Of course, there are all sorts of jitters and seconds thoughts galore as to the wisdom of the endeavour. You don't really notice how, and how much, London changes you, your mindset and general perspective on all sorts of things until you seriously think about leaving and look at the alternatives. But the decision has been taken, the new tenancy agreement is in place already, and it's too late to change minds (which might not be wiser anyway, just more familiar). I suppose it's normal at this stage to feel torn, and I know there will be many wobbles in the months to come. Ah well - at least we don't leave with entirely rose-tinted spectacles on...
As I can't do twelve hour-shifts of packing with the kids around, I've started early and been packing boxes and sifting through stuff for weeks already. And, boy, is there a lot of it! Which is mainly my fault, I have to admit. There is very little of material value, but anything with sentimental value is near-impossible to get rid off. However, I did manage to part with baby and toddler clothing eventually - all neatly packed away in boxes already years ago - because there is a number of new babies in our block now. It felt comforting to know who will get all the adored outfits my two wore when small and that they will be worn again. I've never felt comfortable donating these to charity shops or the clothing bank: Yes, there might be a worn patch or something, but I loved these clothes and just couldn't bear the thought they might not end up on other children but just be shredded and used as sofa stuffing.
Yet what about the masses of printed matter? I guess I should have chosen "archivist" as a career: books, magazines, newspaper clippings, brochures, catalogues... The list is endless. I found books and magazines alone amount to 35 running [shelf] metres. And you can't pass on newspaper clippings to someone else! Again, I've managed to part with some of it, though not nearly as much as my man would want me to and perhaps I should. At least you can pack these nicely into stackable boxes. But what about the plants???
It will not come as a big surprise to readers of this blog that I'm a plant nut who considers the green companions to our life as much a part of our household as other people would a dog. And just as you wouldn't leave behind your pet when moving house, I won't leave my beloved plants behind! Besides, there is quite a bit of money involved here. Moreover, as they have been lovingly assembled over years from horticultural fairs and nurseries all over the country, many of them are not easily obtainable again - even if I had a bigger budget. Others have been grown from cuttings or seed and thus are even more special as they come with their own story. So the plants will move with us. Or at least I hope they will.
For while an international move of home is complicated enough in normal circumstances, wanting to take your garden seems to at least quadruple the problems and agonies. Yes, most of them are (and always have been) in pots already. Those that weren't yet have been potted up in spring, or I propagated them by taking cuttings and off-shoots so the parent plant could stay behind. But having the plants in pots makes it only marginally easier.
The best time for such a move, of course, wold have been late winter/ early spring, before the start of the growing season. There were reasons though why we have stayed until now. But leaving in the middle of summer means everything is in full leave and flower - and not only much bigger, but also much thirstier. Couple that with a heatwave as we've had for weeks already this summer, and any thought of them spending a few days in an overheated lorry - perhaps stuck somewhere on the motorway or in a queue at the port - does not just make me break a sweat... I've prepared for this as much as possible by potting on into bigger pots, with more room, but there is only so much moisture a soil can hold - even when pimped with these water-retaining crystals you add to it.
And while the idea of the removal truck pulling up at a petrol station along the way, the men jumping out demanding a hose, only to then start watering a jungle in the back of the truck makes me smile, it is totally unrealistic - not least because you can't hose down plants with soft furniture and boxes of books just a metre away. Which brings me to the next and least expected problem of all. Ever since we decided to move I’ve worried about how my charges would fare during the journey. Somehow I did not expect needing to worry so much about them getting onto the truck in the first place! But it has proved quite a headache and isn’t totally over yet.
I’d researched big removal companies who – according to their websites – manage international moves on a weekly, if not daily basis and we’d contacted several of them. It was always the same: Yes, not a problem, they had a big fleet and were sure to find room in their calendar for our move – until you mentioned the plants. 26 square metres of them. Suddenly, the other end of the line went silent and - ah, well, ahem, actually,… on second looks they really were quite busy at this time of year already, etc. etc….
I had suggested trolleys as used in the horticultural industry could be hired, to cut down the space to about half of that as they have adjustable shelfs. So those pots and plants that are only 30 cm high could be stacked several shelfs to a trolley whilst the taller ones could be transported with just one or two layers. What you would need to do is wrap the whole trolley in bubble wrap, or even just cling foil, to stop plants falling off and to buffer a little between them so the terracotta pots won't damage each other in transit.
I still don’t know whether it sounded like too much work, too much thought required, or whether removal companies simply don't have access to such trolleys and didn’t know where to ask, but company after company declined. I guess it was too much hassle, too much “outside the ordinary, standard fare” and they had enough custom to not need ours. One ventured so far as to say that no removal company would do that, we’d need a specialist – even after I had confirmed that we’d not expect them to guarantee all plants would arrive alive and well but were quite prepared to consider that our own risk and happy to include such a clause into any contract.
In the end, we contacted a small local company from the region we will move to. We did not do so before, thinking that an empty outward journey would eat too much into their margin to be of interest to them. But having received offers that seemed to price in one empty journey anyway (and did not include the plants) desperation drove us to try. And surprise, surprise – they were much more willing, accommodating and open-minded about the whole venture. Perhaps it's not so surprising after all, since for them one such move means a much bigger chunk of their annual turnover than for the big companies and thus they simply are much keener. Nevertheless, we breathed a sigh of relief.
They have been very nice and full of ideas since, but I still won’t believe my plants “have made it across” until I see them all unloaded over there. For most of the ideas have proved unworkable. One was that they’d come with an additional trailer for the plants behind the truck (which of course we’d have to pay for but were prepared to do so). But they could not get that back out our road again as there is no turning space! Oh, did we perhaps have friends were they could park the trailer nearby? No, not really – this is inner-city London, with space at an absolute premium!
With my man due to return to London for a few more months to finish work and wrap things up, he suggested we’d leave most plants behind, promising to faithfully look after them and then, once he’d make the final move, hire a sprinter car and ferry them across himself. And while I trust him and his loving care for a longish holiday, I’m not entirely sure I can trust it for several months (without some smaller pots being accidentally forgotten until they are past redemption). Also, the initial problem with this is: who would look after them while he is with us in Germany, reassembling the wardrobes and enrol and register at all the necessary places, such as the council. It’s the summer holidays after all, and almost everyone we know will be away as they all have kids!
Anyway. The latest I’ve been told is that the removal people will come with truck and trailer, park trailer somewhere at outskirts of London, hire sprinter for the day, pack sprinter with plants, drive sprinter and plants to parked trailer, unload and reload onto trailer and then set off for Germany, with trailer behind truck loaded with rest of our stuff. That is all to happen at the end of this month, by the way. Oh, and they said they’ll bring sturdy boxes for the plants... Well, I’ve sent them pictures of the garden from both winter (showing the pots) and now, so they should know what to expect. I’m not really sure boxes are the answer. It’s literally 26 square metres; I’ve measured the area of plants in pots – not the patio garden.
But by now I’m actually past caring – at least for the moment. I’ve switched to functioning mode a while ago. That’s not to say I wouldn’t be extremely sad to lose my plants, but I feel numb from too much thinking and worrying and try not to think about anything but the tasks at hand on any particular day!
One such is that six big plants – two agapanthus’, one clematis, one Sophora tetraptera and the two butchered Pohukutawa – still need repotting as their pots are broken or definitely too small. It is hard physical labour that’s required for the job - plus an axe or saw - and apart from the fact that I need replacement pots for some of them, I simply couldn’t do it during the hot weeks we’ve experienced since winter turned straight into summer. Mind you, I like to think this extraordinarily long spell of warm/hot, dry and sunny weather is nature's way of being kind and preparing us and the plants for continental summers again (rather than moan about the extra hours I’ve needed watering)! However, I’m now hoping for a few cooler days, some classic British summer, to get those last repots done!
So wish us luck. I don’t know whether I’ll find the time again to post something here anytime soon, but once settled (at the latest) I will blog again.