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Covid-19 Sucks. I Should Know.

By Paul James

Back in February, I got sick. Really sick. There were nights when I closed my eyes and wondered if I would see the light of day. I spent three weeks in bed, gasping for air and unable to take more than a few steps at a time. My wife kept insisting that I go to the hospital, but I stubbornly refused, convinced that in time I’d get through whatever was ravaging my body. Turns out, it was Covid-19.

It was another three weeks before I began to get my strength back and feel some semblance of normal. In the interim one of my biggest concerns (other than dying) was whether I’d be able to plant potatoes. After all, in 41 years I’d never not planted potatoes (more on that later).

Yes, I went to the doctor. Twice. I was so weak I needed a wheelchair just to go down the hall for a chest x-ray. I tested negative for flu and positive for pneumonia, but I’d had pneumonia more than once before and this was different. At the time there wasn’t a doctor within 500 miles who was thinking about Covid, and there weren’t any tests for it anyway. I was asked if I’d traveled out of the country recently, and I jokingly mentioned “that weekend in Wuhan.” (I may have lost my sense of taste and smell temporarily, but not my sense of humor.)

So just how did I get infected? I can’t say with certainty. However, in February my wife, Carrie, traveled to New York City on business, and to visit our daughter in Queens, which would within a week or so become the nation’s coronavirus epicenter. I got sick five days after she returned home. Coincidence? Perhaps. Who knows?

Now back to the taters. In early March, Carrie knew I needed something to boost my spirits, so she put a lawn chair in the veggie garden, and after taking more than 10 minutes to walk less than 50 feet, I sat down, utterly exhausted. She then looked straight at me, and with shovel in hand asked, “Just where and how do I plant these potatoes?” 

I told her which beds to plant, how deep to plant each potato, and how far apart to space them. Within an hour, she’d planted 45 tubers, impressive given that it was her first time. Later in July we began the harvest, and only this week did we finally eat the last of what I’m convinced were the best-tasting potatoes ever.

I still have a few health issues that may or may not be related to Covid, although by and large I’m okay. But having been through such an awful — and at times, frightening — experience, I have one small and simple favor to ask all of you reading this: Please, wear a mask!

Happy gardening, ya’ll.

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55 responses to “Covid-19 Sucks. I Should Know.”

  1. Andrea says:

    I’m glad you are recovering. I do wear a mask every time I’m out of the house which is pretty rare these days.

  2. Di Wong says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m so glad you’re better.

  3. JuliAnne Smith says:

    Wow. Blessings to you and your health and prayers for continued healing. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Cheri Ward says:

    Paul what a story! So glad that you are much better. You’ve had a hell of a year….

    While shopping in New England a couple of years ago in the fall, nurseries sold pots of blue asters along with mums. No one carries them here for fall. When I displayed them I was the hit of my hood. Can you make a note to get some for next year? I promise they will be gone immediately! In the mean time I ordered 3 6″ pots and will see how they do.

    • Paul James says:

      It has been quite a year! We actually have had blue and purple Asters in stock lately. Have you been in the store in the last couple of weeks?

  5. GAil lapidus says:

    Holy cow Paul I had no idea how sick you were what a relief to learn you are on the mend able to tend to the people and work in the gardens you love. Been to the store lots. Probably need more mum or tulips so I’ll keep an eye out for you

    • Paul James says:

      Thanks so much, Gail. I’m not actually in the store these days — been working from home since March.

  6. Mike ORourke says:

    God bless you Paul. I will pray for you tonight.

  7. Bill Hinkle says:

    You’re one of the “good guys” and I’m glad you’re back on the mend. I consider you a valued peer and I admire your sense of humor and knowledge about all things “plants.” Best to you, my friend.

  8. Barry Fugatt says:

    Hey Paul—I had no idea you were so sick. Can’t imagine COVID taking you out, however. You’re far to ornery. Plus, the local horticulture scene would have been devastated without your wonderful sense of humor, wit and garden knowledge. Take care! Barry

    • Paul James says:

      Who you calling ornery? My mom used to say that should have been my middle name! Your kind words mean a lot to me, Barry. Thanks so very much.

  9. Connie Conrad says:

    Paul, so happy you survived COVID and that you are back to your love of gardening. What a great daughter you have to plant those potatoes for you. Take care. I do wear my mask when I am out. I limit my shopping for sure!

    • Paul James says:

      Thanks, Connie. And btw, it was my wife, not my daughter, who planted the potatoes. My daughter does help me harvest them though.

  10. Tami says:

    I really hate you were so sick. I too was really sick, from end of Jan till mid April. I wasn’t as weak as you were, but I was weak. I Was in the hospital in March, right before every thing went crazy. I’m betting I had it too. Can’t wait till it pretty much dies out. I haven’t gotten out much either. Prayers for a much better 2021!!!

    • Paul James says:

      Sorry about your illness as well. It’s hard to imagine 2021 could be worse. Let’s just hope we get there safely.

  11. Peggy Oneal says:

    What a journey! Please continue to improve and check in with a cardiologist since COVID-19 can mess with that as a parting gift. Like you I self-quarantined, but in mid-March, and I rarely leave the house. Am very cautious but I do have to get a flu shot soon. You too! – I have been a fan of yours over the years and you have taught me so very much. So my gratitude is winging to you as I hope your recovery is as well.

    • Paul James says:

      Thanks so much, Peggy. I’ve been seeing my doctor regularly, and two weeks ago I got the the flu vaccine for old people and a pneumonia vaccine. About the only time I leave the house is when I’m out of butter!

  12. Rina Chalkin says:

    Wow! I actually was wondering why I haven’t seen you in what seems like a very long time! Glad you’re feeling better!

  13. Loretta Pickhardt says:

    Dear Dear Paul, so sorry to hear about your terrible illness. Thanks be to God you recovered or are still recovering.

  14. Danise says:

    How frightening! I’m glad your wife didn’t get sick too! She was very sweet to plant your taters for you.
    Continued healing and many days of joy ahead for you!

  15. Judy Allen says:

    So glad you are feeling better! What a frightening experience!!

    • Paul James says:

      Losing my sense of taste was really frightening, as I know you can appreciate. For the first two weeks the only thing I could taste was soft scrambled eggs with truffle butter (not a bad thing, for sure, but I haven’t had any since). Thank goodness I can taste now! I’ve been cooking like crazy, seven nights a week, and every week I get a shipment from at least one purveyor, local and national. Thank you D’Artagnan and La Tienda!

  16. Linda Christy says:

    So glad to hear you are on the mend! Try as I may, I am not a true gardener but I do love your newsletter and I look forward to it. Take care and thank you for your wise words about wearing a mask!

    • Paul James says:

      Thanks for commenting, Linda. I use to love it when people would say, “I’m not a gardener but I love watching your show.”

  17. Murry R Chelette says:

    I’m glad to hear your health is improving. Here in Ohio, masks are are a must whenever we go out to the stores (especially to my favorite garden center). The only contact with friends is usually by Zoom video calls, such as the afternoon Gardening Q&A Cocktails chats that we have had this summer. Looking forward to those again in the future. Many blessings for continued good health for you and your family. Talk with soon. Regards from Dayton,OH.

  18. Laura Collins says:

    Dear Paul,
    Wow. Thanks for sharing your story. It is needed especially now as we enter another surge of this blasted
    virus. Ick!! So sorry you were so ill. But very happy you’ve been recovering successfully! 🙂 Gardening is about all I do… that, and walk the dog.
    Miss your wonderful Saturday lectures too! Just have to burn up Netflix some more, we guess. Stay healthy and thanks for making it real for us. This is serious.

    • Paul James says:

      Yeah, I’m worried about the flu/virus double whammy. Thanks for the kind words, Laura. Enjoy your time in the garden.

  19. Paul Westbrook says:

    Thanks for sharing this. Your wife is a saint. Maybe some people will wear a mask as a result.

    • Paul James says:

      She is indeed a saint. And we can only hope more people will take this virus seriously and wear masks.

  20. Nedra Thornton says:

    Wow, you are a trooper! Thank God you are still with us and making us laugh!!

    • Paul James says:

      I’m certainly glad to be among the living. As you might guess, I love making people laugh. Thanks.

  21. Clayton Halverson says:

    Happy to read of your recovery!!
    I hope you are doing well again, stay safe and enjoy those taters!!

    • Paul James says:

      Thanks, Clayton. I planted my fall potatoes about a month ago and they’re knee high now. Can’t wait for the harvest!

  22. Lynn H Thornley says:

    Thank God you are on the mend. My husband was not a gardener but he and a friend drove from Okmulgee for the sessions on plants and rum, whiskey, etc. They enjoyed the sessions very much.

    • Paul James says:

      Thanks, Lynn. I hope to be able to be able to do more seminars on plants and spirits when (if?) things calm down a bit.

  23. Kim says:

    I am so glad you are on the mend! I loved your show on HGTV and often wondered what you were up to after the show. I was so excited to find you on Joe Lamp’l’s YouTube channel and then blogging for Southwood. You have always made things light and side-splittingly funny! May you always have that joy and laughter in your life. Sending you blessing and health.

    • Paul James says:

      Thanks so much, Kim. And thanks for supporting Joe Lamp’l. He’s a good guy, and a great gardener.

  24. Lynn Kirby says:

    Dear Paul-
    I just heard you on the Joe Gardener Show, and heard about your blog. I loved your Gardening by the Yard show and miss it. Those were the days
    I am sorry to hear you caught the Wuhan virus and I pray for a full recovery!
    Best wishes always
    to you and your family ❣️ ❣️❣️

  25. randy clarksonr says:

    So sorry to hear that you came down with covid. So happy to hear you are getting better. I have learned so much from you down through the years. Love that you preach the organic method of gardening. Wishing you a complete recovery.

  26. John S Farley says:

    Happy to hear you’re on the mend Mr. James! I wasn’t much into gardening or even plants for that matter until I stumbled across your show sometime around 2003. I sure wish the full episodes were available, would love to show my kids! Quick question, if I wanted to plant potatoes twice a year here in Raleigh 7b, when would I go about doing so? God bless and enjoy those grand kids!

  27. Marsha Curtiss says:

    Wow, that’s so scary. Glad you’re doing better now and you got to do your online events though. Don’t know what we’d do without our Gardner Guy!!!!
    I still have some potatoes in the ground now, hoping they survive a little bit longer. I think I’m going to do fall gardening from now on, except for potatoes in the spring. And yes, I’m late on replying to this as usual.
    Take Care!!!!

  28. Sue-Ellen says:


    You have had a place in my heart since I found you on HGTV many moons ago. You were my first gardening (and landscaping) teacher. I soaked it all in. I still remember the paving stone/pathway episode. I think you were laying out pavers between the house and the pool/patio. You reminded me so much of myself with your attention to detail. You have been on my mind lately. My husband, Marc (completely blind) and I (missing peripheral vision) bought our home in Maryland in 2014. We have beautiful front and back yards. I haven’t gotten to lay them out the way I want yet but I have maintained what we have with the wisdom you gave me years ago. I have a beautiful large holly tree that the birds love to eat berries from. I’m extremely happy that you got through having Covid. I know you love nature as much as I do. I will always care for my corner of the Earth the way you would want me to (as well as promote organic gardening). Love You! Hugs!

    • Paul James says:

      You’re too kind. Good to hear you’re still spending time in the garden. I spent 13 hours doing projects this past weekend, and my old body is just now recovering, but I can’t imagine life without my garden! Thanks so much. And Happy New Year!