The nasturtiums are sprouting in hundreds
across the garden. Each seed puts down
a succulent white root, thrusts up a stalk
with two small neat round leaves, winsome
and vividly-green as those comic-book plants
dotted among a child’s party of frogs.
I feel like a cruel old witch when I yank them out,
but left to themselves they swell to monstrous mounds –
turtles with heaving shells of soft green platelets
simmering mobs of pale-eyed parasols
shaken by a raucous babble of lurid shrieking
more dreadful in lying low in venomous silence.
Sniggering flowers peak out – orange and mustard
some yolk-yellow with throats as brown as hyenas
or bad teeth, some paler as bulbous foreheads
and dwarfish scowls. They have blood on their chins
and spiky hair on their lips. What a crop!
What a nest of serpents. What can have rotted down
in this mild garden to feed these hysterical leaves
and malevolent blossoms?
Margaret Scott (1934 – 2005)
I can identify with this poem strongly as my garden is often overrun with these creatures and they do seem to have a liking for the compost area. But I must say they do provide a cover for a lot of sins. Below is a photograph taken from my garden which clearly demonstrates their dominance if left unchecked …
It also illustrates how well the words of the poem fit the reality of the plant and they are certainly a veritable mound of turtles with heaving shells of soft green platelets. And the flowers have blood on their chins and spiky hairs on their lips. All flowers have a face and are pretty and some are prettier than others. This poem with the strong personification gives clear evidence that the poet is a gardener who has done conflict with this plant on numerous occasions. They do grow so quickly and no matter how much you yank them out they will be sure to turn up again.
Margaret Scott does not mention the distinctive scent which I always find a touch antiseptic and not quite pleasant – nor the fact they have decorative and edible properties.
MS was an Australian author, poet, comedian, educator and public intellectual.
Margaret Scott on Wikipedia … https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Scott_(author)