July 31, 2012
I’m loving the winter colour in the Upper Rosemary Border. It was particularly noticeable after the slightest of drizzles a few nights back, the wet and the even light intensifying all colour. Unfortunately immeasurably little rain fell and we end July with a record 3 month period with absolutely no rain recorded. Two days, one in January and one in Feb, of over 100mm each (4 inches) have given a deceptively optimistic impression; without having counted I would say we have had less than 20% of the average number of rain days in the first 7 months of the year…
The next pic was taken early on a sunny morning when the pale trunks and branches of the big bluegums and the many naked trees in the arboretum caught my attention.
But what I really wish to share with you is a photo of the gate from Ellensgate, the house in Pretoria where my father grew up, which was recently posted on Facebook by a cousin; we have been having international chats about old family photos, not only family gatherings from our youth, but even pictures from our parents’ youth. One recent pic even led to over 100 comments as cousins chattered away across the continents and the years. Here is the photo of the gate:
And here is this very gate photographed for today’s post:
And thereby hangs a tale, one which has featured before, but never with the evidence attached as here! It is the story of how the Ellensgate Garden, the first of the ‘formal gardens’ I added on Sequoia, came to be; of how this gate was central to the development of all my thinking.
In fact I quite co-incidentally referred to the Ellensgate post as the first on my blog in my previous post, and gave you a link. At the risk of being repetitive I do so again, for I tell the story in great detail and with many picture accompaniments there. If you read it last week, then see this as a postscript. If you didn’t, then here it is again. And please take note that the gate was recently sanded down and oiled, and is looking very chipper again. (Oops; bad choice of word where wood is involved…)
July 26, 2012
Three years ago today I started this blog. I started in fact by cutting and pasting a three-year old post from www.mooseyscountrygarden.com where I still occasionally post, in the forums of which I served my blogging apprenticeship; Moosey’s is, I believe, still the best gardening writing on the net and I love reading her journals. It is worth taking a look at my first post, because it still does exactly what I intended it to do: it introduces you to the gardens at Sequoia.
Along the way I added a tab with maps of the garden, but the above is all you will find there… It is one of my dreams that have moved onto the backburner to have a really lovely map of the garden drawn, based on the above aerial view. You can see it in more detail by going to Google Earth; the coordinates are 23° 53’59.61″S 29° 56’57.34″E And if you slide the time back you can see how the garden has developed since 2001.
What was my objective back in July 2009 when I started this blog? Hmmm.
I had just spent my first 7 months gardening professionally again after leaving teaching. (In the late 90s I gardened professionally in Johannesburg.) It started with a bang on a huge project which fizzled dramatically and left me out of pocket the equivalent of 2 months teacher’s salary, which it took 3 months to get from the client. From there on I did some interesting stuff, but never really found it financially viable. I’ve looked at that first year’s posts at Moosey again: there are two non-descript pictures of work projects, the rest are still mainly about my garden. I started the blog to promote my ability as a gardener and garden designer. The second blog I had intended to start on my projects never happened. I have found my post at Mooseys, written when this blog was just 10 days old, explaining the need to have my own blog because I was now ‘writing with an agenda’. By the way – I pay tribute to Moosey in what I think is one of my best bits of writing EVER over here!
Within 6 weeks of starting the blog my mother took ill and I spent the next seven weeks nursing her intensively. It really was the death-knell for my professional gardening, although a few projects ticked over. In 2010 I returned to part time teaching and started developing the cottages on Sequoia Gardens as holiday accommodation.
This picture possibly represents the final ‘gardening’ done by my mother – she is studying the arboretum’s spring awakening through her binocs from her wheelchair. The stained glass panels either side of the front door represent Sequoia trees.
During the months after my mother’s death there was a state of transition as I moved out of my beloved home, now let to holiday-makers as The House that Jack Built – first into The Plett, which I temporarily rechristened Trailertrash Cottage, as the veranda was home to six dogs and their paraphernalia (of which the eldest two have passed on) as well as assorted brooms and bins. I had even fewer square meters than before and a complex work situation: it was during my year as Rotary president and I was still needing to use a drawing board from time to time. After a few months I moved into the Big House. My father decided that running two households at the age of 81 was really not necessary. Since then he has been in the guest suite when visiting on the farm.
One of my garden projects, creating a new shaded seating area in sub-tropical Tzaneen.
As the three cottages were set up for visitors, the focus on this blog as a marketing tool developed and I added the assortment of green tabs at the top of the page for those who wanted quick and easy info on visiting here.
Three places to stay
I’ve looked back at what I had to say when my blog was one year old: what I’ve not mentioned was the importance of blotanical.com (now moribund but not defunct) as a meeting place for garden bloggers. There in the earliest days of my blogging I met many people from across the world I consider gardening friends, and many of my earlier – and I think current – followers found me. The stats are interesting: almost 12700 visitors in that first year, and 113 the record number in a day; when my readership peaked in April this year I averaged 120 visits per day. I am heading for 52000 visitors and my record is 246 in one day. WordPress introduced a country-of-origin function in February this year. Besides showing me that there is hardly a country in the world from which I’ve not had a visitor, it has taught me that just under 50% of my visitors are from the USA, 25% from South Africa and 10% from the UK. So it is still very much a garden-blogger following, but there has been an encouraging growth of interest from South Africans – which I’d like to think will translate into ‘bums-in-beds’. Fact is that like the rest of the world we are feeling the economic pinch and tourism is a luxury industry…
Louis planting his ceremonial tree in the arboretum, 27/9/1997, nearly 15 years ago… It was my birthday and each member of the family planted a tree of their choice in this exciting new addition to the gardens. Louis’ was a liquidamber – and truth be told, of all the ceremonial trees it is today the most effective…
Around the time I was planning my move into the Big House, it started becoming clear that my partner, Louis, was too white, too male and too old: his contract at work at a theatre in Johannesburg would not be renewed. And with a sense of relief we started planning for his move to the farm towards the end of 2011. That in turn lead to the purchase of www.mountaingetaways.co.za, the local tourism marketing magazine and webpage, and thus the end of my teaching career. Back in the early 90s I had yet another career, as marketing manager of Interflora African Areas, the flower relay organisation. We had come full circle. When I first moved here permanently in 1999, I was pretty certain that I would build a career in tourism marketing… In April, realising that tourism internationally was going through a rather quiet period (to add to our local woes the access road to our valley is being rebuilt and there is at any given time at least two stop-goes in the area…) I was very pleased to be offered the marketing of www.warriors.co.za in South Africa, a local gap-year adventure program that I have been close to since its inception and in which I have a passionate belief.
Do you see why I say that I have never spent so little time in my garden, or as little money on it as this year? Thank heavens I have excellent staff now, and although there is creative work which has been neglected, the garden is looking neater and more cared for than ever before!
A rather random choice to illustrate the careful nurturing of the garden by my staff…
And thus we are here. It has been three years of new beginnings, cranking up of new ventures, huge expending of energy for (still) very slight returns, but three fascinating and exciting years none the less. One thing, however, has given me a sense of effort rewarded, and that has been this blog. May I feel the same about all my other ventures on their third birthdays!
July 21, 2012
That is 70 degrees Fahrenheit, not the days of my youth! Or, for the rest of the world: in the 20s Celsius. And had I been up at first light I could have told you if there was little or no frost on this perfect Saturday in winter; but I was not.
Early afternoon I set off to see what I could find to show you our winter colour at Sequoia. In fact we also set off to put flowers and wine in The House that Jack Built for a couple from sub-tropical Tzaneen who wanted a romantic breakaway with a fire tonight. We left pink camellias and white azaleas for them to find; but I did not photograph them.
Chaenomeles – japonica – always gives joy in late winter, and is just beginning its season. This very plant flowered with the wisteria last year and I hope it will last as long again.
Australian native, Grevillea, also has a long season starting in winter. Because the sunbirds (our version of hummingbirds) love them, I have planted many more during the last years, including one in front of our bedroom window. They are not showy (though might seem so in this close-up), but they are easy and dependable.
Nandina can always be relied on to provide a show in winter – older plants mainly with their berries and young ones with more spectacular leaf displays, which strictly is simply very late autumn display.
Other leaves also impress: one of our local shrubs I have never identified. We simply refer to ‘the little wild shrub with the occasional orange leaf’. But at this time of year they are more than occasionally orange…
One year I realised that there were a number of yellow-leaved eucalyptus seedlings growing at a spot along our road. I dug up several, but only one survived. I coppice it every two years to keep it under 4m, and every winter it obliges with its orangey-yellow leaves, which then, like many conifers, turn back to green in the warmer weather. I find it interesting that this broadleaf, which also behaves so much like a conifer in other ways with its quick upright growth, should do this. I know of no others than those from this little patch. Anyone else ever come across something like it?
Time for a diversion. When I went into the greenhouse to close up later this afternoon I remembered that there were a few shots I wanted to take there…
If there is a symbol of the difference having a place I can keep – through insulation only – over 5 degrees, it is the fact that the fuchsias are blooming in July…
Sweetpeas planted into tall pots will be transferred into the Upper Rosemary Border come the Haenertsburg Spring Festival end September to add colour from more than just the ubiquitous azaleas and flowering cherries. Hold thumbs for this one!
And then there is this ‘hanging basket cactus’ which a friend gave me; one of the most common plants of its kind in South Africa and easy to propagate and grow, if kept a little above freezing. But I’ve had a devil of a time putting a name to it. Does anyone know it as Schlumbergera or as Christmas Cactus? Other ideas? …Back into the garden.
The rosemary hedges were buzzing with bees and looking stunning. What a joy they are in winter; correct that: all year! But the great uplifting moment of the day was the sudden intense honey-sweetness of the Buddleja salvifolia. Usually this thrill first hits in early August, so I was doubly excited to smell it today!
Recognisably a buddleja from both the flower and the scent, it lacks the stunning colour of B. davidii which is almost a weed in Europe but not so common here, although very easy to grow and to propagate. I have identified and propagated a few which are slightly bluer, or pinker, or have a stronger yellow eye. Mostly, frankly, they are a dirty pale grey; and this is one of the latter.
A scent warm and sensual like that, coming as it does at the tail-end of winter, can be forgiven anything!
July 15, 2012
Casting around on a lazy winter Sunday for material to update my blog, I return to the pics gleaned off Mooseys. This photo is five years old.
However all is not dull during a South African winter; the aloes can be relied on to inject colour. This is Aloe saponaria which is virtually impervious to the frost and flowers for many weeks. These photos were taken around the house this afternoon.
But some of the loveliest winter photographs are naturally devoid of colour, so let us return to sepia nostalgia from the long-gone winter of 2007…
July 6, 2012
No new pics after 5 days in Johannesburg on business, and nursing a cold; Friday evening by the fire; and tomorrow I can count 50 000 visits to my blog. In need of blogal celebration – but what? Ah! History!
No, not this one. ANCIENT history! This was taken in February 2008, and accompanied a post at Moosey’s on some early photographs I had scanned and published. To celebrate 50 000 visitors, let us look at where it all started…
Here is the exact same view, taken 18 years earlier, in 1990. Less than six months before I had planted most of the trees that now dominate that opposite bank; only three oaks predated them by a few years. A quarter from right the pin-oak, tallest of these, reaches up to touch the stems of the gums.
This photo from 1993 features the water oak outside The House that Jack Built in flower – and the opposite slope looking much more ‘treed’; taken at the same time, the photo below features the newly planted white azalea bank.
And here it is in spring of 2008…
Below we take a faded look across towards The House that Jack Built; it is early 1990 and the house is still not complete, as the scaffolding around the not-yet-blue bay window testifies.
And here it is again in 2007…
By now I am on a serious nostalgia trip, and digging up ever more pics from old posts at Mooseys… so let us indulge in one of my all time favourites, which I swear comes to you straight off the camera… I remember looking up from where I was in my cottage and realising the way the sun was coming through the mist was unique and could never be repeated. Luckily the camera was at hand…
There were many special moments – try this one for drama.
Or this one in contrast to the cottage under construction…
But back to those early shots; here is the big house and its gardens as they appeared in October 1990.
It was five years before the axis from the front door was conceived, long before the Ellensgate Garden, the Rosemary Borders… in fact almost all that today defines the garden. The oak with the bench underneath, which featured so prominently in my previous post, is a pale-green sapling one fifth from the left. I think I have posted so many latter day versions of this view that one is not required here. Or is it?
So what now? How to end this post? Well lets get back to the season. Winter. Over the years I have taken some lovely shots of the winter trees reflected in the dams. Let’s tune out on this one, from the winter of 2006; about the time we suddenly realised that the garden had become mature…
Welcome to the 50 000th visitor to my blog tomorrow – whoever you might be. I salute you.