Nettles, stiff and upright line my path through the wood to the big field. I’m the Queen inspecting my troops as I walk past. Or, as they’re all in khaki perhaps I’m Winston Churchill and it’s the second world. Is that my grandfather over there? Or maybe I’m a military dictator. I’m Kim Jong-il, and these are North Korean troops. Now the idea of nettles being battalions of soldiers is in my head, I can’t walk down the track without straightening my shoulders just a little bit and slackening my pace to something more dignified and respectful. In fact, I’ve just read that nettles do have a military connection. They are so plentiful and their stems so fibrous that during the first world war Germany used them to make military cloth as supplies of cotton ran out. And in the second world war Britain used nettle chlorophyll as a dye for camouflage nets. It’s the fibrous stem that makes them stand to attention so rigidly while plants around them droop and bend and sway. And of course nettles are armed. Only using their weapon in defence, although it can feel like an outrageously unjust attack sometimes.
At the moment they’re flowering and here my military metaphor falters. The flowers are so delicate, so subtle and so untidy that they are the complete antithesis of a macho, disciplined army. Some are pink, coordinating with the wine red stem, some blue and some pale green. Little ribbons of tiny beads that glow when back lit. Pain and pleasure in one plant, indiscriminate poison on one hand, fragile beauty on the other.