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December 31, 2012
I was planning a post on our wild flowers to slot in with the celebration of Wildflower Wednesday and have been saving suitable pics for days – it being high summer and wild flowers plentiful. But my own recent writing has prompted thought on the subject (see my nature/nurture pic on my previous post) and as a direct result of that post I discovered http://thinkinGardens.co.uk This is a fascinating forum for serious talk about gardening and why we do it; about gardening as art, or at least as highly conscious construction.
This morning when I stuck my head across the gate of the Ellensgate Garden it struck me, not for the first time but more forcibly than before, that this most considered and contrived of my gardens had shown me a toffee and done its own thing – rather spectacularly well. What is more, self-sown wildings like the ferns, the mass of Gladiolus dalenii and the yellow arum, Zantedeschia albomaculata contribute substantially to this mutiny. As do the mosses and lichen on the very expensive sandstone trimmings from 800km away I commissioned – even if they now might just as well be cast concrete…
The Ellensgate Garden was the first development along the new axis from the front door. I started on it in 1996. It came to be because my father acquired the gate made by his father for their family home back in the 30s – read more about it here and follow the link given for full explanations of the material used etc. That original description, first used on a gardening forum nearly 10 years ago, makes for amusing reading against the backdrop of my present plight – is this carefully designed and built garden all about control? Is it the living abandon within the framework of control that makes it a success or a failure? Is what we are witnessing now simply the result of neglect? And then we can ramble on to the ethical/aesthetic debate around “can a garden which is the result of neglect even be considered to be a ‘good’ garden?” And as every gardener knows, that question leads on to all sorts of issues like the passing of time and the need for maintenance, which are like frame and wall to a painting…
You see, the above is to my mind one of the most successful parts of my garden. Snag is that the only human intervention here has been the removal of some dead branches every few years. The trees were planted by nature. So were the grasses and the creeper. All natural, indigenous, endemic, native. Does that mean that it is not a garden? Or that I am such a poor gardener that I can’t compete with something so totally random?
What if I told you that the deepest joy of my gardening is these random incidents? The moments where Nature says – so it seems to me – ‘well done, Jack, and as a reward I will give you this as well!’ Witness these wild daisies in the arboretum growing, you guessed it, amongst wild grasses and other wild plants but against a backdrop of highly exotic camellias.
Here it is in close-up: Berkeya setifera, called Buffalo Tongue because of its large rough leaves…
Of course it is easy for me in our mountain’s kind climate with its varied flora to call on nature to contribute… The garden lobelia in the pot and the agapanthus beyond are close relatives of our wildings.
This is Lobelia erinus, the species of the garden hybrid, photographed growing wild on the farm; individually possibly more beautiful, but not as floriferous as the garden hybrids.
And here, planted in the narrow bed up against Alfred’s Arches and raised from seed from a wilding on the farm, is Agapanthus inapertus, a different species from those most garden Agapanthus hybrids originate from.
Above, the same two flower heads, photographed a few days earlier from the opposite side, together with possibly our most spectacular wilding, Crinum macowanii, seen in more detail below.
Of course not all the wildings are spectacular. The two flowers below are each no bigger than a finger nail, the yellow Hypoxis hiding in rough lawn and the blue Wahlenbergia floating inches above it on thin stems.
Some are little more than weeds. Weeds? Ah, there too is a whole argument. Rephrase: some are so fleeting in flower and willing in seed that they have no garden value, tend to spread, and have value only as sudden little incidents in the wilder parts of the garden. Ergo, the kind of flowers I love. The flowers of Vernonia, below, are a case in point, especially in a strongly coloured example such as this one, seen against a little fern. Ferns too are worth an investigation on their own…
I have told the story before of how, on a tour to Sissinghurst, I was first attracted to Phygelius. ‘Don’t you know it?’ asked a lady on the tour, ‘It is from South Africa!’ I didn’t explain that just because one came from Washington DC it meant one knew the president. But I remembered the flower.
To my absolute surprise I discovered huge sheets of it just below Freddie’s Dam’s wall on my return to South Africa. But one needs to wade through the marches to get to see it in close-up. Which is well worth doing.
It took me another 15 years to strike a cutting, and that has been languishing for over a year on my kitchen window sill. That is the kind of sharing of one’s inadequacies which leads to angst – or perhaps stills it. (Never mind; I’m not nearly as angst-ridden as you might suspect. ) However it does reopen the debate about neglect and good gardening… Change the subject.
We move further and further away from Wildflower Wednesday, and I have been away overnight to my cousins on Samaria near Mapungubwe – see this post which tells more about Samaria and links in to many of my other current thoughts. It was hot – night-time minimums equalling day-time maximums in less extreme parts of the country during last week’s heat-wave. And I want to share just one plant from this visit: an indigenous plant but considered a pest by many farmers; its English name, Devil’s Thorn, gives just one reason. The seed has vicious prickles. I have more than once had it go right through the sole of a shoe into my foot!
My sister tells of arriving in the arid city of Windhoek as a young woman. Dotted around her sandy ‘garden’ were the prettiest yellow flowers. So she dug them up and planted them on either side of her concrete entrance path. She wondered why the neighbour looked at her strangely. Until the seeds developed and she understood…
Sticking to the joys of wildings, I am pleased to report the survival of an attack by baboons (which you can read about here) of the Eulophia orchid. Here is its first flower of the season, on the only stalk. Not as robust as before, but alive!
I end this post, written over several days, with a reference to one of our quieter but more pervasive wildings, a flower that grows on you with close scrutiny – Thunbergia natalensis: a perfect example of the charms of a wilding as expressed by gardeners around the world on Wildflower Wednesday, a monthly post initiated by Gail of ‘Clay and Limestone’.
January 30, 2011
I am half a week late for Wildflower Wednesday, and two days late for looking at what is blooming in the garden this week – but here I am, anyway, with my report. I have three plants to tell you of, each in its way exciting. My favourite, and first up, is possibly the least exciting. It goes by the name of Littonia modesta and it is indeed modest, a gentle scrambler with leaf-tips that are adapted to twine. At this time of year it carries a few flowers at a time – I’ve never seen more than four – of the softest orange; shy nodding bells no more than 3 cm long, and only once they flower do you notice the little scrambler in amongst the shrubs and grasses. Like shooting stars they are something to look out for, easily missed but thrilling when seen. I’ve often wondered if they are tameable. Their charm I think lies in the unexpectedness with which one encounters them, and I would like to surprise visitors in the garden…
Here is yet another rather modest twiner… so modest in fact that I did not know of its existence until I came across it last week on my cousin’s farm, along the stream that flows from our gardens. I immediately identified it as a Thunbergia by the calyx, a relative of the perennial T. natalensis and T. elata, the similarly twining Black-eyed Susan that I wrote of here. It is so pale a cream as to be almost white, with just a touch of yellow on the inside of the tube. Over quite a large area there were several flowering in the scrubby undergrowth… I am certain they will grow from both seed and cuttings, so I plan to welcome them here! When I got home, I identified it as T. pondoensis – a charming touch in the naming of the two species, as Pondoland (where Nelson Mandela comes from) lies just south of Natal, and these two plants occur all along the Drakensburg escarpment over a distance of more than 700 km.
Yesterday I was aware that the baboons were in the arboretum. I thought of the orchid I had been meaning to photograph, and early this morning – our second sunny one in a row – set off to do so. Along the way – listening all the time for any possible sound of the baboons and keeping the dogs close by - I found plenty of signs that they had been about: hydrangea flowers broken off and, no doubt, sampled. Luckily found to be not to their liking and discarded. I’d hate them to take to hydrangea flowers… An ant-nest that had been scratched open (top left) and then… the orchid (top right)… Plundered.
However it meant I could bring the two discarded flower-stalks home to study them. My orchid will recover, I have no doubt. Soon after I first discovered it, it survived heavy machinery driving across it as the (then) pine forest was cut down, before a massive pile of branches and twigs was piled on top of it. But some 7 years later I found it again, proudly flowering on 2m stalks. Besides – one of the stalks has roots attached. I will pot it up, and treat the rest as cuttings. Who knows?!
The next step was to cut the tips that still contained flowers off and photograph them. It is called Eulophia streptopetala (and in Zulu very musically ‘amabelejongosi’ – I’d love to know what that means!) It grows up to 2.3m tall (Elsa Pooley tells me in her book A field guide to Wild Flowers Kwazulu-Natal and the Easter Region, which I very often refer to) and grows in thickets and forest margins. It is used by the Zulus as a protective love charm and ‘is easily grown in semi-shade’. Here goes!
I must admit: despite having a great deal of fun photographing them (I mounted a single flower on a tiny wire loop for the final shots) I could not get too excited about the flowers. But then I have never been a fan of most orchids. They intrigue my mind, they impress my eye, but they very seldom touch my heart in the way the simplest hawkweed or the most complex rose can touch it.
November 24, 2010
Posted by sequoiagardens under Plants endemic to Sequoia Gardens
, Wild Flower Wednesday
| Tags: alchemilla
, Hypericum revolutum
, Ledebouria cooperi
, Lobelia erinus
, Silene undulata
, Thunbergia alata
, Thunbergia natalensis
, wild flowers
, Wildflower Wednesday
, Zantedeschia aethiopica
|  Comments
Who works the hardest in my garden? Nature! That’s why we can manage (well, almost manage) and afford (ditto) 6 hectares (15 acres) of it…
Case in point: Nothing in this area – the overflow stream of Freddie’s Dam – was planted. Tree ferns germinate readily in vertical ground ‘cliffs’ like this and on the dam walls; over 80 thus in the last 30 years. And slap bang behind the dogs grows a wild calla lily – Zantedeschia aethiopica. A picture of another in flower anon. Ferns and grasses and little wild twiners are all self-sown. There is a small amount of path maintenance here, no more.
Large parts of the garden are paths cut through the natural vegetation and often the only additional ‘gardening’ is the planting of trees. These paths develop their own ecology and are colonised by low-growing plants. One of these is an indigenous Alchemilla or Lady’s Mantle, seen below; it consoles me when I fail with the exotic Alchemilla mollis.
Because of our benign mountain climate, natural colonisation happens easily – and unrulies are disciplined by the frosts. It was whilst looking for a path pic that I saw these clumps of leaves and identified the Ledebourias – I think L. cooperi – unfortunately trampled, but they survive and seed perfectly when prone! Notice the ferns colonising the shade beneath an old mother-pine.
And not too far off, growing on the edge of the stream that feeds our dams, a calla. Or as we call them in Afrikaans: Pigs’ Ears!
The flower below, which I bought and planted, is the well known Black-eyed Susan – Thunbergia alata. Traditionally it is a strong but soft orange with the dark eye which gives it its name, a gentle twiner which grows wild in many parts of South Africa including here – although I’ve only once seen one anywhere that was definitely wild. This softer yellow sport became available some 10 years ago and around the world the wonderful modern versions with burnt orange, rusty and other subtle shades of flower have of late become popular. I have a packet of seed waiting to be planted…
So you can imagine my surprise some years ago when one of the first wildings I identified turned out to be a relative…
Thunbergia natalensis is also called the Forest Bluebell, and its softest of blue flowers with a yellow throat grow on knee-high perennials in the shade. But when you take a closer look (lower flowers), especially at the balloon-like calyx, the family resemblance becomes clear.
St. John’s Worts the world over look remarkably similar: identical flower shapes and colours, similar leaf arrangements… We have two, one of which produces a fleeting spring show of thumb-nail-sized blooms on an equally diminutive plant, and the other which is one of the three main plants in our indigenous scrub. It is never as showy as the garden varieties, but provides a long season of good interest and is beloved by our local creatures, big and small. That is it below on the left, Hypericum revolutum, with whichever of the garden varieties it is we grow on the right. Both photographed yesterday.
Silene, or Campian, is another of the international garden flowers that we have a wild version of on Sequoia. I have introduced it into the garden in places. It makes a striking almost-white highlight, but by later in the season its poor breeding shows, when it sprawls drunkenly across whatever is available and needs sobering up. Below is Silene undulata photographed in the wild, together with a garden Silene I first grew from seed 15 years ago which has been with us ever since, often in unexpected places. It was photographed up against the Ellensgate Garden where it currently makes a pleasing composition with two shades of Nicotiana alata and some miniature agapanthus. Sometimes the glorious deep pink (and the scent!) of the Bourbon rose ‘Mme Isaac Pereire’ is part of this composition. Today we need to be satisfied with the memory of its spent blooms.
Sigh. I really should have swept the paving before signing my name to it…
Lastly, we grow wild the species form of that most popular of garden flowers, the Trailing Lobelia – Lobelia erinus. Although never as dense ad impressive as the hybridised versions, its tiny blue flowers act like a magnet in the vast expanse of the wild garden, bringing the photographer to his knees, and the dogs with their big clumsy feet running…
This post on the wild flowers with garden relatives that grow on Sequoia was inspired by Wildflower Wednesday, a garden-blogging-world-wide reminder once a month that flowers are not the creation of man… Thank you, Gail, of Clay and Limestone for starting the push!
December 28, 2009
How to end the year, other than with yet another hydrangea? Perhaps a dense mass of varied leaves? “mebalabala ya botala” is the phrase I learnt this week in Sepedi, the local vernacular: ‘many colours of green’. But thinking back to the days when December was the time I came to the farm on holiday, and the gardens weren’t nearly what they are now, I set out this afternoon to photograph a little wilding that grows in the cool shade of the forests and pine plantations and demurely displays its soft blue flowers at this time of year. It is called Thunbergia natalensis and is related to the Black-eyed Susan, a well-known little creeper with a black centre and an orange or yellow face. This one is an upright herb with a prominent calyx, which, together with the bottom of the leaves, is covered with soft hairs. Yet when you compare the flowers you can see that they are related.