June 30, 2012
What does winter offer today, I ask, as I set off on a walk with the dogs, and the answer comes: colours of the most amazing subtlety. Here then is a selection.
Setting the scene, the late sun through the Upper Rosemary Border shows up greens – pale and limey or dark; shades of grey; browns, mainly rich, even reddish; bleached straw; and the cold blue shadows.
This Leonitus ocynifolia has featured before, in summer and in winter – interestingly in a much more colourful post after rain, exactly two years ago. Today it is the contrast between the shaded background and sunlit foreground which intrigues me.
The bench at the top end of the Makou Dam will feature a few times now.
Here it is again across the water.
I had never thought of pearl as a winter colour before.
I love the reflection of the winter trees showing up the twigs.
Looking back from the furthest end of the Beech Axis – in summer these hydrangeas are brilliant blue. The strong contrast in the light turns the Beech Borders into a featureless abstract where even I, who know what I’m looking at, can recognise little.
But I do find this feature, one of the simplest in my gardens, very effective no matter the season or the light. Yet, to my surprise I find I don’t have a single good post on it where one can see the effect of the design in summer. There are so-so pics hidden in long posts here.
This is a view I’ve not shared before. Were it not that I’m tiring of the blue light, I would rather like this shot. It is taken in the woodland around the overflow of Freddie’s Dam. At the end of this stretch there is a little bridge before the path splits and curves.
Just above the bridge the water cascades into a pool, and from there the course is relatively level as it returns to the bottom of the valley.
A touch more colour at last, but the frost-bleached heads of the hydrangeas really do not photograph well in the cold blue light.
I love the steps that lead up from the curved bridge over the outlet at Freddie’s Dam in their sombre winter garb.
All over the garden piles of brushwood await mulching, and we have yet to do this year’s pruning… I need to arrange the mulching soon!
For several years now the view of The House that Jack Built from the Carpet Garden has been obscured by the red Japanese Maple. This winter we will lift the canopy, so that the reflection at least is visible from here.
A cornucopia of compost… except that it is not compost, but leafmould. Last year’s supply has been moved out and awaits distribution, whilst the yellow leaves of the snake-bark maple continued to fall once the clearing and gathering had been done.
A silver-green twig, fallen from a Mexican Oak – Quercus mexicana.
The darkest of our Japanese Maples, and beyond it the fallen leaves of a Swamp Cypress colour the ground.
The autumn colours drained away, the Red Plane still contributes to the winter palette.
And a last shaft of sunlight falls across a carpet of oak leaves
This bench looks across Quercus Corner, my dad’s collection of oak trees at the furthest end of the garden.
Nearby is another feature I don’t think I’ve ever commented on: an unusual asymmetrical cone formed with Abelia hedges marks the entrance to the Old Fountain Garden which lies between Quercus Corner and the lowest of the plantations.
A cottage across a meadow…
And to conclude – a photo that sums up the topic rather well: winter palette
June 27, 2012
The pedant in me questioned the word ‘buffaloes’ with which I ended my last post. As usual the net came to the rescue – here is wiki-answers’ take on it. The pedant bowed to the poet and ‘buffalo’ prevailed…
So… Our fourth and last game drive; we leave camp before sunrise on Sunday. It is beautiful. And in the open vehicle, despite the very low speeds, it is downright icy.
We drive for quite a while and see little that is particularly exciting, but the bushveld is beautiful in the early light, and we all enjoy that.
From conversations on the radio and on meeting another vehicle I gather, from where I am sitting in the back row, that we are planning to meet up with a very large herd of buffalo making their way to the water.
Eventually we come upon a few buffalo. To me the bushveld as a whole is still the more interesting to look at…
Gradually we realise how many there are around us – and, when quietly grazing, how much like cattle they behave and sound.
As we quietly watch their slow movement, someone comments on how it seems they all have different personalities – some placid, some grumpy, some dowdy and some grand. But make no mistake: a buffalo is one of the most dangerous animals of the African bush, especially a lone old bull – for they look and act as though they have a hangover and would like to blame life for it…
We move on, towards the water where they are obviously heading, and on the way stop for the umpteenth time to admire the grace and beauty of the most common of all the bushveld animals – the impala.
We drive to the dam towards which the buffalo are heading and stop for coffee and rusks. There is a nifty fold-out table around which we gather before moving off, steaming mug in hand, to admire the view. At night we have drinks served from this table as we watch night descend on the bush. The tracker’s seat is beyond the table, now with its backrest down; it is possible for him to look right down at the tracks beneath him. In the dead tree beyond there are communal weaver nests.
Another view of the game-drive vehicle with its four rows of seats, each higher than the one in front of it. These vehicles have come a long way since the first ones I saw – Land-Rovers way past their sell-by date with the coachwork chopped off and rickety grandstands attached any old how… They are now delivered off the shelf, having been adapted from brand-new bakkies (trucks/utes) by specialist coachbuilders. But lets move on to the opposite side of the dam, because from the many oxpeckers in the air – the birds that follow the buffalo and clean them of ticks and other parasites – it is clear that the buffalo are approaching the water.
You’d be forgiven if you can’t see the leading buffalo in this picture, but the three resident hippos have all surfaced and their ears and eyes are trained on the approaching rumble. Unthreatening as the experience might be, in nature being observant is everything…
Then the first ones arrive. I was looking to see: would it be a matriarch? A dominant bull? But it seemed to be a gentle rolling over, a speeding up as the water was reached, pockets of activity as youngsters gambolled, planless and shapeless as the great plan of nature so often appears to be…
And still they keep coming, spreading out along the water, sudden rolls of activity in the grass beyond, but mostly just a steady movement.
Although the water does seem to induce a rather unsubtle friskiness in the bulls, which the cows strangely don’t seem to appreciate and which the humans, equally strangely, find fascinating…
And still they stream towards the water, more and more…
…and the humans count and quantify amongst themselves: “There must be a thousand!” “No, surely not that many?” “Count a section and extrapolate…”
For, unlike the buffalo at the water, we seem to battle to quietly, contentedly, observantly, just to BE.
June 24, 2012
This is a gardening blog, after all. So allow me a slight diversion between leopards and lions. This is an impala lily (Adenium multiflorum) – one of the PRETTIEST flowers you can imagine: it grows on leafless succulent stems that can form a largish shrub, and in winter, when all around shades of grey, tawny, taupe and chaff dominate, they are as incongruous as any flower can possibly be. I never cease to be taken by total surprise when I see them…
After the impala lily even this must be an anti-climax. It is, I strongly suspect, Dicerocaryum senecioides. A beautiful foxglove-like flower, it seems to lie stemless amongst dry grasses in harsh climates. I have seen it on the Limpopo and in Namibia and again at Djuma. But don’t be deceived: its common name is Devil Thorn, for its horrid seed-capsule that can penetrate a too thin sole, and immersed in water the trailing stems forms a slimy mess that can be used as a rather yucky soap substitute.
You want to see the lions? Here they are.
After we saw the leopard, dusk soon turned to dark, as happens in Africa – even when you are over 100km south of the Tropic of Capricorn. But before dark we got the message: a pride of lions was lying right by the side of the road, waiting before starting on the hunt. We found them where they lay patiently and stopped within meters of them. There were nine of them. They ignored us; we might as well not have been there.
Then a large female – the alpha female? – got up and walked in front of the vehicle, standing as if at attention, her massively strong forequarters on display, seeming to sense the night air and the action plan for the hunt. She turned and returned to the group. And then an eerie thing happened. Quietly, one by one, the lions got up and moved past the vehicle, a mere meter behind it and set off to our left. I didn’t dare move – no-one did. I don’t think we breathed as one by one they passed by us, paying no attention to us. But each as it passed left me with a sense of relief: I was not to be this night’s supper.
Oops. Not this one’s either.
Nor this last ones… (breathe)
And then, feeling like intruders, we followed them a little way as they walked single file down a narrow track, but we never got to see the hunt itself…
Next: a bounty of buffaloes
June 24, 2012
Posted by sequoiagardens under Autumn colour
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On a wintery walk, some leaves catch my eye. I look up. The red plane (read more about it here) is bare. Well it is 21 June after all, mid-winter’s day… And I’ve always said that its season lasts from mid-Feb to mid-June. So I’m not complaining!
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June 22, 2012
“What would you like to see?” Ephraim, the Game Ranger and driver of the game-viewing vehicle – about which I will tell our overseas visitors more in due course – asked, as we stood at the vehicle before our first drive late on Friday afternoon. We chimed a series of requests, but I’m pretty certain leopard headed the list. He and Amos, the tracker, who sits on a seat right on the front of the vehicle from where he can survey the spoor, glanced at each other. Less than 5 minutes later, scarcely out of the camp, we drove 100m off the road and they pointed one out to us. They had clearly done a bit of homework before the drive! You can’t see it? Neither could I! I was looking for movement way off in the distance. Here he is:
Only meters away from us, he was so well camouflaged, stretched out asleep on the short grass, that I mistook him for a stump as I scanned the depth between the bushes.
Immediately we teased Ephraim: he was dead and stuffed, put out as a first welcome to guests. No, look at his tail twitching. He was staked to the ground. No, this was for real.
We had just been incredibly lucky!
Off we drove – and I include only one further highlight from that first evening’s drive. It was quite dark, and Amos held a powerful hand-lamp. Suddenly a rhinoceros came out of the bushes to our right, moved down the road some meters and crossed into the dark on the left. I managed this rather atmospheric shot.
The next evening we elected to start with a walk near the camp – that is when I photographed the first of my tree shots in the first of my Djuma posts. But then we got the message on the radio – a leopard had been spotted not too far away. And so the vehicle came to pick us up to go find it…
Notice that Amos is sitting inside as we connect with the leopard in dense bush, in the sun straight ahead … We learnt about a ‘bush GPS’ here: put your vehicle into neutral and rev it, so that another vehicle can pinpoint where you are! (That evening we used the night version so that another vehicle could find the lions we were following: shine the search-light up into the sky. The communication between rangers, often so unobtrusive that visitors are not aware of it, is part of the bush experience. All animals move freely over thousands of hectares and any encounter is based as much on luck as on tracking skills and communication. But the good ranger ‘finds the story’ and creates the drama of the encounter. And Ephraim and Amos were an excellent combo!)
The leopard played her part too, climbing up on to an anthill to survey the terrain, ignoring the two vehicles flanking her. In time they realise that the vehicles prove no threat. But don’t think of climbing down or even changing the silhouette of the vehicle by standing up when close to most animals… She is the mother, we hear, of the young male we saw the previous day. These rangers know their animals!
Thank you, Ma’am; we could hardly have posed you better if we’d done it ourselves!
The pleasure, my dear man, is mine. (Actually I wish they’d scram and leave me to my hunting! But a girl’s got to wave her tail to the populace…)
Now, if you’d excuse me… I do have other commitments.
And off she goes… But this royal loves the paparazzi, for she finds another opportunity to pose, first scratching hear head seductively against the tree-trunk, before hopping up on to it, the lighting and camera angle always in the back of her mind.
Right. I think we have our story. CUT!
Go check the webcam at Djuma if you have not yet done so… besides the interesting views of wild animals (I watched a buffalo scratching itself on a stump earlier), when the camera swings to the left you might recognise the view of the boma I wrote about yesterday…
POSTSCRIPT: Do take a look at the comments – my gardening friend Bonnie in Texas who I have corresponded with over several years, recognised the leopard as Karula and we talk about her some more in the comments. As I say there: small world – in which Djuma obviously plays an inordinately large part!!
June 21, 2012
I had rather ignored the three-story tower in the camp at Djuma where we were staying; the view from the deck and the boma was expansive and open and the tower nestling into the trees to one side didn’t seem to offer anything new.
You can see the structure here, as one of our party carries some snacks down to the boma, a round seating area around a fire pit. (The word is from Swahili and originally indicated a fortified village square or place were cattle were herded overnight – in the South African Game Lodge culture it always indicates an open gathering place around a fire.) The snapshot below gives some idea.
However I am getting side-tracked into semantics… Perhaps I should start with an indication of where we were: here! The link takes you to the remarkably responsive live webcam at the waterhole, positioned in the tree which just breaks into the right-hand frame of the above photo. The rest of the Djuma webpage is only a click away from the camera… One last shot before I return to the monkeys, taken across Louis and my personal plunge pool outside our suite. The suites are spread out along a path through the bush, so that you have complete privacy whilst showering in your outside shower; something which can be done easily here in mid-winter; although we decided not to use the pool!
OK – one last one before we return to the monkeys: taken in the boma by our hostess, yours truly on the left, camera in hand…
And on to the other primates… The view from the tower was no better after all. But soon I could photograph a Redbilled Hornbill sitting in the dead tree near me.
And across in a combretum tree, sunning her belly in the last sun, a monkey was chewing away at its seeds.
At which point I swung around to take these photos. Monkeys are naturally inquisitive, and as happens so easily around human habitation, they have learnt that there is food to be stolen from the serving area which is open in many directions. And they have learnt to be as curious about human behaviour as humans are about theirs.
And so there they were, peering at me across the canvas sunshades of the tower, scampering through the trees surrounding it.
Especially with the two youngest it became a game of hide-and-seek; they would pop up unexpectedly and I would point and shoot, poor focus often being a function of movement – theirs and swinging the camera – rather than shutter speed.
As the game intensifies I move onto the stairs and capture these two shots split seconds apart as a monkey moves onto the upper deck I have just vacated.
Finally… shall we call it stalemate? I’ve got you in sight and you’ve got me…
These are Vervet Monkeys, Cercopithecus aethiops, although zoologists aren’t nearly as set on scientific nomenclature as we are. They are the most common monkey in Southern Africa, often looked on as vermin because of the ease with which they learn to deal with human habitation and the damage they can do to fruit and vegetable crops. They are found all along East Africa up into Ethiopia.
June 20, 2012
If there is one artist who can be said to have captured the psyche of South Africans’ love of their land, it must be Pierneef. Many people who could not name you one other artist will recognise his extensive landscapes, which often add a strong Art Deco element to the self-conscious way in which he distilled the literally millions of magnificent compositions, turning painting after painting into an iconic composition; compositions I found myself snapping away at on our recent visit to the Bushveld.
I have chosen one of the thirteen tree compositions I set aside among the 80 best photos – 25% of the weekend’s takings – to illustrate this. There is a vast amount of info out there on Pierneef, and I include a link to photographs of his work on auction here . And just for the hell of it, I played around with a painterly effect on the above photo…
One can see an Art Deco influence in the above painting. Possibly his most famous paintings move away from the impressionist- realism so beloved by South Africans and artists of his generation. Below is a very poor reproduction – the best I could find on the net – of his “Study in Blue”: the title already illustrates how far we have moved from popular realism.
We had a most wonderful time, staying in a lodge deep in the bush on which a journalist friend is doing an article; on our game drives we saw lions, leopards, a vast herd of buffalo and many other animals, besides the wonderful trees… Over the next weeks I hope to share some of this with you!
June 12, 2012
Early on a coldest-to-date morning last week. I look out of the guest room window to see how the aloes are doing. Ohoh… The drama queen, the hater of frost, is doing a Sarah Bernhardt on us, a slow languid collapse into a dramatic death. In the 23 years since the house was built and the aloes planted here, we have had three seasons in which they all flowered fully. Yet year after year we hope. The last few years have been particularly cruel, with the edges of some leaves also turning mushy before drying to hard brown scar tissue.
Sarah Bernhardt is always the first to complain – perhaps because she starts off with flower trusses held on the horizontal. She is Aloe marlohtii, and most dramatic and statuesque of all South African aloes. (Says I, possibly a little parochially…)
This aloe, with its tall dense candelabra which turn to yellow as they open should be easy to identify, as few such flowerers can survive even light frost. It might be a hybrid of Aloe spectabilis, which has heavier leaves and less elegant flower trusses. Whatever it is, its beauty is often obvious before the frost gets to it.
Aloe arborescens is a local which forms a branching trunk. Last year we thinned the branches and this year the rosettes of leaves look better and the plants are flowering prolifically. It takes a substantial frost to damage this one – and as it is an early flowerer, it has given quite a show normally before that happens.
But back to our drama queen… She staggers around the stage for a few more days, lifting her head just sufficiently to check if she’s getting the attention she thinks she deserves. Then a colder night plunges the knife once more and leaves even her companions darkened and weak-kneed.
Finally last night the temperature fell to minus three degrees Celsius… Even some of the arborescens flowers succumbed.
The other aloes are all on their way out. And the great Sarah Bernhardt, shrivelled and insignificant in death, is difficult to picture in her role as the grand dame of them all…
June 9, 2012
Besides… It was warmer here by far than in the UK at the time…
(An experiment with a blackberry post)
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June 6, 2012
I am in Johannesburg, (or rather: I was when I compiled this on Saturday and Sunday) attending a trade expo and, much to my surprise, there is no free wi-fi to be had. So these last two posts, compiled in quiet times – of which there are too many – will have to wait till I am home for posting…
To get back into the spirit of things: some fingered end-of-autumn leaves!
The thick five fingered leaf of a plane tree is unmistakeable; it is more solid than any maple or liquidambar with which it might be confused. Usually they turn a rather pale yellow before browning and falling, but the reds in this leaf already indicate something unusual…
It is from my ‘red plane’! I found the tree in a rural wholesale nursery one autumn in the early nineties, sporting red leaves amongst a sea of yellow. I nonchalantly loaded it onto my trolley and looked for more. I think I selected four, but none were as red as this one. Only one of its brethren I can now identify for certain, and it has never proved itself unusual, but this tree… It shows the first signs of colour in mid-February. It is predominantly red, but there are strong yellow and even orange markings as well. And it drops its last leaves in mid-June. That is four months of autumn colour!
Here a selection of leaves lie on the grass below it…
Whilst I photograph the plane, Taubie plods off into the water under the nearby weeping flowering cherry. Only on studying the photo now do I realise how the graft has developed into an unsightly swelling as so often happens… to hide, or to o ignore? What does this pic achieve? Perhaps to show how lovely our days can be, even as winter approaches.
And here she is again in this season of fallen leaves…
This photo continues that theme.
As does this one, showing the bench under the beech at the top of the Beech Borders. Beyond, the bright buttery yellow of Acer davidii, one of the snake-bark maples, lies strewn across the slope.
Another view from a few meters on; Taubie snuffling among the azaleas and shrub roses of the Beech Borders, with berberis and the bare stems of the Japanese maples along the stream from the spring; I wrote about them a few posts back.
Lest she gets jealous, here again is Mateczka, in the arboretum with birches, an oak-leaved hydrangea and a particularly neat holly.
Since in our meanderings we’ve ended up back in the arboretum, here is another view. but let us get back to the water!
The view across Freddie’s Dam is always interesting, and always changing. By the way, clicking on photos will enlarge them!
This photo is the opposite view of the one above it, taken from under the yellow snake-bark maple in the centre of the above photo.
This time we are looking across the Makou Dam and the comments in my previous post about the shrubs in the Upper Rosemary Border come to mind.
Viburnum x bodnantiensis is a tall scruffy shrub at the best of times, lacking the grace and beauty of many viburnums. Like several relations it makes up for this with relatively inconspicuous but nicely scented flowers in winter. However it is a touch too cold for them here, and so a perfect cluster is hard to find. And quite frankly the scent does not appeal greatly to me. I guess I keep it for its snob value: it is quite rare and the link with the magnificent gardens at Bodnant in Wales is irresistible…
A plant that does give me a lot of joy I planted as Cotoneaster horizontalis. Especially now as it is covered in berries and autumn leaves it is a delight…
But the sheer height to which it has grown makes me wonder if this really is the plant I have…
I really enjoy this rather muddled view. The last blooms on Graham Stuart Thomas (which in South Africa is a ‘climber’ – most of Austin’s roses grow very leggy in our climate) stand out against a hazel. In the background the wisteria yellows on the pergola and a Japanese maple shows some colour. Watching over it all is the sentinel of Melaleuca ‘Johannesburg Gold’ which is always this warm yellow colour – the best yellow-leaved tree of all in our climate.
However this ubiquitous yellow conifer is not to be dismissed…
I end this post with the garden that has haunted me for how long? Fourteen months! The Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe. In this imperfect universe very little has happened here this past summer. Children arrive and hop from stump to stump, proving my basic assumption right. The water spout wets it rocks at the end of the Alfred’s Arches axis. Wild flowers (and weeds) have softened the setting. This last summer brought many changes in my life, but all were more demanding than I’d anticipated and I spent less time – and money - in the garden than ever. I can only hope that the coming year will bring the opportunity to spend time here…
PS: This morning I showed all these photos to my father, with whom I am staying during the expo. When he saw the date of the photos – 29 May 2012 – he told me that I took them 60 years to the day after he declared his love to my mother and they started going steady. As the love of trees – and the planting of them – very much started with my dad, I dedicate this post to him. And that makes this a perfect opportunity to share a photo he took of our valley one midwinter in the early 50s. It contains some wonderful details and some tantalising uncertainties.
To orientate you: the building to the left of centre is the stone barn. The tall gum trees to the left of it are those to the right of the big house today. I suspect the top of the big gum in the arboretum is showing above the curve of the grassy hill near the left of the photo. Only about half the current area was planted to pine, seed potatoes were the main crop, and pigs were kept in the old sties near where the house now is. The old main house, over to the right of the picture, is on the part of the farm that now belongs to my cousin.
My father’s vision and energy have changed the farm dramatically, especially over the last 30 years. The arboretum in particular will be his lasting monument. And remember that the tall gum was claimed by my mother as hers on their honeymoon. But if any spot on Sequoia is truly his, it is the avenue of sequoias that lead up to his dream house where I now live. So it seems appropriate to end this post with a photo sent to me by a couple who celebrated their wedding on Sequoia in April, of them setting off on life together from under this avenue…
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