July colour in the arboretum

You can see them clearly from the house, although in the photograph it takes a little imagination; behind the white stems of the tall gum trees two Camellia ‘Donation’ proudly sport a crop of pure pink flowers, and other, shyer, camellias flaunt their shiny evergreen foliage. Go closer and you will find there too are flowers. So near to the water it really is too cold for them. But after 15 plus years the camellias stand taller and throw protective shadows against the frost.  With the exception of one night four weeks ago, which was one of the four coldest nights I’ve ever known here, winter has been mild so far, and the camellias are happy. And that means they are flowering. So up into the arboretum we have been going to admire them.

camellia donation

‘Donation’ demands a group pose; the other want portraits.

Camellia 1

camellia 2

camellia 3

And then the boys pick up a huge flower fallen from a tree and bring it to show me…

camellia 4

But after weeks of collecting beautiful autumn leaves and stacking them up, one on top of the other, a red one, a yellow one, a multi-coloured one, and sending me home with a sheaf of leaves to spread in the blue plate on the table (their idea, not mine), presenting me with one found flower is apparently not enough. So:

Creating camellia 1

An azalea gets picked and added. And my enthusiastic response leads to a new game…

Creating camellia 2

Soon enough leaves get added to the confection – I’m only showing you some of their trophies.

Creating camellia 3

Creating camellia 4

And still the flower grows…

Creating camellia 5

But eventually we leave it ceremoniously on a rock, a funeral spray for a lost autumn.

Creating camellia 6


Aloes in the early light

Aloe saponaria is one of the few aloes that positively thrives in our cold climate, suckering happily and flowering freely. Over the years the bed in front of the stoep has twice been thinned. This week the winter clean-up in the garden started, and the dark seed heads which featured in the foreground in my previous post have gone. And still the last autumn leaves linger…

Aloe saponaria


Checking on font changes, I play some more with my new theme -

Oak leaf hydrangea

The Oak-leaved Hydrangeas turn late, and this year they are spectacular. Below, one provides background to the self-sown rose which draped itself across a Rosemary in the Rosemary Borders. Its leaves are turning bright yellow and the first bud is showing colour. I suspect it might be seedling from the Musk Rose ‘Mozart’, which last year carried copious quantities of tiny heps. In fact, said heps featured in the first photo of a post from last year this time:

self-sown rose in the Rosemary Borders

Here are archive photos of Herr Mozart – he has slightly larger and darker flowers than the better know Ballerina, and forms an arching creeper rather than her compact twiggy shrub – first the flower and then last year’s heps.



The Water Oak on Freddie’s Dam still has a few leaves; one in the arboretum though glows with more than half the leaves still in place. The House that Jack Built is just to the right of this shot; a lovely place to sit out in any season!

Seating under the water oak


The axis and the big lawn

An accidental press of a button – and I accepted a new theme instead of returning to my original. And my original is discontinued, so I could not return there. So here I am: willy-nilly, I’ve had a make-over!

 Autumn rose foliage

I have enlarged the photos in my previous post to fit better – over time I will backtrack and change more older posts. For now I’m seeing what on earth the effect is, using the photos I had not used for my previous post. The first, taken from the steps at the top of the axis, takes in Alfred’s arches and the water spout as well as the view across the big lawn; the next is a detail of autumn rose foliage. After the extremely cold night two weeks back ‘Isfahan’ has turned beautifully; below is a wintery view towards the visitors’ parking and entry. On the left beyond the trees the visitors’ information board can be seen. Lastly, a shot towards the water across the Upper Rosemary Border.

Visitors' Entrance

Looking across the Rosemary Borders


According to Wikipedia, exactly 31 hours from now, at 10h51 GMT on 21 June 2014,  the earth will wiggle a little (I imagine) as it starts to swing back on its axis. The solstice will have come and gone. But the seasons are slow learners. I have never understood why those in the North claim that spring is over and summer has arrived on this day. But I do know that (comparatively) short as our winter might be, it is not yet the middle of winter. In fact, one might say that it is the beginning of winter, and that all we’ve had to date is a warning or two… From now through to early August frost will be the rule, not the exception, at Sequoia Gardens.

Looking upstream from the Makou Dam

Click on this photo to see it full size. Frustrated by the small photos on my blog, I recently played with other themes. But two things held me back: I use a discontinued theme, which means I can’t go back to this one if I chose one that messes up past posts. And I frankly don’t have the time to prioritise fine-tuning the change. Oh, there’s a third: in the coming months I will be writing the final chapters in this blog. Will I be blogging once I’ve left Sequoia? I don’t know. Perhaps I will. I certainly find it very satisfying.

Maidenhair Fern below Makou Dam

Yesterday, after taking the above panorama, we turned down along the overflow from the Makou Dam, where the boys, I kid you not, took off their shoes and played in the icy water and I took this shot of a maidenhair fern. It is the one part of the garden where it is damp and dark enough for them to seed themselves.

a motorbike

a chainsaw

a horse

Then we climbed up towards the fire break were the boys found yet another toy to add to their imaginative collection: a motorbike. Below that, from earlier walks this week – a chainsaw and a horse! And then we made our way back over Freddie’s Dam, where once again the wind and the sun made for sparkling water.

From Freddie's Dam


Tonight’s pics are a few days old – and here is the reason why:

bougainvillea at The Ranch Hotel

I have been away at the annual Rotary District Conference at The Ranch Hotel near Polokwane, some 80km away. Their lovely gardens too were hit by the recent extreme cold, but this pot which we all walked past at least twice a day was pretty well protected. It stands next to a functional but featureless path (at this point) where it skirts a building, and is one of the most effective examples of simple but striking design I’ve seen. It is a bougainvillea, a woody creeper, grown to tumble gently out of a huge rounded pot, over one meter  in diameter and almost a meter high. It flowers for many months and reminded me of nothing as much as the magnificently trained roses at Sissinghurst: ultimate artifice appearing artless. (For a spectacularly beautiful series of  8 photographic posts on Sissinghurst, visit my friend Tatyana’s blog posts at )

Barbed grasses Barbed grass

Do you know that moment on a walk when you can’t resist hauling out your camera, and after that it becomes a photography walk? This was it. On a warm afternoon nearly a week after a severe frost turned autumn to winter, these grass seeds caught my eye and set the tone for the rest of the photoshoot…

End of a dandelion

frosted bracken

Frosted Bracken

Little yellow daisy weed

Frosted creeper

Vernonia in seed

Rough grass seed

Old Gold Everlastings

Yellow everlastings turned to old gold by the cold.

Fallen leaves

Grassy measdow

Zinnias after frost

Zinnias and marigolds

Marigold in winter

Wilted aloe

Mushy aloes, and below – the hydrangeas in front of the old barn: I do like the clarity of our seasons!

Winter view of the old barn


frosted hydrangeas

It is winter, but with the typical blue blue skies and wind-still days which make most of our winters so lovely. In the morning the frost lies white and after switching on the kettle, I light the fire. These are the very same hydrangeas seen in my previous post, three days later.

self-sown rose survives heavy frost

However the self-sown rose seems none the worse, and I’m hoping the buds will still open. And then for the past five days an interesting but potentially rather unwelcome visitor has been lurking down by the water – a young bull. Somewhere someone must be very unhappy, but calls to the police and various neighbours have led nowhere to date. However this is Africa and the bush telegraph will eventually do what needs to be done, and hopefully my garden will suffer little more than a few soft pats.

Unexpected visitor



Winter is here. For days we have had scary weather forecast for the end of the week. On Thursday afternoon a hot berg wind – strong winds from high altitudes towards the sea – started blowing. Berg winds blow ahead of cold fronts, but mostly we are too far north to have such a textbook arrival of the cold. I have been in Grahamstown, close to the southern coast of Africa, when the berg winds have whipped the temperature up to 36 degrees Celsius, a sign that a massive cold front is following. And then seen it plunge in half an hour at midday to 14 degrees. When I went out at 10 last night the wind has died down and it was remarkably warm. By 2 I was aware of wind and I knew this would be the cold one. So when I went out at 6.10 this morning to take Alpha and Beta (as I refer to my foreman’s sons here) to the bus, I was dressed for real cold.

Swamp cypress on the makou dam

In fact it was not nearly as bad as I’d expected and the day could at most be described as bracing. But I guess tonight we will see a real frost… Mid-afternoon the boys and I went for a walk. After taking the top photo and hitting the cold shadows across the dam, we decided to double back to the sunny side of the valley.

Porcupine damage to the cannas

And so I came to notice for the first time how extensive the recent damage to the cannas is… Early this summer the porcupines after 20 years discovered they liked cannas. We started fencing the canna beds with shade netting and that seemed to put them off. But we ran out of shade netting and this end of the largest bed was never completed. In the last days – perhaps as other food became scarcer – they returned to the cannas. Sad smileFrost tonight will most likely shrivel the plants, but not their tubers. Will this be enough to chase off the porcupines or will they return with renewed relish now that there will be even less to eat? Luckily they are messy eaters and leave enough behind to regrow, but I fear our stock is more than a little depleted. Here they are in all their glory last summer -


Thus is the nature of gardening with rather than against nature.

Boys at play, Oak ave

A strange, fractured shot (because it was an on-camera panorama) of the boys at play along Oak Avenue captures the sunny, wintery nature of the walk. At 8pm tonight the outside temp was –1; that is remarkably low for so early at night, and considering that the lowest measurement of the season to date was +1. An at this point I shall prepare for bed, for at 6am I must depart for a Rotary function 150km away…

frost 140607

Saturday afternoon. When I left this morning it was –5 degrees. This is what I came home to; these New Guinea impatiens,  frost haters, were  standing up against the house walls well in on the veranda. The aloes that were coming along so beautifully hang shrivelled – see their recurring story in ‘Death of a drama queen’ from two years and one week ago. Let us return to earlier joys…

THtJB across the dam

Although it might look wintery in this shot from Thursday’s walk, it was still warm enough for the boys, in T-shirts, to wade into the stream to play. And of course Beta got water into the top of his gumboots. I’m certain his mother cussed when he got home…

Boys at play in the water

It was a bittersweet walk, the boys still excitedly picking up beautiful autumn leaves and playing happy games, whilst I contemplated the fact that I was on my last autumn walk through my gardens, knowing that within hours winter would set in.

Here is Alpha holding two leaves of the spectacular red plane – a tree I discovered as a sapling in a nursery many autumns ago, bearing red not yellow leaves. It has given us great joy, starting to turn in mid-Feb and some years holding onto its last few leaves right through to mid July!  I am pleased to say we have propagated successful cuttings from it, and one will go with me into my new life when we move from Sequoia Gardens in the months ahead.
Alpha with red plane leaves

The garden constantly surprises me. Only a few weeks back I discovered a self-sown (or rather bird-sown) rose in the Upper Rosemary Border, arching out over a shrub. Then I discovered that it was in bud – out of season, perhaps, because it was a chanceling, valiantly proving its right to life?  Here it is on Thursday, with an oak-leaved hydrangea in the background. I must check tomorrow if the bud – visible at the bottom of the photo – survived the cold.

Self sown rose in the Rosemary Border

Foraging into the back of beds and in under trees, I found, at the far end of Oak Avenue, some beautiful autumnal hydrangeas – and one solitary fresh bloom on the powder blue plant. Ah, for blue among the russets!

Late blue hydrangea

Wine and mint hydrangea

End of season hydrangea colours

To end this end-of-autumn post, I’d like to pay tribute to one of the great performers of late autumn – the always cheerful Chinese Maple. Here’s to a good winter: cold enough to kill off the bugs; predictable enough to not confuse too many plants; long enough to prevent an ominously early spring; and over before we grow too tired of it.

Chinese maples