But windscreens have been insect-free zones for some time now.

My dandelions are thriving. Another friend who knows about these things says that once they’ve moved in, they’re pretty much impossible to remove.

I tried to look this up online, just out of curiosity, but all I could find were suggestions about how to kill them outright, with salt and the like. All of which made me flinch, much like you react to reports of hunters tracking down and slaughtering elephants.

I don’t want to kill my dandelions.

Not only do they attract the right kind of visitors to the garden but I’ve come to respect their scrappy, street-wise attitude to life.

When the garden was cleared, two or three popped up. They started out on one side and with Napoleonic zeal made it their mission to march to the wall opposite in double quick time.

And so they did.

Of course, they have a foolproof strategy for colonisation. And with the door open, I got to experience this myself the other day. A tiny seed floated onto the kitchen table attached to a wispy parachute.

I had numerous emails to read and a healthy to-do list on the go and so naturally moved away from the screen to have a good look.

The parachute dislodged in my hands. But the seed remained firm and robust with all that potential for life locked inside.

Dandelions are appearing everywhere in my neighbourhood right now.

Apparently, the Botanic Gardens up the road have put out a plea for them to be left alone and unemcumbered to do their thing.

My two neighbours and I have happily taken this on board although one is tempted to put up a sign to explain to passers-by that the current state of her front garden is all about conservation and environmental awareness and nothing to do with finding the time and energy and will to take it to task.

It’s still possible to hear mutterings of them being weeds which is, of course, as close to slander as it gets. Or a kind of botanical snobbery. Anyway, the whole concept of weeds is clouded in dispute, as we now know that a weed is only a plant growing in the wrong place.

There are no wrong places for dandelions. And definitely no inaccessible places.

And I would defy any passers-by on our road not to feel uplifted by the sight of those vibrant blossoms on lawns, under trees, popping out of drains and cracks in the pavement, determined to assert their right to exist.

And even though dandelions now have a presidential seal of approval, and no doubt the First Lady was touched by the ordinariness of her husband’s gesture, let’s hope that it isn’t replicated. Dandelions and bees have their own relationship to figure out, codependent though it may be, and let’s leave them to it.

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