Saturday, May 25, 2019

Spring At Last With A Wee Visit to Pashley Manor Gardens

Tulips in the garden 2019

Hark, I hear a robin calling!
List, the wind is from the south!
And the orchard-bloom is falling
Sweet as kisses on the mouth.

The joy of Spring is upon us here in northerly Alberta. At last. Until a few days ago, we had biting winds and near freezing temperatures overnight. But there seems a shift the last day or two and so we celebrate. Hubbs and I have been working out in the yard. He's been making a brick step off our newly built deck that goes down into the lawn. And I've been oiling our teak deck furniture. The morning has been mild and the air astir with birdsong, the odd bee buzzing by. And, now the May Day trees have burst out in full bloom with their sweet, sweet fragrance. Oh my! The trees are finally greening out in earnest. And the tulips above opened this week. Love that peony hue of purple -- it's so vibrant. It would make a lovely shade of lipstick, don't you think? Or maybe a sheath dress with a billowy jacket over top?


You undoubtedly noticed a change when you arrived here today. Yes, it's still me. I've just created a new blog header. Have been considering a different look for a while now. As much as I loved and still do the old one, I feel ready to play with something new. And I do love those tulips. Since they are seasonal, they might not work in the middle of October, so you might come one day and see it's changed again before I settle on what I'm completely at home with.


Over recent months, as I've mentioned in previous posts, I've been beavering away at putting together digital-to-print photo albums of our 2016 England holiday. It turns out I needed time and distance to be able to look through the over two thousand pictures and select some favourites of the trip. (At first they were all my favourites). I must admit, looking at them makes me homesick. I want to go back and see it all again. Take it in more slowly. And certainly with better diary notes, the way Susan Branch does. Next time.

How we looked forward to waking up every morning knowing an adventure was waiting for us. We'd booked a six-day garden tour with Flora Garden Tours and during those six days we visited twelve gardens, usually two a day. Some were large and stately, others were smaller and more romantic, all were so delightfully English. It was hard to pick a favourite -- we loved, loved Hever Castle and Sissinghurst, but after our morning at Pashley Manor Gardens, Rick and I both felt it edged to the top for us. There was something about this garden that really captivated us.

Since I'm already sorting pictures for the album, I decided to share a few with you here, take you on a little walkabout. We all know that photos never really do the thing justice, but still they give us an idea. And they help us to remember. I hope you enjoy.

Our first glimpse as we drove up the rail fence-lined driveway (no doubt to keep sheep in and/or straying tourists out) to find ourselves in front of this Tudor manor house -- built around 1550 -- with old roses climbing the timber front fa├žade.

Isn't that tree gorgeous!

Pashley Manor Gardens are situated in the English countryside on the border of Sussex and Kent, and they are family owned and maintained. There are 500-year-old oak trees over which to marvel, and there is a delightful mix of herbaceous borders, walled gardens, cozy nooks, a pool garden, enchanting woodsy paths and tranquil vistas overlooking the ponds and lawns where ducks sit sunning themselves. Sheep safely graze in the meadows just beyond the fence. The terrace (No. 3 on the map) provided a picture perfect spot for lunch (I had a yummy quiche, salad, and sparkling elderberry juice), and there was a lovely gift shop to browse in at the end of the visit.

Here is an aerial view of the gardens. I don't know about you, but I like floor plans. I like having an idea of the layout and where plants/trees/ponds/statues sit in relationship to each other. The birds-eye view also gives a glimpse of the size of the park and gardens. It sits on 11 acres and yet there is an intimacy from the way it is all put together.. 

This longed eared fellow was the first to greet us when we arrived. Only keen observers would see him nestled in the tall grasses, ears up and alert to intruders, just the way his real life chums would be standing guard. He was a first of various other statuary and sculptures exhibited in prominent spots throughout the gardens. Just one of the many details that added to the charm of the place.

Here's a close up of the old timber frame Tudor house. While I was taking a snap of that lovely diamond patterned window, you'll notice it had taken snaps of me in my red coat. That front door was massive, and I assume, heavy. Even though it would have been built to keep out the cold and lurking enemies, I found it interesting to notice that the door frame had designs carved into it to add beauty. That old iron door knocker? I wanted to try it out, but thought better not.

Insert: I loved the signage we saw whilst in England -- And don't you love that word 'whilst'? It's so poetic and we saw it used everywhere. Here in Canada we just say 'while'. Not nearly as romantic. But the British really are poetic, and kindly, even as they warn folks to be careful or to drive slowly.

Now, I'm going to cheat a little here and show you four photos from the souvenir guide. They capture the house and gardens at their best lighting and in peak season. I wanted you to see that too. And then the rest will be my own pics.

The Tudor Front
'Lovely Girl' Lilies in pots & 'Gloire de Dijon' Roses on the walls
Photo from souvenir guide

A view of the Georgian addition to Pashley Manor
Photo from souvenir guide

The Tudor part of the house is in front when you arrive. When you come around the side to the back, that's when you see there's a Georgian addition to the house. It would have been added sometime in the 1700s. I think that's what I find fascinating about the British people. Here in Canada people tend to tear things down if they want to build something new, but in England in many cases, people recognize the value of the old even when desiring something modern and updated. So we saw lots of melding of the old and the 'new' buildings whilst (wink) visiting.

Two bits of history I found interesting. The original house at Pashley was probably a hunting lodge owned by Sir Geoffrey Boleyn, Lord Mayor of London in 1457 and great-grandfather of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII's fated wife. (We saw her birthplace when we visited Hever Castle.)

And, in the twentieth century, the house was a temporary home for soldiers from Canada and Poland before, during, and after World War II. At that time, the gardens fell into considerable disrepair, and it took years and lots of hard work by the owners to bring them to the award-winning standards we enjoyed the day we visited.

Sculpture 'Lazy Days' by Kate Denton
Located in The Elizabethan Garden (map area No. 4)
'Amber Queen' & 'Just Joey' Roses
Photo from souvenir guide

'Mr. Bennet's Daughter' by Philip Jackson
Located in the Hot Gardens (map area No. 4)
Photo from souvenir guide

Don't you love this potting bench arrangement of potted plants? I'm so taken with that amazing red geranium. Not sure now, but I think this was part of the gift shop -- they had lovely plants for sale. If I lived in England, I would have been filling the van with plants to take home with me.

This was one of my favourite spots. That expanse of green lawn created such a marvelous backdrop for those mottled pink roses in front. On the left side of the map, below No. 2, the above garden looks toward the island, you barely see the bridge in the photo. We walked over that bridge onto a lovely path through the trees and shady areas to the Anne Boleyn sculpture.

"Gardening is the art that uses flowers and plants as paint
and the soil and sky as canvas."

"The lesson I have thoroughly learnt,
and wish to pass on to others, is to
know the enduring happiness that the
love of a garden gives."

Won’t you come into the garden?
I would like my roses to see you.

Rosa 'Just Joey' -- love the colour!
If it were me naming them, I'd call them 'Orange Crush'.

"Gardens are the result of a collaboration
between art and nature."

I fell in love with this delightful sculpture. I no longer remember where she posed in the garden, and perhaps she now lives in someone else's garden as the pieces on exhibit were also for sale. Regardless, I love her for her sense of peace and tranquility, maybe also for her meditative or pensive mood. She makes me think of the last stanza from Wordsworth's daffodil poem:

"For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils."

Sitting in a garden as lovely as this one would surely work the same magic as Wordsworth's couch, don't you think? And no wonder this woman in the photo below lets the breezes play with the sleeves of her gown. She seems quite free in her stance.

"A garden is to be enjoyed, and should
satisfy the mind and not only the eye of the beholder.
Sounds such as a rustle of bamboo and the dripping of water,
scents and sensations such as grass or gravel or
stone underfoot, appeal to the emotions and play
a part in the total impression."

"In garden arrangement,
as in all other kinds of decorative work,
one has not only to acquire a knowledge of what to do, but also
to gain some wisdom in perceiving what it is well to let alone."

And, so we come to the end of our little tour. This last photos is one of the beautiful new gift shop -- we had so much fun poking around in there. Sorry I didn't take a photo of the inside (what was I thinking), you would have loved it. I bought the sweetest milk jug there.

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On that note, I'm wishing you
a pleasant day and a beautiful weekend.


Thursday, May 02, 2019

The Simple Woman's Daybook: May Edition


"The sweet small clumsy feet of April came
into the ragged meadow of my soul."

And then those little feet went out again! April had early signs of Spring around here and we felt so ready for it, but of late we've been waking up to snow on the ground … and it was there again this morning. Oh my! So much for any darling buds of May.

It's not for myself so much that I feel out of sorts about this -- my house is filled with jars of tulips and daffodils so it feels very spring-like inside. But I do fret for all the migrating birds and butterflies and bees coming north as daylight grows longer, only to arrive here and find Spring stalled for days on end. We've had late snow storms in past years but then they pass and it gets warm. Warm isn't happening so far. Lengthening days and warming temperatures seem out of sync, they aren't meeting up as they ought. No insects yet, few buds on the trees. And any self-respecting worm surely stays below the frost line, so what's a robin to feast on? SIGH.

Casting around for grateful thoughts... Oh, yes, I'm grateful for all the Spring beauties that other bloggers and Facebook friends post online. I feast my eyes. And I'm so grateful for the robin's sweet whistles whether it's snowing or sunny. I remember, too, to think a wider perspective, to remember that many dear folks are dealing with floods and the very real possibility of losing their homes in eastern Canada, and now I hear people in India are bracing for cyclone weather. My snow-cum-moisture in disguise is of smaller consequence, I think. Except I still worry about the wildlife and the cycle of seasons changing and ...

Let me just remind myself and reiterate my desire to keep this blog as free as possible from the woes of the world. It's not that I don't care, for I care deeply. And I know many of you do too. But it's nice to have a spot somewhere where we don't have it in our faces and we can focus on something other than bad news. Besides, we cannot keep mourning. Our hearts are not made to mourn all the time. Joy is what gives us our strength -- the joy of the Lord is our strength, for those who believe -- and I've found it to be so even when I am grieving over big or little losses. So I set aside this small place in cyberspace where you and I can go to think about happy things and everyday pleasures and learn how to carry on with our lives with as much grace and finesse as we can. We keep searching for the kindness and beauty that is everywhere, hidden sometimes except to the most earnest of searchers, and then passing it along, sharing it with others.

This morning Sarah Clarkson shared a post on Facebook that was so sweet and encouraging. A young mom learning how to live her beautiful life as she raises a little one who is also learning about what makes life sweet, even at this early age. I want to share the LINK and hope you can access it even if you are not a FB follower. (It was posted May 2nd, and it begins like this: "A much needed moment of recollection... shared. (Do you see that determined little hand?)…" 

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On a different note entirely, I haven't told you lately how much I appreciate your continued support and all the lovely comments you leave here on the blog. I read every one, and often several times over. I'm not online as much as I used to be, but I hope that will adjust again down the road. Just the other morning, I received a new comment on my previous post from a 'silent' follower, who told me that she's been following It's A Beautiful Life off and on for some time now. How lovely to learn. I'm so grateful for you. So, THANK YOU for each and every comment and for sharing glimpses of your own life here and on your own blogs and websites. Your presence here on cyberspace makes my heart remember there are many good things to be glad about!

And now, I'm offering the May edition of The Simple Woman's Daybook. I hope you have a big cup of tea. And, I hope there's something in it that makes you glad you stopped by. Here's wishing you a beautiful day.

With loving thoughts,


Outside my window... Spring has been most reluctant to unfold its presence this year. It started out so promising and then it retreated. Cool with biting winds and snow some mornings. Now I do prefer slow arrivals to Spring where the days unfold more delicately as if someone is unpacking fine china or a vintage wedding veil. Slowly. A blade at a time. We've had years where the last day of Winter mashes into a half day of Spring and soars straight into Summer with temperatures soaring as if it was the middle of July and it's only April. So no, we like it slower. But maybe not this slow. And maybe not the snow anymore. Since it is May. Just sayin'.

I am thinking...  about the trend I'm seeing and hearing around here where many young women are telling their moms they don't want the cherished china, crystal, or Royal Doulton doll collections. I don't have any daughters to pass things along too, but I find this a sad-ish trend. Not that I don't understand it. Maybe our generation collected too much, and many women today are not stay-at-home moms keeping house and being fulltime caretakers of children and china treasures. Yet when I find myself shopping at places like Home Sense and find all sorts of the pretty floral dishes, including stemware, crystal salad bowls, footed cake stands, teacups that happily remind me of wares popular in my youthful days, and I see young women snapping them up, I'm happy, but it's all pretty in elegant plastic!

Why would customers prefer plastic over the 'old-fashioned' fine china, sparkling crystal, and real silverware that pings on plates over the plastic look-a-likes? My 20+ year old niece, who does like fine china teacups and dishes, gravitated to a crystal look-a-like water jug I bought recently at Home Sense. I couldn't find a glass one that day. She loved how pretty it looked and commented she was pleased it was plastic. Oh, interesting. Perhaps it's the upkeep -- it's easy to throw in the dishwasher. No maintenance to speak of. Yes, I certainly get that. But I am sad for all those lovely, well-made pieces that our mothers used to scrimp and save for, that I used to scrimp and save for, buying a piece at a time to set a pretty dining table for company and other special events. Will those items end up in landfills across the continent? Oh, I certainly hope not. I hope these quality pieces will come into vogue again before they are lost forever.

I am thankful... for family and friends who reminded me a couple of weeks ago that my presence on this planet matters to them. Flowers, presents, lunches out, not to mention all the bunches of birthday wishes from loved ones near and far. Thank you!

One of my favorite things... our morning routine of freshly brewed coffee and muffins in bed when we first wake up. And not having to get up to rush off to work. That's the very best!

One thing I'm not fond of is... writing out the letter "F" in cursive capitals. It feels awkward to shape it. It usually looks odd when I write it out. I never get a flourish when I try to shape the top and then the curve at the bottom. I have no problem and quite enjoy writing a small 'f'. I guess I could practice.

I am wearing... jeans, messy hair (haven't tamed it yet this morning), no earrings, a sleeveless tunic top with an artsy sunflower in front. Slippers.

I am watching... the team of young fellows building our new deck in our backyard. Young strapping fellows who usually bring their Tim Hortons coffees when they arrive in the morning. I was home yesterday so I made banana pecan muffins and offered them some with freshly brewed coffee for their break. When I brought out the muffins, one fellow said, you remind me of my grandma -- she's always making muffins and cookies. We all laughed. I had my own secret chagrin chuckle that he saw me as the grandma figure, not, say, his mom or his aunt, but his grandma. I think I'm laughing... hahaha. Recipe further down.

I am reading... the books I've been holding close to me since the beginning of the year, such as Book Girl (Sarah Clarkson), Beauty The Invisible Embrace (John O'Donohue), Calm Things (Shawna Lemay). I've been taking my time to read more slowly, more meditatively and thoughtfully, dipping into them page by page, occasionally flitting here and there like a bee collecting nectar. Or, to use my own metaphor preference, filling the inner well. See Julia Cameron if you need more on that.

One such companion is Book Girl by Sarah Clarkson, a 30-something woman living and studying in Oxford with her husband and young daughter. She's written the book I might have penned if I'd known how to do so thirty years ago. Her story is mine in so many ways. No, not in life experiences and opportunities, but in our inward journey of discovery of life lessons, love, loving God, finding that beauty truly matters, and so on. Her book is written as a testament of "just how powerfully books had shaped her to live her own story within the world." I have found that to be true for me as well. She offers lists of her favourite books, the books that sustained her and gave her hope through strained times. So many of the books she mentioned I read years earlier and loved learning that she found them as engaging and challenging and encouraging as I did. I also discovered books on her lists that I haven't read. Yet. I aim to pick up some of these in the weeks and months ahead. I so loved reading her story -- so much of her own memoir is entwined with her book suggestions. I'm certain if you love books, you will find this one a joy to read.

I'm listening to... robins, chickadees, the radio playing in the background, a school bus zooming by.

I am learning... Was going to say I couldn't recall anything new I've learned recently. However, in chatting with my friend Jean this afternoon, she told me the difference she sees between baking powder and baking soda. If you want the ingredient, like cookies, to spread while baking, you use baking soda. And if you want it to rise like cake, you use baking powder. There, even if I ever knew that in my earlier life, it was like brand new information to me today.

In the kitchen...
Banana Pecan Muffins

1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup mashed ripe bananas, approx. 3 bananas
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp nutmeg (more if you like it stronger)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup pecan pieces

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and bananas. Stir in flour, nutmeg, and baking powder. Stir in vanilla and pecan pieces. Makes 10-12 regular muffins or 6 large muffins. Bake at 375F for 20 minutes for the regular size and 25 minutes for the large size, or until golden brown.

I am creating... a couple of Shutterfly photo albums. I'm finally getting our England trip photos into print coffee table books so that we can sit down, read the stories and look at the pictures. I know we live in a digital age, but some things need to be printed and then held in one's hands to go through page by page. Photo books, in my view, are one of those things.

I am hoping... for warmer weather, in case I didn't mention that earlier.

I am looking forward to... sitting on our new deck as soon as it gets warm enough. Looking forward to getting into the garden to see what survived winter. Waiting for the Hawthorne tree to finally feel it's safe to burst into pretty pink blossoms and for the Mayday trees to fill the neighbourhood with their lightheaded fragrance.

Around the house... I recently put up a bookshelf in our tiny kitchen to house my recipe books, so I could use the pantry for foodstuffs. It's not a big collection, but it includes well-used ratty looking books as well as a few pretty-pictured ones that truly are just for looking, although I do peruse always looking for possibilities, even if I don't ever make them. My one sister takes great pleasure in looking through recipe books -- it's one of her simple pleasures.

A peek into a corner of my world...
The newly installed (yes, I put it together myself) bookshelf in the kitchen.

A current favourite quote...
"Joy is not simply happiness on steroids.
It's the unyielding belief that sorrow and loss
do not have the final say. It's the stubborn
determination to be present to whatever may
come and to interpret both goodness and grief
by the light of heaven."

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