Audrey Hepburn's words ring truer than ever as a result of the confluence of Spring's arrival with virus-induced home isolation. With all the usual diversions not currently an option, the opportunity to observe Spring bursting in to life has become the main focus of our days in isolation. Each morning the trees in the garden are pinker and greener, the shrubs fuller, the green shoots poking higher out of the ground. And some windowsill seedlings I planted several weeks ago are, rather unexpectedly, becoming a metaphor for the virus experience.
In mid-March, upon hearing that three of my children were being sent home from university early due to increasing concerns about the Corona virus, I surveyed the leanly stocked kitchen cupboards and fridge. Nothing but a bit of pasta, cheese and a tomato or two suits my husband and I just fine while the children are away at school. But with teenagers now at home indefinitely for 3 meals a day, a big Christmas holiday-style supermarket shop was in order.
And so I found myself at the till of the local Marks & Spencers, packing up a huge shop. A friendly and patient young couple behind me in the queue struck up a conversation as I laboriously filled bags. "What's the occasion?" they asked. The UK government had yet to put stay-at-home orders in place so panic buying was not yet a thing. "Do you collect the seeds?" was their next question. I had no idea what they were talking about, I was food shopping not gardening. As I went to pay, I learned that M&S was running a lovely campaign for growing plants at home and was offering a free seed kit, complete with a little peat pot, compost and a pack of seeds, one free with every £25 spent in the shop. I went home with 10 of them.
In the chaos of the next few days, with government initiatives requiring all workers to stay at home distracting my attention, I forgot all about the seed kits. A dark cloud had descended over London and all he world really. In the depths of despair, worrying about how the business that I had germinated in my basement nearly five years ago would ever survive, I found myself reading the how-to-plant fine print on the little M&S seed kits. What the hell, I had nothing else to do that day, we were in lockdown.
So I planted ten tiny little pots of radish seeds, parsley, carrots, lettuce and forget-me-nots, placed them all on the windowsill and I suddenly felt optimistic. In no time at all, these little squares of damp brown dirt would soon be producing big bowls full of juicy lettuce, crunchy carrots and radishes and vases full of pastel flowers.
Well, maybe. Checking those seed pots for signs of life became a daily routine. It turns out that seeds are like people. Radish seeds sprung to life with vigour, with little green shoots peeking up within about 3 days.
Lettuce followed a day later, but with slightly more fragile shoots. There was no sign of life from any of the other pots. In a couple more days the carrots appeared, gently peeking up out of the soil as the radishes got taller and took. on a deep reddish green hue, while more and more little leaves unfolded from the lettuce shoots.
Euphoria and despair. Why did the parsley and forget-me-nots fail to grow? Had I done something wrong? Too little water? Too much? Too much direct sun? Not enough soil over the seeds? Too much soil?? I was like a desperate new mother, full of anxiety, poking and prodding, clucking and sighing.
Over a week later, when I had nearly given up hope, one of the parsley pots finally had two tiny little seedlings appearing through the soil. Tiny little shoots, much smaller than the other seed varieties, and only in one pot. The other parsley pot remained barren, as did the forget-me-nots. Some seeds thrive easily, some struggle, some fail. It seemed a perfect metaphor for the rest of my life, in which I spent endless hours, day after day, talking with colleagues and other small business owners about if and how we would survive the business shutdown.
By the time Easter weekend arrived it was time to plant the seven strong seedpods outdoors and abandon hope on the three that never took hold. Each little M&S pot was planted in a larger pot with fresh compost and sat in the brightest part of the garden.
Radishes continued to flourish, as did the lettuce and carrots. The parsley couldn't withstand the transition and quickly shrivelled. Ah, change is hard on everyone and everything.
I'm still hopeful for bowls full of lettuce, radishes and carrots but I know I'll need to shop for the parsley and flowers. Nevermind, these seeds were a gift at the beginning of the Coronavirus crisis that germinated throughout the period of stay-at-home lockdown, and will eventually grow into a garden that will nourish us as we start to build our life back this summer. To plant a garden is, indeed, to believe in tomorrow.