Saturday, July 30, 2022

Summer Evenings in the Garden

"The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God's heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth."

Here where I live, I wait all year for July summer evenings, the kind we've had this past week. Where hot and sultry days melt into calm and balmy evenings. Where the air feels like silk on my skin. Where leaves rustle in the breeze like old-fashioned petticoats, and I hear the fluttering of birds settling in the shrubs for the night. As evening quietude settles over the neighbourhood, my own mind grows peaceful. Even my breath slows to match the mood. The sticky notes in my head loosen and I feel the frets of the day fall away. 

Perfect summer evenings are precious for their rarity. Maybe you have more of them than we do, but idyllic summer evenings depends so much on weather, timing, plus our personal energy and frame of mind. All coming together to turn a few hours into rare jewels when that sense of peace and utter contentment fills us and rests around us. Surely this is a foretaste of paradise.

With the evening coolness, plants and trees begin to release their earthy, spicy scents. In the midst of it, I wait....nose in the catch the elusive aroma of the Evening Scented Stock. Of all the lovely plants in our garden—roses, peonies, mock orange—this is the one I truly do wait for with eager anticipation. They're nothing much to look at during the day, tiny flowers tightly furled until evening when they open to hues of pale pink, lavender, and rose. It's their evening scent that's the real attraction. But that fragrance is elusive, and one cannot bend to sniff a flower as you would a rose or sweet pea. It doesn't release the fragrance that way. One must wait until the perfume wafts to you on the cool evening breeze. Patience is required. One whiff of it though makes it all worthwhile. It's described as resembling vanilla with rose and spice mixed in. Hmm, I don't know if that expresses it accurately, but my words are elusive too.

The other evening I caught the season's first hints of it. Such a treat. Not only had the night stock finally opened, blossoms all over the garden had burst out on this deep summer day. Surely it was a night perfect for flowers to dance (as Daniel Blajan once noted in his lovely book of essays Foxgloves & Hedgehogs).  My stroll through the garden was magical. And in that state of bliss I came into the house and started my post for this weekend. Here are a few of my garden photos taken over the past few days. Hope you enjoy. Happy day!

evening scented stock

"Breathe in fragrant flower.
Let worries cease.
Embrace this garden hour."

sea holly

High noon as I'm taking this photo.

purple salvia (annual)

"Half the interest of a garden is the
constant exercise of the imagination."
ALICE MORSE EARLE (1851 - 1911)

pink hydrangea

"Almost any garden, if you see it at just
the right moment, can be confused with paradise."

"Everything that slows us down and forces
patience, everything that sets us back into
the slow circles of nature, is a help.
Gardening is an instrument of grace."


Calibrachoa (trailing petunia)

Sweet Peas

"The scents of plants are like unseen ghosts.
They sneak upon you as you round a turn in the garden,
before you see the plants from which they come."

Yellow Ligularia just starting to bloom with the spent
mock orange shrub behind it and a creamy Astilbe in front.

Little beauties that have self-seeded
all over the garden this summer.

Love these purple grasses mixing with the yellow Thunbergia
(black-eyed Susan vine).


"A flower blossoms for its own joy."

Wishing you a beautiful weekend,

Photos: courtesy of me and my iPhone camera

Friday, July 22, 2022

Lunch Al Fresco

There's nothing better
than eating under blue skies.

Several weeks ago I found a magazine spread depicting a mouthwatering summer lunch. It was all so deliciously set out I clipped the photo and glued it into my journal. I was going to make such a luncheon one day this summer. Soon friends were invited and a day chosen when weather would permit a picnic in the garden.

The day dawned warm and sunny with blue skies. I got up early to make my favourite recipe of hearty soda oat bread—one that's simple, delicious, and healthy. See recipe below.

Hearty Soda Oat Bread
recipe originally from an old issue of Victoria magazine

Makes a single loaf (9-inch pan)

2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup white or bread flour
1/4 cup old-fashioned oats
1/4 cup steel-cut oats
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups buttermilk
1 large egg

2 tablespoons old-fashioned oats, set aside for topping

 1. Preheat to 325F. Spray pan with cooking spray.

2. In large bowl, whisk together flours, oats, brown sugar,
baking soda, baking powder, salt.

3. In medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk and egg.

4. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients;
stir until just moistened.

5. Spoon mixture into pan;
sprinkle the 2 tablespoons of oats over the top.

6. Bake about 1 hour, until an inserted
wooden pick comes out clean.

7. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes.
Remove from pan to finish cooling on wire rack.

* * *

Here's the photo that captured my imagination,
also from an old issue of Victoria magazine:

 * * *

Below are my own trays:

my own plate - yum yum

Great friends and good food equals
good times on a blue-skied summer afternoon.

Hope you have a wonderful weekend,

Friday, July 15, 2022

About Reading in the Summertime

"Reading a good book
just goes with summer."

Warm summer afternoons bring out an especial longing in me to drift away on a cool breeze and disappear into a good book. While bees hum in the roses and leaves lay listless in treetops, and it's really too hot for intense effort, I reach guilt-free for my stash of summertime reading. I like books that are sunshine infused and lavender scented, where passages remind me of happy childhood and summer holidays. Where the beauty of God's summer-laced world drifts through the pages, and adventure, mystery, and romance surprise at every turn.

No matter the season, including summer, I enjoy a mix of fiction and non-fiction, beloved favourites alongside titles yet unread. I like the well-weathered friends of old classics and vintage books, but I also run with my current favourite bestsellers. I slip easily from one genre to another: whodunits, historical fiction, literary classics, memoir, garden, art, poetry, and spiritual inspiration. Sometimes I dip into stories I loved as a girl, such as Rose in Bloom and the Anne books, or I'll catch up on titles I missed growing up. I do the same with adult books. A couple of summers ago, I sought out well known works I'd ignored in the past and was pleasantly surprised to find this 'filling in the blanks' a most gratifying experience.

A storyline beautifully written is a must, but I also want characters I grow to care about as they grapple their issues and search out truths that set them free. I admire authors who can tell a hard tale, skillfully weaving difficult themes without utterly swamping my mind with a horrifying bleakness. There must always be a thread of goodness and beauty throughout. A good book, especially one read during the summertime, must have reasonably happy endings, and if not happy, well then, at least hopeful. I want to know the characters I've come to love will have a chance for better days ahead. In God’s world hope is ever present—it should be in books too.

Books fuel my writing. Reading about people who dedicate their lives to making the world a better place inspire me to keep dreaming of how I, too, can make my world a more beautiful place with my writing. These world changers invite me not to lose hope about making a difference, and I grab hold of the divine creative impulse with renewed joy. Often, I turn to my poetry books, devotionals, and nature diaries, meandering through the pages as if in a garden, breathing in a thoughtful line here, holding a poignant phrase there. Nourished and refreshed, my heart beats with a readiness to dust off my keyboard and share this beautiful life with others.

Wherever you are this summer, I hope there's a pleasant breeze and a beguiling pile of books to keep you company. Happy Reading!

Wishing you a beautiful day,

From the Archives:
Originally published on the InScribe blog

Top Photo by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

Saturday, July 09, 2022

Gardens Set in Favourite Summertime Books

Wakehurst Place, England, July 2016

"Always be on the lookout for
the presence of wonder."

Happy Saturday! Today I'm relying on a post I wrote a couple of summers ago about favourite books that include scenes set in gardens. I agree with author Penelope Lively when she says gardens can be an atmospheric ingredient in a story. Who isn't drawn in when you find the heroine leaning through an open window to catch the scent of lilacs in the air, or she's out for a stroll in the rose garden on a silky summer evening. Some of these storybook gardens are so richly described they create actual memories for me of places I've only visited in my mind's eye—that's how real they are to me. It's a blissful mingling of life and story and imagination.

In today's post I had great fun pairing excerpts from each book with favourite photos I took during our memorable visit to England in 2016. I hope you find this revised edition worth your visit.

At Hever Castle, England, July 2016

By Jane Austen (novel)

"Will you tell me how long you have loved him?"

"It has been coming on so gradually, that I hardly know when it began. But I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley." (so said Miss Elizabeth Bennett)

A very good reason to fall in love with the man, don't you think? I know there are some who think more cynically about why she was smitten after seeing the abundance of that great estate. To my view, surely a fellow who appreciates such beauty around him must also have beauty in his soul. No wonder Mr. Darcy lingers long in our imaginations.

Penshurst Place, England, July 2016

by Julia Kelly (historical fiction)

(1909) "I have never understood 'gardeners' who refuse to garden because it is unseemly for a lady or gentleman to dirty their hands. Perhaps they don't know the thrill of plunging a trowel into spring-softened soil to toss up the sweet, earthy scent of leaves and twigs and all manner of matter. By refusing to stain their aprons, they miss the sensation of damp, fresh dirt crumbling between their fingers or breathing the fresh air deeply. They don't know the satisfaction of knocking the dust off one's clothes when retreating into the house for a well-earned cup of tea."

Nymans Garden and Home, West Sussex, July 2016 

by Frances Hodgson Burnett (novel)

"It was the sweetest, most mysterious-looking place any one could imagine. The high walls which shut it in were covered with the leafless stems of climbing roses which were so thick that they were matted together.  . . . All the ground was covered with grass of a wintry brown and out of it grew clumps of bushes which were surely rose-bushes if they were alive. There were numbers of standard roses which had so spread their branches that they were like little trees. There were other trees in the garden, and one of the things which made the place look strangest and loveliest was that climbing roses had run all over them and swung down long tendrils which made light swaying curtains, and here and there they had caught at each other."

Nymans Garden and House, West Sussex, July 2016

by Elizabeth Goudge (novel)

"Mary waved to her and went back to the garden. She walked slowly along the moss-grown path beside the jungle that had once been a herbaceous border, her thoughts busy with Michaelmas daisies, golden rod and peonies.  . . .  
They crossed the road to the orchard and leaned on the gate, the scent of apple blossom coming to them on the light wind. From the crimson of the unopened buds to the white of the fully opened petals, every gradation of rose color was present in flights and drifts on the lichened branches. The apple trees were old and it seemed a miracle that such misshapen age could support this airy lightness."

Scotney Castle Gardens, England, July 2016

by Daphne du Maurier (novel)

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. . ."

"I wondered why it was that places are so much lovelier when one is alone. How commonplace and stupid it would be if I had a friend now, sitting beside me, someone I had known at school, who would say: 'By-the-way, I saw old Hilda the other day. You remember her, the one who was so good at tennis. She’s married, with two children.' And the bluebells beside us unnoticed, and the pigeons overhead unheard. I did not want anyone with me. Not even Maxim. If Maxim had been there I should not be lying as I was now, chewing a piece of grass, my eyes shut. I should have been watching him, watching his eyes, his expression. Wondering if he liked it, if he was bored. Wondering what he was thinking. Now I could relax, none of these things mattered. Maxim was in London. How lovely it was to be alone again."

Scotney Castle Gardens, England, July 2016

by L.M. Montgomery (novel)

The Blue Castle doesn't have a garden exactly, but when Valancy moved with her new husband to the woodsy island where he lived, she found paradise. And so I had to include it in this collection. I have loved this story since forever.

"It was rapture enough just to sit there beside him in silence, alone in the summer night in the white splendor of moonshine, with the wind blowing down on them out of the pine woods." . . .

Barney knew the woods as a book and he taught their lore and craft to Valancy. He could always find trail and haunt of the shy wood people. Valancy learned the different fairy-likenesses of the mosses—the charm and exquisiteness of woodland blossoms. She learned to know every bird at sight and mimic its call—though never so perfectly as Barney. She made friends with every kind of tree."

Wildflowers at RHS Garden Wisely, England, July 2016

by Rosamunde Pilcher (novel)

"A long rope was strung between three of these trees, and here Penelope pegged out her washing. Doing this, on a bright fresh morning, was one of her deepest delights. A thrush was singing, and at her feet, thrusting through the tufty damp grass, bulbs were already beginning to shoot. She had planted these herself, thousands of them; daffodils and crocus and scilla and snowdrops.

When these faded and the summer grass grew deep and green, other wildflowers raised their heads. Cowslips and cornflowers and scarlet poppies, all grown from seed that she had scattered herself .  . . . (She'd) pause by her little tree of Viburnum Fragrans, its twiggy stems smothered in deep pink blossom that smelled, miraculously, of summer. She would fetch her secateurs and clip a sprig or two, to scent the sitting room."

Scotney Castle and Gardens, England, July 2016

by Elizabeth von Arnim (novel)

"All down the stone steps on either side were periwinkles in full flower, and she could now see what it was that had caught at her the night before and brushed, wet and scented, across her face. It was wisteria. Wisteria and sunshine . . . she remembered the advertisement.

Here indeed were both in profusion. The wisteria was tumbling over itself in its excess of life, its prodigality of flowering; and where the pergola ended the sun blazed on scarlet geraniums, bushes of them, and nasturtiums in great heaps, and marigolds so brilliant that they seemed to be burning, and red and pink snapdragons, all outdoing each other in bright, fierce colour. . . . The cherry-trees and peach-trees were in blossom—lovely showers of white and deep rose-colour among the trembling delicacy of the olives; the fig-leaves were just big enough to smell of figs, the vine-buds were only beginning to show. And beneath these trees were groups of blue and purple irises, and bushes of lavender, and grey, sharp cactuses, and the grass was thick with dandelions and daisies, and right down at the bottom was the sea. Colour seemed flung down anyhow, anywhere; every sort of colour piled up in heaps, pouring along in rivers."

You might also want to seek out Elizabeth's semi-autobiographical novel Elizabeth and Her German Garden. It's entertaining reading on a summer afternoon.

Hollyhocks at Downe House, home of Charles Darwin, July 2016

by L.M. Montgomery(novel)

"Beyond were the "back fields" of the farms that ran out to the upper Carmody road. Just before them, hemmed in by beeches and firs but open to the south, was a little corner and in it a garden . . . or what had once been a garden. A tumbledown stone dyke, overgrown with mosses and grass, surrounded it. Along the eastern side ran a row of garden cherry trees, white as a snowdrift. There were traces of old paths still and a double line of rosebushes through the middle; but all the rest of the space was a sheet of yellow and white narcissi, in their airiest, most lavish, wind-swayed bloom above the lush green grasses."

Heliotrope in an English country garden, July 2016

by Agatha Christie (mystery)

Miss Marple of St Mary Mead, in Agatha Christie's Nemesis, is advised to take a Famous Houses and Gardens tour to see the sights and visit gardens she's not seen before. It's all part of a master plan to catch a murderer amongst the florabundas.

" 'Miss Marple said, looking at the flowers near her, 'How beautiful peonies are. That long border of them—so proud and yet so beautifully fragile.' . . .

After luncheon she was taken on a tour of the garden. It was Anthea who was deputed to accompany her. . . .They had come along a grass path and were pausing in front of a kind of hillock that rested against the wall at one end of it.

'Our greenhouse,' said Miss Anthea mournfully.

'Oh, yes, where you had such a delightful grapevine.'

'Three vines,' said Anthea. 'A black Hamburg and one of those small white grapes, very sweet, you know. And a third one of beautiful muscats.'

'And a heliotrope, you said.'

'Cherry pie,' said Anthea.

'Ah, yes, cherry pie*. Such a lovely smell...' "

*NB. Heliotrope is said to smell of cherries and vanilla, hence it's also known as cherry pie plant.

Somewhere in England, July 2016

Secrets in a Country Garden
by Daniel Blajan (essays)

"I crept out of bed and sneaked unobserved through the back door into the garden. It was not yet dark, but the sun had already set and it was one of those rare, serene nights when you feel you could almost catch the light and hold it in your hand like a shimmering violet treasure. A perfect night for the flowers to dance. I looked around the garden surreptitiously, but obviously all the flowers had already noticed my arrival, and they remained as stiff as pokers. I tiptoed to the shed and stealthily peeped around the wall. It was then that I beheld a great and breathtaking miracle: in the still of the night, the flowers of the evening primroses were coming to life. The pale yellow petals were unfolding one by one, flower by flower, like the wings of butterflies.  . . .
My keen ears picked up their voices too: a soft, mysterious sighing, like whispers from elfin lips. Soon the night moths joined the party and began to feast on the nectar. In great numbers they flitted from flower to flower, adding even more grace to this floral ballet."

Statue nestled in Pashley Gardens, England, July 2016

by Celia Thaxter (gardening/memoir)

"At the Isles of Shoals, among the ledges of the largest island, Appledore, lies the small garden.  . . . Ever since I could remember anything, flowers have been like dear friends to me, comforters, inspirers, powers to uplift and to cheer. A lonely child, living on the lighthouse island ten miles away from the mainland, every blade of grass that sprang out of the ground, every humblest weed, was precious in my sight, and I began a little garden when not more than five years old.  . . . The first small bed at the lighthouse island contained Marigolds, pot Marigolds, fire-colored blossoms which were the joy of my heart and the delight of my eyes."

Sweet Peas in an English Country Garden, July 2016

by Rosamunde Pilcher (novel)

"Now, she entered the house through the French windows that led from the terrace into the drawing room. After the brightness of the day outside, the interior seemed very cool and dim, and smelled of the sweet peas that, this morning, Eve had arranged in a great bowl and placed on the round marquetry table that stood in the middle of the room.  . . . 

The next moment, he had gone, around the azaleas, through the gate, down the road through the village. She stood there, listening until there was nothing more to hear. Then she called Lucy and went back indoors.  . . . She slept until midday and awoke to find the room filled with bright noon sunshine. Out of bed, she went to the window and leaned out, her bare arms on the warm sill. The garden simmered in the heat of yet another good day. A man in overalls was working in one of the flowerbeds; the distant sea was a cup of blue."

And there you have it, a few of my favourite summertime books where gardens play their charming role in the stories being told. Do you have any titles that you'd add to this list?

Wishing you a beautiful sun-kissed day,


Photos in this post are mine

Friday, July 01, 2022

Summertime in Poetry and Prose

"A whole summer ahead to cross off
the calendar, day by day."
RAY BRADBURY, Dandelion Wine

It was a fine summer evening when I went for my usual walk. The sun was still high; it had been a hot day. I rounded the bend in the road when I noticed a wonderful scent on the breeze. The trees in the neighbourhood were releasing their woody fragrance as the day cooled. It was a mix of something earthy, something green with hints of berries or herbs or something. I felt that zing of delight. In that brief moment the city disappeared and I was somewhere on a quiet woodsy path where concrete sidewalks and disturbing noises didn't exist. Then... a truck blew by and left diesel in its wake. The lovely scent was gone; I was back on my city street. It's just a tiny pocket of time, but it's these little bits of heaven that get etched forever in our minds, making summertime sing in our hearts.

Sometimes summer's special mood is triggered through our memories. Sometimes we get it through the books we read on our summer holidays. I love it when passages in a book echo the scents and sights and sounds of the summer season. Art and life joining forces, or maybe it's heaven and earth joining forces.

I'm hoping the few lines captured here today will evoke your own summertime bliss. 

"If you have time to open the back door in the morning
while you're drinking your coffee and look at the sky or
hear the chorus the birds offer, you have time for the marvelous.
You may only have a moment before the polite chaos of the day starts,
but that moment can stretch to the horizon."

"A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining,
the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing,
and the lawn mower is broken."

"Flowers lead to books, which lead to thinking and not thinking
and then more flowers and music, music. Then many more
flowers and many more books..."

"Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass
under the trees on a summer’s day, listening to the
murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the
blue sky, is by no means a waste of time."
JOHN LUBBOCK, "Recreation," The Use of Life, 1894

"One benefit of summer was that each day
we had more light to read by."

"Summer afternoon—summer afternoon;
to me those have always been the two most
beautiful words in the English language."

"There shall be eternal summer
in the grateful heart."
CELIA THAXTER, An Island Garden

"The luxury of all summer's sweet sensation
is to be found when one lies at length in the warm, fragrant grass,
soaked with sunshine, aware of regions of blossoming clover
and of a high heaven filled with the hum of innumerous bees."
HARRIET E. PRESCOTT, The Atlantic Monthly, August 1865

"tree-ward eyes do gaze
fragrant breezes feather our face
music from yonder leaves begins
shhh, be hushed! and let day's
agitations be released"

Wishing you a grace-saturated day, and
Happy Canada Day to my fellow Canadians.

All images today come from Pixabay:
(daisies) by Jill Wellington
(woman) by Akyurt
(blue tit) by creisi
(wildflowers)by pasja1000
(walking) by Pexels
(flower vase) by Regenwolken0
(afternoon tea) by Simon Delacre
(hydrangea) by MrGajowy3
(clover) by analogicus
(girl) by LuidmilaKot