Meltdown in lockdown

Sunday 29 March 2020:

Day 6 of Coronavirus ‘lockdown’ and I’m approaching meltdown. Never has the garden been so primped and preened; well, that’s not completely true. As a virtuous Virgoan I’m particularly prone to being a tad too meticulous around the garden. It’s all razor-sharp lawn edges and weed-free borders and so I scared myself this week when I momentarily found myself thinking about polishing the stones in the gravelly borders outside the kitchen! I’m joking, of course. But I’m sure lockdown has had us all rootling and tidying through our knicker/pants drawers, polishing dusty sideboards like there’s no tomorrow and clearing out food cupboards which haven’t seen the light of day since the first Star Wars film. Once this pandemic has eventually passed, and it will, the world’s houses and gardens will sparkle, glisten and bloom like never before.

Today had us gloved up and ready for action, and that was just for the trip to the local Tesco for essential provisions (Cadbury’s Mini Eggs). There were about twenty of us in the medium-sized store, all politely nodding, smiling and rhumba-ing the requisite two metres away from each other around the fruit and veg aisles. All very British.

Back in our ‘safe place’, the garden, it was time to do battle with the potting shed. I called it the potting shed, but whenever we have people around (do we all remember those days, having people round?) I call it the shed. I guess the term ‘potting shed’ makes it sound rather ‘Downton Abbey’.

‘Sorry I’m late m’lud, I’ve been chittin’ me Maris Pipers in the pottin’ shed all mornin’.

That having been said, it IS a shed and POTTING is done in said shed, so, blow-it, it’s a bona-fide potting shed. Call it whatever, it has been the nerve-centre these past few weeks. Seed sowing, potting on (didn’t I just say?), and, well more seed sowing. Whilst there are obviously a handful of valid reasons for its current state of (un) tidiness, the continuing confinement had me on my hands and knees de-cluttering, cobwebbing, tidying and organising like a good ‘un. It was so blooming clean afterwards, Lord Grantham could easily have taken his ‘afternoon tea’ from the floor without fear of a single crumb of compost being left on his clotted cream and strawberry jam scone (to rhyme with ‘gone’).

The shed I use for potting, aka the ‘Potting Shed’

Monday 30 March 2020

Work day! Well, I say work day. I’m lucky enough to say it’s only five hours today. Every other Monday I usually garden with my friend, Otis, in a stunning, beautifully appointed garden nearby. Now though, of course, we’re each making solo visits to the garden every other week to comply with current ‘social distancing’ guidelines (my goodness, these Coronavirus-related terms trip off the lips so easily, already). I really enjoy working alongside Otis; he’s a great gardener, full of innovative ideas and full of unbridled energy. But then he is a couple of years younger than me. Well, when I say a couple of years I mean a couple, plus another ten…. and another bloomin’ twenty!

A beautiful, cool (gardening term for freezing!), spring morning with clear blue skies and birds chattering busily in the trees. Today’s task is the under-planting of two new tree ferns with ribbons of pheasant grasses, ferns and Asian bleeding hearts. They used to be Dicentra spectabilis, but have now been encumbered with Lamprocapnos spectabile.

Before I knew it, it was the last clients of the day; a lovely couple in their eighties. Frantic waving and confused, charade-like gestures through their kitchen window were interpreted (correctly one hopes) as lawns to be mowed and borders to be weeded.

Tuesday 31 March 2020

I don’t want to play lockdown anymore. No more than any of us do, of course. This is the beginning of week two and there is, at this point, two more weeks to go before the ‘situation’ is reviewed again. Along with many, many other industries, some areas within the horticultural business are showing signs of stress with sales plummeting or at a complete standstill. This should be prime-time. We should all be rushing eagerly to our local garden centres to fill trolleys and then car-boots with early summer bedding, pots of perennials, rolls of turf and bags of (peat-free) compost. Today gardening hit the news as thousands of garden centres and growers across the UK announced they will be composting millions of plants which can no longer be maintained for a gardening public (estimated at 23 million), ironically locked in their own gardens.

Wednesday 1 April 2020

All Fools Day – need I add more…?

I have to admit to having a COVID19 wobble today. I’m affectionately going to call it my Wednesday Wobble. Hourly news bulletins, and incessant conversations with clients all centring around Coronavirus caught up with me eventually at lunchtime. The two lovingly prepared chicken tikka rolls sitting forlornly in their tinfoil jackets did nothing to lift the overwhelming sense of hopelessness and despair that flooded over me. No appetite! Not now. I’ll eat them later.

I got home just after 5 pm, my phone pinging the arrival of a message. A much-needed smile played around my lips upon reading the following ‘NHS Coronavirus Update’ sent to me from a friend.

I actually read the update three times, with an increasing hot flush over my brow before I realised it was April 1!

I pulled out the first chicken tikka roll and made it disappear…. very quickly. My Wednesday Wobble was waning!

In other news today… I finally managed to water the garden following a prolonged dry spell of at least three weeks. Having had one of the wettest winters I can recall for years, it is amazing how quickly the garden has dried out. I swear, I almost heard the garden sigh with utter relief as my ‘garden queen’ showered the parched borders and lawns.

Lawn watered, I went in and ‘forced’myself to eat the remaining chicken tikka roll. We can’t afford to waste food, can we?

Thursday 2 April 2020

Right there’s work-a-plenty to be getting on with in this garden. I propagated a Salvia ‘Amistad’ from cuttings in 2019 BC (Before Corona) which have grown away and were ready to be planted out. So, no sooner said than done.

On a roll already (work that is, not chicken tikka) my electric scarifier was hurriedly pulled from the (P) shed and onto the lawns which were duly scarified, spiked and then mowed. Phew!

I’ve never really laid any claim to being a lawn obsessed kind of guy. I probably don’t possess enough testosterone for that. However, that having been said, I have found myself of late becoming a tad too fussy about the green stuff. ‘It’s just a lawn’, used to be my cry, now, more than likely it’s ‘Get off my lawn if you don’t mind’!

Friday 3 April 2020

Wake up feeling sick to the pit of my stomach. Oh, I’m not looking for pity. This is a self-induced sickness. I foolishly plastered every single social media platform with an invitation for EVERYONE to come and join me LIVE in my garden on Instagram. What on earth was I thinking…? Firstly, it was highly probable that nobody would want to come and play, but, if somebody did, what on earth was I going to say?

At 10:30am prompt, hands shaking for England, I went LIVE.  Oh. My. God! Forty-seven people had clearly tuned into me by mistake!. I rambled on regardless, twittering incessantly about spring interest, feeding borders, lawn preparations, lily beetles and slugs. More people tuned in?! After half an hour(!), the equivalent to a COMPLETE Gardeners’ World episode, I realised I should stop.

Don’t worry Monty, I don’t think you’ve got ANYTHING to worry about!

Saturday 4 April

In an ongoing attempt to keep busy and keep outside, I found myself ‘volunteering’ to continue jet washing the drive that Peter had started yesterday. Four hours later, with me resembling a Cadburys chocolate flake, I waved the mud splattered white flag of surrender. It seems to me, on reflection, that jet washing is a rather odd affair. Through the process of electronics and pressurised water, one removes the mud and debris from a path and plasters it onto oneself? Non…?

Calf height ‘wellies’. Every well dressed gardener is wearing them.


When life throws us thorns, look for roses

After years of being beaten around my shell-likes with ‘Brexit’ and wishing I hadn’t ever heard the word, I, like many of you will probably be thinking what a joy it would be to have the ‘B’ word back, loud and proud instead of this new, dreaded ‘C’ word, Coronavirus. The Coronavirus global pandemic has thrown our world into a melting pot of fear, uncertainty and anxiety.

And, lurking under the belly of Coronavirus, a creeping anxiety has quietly taken many of us hostage. Nagging doubts, worries and a fear of the unknown haunt us in the early hours and well beyond.

Everybody’s talking about ‘social distancing’, ‘self-isolation’ and ‘lockdown’ with a scarily practiced ease. Three weeks ago these phrases weren’t even in our vocabulary.

Much has been written about the many benefits of gardening for those living with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. And so now, in the midst of this perturbing pandemic, more so than ever before, we may all acquire a slightly better understanding of how life consuming these problems can be for many people. So many of us have already admitted to feeling the anxieties of this situation.

Gardening isn’t for everyone, I understand that. A significant percentage of people I have gardened or created gardens for have reaffirmed that belief, ‘I don’t like gardening, but I want a nice garden to spend time in’. I’ve heard these words so many times. But gardening doesn’t have to be the fully immersive, all consuming pastime some make it.

Mowing and edging the lawn, a spot of light weeding or deadheading the daffs is a great way to start. Little and often, gently reconnecting with nature. It’s incredible how just ten minutes of pottering around a garden can mollify a muddled mind or soothe the stresses and strains of day-to-day life. The combination of breathing in fresh air and listening to the birds twittering, happily in neighbouring trees. The frothy pinks, creams and whites of blossom are just beginning to sparkle on the bare boughs of flowering cherries, butter yellow primroses nestled down in our borders, pots or verges. Dazzling daffs nodding their heads to welcome in another long awaited spring. You’ll be quickly transported to ‘another place’. Somewhere calmer, quieter and altogether more tranquil than the worrying ‘here and now’ of our hectic, pressure-laden lives.

For the (ever so slightly) more adventurous, sowing seeds for flowers in our gardens or produce for the veg patch with the kiddies (or without!) is so rewarding. It’s educational and so easy.

Don’t be afraid of your garden. The worst you can probably do is cut off this years flowers, which in the overall scheme of things, at present, is small fry! However, the internet and social media is full to bursting with eager gardeners (like me) with helpful ‘how to’ videos and illustrated guides taking you through all manner of gardening jobs.

But, if gardening is still not your thing then try a wander up the garden path, broom in hand, a much-needed lick of paint on the garden fences or just sitting there with a cuppa, or a chilled Pinot Grigio. You will feel so much better for it.

Things will eventually return to ‘normal’; a new normal, admittedly. Hopefully, some things will change for the better after this. Already a heart-warming sense of community is beginning to emerge.

And we will get back out into our gardens with friends and family. We will go out to restaurants and eat good food, and drink, and laugh. But we will always remember this time.

“Sometimes when things are falling apart, they may actually be falling into place”

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