Many (many!) years ago, when I worked in a research lab (think software and cool devices rather than test tubes and petri dishes), we used to head off to the pub every Friday for a long lunch break. We didn’t go to a “nice” pub, we went to one that had great beer, just-about-adequate food, a dart board, and a killer jukebox. At some point in proceedings, it was almost guaranteed that someone would put David Bowie’s ‘Changes’ on. Just recently, this song has been going round and round my head.

Not because we are heading in to Autumn, and the signs of it are all around, but because big changes are coming to our household. Having left so-called “retirement age” behind some time ago, MIL and FIL are finally extricating themselves from the business they have spent the last few decades building up. They both have periods of wondering what the currently large empty space that is their future holds, but are generally excited. Huge change. And at the moment, huge work, as they package up the business to pass on to someone else. They are working 14, 15, even 16 hour days to close files, sort files, bill clients, compile lists… Come Saturday they are in the next phase of their lives, and we as a household are officially starting to work out where we go next.

iris seedheads

It’s complicated. When you have a job that is anchored to a specific location, where you live is governed by how far you are willing to travel to get there and back – and how often. When your work is of a type that can be done anywhere, or you no longer have a full time job and aren’t sure what sort of part time job (if any) you might want, it gets a little more difficult. Friends can be a factor, but by this point in our lives we all have friends all over the country. We’d all love to live by the sea. We all want enough outside space that we can wander around it without tripping over one another. A milder climate might be nice for aching joints. Access to grandchildren is a factor, and one that for ages had us assuming we would move “up north”. Then another branch of the family, firmly anchored in Southampton, announced that they would be supplying MIL and FIL with grandchildren too.

aging hydragea flower

Geography being what it is, we cannot be close to both sets of grandchildren. So we’ve begun to talk about moving to somewhere that people will love to visit. Somewhere holiday-ish, but not too distant, not too cut off. Which begs the question, what is too cut off? It had never occurred to me, before this year, to factor in not being able to drive. I have always driven. Ever since it was legal. Having my own car, being able to go where I want, when I want, unconstrained by any fixed timetable, has always represented freedom and independence to me. But it’s been nearly 9 months since I was last fit to drive (which is why I currently resemble a sheep rather over due for shearing, and am contemplating “home hairdressing”, something I remember with dread from my childhood…). Plus MIL and FIL aren’t exactly getting any younger, so the degree of geographical isolation that makes sense might be less that we are otherwise drawn to.

honesty seeds

What we need is a kind of “Grand Tour” of places that might be nice, to sniff the air, so to speak. Not something we are going to be able to do until next year now, at least partly due to other complicating factors. There is an office building to lease or sell. A house to tart up ready to market. And a very sick relative in Arizona whose wife is ground down and exhausted by worry and nursing and loneliness. Brain tumours are wicked things, robbing your loved one of personality, teasing you with the possibility of it returning, threatening to banish it permanently. MIL will be spending most of the next few months offering respite and support. At least she will be warm.

Aster frikartii Monch

I was sitting out in the garden, pondering all these complex uncertainties, feeling the weight of change and the lack of control. I’d just removed the last tomato plants from the greenhouse, so my mood wasn’t exactly cheery anyway. Until I spotted that the self-seeded Californian poppies had decided to put on a late summer show.

last gasp poppies

Sometimes when I sit out in the garden all I see are the jobs that need doing, the things that aren’t working, the plants that are dying. It can get so stressful that I retreat indoors, raging against my lack of energy. This time, I started noticing all those wonderful seedheads you get at this time of year, as plants get ready for a period of rest before they start up again in Spring with explosions of fresh green growth. Add in the late flowering plants that glow in the low-angled sun, and gradually my stress faded away, replaced by calm contentment.

Dahlia New Baby

We are currently aiming to put the house on the market in early Spring. Things being what they are, it could be 6 months before we manage to sell. Or we might get lucky and find ourselves suddenly with much less time that we thought to work out where we want to settle next. So my head is constantly whirling with dilemmas such as “is it worth planting winter onions up at the plot, will we be here in June to harvest them?”, “is it worth moving perennials around the pond border?”, coupled with thoughts like “I wish I’d sown wallflowers this Spring, we are going to be here after all”, and “maybe I should just go ahead and buy the rudbekia I want, I can always take it with me”. My brain is a very unquiet place. But. The cheap aster I bought on impulse last year to brighten up the Autumn patio has survived being cut back hard twice because of mildew and is starting to flower.

cheap aster

And some of my Numex Twilight chillies are starting to change from purple to yellowy-orange. With the warm weather this week, I might even get a couple of red ones.

Colouring numix twilight

So, I will carry on working my way through the many, many doors that need to be painted, and reward myself on door-free days (I like the paint to harden well before I re-hang) with time in the garden, greenhouse or allotment. I will carry on gardening as if I will still be here this time next year, because I can’t live in a constant state of saying goodbye to the garden and don’t have the luxury of knowing what our timetable will be. And I will try and remember to seek out those little things that give you a hint of “anything is possible”, like this marigold. It is growing in the greenhouse, in the seed tray that I never got around to releasing it from, a little burst of sunshine. Not as spectacular as Esther’s unexpected tomato crop, but lovely nontheless.

Marigold struggles on

58 thoughts on “Turn and face the strain…

  1. Hi Janet,

    I think you’re best to continue in the garden as if you were staying; enjoy it whilst you still can and if you move, then you move. But if it takes much longer then you’ll spend all next spring and perhaps into Sumemr and beyond wishing you could get your fingers dirty – just go for it. It makes you happy when you’re out there, and that’s the best way of relieving yourself of the stress, worry and perhaps anxiety of moving and trying to decide where to move to.

    I decided to continue gardening although I know my time here will be limited – I too had planned to have the house on the market next spring, but I doubt it’ll happen now. And I kept on holding off doing jobs and just not enjoying the garden as much… Eventually I decided that actually I want to enjoy myself as long as I am actually here. Because I can always take them with me, or start completely afresh in the new house.

    1. Hi Liz, I think one of the reasons I ended up posting about it was that I hoped it would force me to see sense and just get on with the gardening. It was around this time last year that I was agonising about whether to bother doing stuff in the Pond border this year, and I have never regretted doing so, and if things change again and we end up here for longer, I will get to enjoy the garden for longer, and if not, well, I will have more to worry about than whether buying a handful of perennials in the previous Autumn was a waste of money! So, thank you for confirming my own diagnosis – and good look with your own move management. Stressful, isn’t it…

      1. Hi Janet,

        I think leaving the garden untouched will certainly help you to develop a distance from it, but at the same time it just makes us unhappy feeling like we can’t touch it any more and the inner gardener is screaming at us to get outside and do something; anything.

        So you might as well enjoy yourself; it’s better than being sad to go :)

  2. I so wish you the best on your difficult decisions. Where to move, that will be a hard one since family is concerned. As hard as it is to leave your home and garden, you have many memories and your wonderful blog filled with years of beautiful photos to take with you.

    1. Thanks Donna. I must admit, an unplanned side effect of the blog is having such a good record of the garden, it should help me work out what to do in the next one. And what not to do!

  3. I’m glad, I think, that the changes are at least starting for you, after living with such an uncertain future these past months. I hope that the next stage is more exciting than unsettling. It’s so hard to feel rootless, when your home is no longer part of your dreams and schemes. I really don’t envy you that. :-(

    I think it’s wise to keep on working on your garden and allotment, despite the chance that this may be the last autumn you see at either. Good to hold on to something positive, to keep creating and enjoying the results for as long as you can: there is little to lose (as long as you have the time and energy to bundle up all your must-have plants to take with you) and who knows what changes lie ahead.

    Some lovely autumnal shots, and bursts of colour in your garden. Keep on holding on to those, and I hope the decisions and changes ahead for all of you are kind.

    1. Thank you Sara, on balance I am far more excited than sorrowful about knowing we are going. On the (currently rare!) occasions that we manage to take time out to chat about our next move, we all get excited and energised, despite the uncertainties. I think the trick will be to minimise the stress and maximise the enjoyment surrounding finding our next home. Of course, at the moment all is possible as nothing has been ruled out, which makes for dangerous day-dreams in which there is space for a small orchard with lots of naturalised bulbs, a kitchen garden, large “hot” compost heaps, potting shed, workshop, an area to store all those interesting bits and pieces that you haven’t quite worked out how to use yet… Reality might be rather more limited, but hey, a girl can dream! Now, where is my lottery ticket…

  4. It is all very exciting Janet and ideal that your in-laws can move with you as wherever you go you will have a base unit. When we were younger, one of the reasons we never moved far was that we didn’t want to leave both our families which fortunately lived very close to each other. Living out in the country in a secluded spot is an attractive proposition until you think how long it would take for help to reach you in an emergency

    1. Spot on Sue, we automatically create an enclave, and make it easy for other family members to kill multiple birds with a single stone – or long car journey… I’m not so worried about emergency vehicle arrival times, they can be lousy even in a city. But regular trips to outpatients or nurse could be a pain, particularly in winter. I guess we could always agree that when it came to it we would move again, but ideally we want that elusive thing, the ‘forever’ home. Maybe I should ask Phil & Kirsty to help!

  5. What a beautifully crafted post.
    When we bought our house in Montrose I was already leaving Orkney. I stopped doing the garden and left a lot of tools and pots thinking they might be useful to the next people who became caretakers of that bit of Orkney.. When you have somewhere to go the excitement takes over everything. Reading Fay’s blog “The Wind and the Wellies” however, has made me quite nostalgic and a bit sad for the good things that only a place like that can offer.
    I’m sure the right place (and garden) is waiting for you and you’ll know it when you see it and all the other bits of your life will fall into place.

    1. Thank you Janet. I’m not sure I could cope with the wild weather of Orkney, despite the beauty, and it is a tad too far from the grandkids for MIL and FIL. But I’m sure we’ll work it out, given time. It will come down to what we are prepared to compromise on and we are not. Sadly you always get more space in more out-of-the-way places. Some interesting trade-offs to make!

      1. Janet, I wasn’t suggesting that you consider Orkney. It’s a place I think people have to try for a while before they take the plunge. I was thinking back to our move south and what I miss in terms of friends and places.
        We have a ten year plan give or take and to move back to Edinburgh from whence we came originally. There’s friends and a sense of belonging there….

        1. Sorry, I didn;t think you were trying to sell me on Orkney, honest! I was just musing out loud something that I have been thinking for a while. If it was just Peter and I we would give wild Island living a whirl for a while, just to have done it, but not with the in-laws in tow. I spent a year living in Edinburgh doing an MSc and loved my time there. I used to walk across the Meadows to lectures, and still miss being able to stroll up Arthur’s Seat whenever I fancied.

  6. There is so much excitement and sadness in a move isn’t there? Good things to look forward to, dreams about the future possibilities but leaving behind memories of a good place is tough as well as the stress of the actual move itself. Taking it one day at a time and enjoying your homeand garden while you are there is a good idea. Who knows what the future brings so there’s no need to stress about it yet.

    1. Hi Marguerite, you certainly know all about major moves having made one yourself so recently. I’m ready to move on to the next phase of my life, just need to sort out a few minor details first!! I look forward to getting to the stage where we are actively exploring an area looking for that elusive thing, the Right Place.

  7. What a lovely, thoughtful and mellow (if slightly melancholic) post Janet. And your photos – phew. Exquisite. Good luck with it all – I really mean that. You’ve proven to be a mainstay of my small blogging world in the short time I’ve been around and I just wanted to say how much I appreciate your considered input and thoughts and constancy. (But I certainly don’t envy you the painting of doors. Groan – just the reminder of the number I’ve still to do ……)

    And Yay! – I worked out (all by myself) what MIL and FIL stand for.

    But then I am extraordinarily clever.


    1. Hi David, what a lovely heart-warming comment, thank you. Its funny how you “click” with some people in the blogging world, and you are certainly one of those for me too. Congrats on working out MIL and FIL – I had to ask someone, and then assumed I was the only one who didn’t know… You are indeed quite extraordinarily clever, if deceitful with onion plaits (yes I saw that comment) and wrong about mahonias. But its OK, I forgive you !

  8. What a lot to consider! Maybe if you just let everything go to seed, you’ll have a garden but won’t have to do much work. Picking a new place to live can be stressful. My 17th move was, hopefully, my last. We wanted to be far enough away from family that they would have to call before they came to visit but not so far away we couldn’t get there in a crisis. Maybe you’ll end up movig to a house with a garden!

    1. 17? Wow! That’s a lot of moving. I liked your comment about near enough but not too near – I know exactly what you mean. Re letting things go to seed, I’ve actually found that since I wrote this post and said that I planned to just carry on gardening here and at the allotment, I’ve felt much more relaxed about the whole thing. I think I have come to need to garden to de-stress, and to express myself, if that doesn’t sound daft. It helps me cope with the rest of the uncertainty, to lose myself in planning or planting.

  9. A very thought provoking post, Janet. I agree with some of the other comments that say carry on as if you weren’t moving. You never know what will happen or how long things take. Living in limbo is not a pleasant state; better to have worked producing some plants that you won’t get the benefit from (and you might be able to take some with you anyway) than do nothing and then regret it next year.
    I think not being too remote is a good beginning; I know I can talk moving to Italy!
    Some lovely photos as per….
    Enjoy your lovely garden NOW! Now is the most important time in your life! Christina

    1. Absolutely right Christina, now is all we actually have. I’ve felt much better about it all since I decided to just carry on nurturing, planning, tending. I’ve been getting quite excited about moving things around the pond bed again…

  10. Poor old Janet – if it’s not one thing it’s another – what a lot of predicaments you have – but you know what – you’ll come through – you know what they say – que sera sera (don’t know if that’s how you spell it) but you get the drift.

    1. Hi Elaine, I do indeed get your drift – and on a day like today, despite discovering that blight had joined forces with botrytis to finish off my greenhouse tomatoes, life feels good again. Amazing what a bit of weeding and planting – and lots of harvesting – up at the allotment can do for a girl!

  11. Living in limbo like this has to be unsettling and yet exciting to think of all the possibilities for the future. I’m glad you are finding some peace in the garden, Janet, all the more reason to keep it going until you know for sure when and where you will be moving. So sorry to hear about your relative–I’m sure your MIL’s help will be much appreciated there.

    1. Hi Rose, I think the key to maintaining some level of sanity amidst the uncertainty will be to keep gardening. I might not choose the choice plants that I truly crave to plant here, but I will carry on attempting to improve the garden, and grow edibles at the plot. I find it therapeutic!

  12. I admire your courage – firstly for coping with the adversity that poor health inflicts, and also for being honest enough to share with the world all these problems and uncertainties that beset you. I suffer from Fibromyalgia, which gives me some of what you experience, and I often get periods of anxiety, low self-esteem, loss of confidence etc and I sometimes seek solace in the garden, immersing myself in the routine tasks that have to be done, thereby taking my mind off the other issues. I hope things will work out OK for you!

    1. Thank you Mark, its always a little tricky to know just how much to say about the health issues, but I figure I need to be authentic, and besides, it might help someone else with similar issues. I know it helps me knowing that you battle with something not dissimilar in may ways. Like you, I find the garden a great distraction from the potential misery of the rest of it.

  13. What a lovely post, and what beautiful flowers… and there’ll be more, wherever you end up – and there could be some interesting differences to engage you – soil, wind, all sorts of things that keep us gardening and growing with each garden we love.

    It’s this time of year, it’s a time to reassess and change. But it’s also a time of starting new things – exciting things… honest!

    1. Thank you Kate, and yes, it is all rather exciting. I could live without having to deal with too hostile an environment to garden in, but a change of conditions would be fun, and I am ready for a new challenge.

  14. Wow, you have much to ponder. I wish I could give you some advice, but these decisions are yours to sort. Spend some time in the garden, tart up the house and blast some more Bowie and all will fall into place.

    1. Bowie certainly helps! We’ll get there, just not necessarily on my timescale, but there again, learning patience would be good for me… I think…

  15. Janet – what tough decisions you face: one’s we’re constantly facing too, but having been here for 27 years. we’ve decided to stay put because whilst there’s pluses to all kinds of places, plenty which we like a lot more, this is where our home is now.

    You’re wise to continue gardening, not only because it’s a good thing to do, it’s perhaps one of the few certainties left in the whirl you have at the moment. As you’ve already seen, it can help to calm things down too. I hope like for me, it’ll help you see more clearly in all the decisions you’ll be making in the coming months.

    1. Hi VP, it is certainly an “interesting” collection of competing priorities, but fortunately we all get on well and can generally laugh about it all. Staying put isn’t really an option for us, or not in the long term, not enough space, but I can certainly appreciate the decision to just stay where you are when it all works and there is no obvious alternative.

      The gardening is, as you say, a welcome still point (in a dynamic sort of a way) in the middle of the chaos. I’ve just ordered bulbs and a couple of plants, and will be sowing crops for next year at the plot too. Life goes on, and until it is clear where and when we are moving on, here is where I am and I have to garden to keep sane!

  16. lots of wisdom expressed in both your post and reader comments today.
    ”What is not started today is never finished tomorrow” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
    All the best with making your plans happen. Exciting time ahead :o)

    1. Nice quote Nic, it fits with how I need to approach things perfectly. Now if I can just work out what to start today…

  17. You have so many difficult decisions to make. With the careful thought you put into things, I have no doubt you will make all the right decisions. Your photos are so lovely and so appropriate for your state of mind.

    1. Thank you, I hope so! Stage one is now complete – we spent Sunday basking in sunshine and drinking cold fizzy stuff to celebrate MIL and FIL’s emancipation from their business. A huge milestone, now just on to the next one!

  18. Janet, I’ve wandered the highs and lows of this post. I’m glad you’ve found some peace amidst the washing machine head churning away. Gorgeous self seeded bursts of colour.

    As you know, despite my delusional wish to garden in my own challenging little corner, my current life is also not my forever life or garden. I’m on a hiding to nothing really, a couple years or so in this place and then we move. Neither, like you, when we move be determined by me or will our future location be my sole choice. I’ve gone right through the doldrums of do I or not I garden. Like you, I can’t help myself, gardening in every day life, even chaos keeps us sane. It’s not really a ‘why bother’ for gardeners like us, gardening is an unsaitable need. We breathe, therefore we grow.

    1. Hi Fay, that is perfect, “we breathe, therefore we grow”. I don’t think I had realised how essential to my wellbeing – in its broadest sense – gardening has come to be. I feel so much better now that I am actively giving myself permission to still garden. There are definitely times that I wish I was in sole charge of the timing and location of our move, but on the other hand my life is so much richer for the other people that make that impossible, so I think it is a fair trade in the end. So, I will sow seed, plant bulbs, and hope that gradually one decision after the other will be made and lead us to our next home and garden.

  19. Excuse my rather ramble post, waffling is my strong suit. I empathise (and waffle) and glad you’ve found some peace. X

    1. No apology necessary, I have been really enjoying the long and thoughtful comments, yours included.

  20. I can’t imagine how difficult this time must be for you – the possibility of leaving a place in which you’ve grown “roots”, the concerns over family. Your family will be in my prayers.

    I like what Donna mentioned – you have a wonderful chronical of your garden to take with you.

    1. Yes, I like the chronicle side of things too, it will be good to be able to look back at what we did here from wherever we end up next. It is good to know that MIL will soon be out in Arizona helping care for her brother.

  21. I understand that it can be both stressful and exciting being in a major cross road of life, and how unsettling it can be not knowing where you will be this time next year, and the unpredictability of what will happen in the very near future. Keep smiling Janet, and take it easy :)

    1. Thank you! I’m mostly still smiling – though taking it easy might have to wait until I have my new bulb order planted up…

  22. You certainly have some transitions ahead of you. It will be challenging to maintain enthusiasm if you know you might be moving soon. But maybe that can be the goal–to prepare it for the next caretaker. All the best wishes as you travel through this transitional period.

    1. I’ve discovered that I absolutely HAVE to carry on gardening, to stay sane, but am compromising by planting what I would call “work horse” plants rather than the choice delights I would be going for were we staying longer term. Seems to be working so far. Now if I could just find a good plumber…

  23. The way your MIL and FIL are wrapping things up makes me realize how evanescent life is. There always comes a time where we have to leave what we have build up for years. It is just like bringing our children up and then leaving them to venture into the world full of competition

    1. So true. We only really have “now”, and need to remember that and live in it.

  24. What a heartfelt, and thoughtful, post much of which I can both empathise and sympathise with. As it stands it looks like next year is going to be a roller coaster one for you so I hope that whatever happens it all goes well.
    The photos, as always, are wonderful. xx

  25. Lovely thoughtful post and wonderful pics! Where to live is such a dilemma isn’t it? I am 3 to 4 hr drive from my grandchildren and would love to move nearer, but Daughter #2 lives only an hour away and may have children soon. I couldn’t possibly afford to live halfway between them – which would be the Dorset coast (I must live by the sea) as it is far too expensive. The arthritis in my wrists is getting worse and making gardening painful sometimes but I love being out there, so will probably stay put. Daughter #1 has just moved into a house that “..has a garden just like your’s mum, thats why we bought it..”. What more can I say!

    1. Family does make it more complicated, doesn’t it Ronnie. I know exactly what you mean about living by the sea. So sorry about your wrists, hope you find ways to carry on gardening.

  26. Lovely photos Janet and I wish you all the best with your big decision of where to move to, I’m sure inspiration is just around the corner. As for the garden just keep doing what you enjoy doing I suppose.

    1. Hi Damo, thank you. It is weird not to have any real constraints (other than budget) about where we move to. Suddenly it feels like a very big country!

  27. Janet, I know some of the decisions you are going through…having moved last summer. When we put our house on the market I wanted the gardens to be appealing to anyone who came to look. As we moved, I dug up a few to bring with me, favorites from friends. This August we went back to visit my mother who is next door to the old house….it is so sad to see years and years of work undone. I had to keep remembering it was no longer my house. (Though I did wish I had dug up more to bring with me!) We settled on a place where family would want to come and visit…and boy have they come! We have had more company in the last year than the last five combined! And that is a good thing!!! Good luck with your changes and the decisions behind them.

    1. Hi Janet, you are not the only person who has told me that they wished they had dug up more plants because the new owners didn’t share their love of them. I suppose I will have to balance that with the potential cost of transporting them, although depending on where we move to I might be able to recruit some fellow plant lovers to help with the relocation!

      It is good to hear that your experience has been that people have made the effort to visit, not least because I know that the distances involved are so much greater for you. Its funny, my experience was always that in the US people think nothing of driving a few hundred miles to get somewhere, and when I am out there I feel the same, but back home the culture is to moan about anything over 2 hours!

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