Lynda Hallinan’s Blog: Life in the slow lane


Lynda Hallinan tries to focus on the little pleasures of her spring garden during lockdown.

Life in the fast lane, according to the Eagles’ 1976 hit of the same name, would surely make you lose your mind. But who knew that life in the slow lane could send you down the same road?

For years, wellness gurus and self-help authors have made millions exhorting us to slow down, tidy up, think calm thoughts, be mindful, sip chicken soup for our souls and not give a f**k. Then along came the Covid-19 pandemic and we had no choice but to slow down and stay home for the public good. And here we are, still.

What a surreal experience this spring lockdown has become, landlocked in the rural outskirts of Auckland. Hour after hour, day after day, week after week, the silence is punctuated only by courier vans, quarrelling children and tui having tiffs in the blossom trees, the only certain uncertainty being the number of Covid cases announced each day at 1pm.

You’d think I’d be used to it by now – I was raised on a dairy farm in the wops – but as a perpetually busy person who has spent a decade juggling child-raising with publishing and broadcasting deadlines, garden openings, DIY projects and a hectic schedule of speaking engagements, I haven’t so much slowed down as lurched to a standstill. While there’s exponential growth in unanswered emails and event cancellations in my inbox, my words have dried up. I fear I’ve wound down so much it’ll take a defibrillator to kickstart my self-drive.

During lockdown Lynda has sown an alphabet of seedlings, from arugula and antirhinnums to zucchini and zinnias (pictured).

My husband, a man who has left for work at 5.30am six days a week for 30 years, turned his alarm clock off during Level 4 and hasn’t entirely reclaimed his mojo in Level 3. He’s gone back to work now while the kids and I, no longer tethered to any educational routine, have embraced our primeval circadian rhythms. We drift off in the dark, wake with the light and remember every detail of our dreams. They feel compelled to share these nocturnal fables of ancestral threats and I pretend to listen, even though everyone knows that other people’s dreams are terribly dull.

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Although I fret from a position of privilege – we own our own home, run our own businesses and have enough food, on the table and in the garden – this lockdown feels like an entirely different beast to 2020’s version. Gone is the insomnia and anxiety, replaced by relief and a bloody sore arm from my second vaccination shot.

Gone is the pudding making and cake baking of last year’s lockdown, which took us from autumn into winter hibernation. This year, I went into lockdown doing the keto diet (no carbs, no alcohol, cream and butter on everything). I’ve never eaten so many eggs; helpfully, our chickens have all returned to the lay.

Ugly but effective: Lynda’s home-based seedling nursery sits under a clothesline draped in bird netting to offer protection from aerial attacks by sparrows.

I learned the lessons of the first lockdown the hard way. I tried to work from home while necking wine straight from the bottle and, in a bid to counter the three-against-one ratio of testosterone to oestrogen in my home, binge-watched chick flicks and female-driven comedy shows on Netflix. This time around, I sent apologetic emails to my editors begging for time off, set realistic expectations for home-schooling and sought refuge in the renewal of spring.

I have a new book out next month called The Joy of Gardening (you can pre-order it at foggydalefarm.co.nz). It’s all about celebrating the small things the natural world delivers, the gentle delights we might otherwise overlook. How timely my own advice to myself is, for I’ve spent the past seven weeks focusing on all the things I’d normally miss.

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I’ve watched the oak trees unfurl their chartreuse leaves in a real-time time-lapse video. I’ve witnessed the hydrangea buds swell, the plum blossoms burst, the return of the bees and shining cuckoos. I’ve peeled apart the hairy buds of Iceland poppies to unfurl their exquisite crinkled crepe paper petals. I’ve seen my ‘Empress Wu’ hostas emerge from the cold (if you can beat the rabbits to them, you can steam spring hosta shoots as you would asparagus). And I’ve turned a blind eye to the swallows making a nest – and a mess – inside my little red barn. How many swallows does a summer make? I’ll let you know when their eggs hatch.

Iceland poppies are one of nature’s paradoxes, with hairy legs and bristly buds coupled with a fragile beauty and a frost-hardy temperament.

I’ve sown seeds as fine as dust, in tray upon tray of potting mix, and marvelled at their transformation from tiny green pinpricks to sturdy seedlings. I’ve waged war with sparrows. My trays are now all lined up along the front wall of our house, on a plastic trestle table shielded by a skein of bird netting pegged to our retractable clothesline. (It’s not pretty but by golly it’s functional, even if it means all our laundry is destined for the dryer.)

Here’s what else I’ve learned this time around: spare time means nothing when you have 24 hours of it to fill each day. During this lockdown, I’ve literally watched paint dry. I’ve dusted and decluttered my potting nook. I’ve pruned and pampered my roses. I’ve dug up plants and replanted them in other spots, just to feel the soil between my fingers. I haven’t cleaned my house; no one is coming so why bother?

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If you’re in Auckland, also feeling tetchy, I hear you. Try to keep busy. Click-and-collect tomato seedlings to transplant at Labour Weekend. Plant some spuds. Sow dwarf beans and salad greens. Pot up pumpkin, cucumber and zucchini seeds for summer. And please get vaccinated. We miss you, New Zealand, and we’d like to see you again.

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