Monthly Archives: July 2018

An English Country Garden


One small feature of the Armstrongs’ English country garden

When I played “In An English Country Garden” as a young piano student, I didn’t imagine that I would be in such a garden some day. But recently Charles and I visited not just one English garden, but several. I’m still under the spell of roses blooming on a brick wall, of the scent of lavender, and of the graciousness of the owners of one particular English country garden.

In Georgia, USA, we’ve been blessed with acres we can landscape and maintain with large trees, shrubs, lilies and many, many flowers. In England, often, a resident has only a few feet to work with. Visiting that country this summer was such a pleasure. The gardens were vivid with green velvety grass; roses of red, peach, yellow and pink; and everywhere bright flower beds and window boxes.

We had the privilege of being invited to a garden party. Friends we were traveling with actually were honorees at this party so we were there in a special status. I was free to wander about the trim, neat garden with my iPad before the guests arrived.

I discovered a tiny trail, sort of Peter Rabbit size, which led tightly between shrubbery to a work shed. On another side of the garden was a sculpture of David and on the garden’s brick wall carefully trained roses and ivy grew. An inviting curved bench waited under a small tree for someone to alight. Tables were thoughtfully and strategically set where guests would be free to sit and enjoy the delightful little sandwiches, tea, and cake. One or two tables were set on the tiled patio where also potted roses and ferns offered joy. Everywhere there were signs our host and hostess had been busy with a grass edger, pruning shears, and much tender loving care.

Dave and Mathilda Armstrong had invited friends of Harley and Debi to come from London, Oxford, and other locations, friends with whom they had formerly worked as a team for Jesus. The afternoon was perfect for the gathering–blue skies, a hint of coolness, the scents of lavender and basil mingling with the roses, and warm inviting scents from the kitchen. Birds sang and took quick flights from tree to tree.

Of special significance at this party was a strong Christian connection between all those present. Charles and I knew only a few of the folks but we became instant friends, sharing ways God has been busy in our lives and those around us. It was amazing to hear the stories these missionaries could tell from Switzerland to Afghanistan, from Australia to Honduras. The thought occurred to me several times that this little English garden party was a foretaste of the beauty and joy we can expect in heaven.


Vera lost not an inch in growing a beautiful path to her door.

There were other gardens as well. We spent a couple of nights in a sweet flat in West Wickham where our hostess, Vera, gave us a refuge for recovering from our trans-Atlantic flight. Approaching her red door were bright flowers along the walkway.


The Cotswolds area of south central England was such a delight!


We visited the Cotswolds one day. Their little gardens are squeezed between their small stone houses and narrow village streets, absolutely charming.

In Bromley, where we were temporary residents in the home for transient missionaries called Manna House, we walked several times to the center of town a mile away. There was one garden we passed that particularly intrigued me. Flowers of red, yellow, blue and white flourished just inside a gate that was always open. A walkway curved slightly toward the door. Birds were especially vocal there and I think there must have been a feeder out back. I was tempted to tap on the door and tell the owner how much I liked their colorful garden!

One last note. Dave and Mathilda, on our last outing, took us to the lavender fields not far from their home. Not only was the blue almost hypnotizing, but we were wrapped in the scent of it. It was an unforgettable excursion made perfect with steak and mushroom pies under an umbrella at a stream-side inn.


Can’t you just smell the lavender?!!!

The tune of “An English Country Garden” is spinning gently through my mind. Gardens and music–they go together!


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The Oak that came to Breakfast

It isn’t often (thank God!) that a tree breaks in for breakfast. Well, he didn’t eat any eggs and bacon or a bite of cereal. And he didn’t quite sit down at our table. But he did try his best to join us for our second cup of coffee Monday morning.

It was a quiet sunny July morning. We were making plans for our day which included some normal kind of yard work for Charles and his gardener, Ulysses, and a lot of laundry for me since we’d enjoyed having five great grands sleeping over for the weekend. Just as Charles reached for the Bible to read our daily devotion a terrible cracking, swishing thunderous sound jerked us both to our feet and away from the window.

With a shower and shudder of falling leaves and limbs the giant oak in front of our house settled on our carport roof, one big elbow on the main roof of the house, branches brushing dining room, breakfast room, and carport windows. We ran out to look and there he was, our largest tree, our giant red oak, roots still flipping wet earth into the ivy.


Yes, that’s our house–under the tree.

The smell of fresh oak pervaded the yard. Birds flew in and out of the new forest come down. Stray branches slid off the roof. My heart thudded in surprise and amazement. We looked at each other and could hardly make words come out.

We started taking pictures and sending messages to family and friends. Charles called Joe Porter of Nationwide who very soon came to look and set our claim in motion. After a call, Danny Thomas from Thomas Tree Service also came. He shook his head and said, “Doc, it’s going to take the big crane. Get ready for those big ruts you hate so much. And I don’t know when I can come. We’re trying to get Reno and Whigham out from under the rubble right now. One family has a tree in their living room.”

We are almost giddy we are so thankful the tree didn’t cause worse damage, didn’t hurt anyone, and fell while we are here to see about it. A very large limb landed neatly beside the air conditioner, maybe a foot away. The tree largely hit the carport, not the main roof, and, because of the solidity of our house, the tree didn’t fall through and crush our car. Ulysses, moments before the fall, was picking up debris in the path of the tree but had moved on before it fell. Our great grands had all gone home and weren’t playing around the concrete seat at the base of the tree or filling the bird bath that sat directly in the tree’s path. In fact, the bench and bird bath weren’t even cracked nor any windows broken.


The giant red oak–up close and personal–for breakfast.

It remains to be seen how much damage our house did sustain. The roof has been compromised, of course, gutters and down spouts ripped off, tiles torn and dislodged, and much more we can’t yet see. In one place a limb has jabbed a hole in the carport ceiling which then cracked like an egg. There’s a large hole in the edge of the overhang and more will show when the tree comes off. But it could be so much worse.

We’ve stood around the fallen giant and speculated about its untimely–or timely–fall. We thought this was a healthy oak. Sure, it leaned some but probably had for 75 years. It appeared healthy and strong otherwise. But now we can see signs of deterioration inside.

Why did the oak fall when it did? We had a bad storm Saturday night. Why didn’t it fall then? Danny says that while he was driving that morning towards Reno to work on fallen trees he said to an employee, “We’ll have more tree calls. Some get unsettled in a storm and don’t fall for a day or two.” His phone rang just then and it was Charles calling about our oak. If we’d been listening to the oak Sunday afternoon we might have heard occasional mysterious creaks and groans as it slowly got ready for the big downfall.

I just say–that oak wanted to join us for breakfast! Maybe he wanted drive-through service.


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Volunteer at Montezuma Castle

He is 94 years old and still enjoying his job as a guide at Montezuma Castle, home of ancient cave dwellers in Arizona. We came upon him as we explored the cave dwellers’ park and were so fascinated by his stories we hung around his post way past our turn.


Charles and Will talking to our 94 year old guide

He readily took time to explain to us what we’d see if we could climb far up the limestone cliff and enter one of the caves occupied six centuries ago by people seeking safety from marauding neighbors. Yes, we would see hieroglyphics and handprints of the women and children who plastered the walls periodically. We would see various rooms and added ledges. We would see storage areas where the folks placed their dried meats and vegetables.

This tough yet amazingly smooth-faced gentleman explained how the cave dwellers lived. The women worked the crops and kept the home caves while the men went hunting. The hunt was not over in a few days. During the weeks or months they were gone, the women had to pull the ladders up the cliffs each night to keep enemies away. The cliffs are high and sheer.

Our guide waxed very enthusiastic describing the mens’ hunt. First, they had to secure a supply of salt mined from a deposit a few miles away. Then, armed with sharp knives and some jerky from the last hunt, they would strike out to find game. They might have to walk many miles before they found anything. When they made a kill of antelope, lion, or bison, rabbit, bear, or muskrat, they had to butcher, salt and dry the meat into portions that would keep. This took weeks, even months.

He went on to tell us there were inner storage chambers which could only be entered through a hole in a cave. This is where they kept some of their supplies. Our guide himself some years ago, heard about a hieroglyphic sample in one of those underground storage rooms and proposed to fellow workers that they put him down through the hole so he could take a picture. He isn’t a very large man but even so his going down became quite difficult. His helpers were lowering him by his hands until the opening narrowed so much he had to release one hand and wiggle himself on down. He took the picture, he said, and then faced the challenge of climbing back out.

Before we could hear the end of his climbing-out story, our guide was surrounded by a new group of interested inquirers and we had to move on. We only heard a chuckle as it was implied he might have had to strip and grease himself from head to toe.

In the midst of his very in-depth explanation of early Indians’ life, this gentleman told us a little about himself. He had retired because his wife had begun falling and he felt he needed to stay close to her. Then he grinned as he pulled a small electronic device from his pocket. “I found this miracle solution to our problem. She can buzz me on this and I’ll go straight home. I think she was as pleased as I was to get me out of the house again.” He went on to tell us how he drives himself to the park and walks a good distance every day, maybe only a couple of miles as compared to five before his retirement. “These young people in their seventies,” he said, “don’t exercise enough and they get old way too young.”


Here are some of us at the Cliffs: Charles,  Nana, Mattie, William Jr., and Thomas in hat

Our time at Montezuma Castle National Monument, part of our wonderful National Park Service, was fun for adults and children. The trees and plants were well marked so we learned names of several, or verified our speculations. Shady big sycamores made walking in the Arizona heat more pleasant. Mexican Bird of Paradise was the most colorful in bright orange, but thick growths of pink and cream, yellow and orange lantana invited butterflies to blink amongst them. There were nice sturdy benches where we could sit and gaze up at the lofty Montezuma Castle caves.

The gift shop was, of course, a must before we left. I purchased a jar of prickly pear jelly and some blue corn pancake mix with prickly pear syrup. It was fun trying them out for breakfast this morning while we remembered the cliffs–and the 94 year old man who made it all so interesting.

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