As for my own plants, it has helped me setting out the pots more like a border along the back of the plot and the car port, rather than have them stood as one big “blob” under the beech tree. Whenever I watered this incongruent assortment of pots I couldn’t help crying. It was a disorganized jumble and made me feel even more keenly the loss of my garden. After the first few weeks I spent thoughts and half a day on how best to group them – both with regard to the amount of light each needed or could cope with (sun lovers around the paved area that received sun around midday, the shade lovers further along where they’d only get sun in the afternoon) and my aesthetic sensibilities. Textures, size, leaf colours and forms were the things to consider.
I’m particular on that front, it has to be harmonious or I almost physically shudder. Just as I spent half a day in the flat rearranging ceramics, cachepots etc. my man had unpacked and put on the shelf: I needed to get the right balance of height, form, colour and distance from each other or it would hurt and itch me every time I clapped eyes on it. I know I’m especially sensitive on that front and not everyone has that urge or need - my man, for instance, does not even notice the difference! Once that was done though – both indoors and outside – it felt immediately better. But I have to admit that right now, I've lost interest in them a bit: I water them and look if the wind has done any damage, but the enthusiasm and joy is - at least at present - much reduced. Although, if I DO tend to them, during those moments, it still feels good.
I still really haven’t understood why they couldn’t offer it to someone else, but I think it’s to do with impartiality – they’d not be working on behalf of the landlord who ultimately has to pay the estate agent’s fees. Anyway, what this meant for us is that we’d search online for a place to rent – on websites similar to rightmove – and if we saw something that we were interested in, we’d contact the agent and arrange a viewing. Naturally, we’d not be the only one looking to move, so turnover on these websites is rapid in most cases. Trying to enter the game from London was a bit tricky – you can’t just pop by for a viewing. During the week in April, we visited five or six places. All of them had their considerable drawbacks: too expensive, horrible location, a layout that was simply not fit for a family… There was not a single one with a proper garden. In the end, we plunged for the last one we viewed, literally a few hours before leaving for London again, reasoning it was our best bet as it would not have been easy to return for more viewings.
And indeed the flat is beautiful: specious and light, made for family living and in a fantastic location. It’s a third-floor flat under the roof (with most rooms featuring roof slopes) in a detached villa-style house. The surrounding streets, too, feature this lovely style of development – a bit like parts of West London. The gardens are not big, but there are many mature trees, making it feel lovely and green. (Although I have noticed that a big public park nearby is on some counts preferable: you can’t just walk into these properties and sit under the trees or amongst the shrubbery as you could in Victoria Park!) Even better, it’s just a walk or a few tram stops to get me to the quarter of town that most resembles East London in spirit. Like a cross between Shoreditch and Hackney Wick, long gentrified but still with a definite and defiantly alternative spirit, inhabited by young families, artists, small entrepreneurs and agencies as well as a few left-over punks and hippies.
Anyway, I only mention all the above - and especially he difficulties we faced in finding a place - to explain why someone as plant-mad as me would plunge for a flat without a garden. Because once you've had one it's so much harder to go back to not having one. But we really didn't have much time or many options. What I did do though is contact the agent after we'd viewed the place and told her we liked it but that the make or break thing was whether I'd be allowed to do some gardening here. I sent over a few shots of my old garden, telling I intended to bring all my plants in pots and that they were far too many and far too heavy for the small roof terrace. Would I be allowed to do some gardening in the yard?
The answer was yes, the owner was okay with that. But he'd want to meet in person to agree where I might dig and plant or whatever I intended to do. So that it would not diminish appearances of the property overall and look "neat". We did not hear from him since moving in and I have to admit I have not been "on his trail" as much as I probably should have been, i.e. I haven't contacted him either. For one thing, I currently lack the time and energy. Also, right now I do not even have a spade (nor a car, and there aren't any garden centres nearby). But more than anything I'm a bit despairing of the prospect of what can be done. What if he want's to allocate me a spot that won't suit my charges? Right underneath the tree, say?
Stuck not between a rock and a hard place but a mighty beech tree and a Thuja hedge...
And while that's unlikely and I can well imagine convincing him with my arguments, there aren't that many alternatives. The main area in the yard that's not paved and used for cars is indeed underneath the mature beech tree which is too dry to be very hospitable to herbaceous plants, thanks to the thick mat of tree roots muscling everything else out and drinking up every drop of rain that manages to penetrate the canopy or any watering I might do. Moreover, this area is the designated "football pitch" for not just my children but two other boys in the house.
In front of the building is a narrow strip that probably could host a border, but it is along the road, under the nose of our neighbours (while I can't see any of the yard/ front strip/ rest of property from any of our windows) and most crucially South facing, i.e. too sunny for many of my charges - and the rest that really does thrive on sun is not hardy. If I did a border there, it would be filled mainly with new acquisitions. Great prospect perhaps, except that right now I'm in desparate need for winter quarters for great numbers of existing plants - even the many perennials among them that are hardy won't likely be so in a pot faced with continental winter temperatures.
The most likely area for a bed for them is at the back of the yard, just outside the beech canopy area, along the North and Northwest border. And guess what - there is a fine Thuja hedge there. Need I say more? Every gardener is likely to know what that means and will join me in a groan. Maybe if I build a slightly raised bed there? With membranes or something to stop or slowing down both beech and Thuja roots from entering. But would that still be acceptable to the "neat appearances of the property" command? I guess I have to find out, give it a try. But right now, I don't feel up for it.
I don’t think I can expect the neighbours to tolerate more pots along the stairs in the hallway – it might also be a health and safety regulations issue (blocked escape routes/ access and the like). But I do wonder whether to politely ask if anyone objects to a few pots in the basement laundry room: we each have our own washing machine and since we are the only ones without a dryer, there is a little room next to mine…
I’m not sure how frost-free (or rather: how badly frost-prone) the roof terrace is: in theory, a few storeys up, it shouldn’t be as cold as in the yard since cold air sinks to the ground, right? So maybe that’s enough of a protection for the Helleborus and Viburnum tinnus which can stand a bit of frost but won’t like their pots frozen through. With a bit of wrapping, I think I can pull that off – I just have to lug them (like everything else destined for the landing) up.
But I don’t think I can rely on wrapping pots on the roof terrace for overwintering the ornamental sages. Not least because it is fully exposed to any wind coming from the North, North East or Northwest. Over the last few days, they’ve taken quite a battering in a taste of what’s to come. They still flower their little hearts out, despite the less than favourable conditions for them, and I’m very grateful to them for that as it cheers me up – but I wouldn’t want to take chances. So if I find space for them inside our flat, in addition to all the Hibiscus and regular indoor plants – would that in turn be too warm and dry for them over winter?? Will they grow weak and limp and succumb not to frost but to spider mites etc. instead? And what about my Trachelospermum, for instance, currently sheltering in a corner of the roof terrace?
Questions, questions – decisions, decisions… Still, right now finding winter quarters for all my plants actually seems the easier option compared with creating somewhere to plant. And I hope I’ll be in a better state to tackle that challenge come spring.