The Gardener’s Diary

Jeanette Abendstern

27 September 2020

Eleven Poets for Eleven Days

Wigtown Book Festival has asked Hugh McMillan, one of the Scottish Poetry Library’s Champions and a nationally respected poet from Dumfries & Galloway, to curate ‘Eleven Poets for Eleven Days’ for our 2020 festival. 

A poet from the region will be introduced daily, here on our website, along with a video reading of their specially commissioned poem.

Jeanette Abendstern is the fourth poet in the series.

The Gardener’s Diary

The evening air sparkles with birdsong
spangles of sunlight flicker across his path.
Turning cast iron handle, cool and smooth,
stepping through potting shed door
the gardener is greeted with mingled scent
of earth and Stockholm tar.
The day’s tasks done
tools returned to allotted places
moments for reflection grace the hour.
On the ledge
a pencil in a jar.
Purposeful, precise
as always
he takes the stem
and on matchboarded wall
with lead point, scribes -

Cuckoo, 16th April 1895

A century passed by
before stories told in sepia tones
of the lost house and walled garden
drew us onto military land.
We set out with bravado
til, leaving the metalled track
coils of bramble and barb
snagged our path
capital letters flagged stark warnings.
A glimpse of the gardener’s cottage
renewed resolve
as we picked and tripped a way through.

Later, stepping through potting shed door
to find on matchboarded wall
sun bleached traces of your diary
eighteen years in all
of a life lived in present tense.
Cycle of seasons etched in rows.

Between the lines we wondered about you.
Diligent, taking quiet pride in achievement
telling of plums and cherries plentiful
peaches and figs under glass
- exotic for the table at the big house.
Nectarines, your best crop ever
Prizes won, first and second
at Kirkcudbright and Dumfries.
Apples to savour in the naming -
cadlins, pippins, kernels.

Disappointments too -
met perhaps with dismay
or acceptance of nature’s caprice?
A scarcity of damsons.
A meagre harvest from the orchard.
Wasps, mildew, blight
and all in spite of your best efforts.

And at heart
a countryman
natures signs observed and marked.
Cuckoo early
Blackbird’s nest
Swallows late in gathering for their journey south
A skein of geese from the wintry north.

A way of life, perennial as the seasons
where whispers of events faraway ebbed and flowed
as the sea on the Solway shore.

Time held its breath as, for a moment, our lives touched yours.
A century has passed since whispers rose to cries for war
and waves came crashing.
Beneath the mossy floor
splinters of jar and pencil lay unseen
as we remarked your last entry
another day in the calendar
the year

Jeanette Abendstern

Jeanette is an example of one of the ‘New Scots’ contributing not just to the to the life but to the culture of Dumfries and Galloway. Born and raised in Lancashire, she first visited Galloway over 30 years ago and has maintained strong connections with the region, before settling in Dumfries three years ago.

She has always worked in social care and as she says “gains more than she gives in the privilege of getting to know people, absorbing and learning from their experiences, insights and stories.”

Like everyone she first began writing to express love, friendship and empathy and as a means of coming to terms with or making sense of life. She has found a home and an outlet for her creativity in the Stove’s ‘Brave New Words’, a monthly writers’ gathering and open mike, and High Street Writers, a thriving and vibrant group facilitated in Dumfries.

She contributed to the ‘Rubble, Riot, Chaos, Brain’ anthology in 2019 and took part in “Burns Re-imagined” a collaborative event between High Street Writers and The Stove in January 2020.

Here she reads ‘The Gardener’s Diary’, a reverie on continuity, loss and the passage of time.