You’ll have to excuse the quality of this photo. The wind was blustering up fifteen to the dozen in my garden when I took it, and the damn nettle wouldn’t stand still and pose for the camera. You can, however, see the specific item of my distaste, completely in focus: those horrid stinging hairs on the nettle plant that cause so much havoc.
“In your garden?” you might exclaim. “How can someone with as orderly and fabulous a life as you possibly have stinging nettles in your garden?” The answer, dear Reader is that our garden is currently in stasis: having recovered from the WW1 trench-like condition in which it found itself after our extension building work, funds are rather too short currently to enable the proposed planting to be done. For the curious, it’s a research exercise into which plants will seed themselves in a promising patch of London clay with several tonnes of rich topsoil added. Oh yes, we’ve had the joy of poppies and evening primroses as well as nettles this year.
Now all you tree-hugging conservationists out there will be on your way to condemning my anti-ecological stance vis-à-vis how wonderful nettles are for the encouragement of bees and butterflies into the garden. More creative cooks than I will urge me to make nutritious soup: I don’t doubt that they are part of Nature’s bounty. I know that the nettle makes a valuable contribution to the ecosystem, I just wish that it would not do so within brushing distance of my bare leg.
We regularly walk our dogs in Beckenham Place Park (now under threat from developers) and there’s a little path by the Ravensbourne river where Oscar and Raffles like to avail themselves of a drink and a paddle while I try to ignore the inevitable shopping trolley or other unsuitable domestic object that someone has thoughtfully dumped, thus damming the river with a toxic and often stinking pool akin to a beaver’s elaborate home, but not as nice. This path is lined in the summer months with nettles in various stages of growth.
The path is great it you have covered your legs but if you dare to bare, you’ll be assaulted by these stingy little hairs which will automatically place themselves in the path of your fleshiest regions. I know that dock leaves are supposed to alleviate the pain but no dock grows here and you’re more or less stuck with the itchy blisters until you stop scratching them because something else more irritating – the Labour Party leadership contest, for example, or the legion of crowing Brexiters – has caught your attention.
My OH has always disregarded the annoyance caused by damn stingy nettles. Picnic excursions – don’t even get me started on the plague on social life that is the picnic – have inevitably entailed running the gauntlet of a nettle bush – embellished bridleway. A floaty cotton dress or little shorts are no help whatsoever on these occasions, which rapidly lose any semblance of bucolic romance, and the horrid angry rash formed on exposed arms or legs is not as lightly dismissed as all that, actually. Stinging nettles generate only misery as far as I’m concerned and would be in the first group of things up against the wall when I become Queen of the World.
Could someone please enlighten me on the purpose of the stingy hairs, hidden away on the underside of the leaf, just waiting to pounce? It’s not even as if there aren’t other types of nettle from which to choose. I wouldn’t want to eliminate white or purple deadnettles. So why do stinging nettles even exist?