An old song came suddenly into my head just the other day.
Daisy, Daisy, as I would have called it, although I now know that its correct title is Daisy Bell and that it is subtitled A Bicycle built for Two. I now know, too, that the song is older than I had thought; that it was composed by Harry Dacre, an English popular composer; and that, according to David Ewen in his book ‘American Popular Songs’, when Dacre first came to the United States he brought with him a bicycle, for which he was charged import duty. His friend William Jerome, another songwriter, remarked lightly: “It’s lucky you didn’t bring a bicycle built for two, otherwise you’d have to pay double duty.” Dacre was so taken with the phrase “bicycle built for two” that he soon used it in a song. That was in 1892 … yes, 121 years ago. People of my generation will undoubtedly remember at least some of the words of the chorus: “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do, / I’m half crazy all for the love of you. / It won’t be a stylish marriage, / I can’t afford a carriage, / but you’d look sweet upon the seat / of a bicycle built for two.” And believe it or not, the song was first recorded by Edward M. Favor for the Edison Phonograph Company in 1894!
It was while I was pondering what strange circumstance might have brought this song unbidden to the forefront of my mind that I realised that daisies, the scourge of lawns in my younger years, seem to have become really rather scarce nowadays. I think that everyone will known the common daisy, the low, compact plant whose pretty, small, white-petalled flowers spring from a mat of small-leaved foliage, which is itself sustained by a cluster of persistent, hard-to-pull-out roots. The daisy’s success … at least in years gone by … can be attributed to its ability to thrive in a wide variety of circumstances. It grows happily in lawns; it will colonise flowerbeds; it can find a foothold in garden walls and in cracks in paved paths; it’s happy in most types of soil whether the soil is free-draining and open or damp and compacted; it spreads either by extending its roots from an existing clump into the surrounding soil or by seed; and it’s very hardy and perfectly at home in the harshest winter conditions we are likely to experience in the British Isles.
The hard-working gardener has a choice of tactics to rid his ground of unwanted daisies. He … and ‘he’ is assumed to include ‘she’ in this context … can try to grub them out with an old knife or, if he is so inclined, with a spiked tool that is actually called a ‘daisy grubber’; he can slash the plant’s foliage with a sharp knife every week throughout the growing season to weaken the plant and make it easier to grub out; and he can meticulously collect and dispose of all the cuttings from affected grass, for parts of the daisy’s roots or its seed caught up in such mowings can happily spread the plant to wherever these cuttings are deposited. The less-hard-working gardener can have recourse to a systemic weedkiller where the daisies are a problem in paths or in flowerbeds; and he can find selective lawn weedkillers where the plant is a problem in grassed areas.
But I haven’t used a selective weedkiller to deal with daisies in what passes for my lawn for years, although I came across an old, part-used and well beyond its best-before-date bottle of ‘Verdone’ lawn weedkiller among my garden chemicals recently; and it seems to me that there are fewer daisies in my neighbours’ lawns and in the grass in parks than I seem to remember. (As an aside, it’s not a good idea to hang on to old garden chemicals; and, though I mean to dispose of out-of-date products on a regular basis, I’m not as dutiful as I should be.) But is it my memory failing, or is the common daisy really less common than it used to be?
Sandy Simpson, Polmont Horticultural Society