Guerrilla gardening

Pam Frampton
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“Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.”

— From “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu (and, unofficially, the dandelion’s credo)


The battle lines have been drawn and my husband and I stand firmly on either side, a household divided.

Given the early arrival of spring this year, it will be more than a mere skirmish.

In fact, it’s shaping up to be a long-fought engagement.

Our philosophies are not attuned. He sees things his way, I see things mine.

He calls me recalcitrant, I call him contumacious (well, I don’t really; but I might, now that I know what it means.)

Both of us hope to gain ground and there’s a fair amount of it at stake — the front lawn and a sprawling backyard.

All because of Taraxacum officinale. (Also known as the common dandelion, but the Latin sounds much more dignified.)

Piss-a-beds, some people call them here, or piss t’abeds.

But they have other names in Newfoundland, as well: Faceclock. Dumbledore. The latter is an especially keen weapon to have in my arsenal. My husband is a big Harry Potter fan, so how can he — in good conscience — wipe out a whole field of Dumbledores? For shame!

We have this argument every year, but this time he’s taken it further.

On Wednesday night he declared war.

He came home from work full of Taraxacum officinale trivia. Its medicinal properties. Its nutritional qualities. The fact that it doesn’t like lime, or vinegar.

You could see the wheels turning in his head. He is actively conducting research, trying to learn its vulnerabilities.

Worst of all, he was quoting Sun Tzu: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”


Might as well buy AstroTurf

My husband likes a nice, neat, uniformly green lawn, with every blade of grass in its rightful place. No buttercups. No goatweed. No moss.

Boring, I say. Sounds like something out of “The Stepford Wives” — every yard the same. Green square after green square, dotted with the odd shrub. Identical lawns in front of identical houses, with identical families inside, all wearing identical zombie expressions. It’d be hard to figure out which house was yours in a place like that — identical streets with identical blankets of green trimmed neatly at the sidewalk’s edge.


Perfect greens may work on a golf course, but a person’s lawn and garden should reflect their personality; express their individuality.

Flawless lawns are for conformists. Vive la différence! Beauty takes many forms.

The humble Taraxacum officinale is often the first wildflower we see in spring. Its charmingly simple yellow face tilts upwards towards the sun, adding splashes of vibrant colour to the green grass after months of chilly dormancy, dirty slush, bare-limbed trees and dull grey skies.

Its sudden appearance heralds a season of warmth and relaxation — lazy days and picnics, books and blankets brought outside into the sun, the perfume of perennials bursting into bloom.

In late summer, it undergoes a magical metamorphoses — turning into a delicate ball of silvery white fluff that children love to blow apart, helping Mother Nature by disseminating the seeds.


Not welcome everywhere

Now, don’t get me wrong. My husband and I have no quarrel when it comes to Taraxacum officinale trespassing into our planned flower beds or strangling the ivy. It looks out of place among the swaths of pink and blue and purple flowers in the rock garden, and even I approach unwanted stragglers there with fierce determination. Off with their heads!

But when it comes to pretty sweeps of dandelion in the backyard, surrounding our white arbour like a lovely yellow mantel, tracing the path of our rock walkway, I have a real affection for them. They lift their sunny heads on delicate pale-green stems from amongst a delightfully tangled mass of dentate leaves.

How could you want to eradicate such sweet and innocent flowers?

They make me think of Shakespeare in “Love’s Labours Lost”:


When daisies pied and violets blue

And lady-smocks all silver-white

And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue

Do paint the meadows with delight …


OK, so the literary wizards at the University of Stockholm are pretty sure the Bard was talking about buttercups when he referred to “cuckoo-buds,” but you get my point. Substitute dandelions and it works just as well.


Different visions

My husband, clearly, just doesn’t see the beauty in them.

I see flowers, he sees weeds.

I see petals the colour of tender Tuscan egg yolks, he sees yellow where green should be.

Fortunately for me — and Taraxacum officinale — he has no appetite for chemical warfare.

There will be no manufactured poison, no carpet bomb of toxic fumes.

But still he plots their demise — ferreting out information and seeking out herbal “remedies” to a problem that simply does not exist.

He is certain of victory, but already he has made one fatal error in his campaign — one you can be sure I will use to my advantage.

He has forgotten that I, too, have read “The Art of War.”

And I know my soldiers well.

They are tenacious, able to take root in the most barren of places — between cracks in a stone wall, through brickwork, beneath tree trunks.

They are defiant, refusing to be removed. Cut them down and they will return with renewed vigour, and in greater number.

Oh yes, I know my soldiers, and they are legion.

But Sun Tzu puts it best: “The onrush of a conquering force is like the bursting of pent-up waters into a chasm a thousand fathoms deep.”

Sweet victory is mine!


Pam Frampton is a columnist and

The Telegram’s associate managing editor. She can be reached by email at

Twitter: pam_frampton

Organizations: Sun Tzu, University of Stockholm

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Tuscan

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Recent comments

  • Dandy lines in the Sand or Turf
    May 29, 2012 - 09:59

    "Art of War" - is there such a thing? Almost every war, however well planned, quickly decays into a battle for survival for all. The best trained soldiers are lost, the best equipment quickly becomes obsolete. The thing about the Dandelion is that it prefers well mowed lawns. When the rival grasses are short the broad leaves dominate. Further, the low cut turf helps any air borne seeds take root. If you were to allow the tall natural grasses to grow to full height they dominate the lower weeds. Note the lack of dandelions on hay fields, and contrast their domination of pastures and mowed landscape. There was one home in the East End of the City that tried to have a natural plant front lawn in a subdivision - the City objected. Ironic, because cutting hay on freehold land is often used as evidence of title - yet it seems the smaller the homestead the more the restrictions? I saw a good description of war in a weather almanac. "....preparing for a storm is like preparing for war...... it is not what your opponents are known to do, nor what they are likely to do, but what they are capable of.....". At 60 cents+/lb in the markets maybe you should give Mr. and the DL's a second front to fight on - (the undoing of many an army) and grow some potatoes?

  • Petertwo
    May 27, 2012 - 05:35

    Also the dandelion is one of the top 4 most nutritional green vegetables, an excellent source of fibre,vitamins and minerals, and virtually free.