Tag Archives: gardens

Merry of Soul, She Sailed on a Day, Over the Sea to Skye – by Sherrie Hansen

The next leg of our Scottish journey felt like coming home. We make it a point to see new places and things each time we come to Scotland, but we also plan return visits to places we didn’t get enough of the first time around.  Scot - Skye sunset

Coming back to the Isle of Skye on the ferry from Harris felt like meeting up with an old, familiar friend for a quick catch up. We saw a phenomenal sunset while we headed back to our B&B, a newly built addition with a comfortable bed, an amazing, spa-like bathroom and a beautiful view of Loch Dunvegan. Only two things marred our visit – more midges and a sad state of affairs at a much-renowned Stein pub where we’d had wonderful meals twice before. We were truly shocked when our waitress ignored us for over an hour before taking our order, not even bringing us water or a menu, while the Scots at the table next to ours ordered, ate, paid and went their merry ways. I won’t go into the details, but it was the first time we’d been treated rudely, probably because we were Americans, on any of our journeys. When our dinners finally arrived, my meat was tough and undercooked. I would have left without paying, but my nice husband took care of the bill and we departed completely mystified at the treatment we’d received.

Scot - Skye sunset 2

The rest of our time on Skye was delightful. We enjoyed our room and the nice breakfast treats left in the refrigerator, and went to sleep dreaming of the opportunity to see some of our favorite spots from two years ago. After taking in the scenery on the loop from Dunvegan to Sligachan Valley, we followed the highway toward Armadale Castle and Gardens, on the east side of Skye, which we had not seen our first trip.

Scot - castle ruins

The gardens were lovely and the ruins of the castle were serene and full of interesting historical images. Our hike through the forest was as brief as we could manage as the dreaded midges were once again out in full force. Thankfully, after we left the castle, we found a locally manufactured concoction made with natural ingredients and essential oils that did seem to deter the little buggers, as well as soothing the bites I already had.

Scot - Dornie

We stopped at Dorney and Eilean Donan Castle on our way to Loch Carron. Eilean Donan, the only place besides the Glasgow airport that we’ve seen on all three visits to Scotland, is the setting of Shy Violet, and plays a role in Sweet William. I truly do feel a connection to this castle. I took a copy of Sweet William along to give to one of the servers at the Castle café just like I did Shy Violet two years ago, and to my delight, they remembered me! The woman we gifted the book to even had a connection to the house on the front cover. Like so many aspects of our trip, the whole thing felt meant to be.

Scot - Eilean Donan

I had the same pleasant sense of déjà vu in Loch Carron. The idea for Golden Rod was born while I was there two years ago, and it was great fun to leave copies with the owner of the B&B where we stayed and the owner of the Waterside Café, which is mentioned in the book.  We revisited Lochcarron Weavers (and left with more wool remnants), stopped at my favorite craft shop (which had almost burned down in a forest fire the week before).

Scot - Fairy

I bought a wee Scottish fairy, and saw the incredibly scenic overlooks we discovered last time. But from there on, everything we saw and did was entirely new. We had two incredible meals, one at Lochcarron Bistro that included some of the best food I’ve ever eaten.

Scot - Lochcarron bench 

The next day, we set off for Applecross, a charming seaside village at the end of one of the steepest, scariest mountain roads I’ve ever been on. Mark navigated the narrow, winding road quite well, and our little Honda put forth a valiant effort while I tried to snap photos whenever I could. One didn’t dare stop to shoot a photo midway up the incline for fear you’d never get going again. It was that steep.

Scot - Applecross

Once we rounded a series of extremely sharp hairpin curves, we walked around the summit and stretched our tense legs. From there, it was downhill to Applecross, a very secluded town on the water, where we discovered a delightful garden that was being restored to its former glory.

Scot - garden

It was totally unanticipated, and one of my favorite stops of the entire trip.

Scot - Mark in boat

Coming down the mountain via the coastal road was a different kind of adventure, with wandering, remote single track roads lined with wildflowers, boothies, sheep and hairy coo, punctuated by the occasional fishing village. The one thing we never saw was a gas station, and we breathed a sigh of relief when we glided into Lochcarron on petrol fumes and miraculously found a gas station that was still open.    

Scot - Hairy Coo

The weather that day was warm and sunny, and perfect for exploring. We stopped frequently and stumbled upon a few gems on that trip over the mountain. I even discovered the work of a potter whose main shop was back in Strathcarron. I left with several little dishes and hearts made by Vicky Stonebridge at Balnacra Arts & Pottery, all in her signature pastel colors and whimsical designs. If ever I live in Lochcarron, I will visit her studio often.

Scot - pottery

The next morning, after another wonderful Scottish breakfast, we said goodbye and left for Fort William, a stopover on our way to Kilmartin Glen, our last major destination.

 Scot - SW House

On the way, we finally found the spot where I took the photo that is on the front cover of Sweet William. I say finally because we’d looked and looked and never found it two years ago.

Sweet William Front Cover

The trick was, you had to get out of the car and hike past an old church ruin to get to the spot where you could look down into the valley to see what I fondly call Rabbit Hill Lodge (in my imagination and the world of Lyndsie and Violet in Sweet William.)

Scot - Fort William

From there, it was more mountains and a drive through the Spey River valley to Speybridge. We heard a bagpiper playing at the summit and watched a storm approaching from the west. The storm followed us all the way to Fort William and while it doused our sightseeing efforts, it didn’t deter us from poking around downtown and finding a restaurant that had room for two. I had haggis with neeps (mashed turnips) and tatties (mashed potatoes), served with a whiskey peppercorn gravy.

Scot - Haggis

By this stage of the trip, we felt very aware of the fact that our vacation days were drawing to a close. I remember wondering if this would be the last time I got to enjoy haggis. I think it was – and a good note to end on, it was.

Scot - FW church

Sunday morning, we decided to try a Scottish church once more, and found a lively congregation much like what we’re used to at Zion, in Hudson, Iowa, where my husband is the pastor. They had guitars and sang songs we knew, and the pastor was easy to listen to and even witty at times. While the people were very friendly and welcoming at both churches we visited, this one was more relaxed and joyous and felt like home.

Scot - skye - rhodo close

It was hard to imagine that we would see anything in our last few days in country that would rival the sights we’d already enjoyed, but Kilmartin Glen did just that. It’s called saving the best for last.

Until next time…

Scot - Skye 

(Sherrie is the owner of the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House in St. Ansgar, Iowa. She is a Wheaton College alumni, and attended University of Maryland, European Division, while living in Augsburg, Germany. Her husband is the pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, an LCMC Congregation in rural Hudson, Iowa. In Sherrie’s spare time (?) she likes to dabble in the creative arts, play piano, paint, decorate vintage homes, and travel.)

Wildflowers of Scotland Novels by Sherrie Hansen (2)

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Time Is Flying By by Linda Lindsly

Garden Rock Wall

Garden Rock Wall

Time is flying by these days. where has April gone?  Joe and I cleaned out the garage and the attic trying to get junk out of the house to sell at our yard sale.  The yard sale, by the way ,was a success.  Now we just need to gather more things and stuff and have another one !  In the meantime I have a lot of gardening to do in my yard like getting weeds out before they overtake everything .  Longing to plant some annuals but not sure if we’ll have another frost in May .  So I postpone the idea and in the meantime I  move rocks ,dig out weeds and repair my rock wall behind the garden .  Repairing the wall is a big deal. I have to go and buy cement and get a few more rocks.  Then, I have to load them up in the wheel barrel, push  to the area that needs repairing  (which is all the way back in the garden) ,pull out the cement mixer  and lift the heavy bags of cement into the mixer and stack the rocks and fill with cement to hold it all together .  I’m tired just writing about it ! Oh, but when it is finished, it’s spectacular. My cats love to walk the wall and sometimes take a nap on it. They also sit up on the wall and hunt their prey from above.  The song “Summertime”, you know, where the Livin’ is easy , is anything but.  So right now I’m just going to relax for a while and enjoy all the spring blooms and plan to do the work later.

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The Garden

Author Claire Collins- Books available from Second Wind Publishing- “Fate and Destiny” and “Images of Betrayal”

The house was perfect. The stately Victorian sat on a hill, the long driveway curving up through the tree, exposing the house only after the last turn. The Virginia countryside surrounded the house, slowly giving way to the growing town only a mile or so from the ten acres where the beautiful building dwelled.

If all of that wasn’t enough, the yard in front was a lush green lawn and stands of trees, but the back of the house contained a fall of patios, bringing the path from the house down the hill and each patio contained deep thick gardens. Upon seeing the layers of bright flowers and vines, Sandy Martinez knew this was the home for her. Her green thumb twitched in anticipation as she placed her offer with the realtor, and the urge to tend the gardens and plant new ones. The urge grew more insistent when the old couple that owned the house accepted her ridiculously low first offer.

On moving day, Sandy stood in the driveway while the moving company began unloading her belongings and dropping them throughout various rooms of the house. Her twelve-year-old son Freddy and his dog Muzzy ran circles in the yard, happy to be free from the car after the long drive from Wilmington. Sandy soaked in every inch of the façade of the house. The pale peach shutters locked tight against the soft gray siding, the deep copper of the multi-tiered roof tiles, and the bright flowers planted in deep boxes along the front of the house.

The front room would be perfect to display the flower arrangements Sandy planned to sell as part of relocating her party decorating business. The tiny town was only about an hour from Richmond, and Sandy already made some good contacts with party planners to get her foot in the door. Life was good.

A year later, Sandy’s business was thriving, mostly due to the beautiful flowers grown in her gardens that adorned the arrangements she created. There was only one spot three feet wide and about five feet long in the third tier down that refused to sprout anything. The ground remained barren despite the specialized fertilizers and tender care she lavished. Among all of the bright colors and greenery, the one lone spot looked out of place and lacking.

One day, she tended the flowers in the front boxes when her neighbor, Mrs. Bixley came to visit. The old widow was a pest, constantly nagging about Muzzy barking or Freddy’s baseball landing on her lawn. Sandy saw her coming out of the corner of her eye, but she didn’t bother to stop digging with her trowel until Mrs. Bixley stalked right up to her and blocked the sun.

“Good Morning, Mrs. Bixley,” Sandy faked cheer at seeing her neighbor. “How are you today?”

 “Working on your flowers again I see. That’s all the last man who lived here did. His wife sat in the house all day while he was out here digging in the dirt. I must say though, before he moved in, nothing would grow out here. At least you aren’t letting the property values decline by letting it go to seed.”

Sandy smiled as she looked up to see her neighbor. Maybe this visit would let them be friends. “Well, I’m glad you like the flowers. I will cut some and bring them over to you.”

“Hmph. Flowers are a silly waste of time. You should just put in plastic ones like I did.” The old lady eyed Sandy up and down before gesturing down the driveway with her cane. “Anyway, I didn’t come over here to socialize. That boy of yours and that hoodlum across the lane were taking apples from the tree in my yard this morning. I’m calling that school and telling them to move the bus stop from in front of my house.”

Sandy stood and stretched, using the back of her gardening glove to wipe the perspiration from her brow. 

“I do apologize for the boys’ behavior, Mrs. Bixley. I will talk to Freddy and tell him not to touch the apples or come into your yard. I will talk to Jeff’s mom too.”

The old lady didn’t seem pleased by her answer. “Like that will do any good. I’ve had to come over here with my bad knee aching too many times now. If you can’t control that little terror of yours, then I will call the police and have him arrested for trespassing!”

Sandy smiled through her gritted teeth. “That really won’t be necessary Mrs. Bixley.”

“I’ll decide what’s necessary. You just keep that boy under control.”

With one last shake of her cane, Mrs. Bixley toddled back across the lawn and through the shrubs to her adjoining property.

Sandy finished in the front box, but her anger didn’t subside. She decided to work through it and returned to the empty spot in the third tier. With relish, she dug along the edge of the patch, only realizing she dug too deep when she saw the roots of the flowers.

“Damn,” she muttered. “I hope I didn’t hurt those roots.” She put her hand down to feel how deep the roots went and how damaged they might be. Her fingers brushed something hard under the tips of the roots. The confrontation with Mrs. Bixley shoved to the back of her mind, Sandy dug around a little deeper and pulled on the object. It didn’t readily come free from the hold of the earth. She used the trowel to dig around and under the rounded mass in the dirt under the flowers. Enough dirt was finally scraped away for the mystery in the ground to begin to wiggle. Sandy used her hands and moved the soft soil from under it until it came loose. With a satisfied smile, she pulled it free from the ground and looked at her discovery.

It looked back.

Eye sockets with meat still clinging to it stared at her, the teeth giving a ghoulish eternal grin. The skull slipped from her shaking hands as she shot to her feet. She scanned the tiers of gardens and her eyes came back to rest on the bare patch under her feet. She had dug deeply in this spot many times trying to get things to grow. Ignoring the skull, she took her shovel to the hole under the roots where she made her discovery and she started digging. She dug all along the edge and then around each tier. After she had carefully dug under the roots of her wonderful flowers in the backyard, she moved around to the boxes in the front.

Like every layer of the back tiers, the front flower boxes contained bodies. The ones in the front were nothing more than skeletons. They seemed to be the oldest. The first tier in the back contained the next round of bodies and the bottom tier leading into the woods held the most recent bodies. Many of those flower beds contained forms that looked remarkably like people. Exhausted, Sandy returned to the bare patch, her shovel in one hand and her sun hat in the other. She smoothed loose strands of hair back from her face and surveyed the garden. It was so beautiful, the source of her success. She needed to call the police. She cringed when she thought of all of those people trampling through her gardens.

She brought the back of her gloved hand to her mouth to stifle her sob as she realized they would have to dig all of them up. Her entire garden would be ruined along with her income. She would lose not only the gardens, but her home. She sunk to her knees, the original skull she uncovered glared at her accusingly.

She rolled it back into the hole from where it came. The thought occurred to her that the bodies acted as a natural fertilizer to get the flowers to grow. There was no body under the section where she sat. That’s why nothing would grow there. She had about three hours before Freddy came home from school. There was plenty of time.

Sandy set to work covering all of the exposed bodies, glad that Muzzy stayed clear of the garden. Within an hour, all of the bodies were safely covered, the remains continuing to feed the thriving flowers. Satisfied that her business would not be forced to close, Sandy leaned on her shovel and looked around the garden. It was beautiful again. The momentary pang of guilt passed quickly, after all, the people were already dead, and she didn’t kill them. She could pretend she never knew they were there.

Back where she started in the barren plot, she shifted the dirt with the toe of her sneaker. Nothing would grow there. The rest of the gardens fed off the natural fertilizer provided by the prior owner of the property. The old man was the murderer, not her. Nothing would grow there.

Another thought occurred to her. Maybe something would grow if it had the right nutrients.

She hefted the shovel onto her shoulder and walked around to the front of the house and across the yard between the shrubs to the neighboring property.

 

            A year later, Sandy was still successful. Her business was booming and the demand for her flowers was at maximum capacity for what she could produce. Her gardens were lush and full with no bare spots. She planned to clear a patch at the bottom of the tiers and add more gardens. All she needed was the right fertilizer.

 

 

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