Picture the scene: it’s mid-March 2020, and having recently returned from a 6-week honeymoon sojourn around South East Asia, myself and my wife are plunged into lockdown and the confines of our charming, one-bedroom basement flat in Brighton. We move from romping and stomping around the golden triangle, sleeping in a different hotel bed every three nights, to sharing our modest space with each other, around the clock. Just like everyone else, of course, and just like everyone else we have to adapt quickly. We were joined on this journey of change and precedents by some pot plant acquaintances - lots of them - dotted all around the living room. There started a time of quiet contemplation and growth for all of us.
Our busy day-of-the-triffids assortment, which has been lovingly kept alive by a friend in our absence, includes the following: two peace lilies, a rubber plant, a yucca, a pothos and a dozen or so hardy succulents. Curled around bookcase backsides, creeping across television screens, sprawling towards the mantelpiece - all with ambitious designs on the bursts of light which flood in from the generous front window. Nestled in between the green are dazzling flashes of copper: watering can and mister. At a later date, as spring turns into summer and online orders catch up to demand, we add a couple of pots - the same two pence coin shade as the other bits of kit. Around home workouts, cooked meals and laptop tapping, we begin to live contentedly amongst the plant life. Their growth is imperceptible. As is our own, so it seems, until some privileges are handed back to us.
The novelty of the opening weeks, when the benefits of having each other’s company and not much else feels refreshing, is overshadowed by uncertainty, fear and foreboding statistics. But during these early throes of isolation, romance can be found with the gift of sun flowers or perhaps a bouquet of roses, purchased on swift, nifty trips to the supermarket. After all, we are still newlyweds! Then the country starts to move, to budge slightly. We remember where the iron lives. We venture outside, to local parks and manicured gardens for air, sun and the chance to exchange hopeful glances with strangers. Gradually, without me knowing or noticing at first, other horticultural delights start to appear on our sun-trap front porch. Dainty tin cans hold burgeoning shoots of gladioli, a rusty bucket is resurrected and filled with bunches of lavender. Bursts of a sunflower, possibly propagated from my earlier purchase, try to stake a claim amongst the other stems. Outside, as I dip down to do another online class push up, I notice them all and then learn more about them. Intrigue and optimism start to flourish in our home and the wider world, it seems.
Back inside the lipstick plant, or aeschynanthus, begins to silently taunt my wife; formidable Medusa curls flopping to the exposed wooden floor. Fantasising as she is about the prospect of returning to her makeup table and those precious night out preparations, a trip to a restaurant, a draught pint, perhaps. We’ve potted the twisty lipstick clump in the shiny bronze pots and placed that on black stilts. Presents to ourselves, made to match the surroundings - our own version of feng shui. In another corner, bleached fronds of the giant rubber plant dominate a patch between our living room table, now a makeshift office space, and mantelpiece, providing a welcome relief or sight for sore eyes between the hours of screen staring. At regular intervals, the exact nature of which I haven’t ever enquired about, my wife tends to this living spectrum of green that now adorns a good portion of our living area. Usually this coincides with me (an unspoken rule) moving into the kitchen to prepare the evening meal. Imagining up new recipes and ideas starts to become taxing as the lockdown weeks rack up, and I’ve even considered walking across to our gated community garden to pluck some wild garlic, whose presence is palpable due to the pungent umami we sense when sunbathing there. We’re well into spring now, punchy May heat waves have helped and record-breaking hay fever has not. The weeks tick by and into double figures. But there is further change on the horizon and a traffic light system is mentioned: red, amber, green…
Summer continues this way and we land on the early days of August, a whole five months since we took to our homes and learned how best to survive and thrive there. Garden centres are given the go ahead first, and then some retail outlets, cafes, pubs and restaurants follow suit. Outside we still take in exercise and prepare ourselves for whatever happens next. We consider the pang of a craving for the early weeks when everything felt simple yet uncertain. Back then our movement was tentative, now we step out with more purpose and vigour, whilst still trying to look out for one another, friend and stranger alike. After months of longing we can finally travel across county lines and between countries to see loved ones and tell them how proud we are of them. And back at home in our sunlit basement flat, having come so far, we must remember to water the plants!
By Christy Hall