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In Jane Delury’s Hedge, Maud is pruning her life. Parts are misshapen. Some become fresher by the moment. Maud is creating her work as a garden historian. The complexities of raising a teenager who is developing a crush on an older man and knowing the fissures of her parent’s marriage ending hold the story’s tension. Love either feels like a seed that will never bloom or the prospect of newness.
The story invites a robust conversation. My interview with Jane Delury includes asking her about intimacy, nature as a metaphor, and researching historical women as well as plants.
Book content warning: self-harm, depression, abuse
1) What is your definition of feminism?
As a woman, I have the right to make decisions about my own body; the right to participate equally in society alongside other genders; and the right to live without the blockades of stereotypes and assumptions.
2) What is HEDGE about?
Hedge is about a woman trying to reconcile her personal quest for freedom with her role as a mother. Maud is a garden historian in an unhappy marriage who leaves her husband behind in California to pursue her career at an estate in the Hudson Valley. While there, she strikes up a romantic friendship with an archeologist. When her daughters arrive to stay with her for the summer, her eldest daughter, Ella, reveals a secret that uproots Maud’s new life. The story picks up two years later, when Ella is in treatment for her issues, and Maud is once again trying to pursue her career and independence.
3) How did you use intimacy evolve the story?
Maud has been isolated in her marriage for years. She is partnered but her husband isn’t a true partner. At the beginning of Hedge, she’s starved for intimacy, and she finds it with the archeologist, Gabriel. After she returns to California to seek treatment for Ella, she strikes up a friendship with Alice, an artist who has retreated from most human society to a farm on the coast. Maud’s relationship with Alice isn’t physical, but she finds another kind of intimacy in this relationship. And the novel also explores the intimacy between a parent and child, which changes as children grow into their own independence.
4) What characteristics did you want to give to Peter and Gabriel?
I worked to make both men more complicated than they seem at first. For his part, Peter is sexist and has been unfaithful to Maud. He’s an antagonistic force at the start of the book. But as the story progresses, Maud starts to recognize the ways that she has fed into his sexist impulses and the ways that she’s shut him out emotionally. Although I would never want to be married to Peter personally, I wanted him to be multi-dimensional. Similarly, I tried to make Gabriel more than the adorable, perfect love interest. He’s also naïve and emotionally limited—he’s never been able to make a long-term romantic commitment.
5) Nature is a metaphor for healing and destruction. How did you craft this metaphor into the story?
Maud’s work restoring formal gardens involves perfecting and training nature to create an artistic illusion. She finds refuge in the gardens she creates, but she also knows the price in human labor and even for the environment when she uses chemicals. As the novel progresses, her approach to gardening changes. She learns about the native plants of her home state of California and researches natural means of fertilization and pest control. She restores a new kind of garden than those she’s restored before, a utilitarian vegetable garden kept by 19th century settlers in San Francisco’s Presidio. She also spends more time in nature, taking hikes with her new friend, Alice. I think her evolving relationship to nature runs in a parallel line to her emotional evolution, as she learns to let go and heal from that difficult summer in New York.
6) You mention historical women as well as a knowledge of plants. What was your research process?
The 19th century garden I refer to belonged to Juana Briones, a Mexican-American settler and entrepreneur known as “The Mother of San Francisco.” I did research at the Presidio, visiting the archeology center and talking to the head of archeology. The first part of the book is set at Montgomery Place, Bard and I received a good deal of help in my research from a team of experts there. And I read many books and articles about garden history, garden restauration, archeology, the history of California and New York. All the while, I was practicing my gardening skills in my own garden!
7) What did you want to say about parents and their relationship with their children, especially daughters?
I wanted to explore the overwhelming love that a parent feels for a child and the way that all priorities are reshuffled when that child is in serious distress. At the same time, as the mother of daughters, Maud is aware not only of her immense responsibility to care for Ella but also her responsibility to be a role model, something she finds hard to do in her marriage.
8) How did you prepare for writing a major shift in the story?
I knew when I started writing Hedge that there would be that shift in the middle of the story, but I didn’t quite know its nature. Ella’s secret came out to me as it came out to Maud, so in that first draft, I wasn’t preparing the reader. In revisions, however, I planted clues that something is up with Ella, that her hostile attitude masks deeper pain.
9) Maud is a worldly woman. How does she show up for herself amidst her responsibilities and desires?
Maud’s work is her salvation. Gardening allows her to move outside of herself and to participate in the world, cultivating beauty. It brings her the independence of a salary. She shows up for herself by always returning to work no matter what’s happening in her personal life.
10) What organization would you like to amplify to our audience?
I’ve been volunteering at Strength to Love II (https://s2l2.intersectionofchange.org), a wonderful farm in Baltimore City, which offers agricultural training for community residents and people returning from incarceration while also addressing food apartheid in Baltimore. Urban farms exist all over the country and I encourage people to find and support the farm near them.
Thank you, Jane Delury, for speaking with Feminist Book Club about HEDGE!