What actually constitutes tidiness? Sometimes our lane can look a positive mess. At present it is closed for the putting in of a new gas main, and it can only be used by the residents (very few). But we are a tidy lot and the only mess is the unavoidable mess of the grass verges being dug up - and the gas men are doing their level best to keep this to a minimum.
But usually, when it is open to through traffic there is a lot of rubbish lying around - empty cigarette packets, beer cans, empty fast food boxes - presumably thrown from passing car windows. And worst of all, plastic carrier bags and scraps of plastic, which tend to snag on bushes and hedges and flap about in the wind.
When my bad ankle is up to the walk, I sometimes don rubber gloves and wander up the road with a bag to pick up the litter. I only do it for a short way - but anything is better than nothing.
However, we all see tidiness in a different way don't we? Weeds are a case in point. Our lane has a border of - first dandelions, then cow parsley, then meadow-sweet. The hedges are swathed in wild honey-suckle and then in blackberry blossom. In March there is sloe blossom and wild plum blossom too. And amongst all this there is also ragged robin, the odd orchid, pink campion and one or two patches of cowslips. 'Weeds' abound in other words. And so many people view weeds in a negative way.
Of course we don't like them in our flower gardens but the men with spray guns do tend to go round and spray indiscriminately. I was reminded of this today when reading about John Constable and his painting of 'The Cornfield'. He was living in London at the time he painted it, and most of the wild flowers which might have grown there left to their own devices, had disappeared.
There was a local botanist called Henry Phillips and he obliged Constable by sending him a list of the wild flowers growing around his home in Flatford. "all the tall grasses are in flower, bogrush, bulrush, teasel. The white bindweed hangs its flowers over the hedge, wild carrot and hemlock flowers in banks of hedges and the rose-coloured pesicaria in wet ditches is very pretty. He goes on - ragged robin, mallow, thistle.........
Tidiness can become 'mad tidiness' as Ronald Blythe says (which is where I got the information about Constable). Many of our field margins have been mown so that the wild flowers have all but disappeared and the same goes for many of the grass verges alongside the roads. It is lovely to see that on some of our motorways efforts have been made to reintroduce plants like cowslips, which in many cases have colonised whole banks on the roadside.
A weed is a plant that is unwanted in the garden, not in the countryside. I would be sorry to see the thousands of dandelions which line the road from here to our little market town sprayed into extinction. I look forward to them every year. But I always hope that they are not decorated by the addition of rubbish which can so easily be put into a rubbish bin by any thinking person with an ounce of soul.