Here’s an amusing fact – one of the 20 qualifying members of the All-Party Parliamentary Gardening and Horticulture Group is the indomitable and aptly named Baroness Gardner of Parkes… and they said politics and humorous gardening blogs were incompatible.  Anyway, more on matters horticultural-political later, first, a little back story…

A few weeks ago I was sitting in an East End conference centre with about 45 estate agents. We had all been summoned by a large and well respected firm of Japanese knotweed eradicators. As we sipped our free coffee and waited for the seminar to start, a palpable tension saturated both the air and the conversation:

“Have you ever seen a knotweed?” asked one agent.

“No,” said another, “but one of my business partners had a knotweed. He’s not been the same since.”

Nerves in the room did not ease when the organizers of the conference strode in, holding a clear plastic bag at arm’s length, that contained a sealed box itself completely wrapped in yellow hazard tape. Once placed securely on the table the box was opened and the jittery estate agents were allowed to line up and fondle a piece of old knotweed stem; provided they donned latex gloves of course.

Believe it or not, this is not the most blatant piece of knotweed scaremongering I have ever experienced. Once upon a time while wandering aimlessly in a summer garden I spotted a copse that teemed with men in full white chemical suits. Turns out t’was not radio-active waste within, but knotweed. As I sidled up one of the contractors screamed that I should not get any closer:

“You’ll spread the spores!”

Being a horticulture student at the time, and equipped with knowledge botanic, I ventured to point out that knotweed was an angiosperm and thus seed producing, and that it didn’t really matter anyway as all British knotweed is sterile. Naturally I was told to sling it.

So back to my by now hysterical estate agents. The talk we were submitted to was split into three parts. The first was a vaguely scientific description of knotweed; comes from Mars, drinks blood, humanity powerless but for one brave extermination firm – that sort of thing. This was followed by a breakdown of the company’s political efforts to save us all: lobbying Defra, schmoozing Baroness Gardener’s parliamentary pals, taking MP’s to the Chelsea Flower Show and hosting lunches.

The end result is that Japanese knotweed is and ever shall remain a ‘controlled waste’ under the Environmental Protection Act (Duty of Care) Regulations. Meaning that it or any soil that it comes into contact with can only be disposedf offsite in a licensed landfill hole, one which probably only accepts deliveries from big eighteen-wheeler lorries.

The third part of our talk was a selection of horror photos showing the awesome power of Fallopia japonica;  here we saw knotweed lifting floorboards in suburban houses, knotweed destroying tower-blocks, knotweed besieging medieval citadels and knotweed bringing down Berlin Walls.

The spiel ended with, “needless to say this dossier is on the desk of every CEO of every money lending bank in the land, and a copy is with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors” [dramatic pause]  “so if you have even a rumour of knotweed on your property you can kiss goodbye to ever selling another house.  And by the way don’t forget it’s illegal to do anything about it yourself.  Consultations start from £5000.”

As I left the conference, shaky looking estate agents were queuing up to tell our hosts that they had seen something green, that they think it’s knotweed, and could someone come and have a look?

So remember gardeners, whatever size your business, it’s never too early to start deploying heavy-handed scare tactics and cultivating  political favor. I’m off to tell the Daily Mail that scruffy gardens cause cancer, then I’ll ask my local MP fancies going to the cinema.    

Japanese Knotweed