garden notes, stray thoughts
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From the bench

Magnolia, April 2016 | edge of eveningMagnolia, April 2016 | edge of eveningMagnolia, April 2016 | edge of evening

Though it now seems almost impossibly unlikely — two frosts & a hail storm this week — there was a day last week when I spent the morning on the garden bench. And though I told you about that morning, I didn’t use the obligatory magnolia-at-peak-beauty photos that I took from my bench. The tree was pruned heavily after last spring’s flowering and so peak-magnolia was slightly less magnificent than the last couple of years (when, in retrospect, the tree was taking up more than the width of our narrow garden) but it was still pretty magnificent.

Like the peak of many things, peak-magnolia is a moment that only reveals itself in retrospect. Now the petals have browned, the leaves aren’t yet fully unfurled. Now we are at the ugly duckling stage between early spring and late spring. Between the time when it all seems joyous and miraculous, and the time when you wish it would just hurry up and be summer already. But the chicks of the blackbirds nesting in our neighbours’ climbing hydrangea have hatched. The parent blackbirds are looking harried and urgent in their foraging. The cat doesn’t yet seem to have figured it out.

We have a Bank Holiday weekend ahead, rain forecast for all three days, but we’ll be ready to make the most of the breaks between showers. We should be experiencing a doubling of the number of children in the house, including one who we really shouldn’t count because he’s only eight weeks. Excitement is high. But, before the weekend, here are three things that I’ve been thinking about since I read them:

// Firstly, this wonderful found poetry project by Rebecca Siegel. She’s using Ernest Shackleton’s South: The Endurance Expedition to create beautiful and haunting poems & posting one of them a day for thirty days over here. I spent a wonderful half-hour this morning with my coffee & Rebecca’s poems — this, this and this being particular favourites among a wonderful set of erasures and re-mixes (additional joy from Rebecca’s description of how she has created each poem).

// Secondly, last weekend, I spent an evening reading some of the conversations with women writers in this book (my very first purchase from the Oxfam Bookshop when we moved here five years ago) & was struck by something in a conversation between Mary Lavin (then unknown to me, to my now shame) & Eavan Boland. Asked about combining the roles of wife and mother with writing, Lavin replied:

There just didn’t seem to be any difference between cooking a dinner or writing a story. No one thing I did was sharply differentiated from any other. Looking back on it now, I was probably very impetuous and enthusiastic. I’d sweep a floor or I’d wash up. I loved gardening and I spent a lot of time in the garden. The important thing was that, to me, they were all one.

I’m still thinking about that sense of integration of a life. Whether it’s something to be desired — or whether there isn’t also a path to be taken that delineates between different aspects of a person, allowing them to be more than one thing. I think that I perhaps believe in private integration, but a public differentiation. Lavin is talking about life in the 1940s, when perhaps the public facade of being a wife and mother was a good one for a writer. (Incidentally, I read a short story by Mary Lavin today — still doing this — and it was wonderful.)

// Which leads finally, to this wonderful day-in-the-life of Anne Enright (which, I should add, is very, very funny — as I remember her book about motherhood, Making Babies, being when it wasn’t being devastatingly sad):

10.00 After a bit of exercise I go downstairs for scrambled eggs and a chat with daughter which starts well, takes a wonderful turn, and ends a bit teenaged. Run away to the study. I haven’t worked in a study for eight years, I have just been in the middle of things, or to one side. There’s a lot of guff written about Being Alone.

Wishing you a wonderful weekend, in the middle of things, or to one side.


  1. I loved that line in the Anne Enright interview too. And curious—I don’t remember Making Babies being sad. Did I read it wrong? I remember that she wanted another baby as soon as she had the first, and so I thought she was crazy.

    • Mainly not sad, but (the way I remember it) one of the essays has a heartbreaking section on baby deaths — definitely better to have suppressed the memory of it. I’m unable to forget. Though, I don’t think she meant to traumatise me. They were such unlikely ends — things that you probably would never have thought of — that they led me to obsessive consideration of such dangers (maybe she was trying to say that no matter how obsessive the consideration of danger, we can’t avoid the true danger — who knows, it’s nine years since I read it).

      • Ahhh! That makes sense. The very first pregnant person I ever knew as an adult had a stillbirth, which coloured my perception of things so much. Ever after, I was pleasantly surprised when things all worked out for people. So that essay just served to confirm my expectations …

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