Over the past few months I had been aware of the occasional toadstool, which appearing every now and then, I gave a wide berth too. Only too happy to destroy it during the summer when I cut the grass or noticed with relief that a bird or some other animal had eaten it. But now I see that during my distraction with the hedge, it has become rampant and wild. No longer the rare, solitary toadstool, it has expanded beyond belief, multiplying in terrifying numbers, and emerging in patches that sprout up profusely through the cracks of the lopsided and uneven paving stones, loitering in deadly clusters across the grass.
It’s not simply the quantity that bothers me. Now, there are several different styles appearing, as if I have a mushroom buffet growing across the lawn. Some of the toadstools are pearl coloured, pinhead types, then there are stubby ones, the colour of toffee that look as if they might have the texture of tree bark. Others are clear with orangey tints, while a couple seem more like the sort of traditional mushrooms I’d enjoy in my stir fry.
And I have to confess to a deep-seated anxiety gnawing away at my insides, at even the thought of them, of knowing they are out there, lurking.
According to the gardening experts, toadstools become more prevalent during autumn and their presence confirms the decay of organic matter beneath the surface of your turf, which is a positive thing. They also assure us that this visible fungus is in no way harmful to the lawn, which is great news for the grass, but what about me?
It’s an odd thing, my paranoia. I love nature. Can’t wait to be outside and feel outdoorsy, and to enjoy the beauty and freedom it offers. I adore the feel of soil between my fingers, the fresh earthy smell wafting around me. And yet, I have this illogical fear of touching anything in the garden, anything in nature that could be potentially poisonous. Like those bushes I’m sure I’ve read about somewhere that, ‘you shouldn’t touch.’
This summer I strolled along the country lanes where I live picking blackberries, and for me, strangely, I felt quite calm about it all. Until, convinced that I had spotted blueberries in the hedgerows and keen to make a batch of blueberry muffins, I did some research on the Internet. Well, big mistake. Because trolling thorough several web pages, in search of photographs of blueberries to confirm my find, I discovered that I had been dicing with death. That there is in fact an array of ‘difficult to identify berries’ that could harm or kill, some of which appear troublingly similar.
Of course, I know logically that you need to actually eat them, not just look at one, to be in danger. But whoever said logic was easy to follow. Anyway, frightened by those deadly enemies lurking beside the harmless berries with which I intended to make crumbles, I berried with extreme caution and never bothered about the blueberries in the end, which actually turned out to be sloes.
Poinsettias are another classic example. There’s no question that they are beautiful plants and suitably festive, and we’ve frequently been given one at Christmas as a gift, but still they terrify me. Any plant would that comes with a warning label not to touch or eat the leaves. When we do have one in the house I’m on constant high alert in case I brush against them, or mistakenly munch on one (yes, I know) because I suppose, if I’m honest, not only am I pathetic about these sort of things, I’m phobic too.
I’ve always been that way. My sister used to chase me with worms when we were children and it petrified me, the thought of her catching me, of actually having to touch a wriggly worm and all the germs they entail. The idea of playing with a smooth, perfectly formed conker left me squirming with all the fearful possibilities of what they could do to you, and berries… well, they were just a stomach pump waiting to happen, or worse.
Just the other day when I was out in the garden, my head brushed against a branch containing unidentified berries from one of the trees, as I cleaned the bird table, and absolute panic flooded through me: Oh my god, the berries have touched my hair. It took all my effort and will power not to wail at Steve to help me down from the ladder, hurry me indoors and scrub my hair clean for a good half an hour or so.
Of course, these potentially deadly mushrooms wouldn’t be quite so problematic, if it wasn’t for our adorable little guinea pig, Lucy, and her voracious passion for fresh grass. By voracious, I mean two to three tubs a day, which involves me cutting grass with a pair of scissors (who knows what the neighbours think), having scouted the lawn for a previously unused patch that can offer me good quality grass. An achievement, that becomes increasingly difficult at this time of year. So there’s always a sense of relief when I spot a plentiful area. I hurry across, crouch down, align my scissors carefully (I nearly lost the tip of a finger earlier this year) and it is always about now, just as I am about to snip, that I become aware of a toadstool not an inch away from my fingers.
Swiftly, I back away from the mushroom, heart thumping out of time from its usual steady beat. Later on, when my search for grass is successful and I have secured a tub to keep Luce happy for an hour or two, I begin to agonize. To mull over the details, and my escalating concerns about whether my fingers did or did not brush against the deadly danger. I don’t think so, but you never know. Not only that, when I washed my hands with antibacterial soap, under boiling water, did I actually manage to wash away the poison, if I did in fact touch the toadstool?
Perhaps a fleck of mushroom flew up and touched my lip?
It’s a minefield, and I feel as though I want to douse myself in bleach. Which is pretty ironic as years ago, in my twenties, I was a tad phobic about bleach too, and hated spraying it or allowing it to touch me it because I was so overwhelmingly convinced that it was lethal. So, there’s hope for me yet, because nowadays I squirt bleach around the kitchen and bathroom without a second thought.
But for today, I am still mushroom-challenged and it is with trepidation that I head to the garden, wearing an outfit that will have to be washed at a boiling temperature afterwards, and with latex gloves beneath my heavy duty gardening ones, to remove the toadstools. Not by digging, apparently, but by brushing them away. To where, nobody has told me, and the council I notice, don’t seem to provide a yellow collection box for toxic waste removal.
And now, it is time for me to leave you, for I can procrastinate no longer; my only hope being to return next week, and assure you that I have lived to tell the tale.