Here? There? Roadblocks in a no-man’s land …

2020 is a year that marks a new beginning for me; much more time at my disposal and a long list of things I wanted to incorporate into my days. By the end of March I would have expected to have been at the French house several times, quite worn out from heavy-duty gardening for hours on end, but oh-so-satisfied with the progress that would have been made. I would also have begun to catch up with loyal friends, met up with new friends made through social media, visited museums and galleries, and enjoyed a host of other activities that work had mostly prevented.

As we know, that is not how it has turned out so far. Just as I was ready to remove the (broken ankle) Big Boot and begin rehabilitation world events took an unexpected and surreal turn. I also developed worrying symptoms in my left (“good”) eye, my right eye having lost considerable vision post retinal detachment in 2012. The emergency eye clinic at the hospital diagnosed a bleed although they didn’t think there was a tear. In any case, return in two weeks to be checked …

In the meantime, I developed the unmistakeable symptoms of Coronavirus: headache, severe fatigue, tight chest/difficulty in breathing. A close relative also had similar symptoms and was the possible infection route. I realised I must stay isolated so I wrote to the consultant opthalmologist explaining that I couldn’t go for my eye check. That was a hard decision to make; it was obvious that I mustn’t risk infecting anyone else, but it was difficult to have to risk my sight by making that decision.

Fortunately, my consultant reacted decisively with professionalism and compassion, phoning to insist that I must go to the hospital the following morning – under very specific circumstances, with a rendezvous (by mobile phone) in the hospital car park from where I was directed into a back entrance via a fire exit on a route where I wouldn’t risk encountering anyone else. The consultant then appeared all gowned and masked in full PPE and after a brief examination confirmed that I did have a tear in the retina of the “good” eye which needed to be fixed with a laser retinopexy there and then. Another week or so, as the number of Coronavirus patients ramps up, and I suspect it might not have been as straightforward. I count myself very fortunate indeed as the thought of losing further sight was quite frightening.

And of course we are now all under “house arrest” – quite rightly I hasten to add. Some are finding it easier to adjust than others and my heart goes out to all those for whom it is especially difficult, including anyone in a challenging or abusive relationship, those parents who need to work full time from home whilst also looking after their little ones while schools are closed, anyone who lives alone, and the host of other individual personal circumstances.

Life has changed dramatically for us all, incredibly quickly. Yes of course a pandemic “could be seen coming”, or at least the risk of one. But the natural human condition is to expect things to carry on as they always have been. As the planes fall silent, traffic stops, and we hear the spring birdsong so much more clearly, we are all challenged as we try to make sense of this new world, and try and find new ways of living.

We have heard many stories of people communicating and looking out for each other. Groups are forming to try to ensure that nobody falls through the net. This is how it should be but is nevertheless encouraging to see it in action. Some people are behaving like idiots, or even monsters, but this unprecedented time (at least since 1665!) is offering new opportunities for good which are heartening.

After the initial panic and some quite horrible examples of personal greed, people appear to be adapting to a more thoughtful and measured way of shopping. Conferences are turning virtual. Families and friends are communicating more via WhatsApp groups, Zoom, HouseParty, and other apps. Church buildings are closed. But people are finding new ways of “doing church” which will surely carry on into the future even after we return to normal, or at least move forward into a new normal. Only yesterday we were able to follow along with a live-streamed service led by a former curate of our old church. Not only was it a great service but it was wonderful to see the lovely, kind, familiar face of our old friend looking out at us from the iPad. That would realistically never have happened otherwise. You can find out more about this new way, at just this one church in Marlow here. We’ve lit candles and put rainbows in our windows, and I think generally tried to be kinder.

And what of our gardens? For the French garden, fortunately, 2020 was earmarked to be a year of consolidation, rather than new development. I was very aware that I needed to move gently and thoughtfully into my new “semi-retired” status. I didn’t want to rush at new activities and fill my life with things I didn’t really want to do or pointless activity for the sake of it. So we don’t have any house/garden development being cancelled, nor have we got loads of plants on order with nobody available to plant them. So there’s a sense of relief there. But there is also a sense of frustration and disappointment as I was looking forward so much to having more time to be there and potter around, filling in gaps with new planting, nurturing everything that we’ve already planted, to make sure that everywhere is as good as it can be. Fortunately I am sent photos of the beauties there from time to time (HUGELY appreciated!).

And this gorgeous hellebore against the blue southern sky.


And, in the spirit of warts and all, lest you think its all blissful, here below is the furniture under the French covered terrace, neither put away in the barn last autumn (health reasons), nor yet spring-pressure-washed, all covered in bird poo. Nice!


Last autumn I decided that I would order a number of bulbs for pots on the patio in Sussex. I’m delighted that I did as they have already given much pleasure for some weeks (I wrote about the early irises here and the chionodoxas here) and will continue to do so for a while to come.


Normally we don’t have display pots as we aren’t here all the time to keep them well watered. I can’t say we don’t have pots as we usually have a number of pots “waiting to go to France”. I’m a complete plantaholic so collect plants from specialist nurseries which then find their way to the French garden (on the right hand side of the photo above). Various health issues combined with pressure of work during the last six months mean we haven’t taken the car to France since last summer, so there are now many prize plants waiting. As it seems increasingly unlikely that we’ll be able to drive to the French house any time soon, I’ve made the decision that they all need to be potted on here and carefully arranged for display, or in a few cases planted out.

To that end I’ve been able to order some potting compost today for delivery, some from a local nursery and some from Dalefoot Composts (trying them for the first time). Once it arrives I will start to change the mini-garden-centre display into an artful Harriet Rycroft or Great Dixter style display.

Well, that’s how it will look in my dreams …


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7 thoughts on “Here? There? Roadblocks in a no-man’s land …

  1. Sharon,
    Lovely to read your blog, I know how much you will be missing France, but it will not last.

    Thank you



  2. Goodness, did you get tested for the virus? I know that in some ways, it does not matter. I mean, one would isolate regardless of what the illness is. It is so frustrating that the situation is not being taken seriously here. No one seems to care.


  3. My goodness Sharon you have had an exceptionally tough time….yet you seem to deal with it all with great resilience…bravo!
    Glad that the pots were there to give you some cheer during your enforced absence from the French garden….that must be a wrench but I am sure you will be busy gardening ‘on paper’and….who knows maybe coming up with some even better ideas. Hope the recovery (in all areas) continues to go well.


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