Welcome to my restructured blog!

I like the new format, but it has its weaknesses: I suggest you click on the ‘Latest Post’ in order to see it full size! The featured posts are a series of often linked posts that help give the bigger picture about the garden, or those posts I consider to be my best. Getting them in order is difficult, so I suggest you flick through them before deciding where to start reading.

My blog has always served a dual purpose. It started life as a way for me to share the seasons and joys in my garden, but it is also a portal now for visitors – both day visitors and those staying in the cottages. The tabs up at the top guide you to specific information and even to booking forms. But the site as a whole makes an organic, muddled trip around the garden possible, or a thematic one (looking at wild plants for instance, use the search block top right) or a seasonal one (via the monthly archives). Enjoy!



I was not happy with the accidental make-over my blog received some weeks back, though I did enjoy the large format photographs. After too-ing and fro-ing these last days, moving between dark, hot schemes and minimalistic white ones, i have finally settled on something clean yet slightly unpredictable, with blocks of colour in unexpected places. The problem was that the main contrasting colour, pale blue, asked to be included in my header.

Spring view from Big House

Now.  it goes without saying that expanses of pale blue in garden shots come from the sky. And that a long thin photograph which includes the sky, would include very little else. So what to do?

Rainy summer dawn

The answer, I decided, was to create a collage of sky-y photos linked thematically. And the easiest theme to help me find suitable photos from their titles was the seasons. So I scanned my hard-drive for spring – summer – autumn – winter, looking for blue in the thumbnails. And I’m rather pleased with the photos I chose without too much time taken.


A bit of cropping to get them of equal size, and the correct final proportions, and I had my header: spring from the big house; summer and autumn two very different versions of the exact same composition looking across the water from The House that Jack Built; and winter looking out from there too, but some 90 degrees to the right.

Winter with us is a sunny season

And just in case I change it all again, I include the header itself…


MY FATHER, A FARM AND I (Part 3: The Coming of the Arboretum)


2View from my house - early 1990

This was the view from The House that Jack Built in early 1990; the bridge would today be on the far left, the many trees planted that summer are lost in the scrub and only one of the three oaks of earlier planting can be identified, pale green in the middle of the right quarter. I start with this picture to illustrate the wall of pine that lay all along the road across the valley. Around this time my father made a decision that would change the garden, and significantly increase its size, impact and variety. That whole plantation would, on maturity, not be replaced with another planting of pine but by an arboretum; a collection of trees in variety.

I have said before that both my parents’ interest was trees, rather than gardening. I remember them after their first trips to Europe in the 70s waxing lyrical about the trees they’d seen: planes in Hyde Park, copper beeches in Zurich… it continued: in the 90s my father was eyed suspiciously as he photographed and studied the oaks in the White House gardens… You see, in South Africa temperate trees are not widely prized. The Cape has its oaks, Natal its planes and the cold hinterland its poplars which go yellow in autumn; old Johannesburg might be known as the largest man-made forest in the world; but seldom do you find the awareness of trees in their diversity that marks many of the great gardens of the world. Hugh Johnson’s ‘International Book of Trees’ was seldom on the shelf – whether in my house, the big house or my parents’ Johannesburg house.

felling the plantation 1997

By 1997 the pines were being felled, leaving scarred earth and piles of pine rubble across the valley. It was also at this time that my father had a triple heart-bypass in his 68th year. For the past seven odd years we had been buying trees all over South Africa and nurturing them in a special nursery on the farm. My father and old Phineas, the foreman, had, like a pair of old magicians in cahoots, been growing trees from seed and even – in the case of the Sequoias – from cuttings. They had propagated literally thousands of azaleas to plant between them. There was a steep area of well over a hectare – some three acres – facing the morning sun but protected from the afternoon heat, waiting now to receive these treasures. But first my father installed an extensive irrigation system. For, so we had concluded, the biggest difference between our valley and the rest of the temperate world, lay in the fact that spring was often the hottest, driest period of the year and just as the precious leaves were unfolding, plants would be stressed. Because of those six or eight weeks, my father took precautions. And in the early days, as the young trees established themselves against the hill, Phineas could often be seen way after ‘chaila time’ and before the official start of the workday moving the sprinklers, their late positions marked by dark overlapping circles of wet earth. But first, through the spring and summer of 1997-8, I learnt a valuable lesson from my father: count what you have achieved, not what you must still do. On an almost daily basis, now thoroughly recovered from his heart surgery, he would phone me where I was still based in Johannesburg to report: “Today we planted 15 trees, 5 shrubs, 30 azaleas. That brings the total to date to…”

Across main garden with plantation cut

Here is a picture from those early days. We did not know if it would take 5 years, or 10, or 20 to make an impact. We presented my father on 27 September 1997, my 41st birthday, when every member of the family planted a tree in the arboretum, with a copy of Thomas Pakenham’s book ‘Meetings with Remarkable Trees’ inscribed: “We celebrate the work of a remarkable man – few people ever plant an arboretum, fewer still do it in their late sixties. May your trees still pay tribute to your vision into the 22nd century.”

Dad with his dog and his arboritum

This photo I took less than 12 years later from nearly the same position, of my father, his dog and his arboretum.

Dad planting a Sequoia on 27 Sep 1997 when we all ceremoniously planted a tree Mom plants her tree 27 Sep 97

With the exception of the photo of Louis with his tree, the photos taken on that September day were abysmal. And ironically most of the trees, with the exception of his, have proved disappointing. My father’s Sequoia, one of a row, is today the runt and my mother’s fancy conifer reverted to something very basic; my oak died and had to be replaced and my brother’s plane has not grown more than a meter in 15 years. But the arboretum as whole has thrived,  as the photo below shows.

11 Looking across the Tulip Trees in The Avenue and up the valley

My father planted other areas too. After a massively successful germination of Liquidambar styraciflua   the concept of the double  liquidambar avenue, over 100 trees marching up the boundary towards the original 1930s planting of Sequoias, was born.

There are over 100 liquodambers grown from seed by my dad in a double avenue over 300m long

Those Sequoias, which gave the farm its name, the wood used in both our dream-houses and the propagating material for the trees grown from cuttings, can be seen to the right of the photo below.

Liquodamber avenue

In the early 90s the first of the young Sequoias were planted to form an avenue along the driveway leading up to the new house – below, in autumn 1997 as the arboretum was being prepared, they are just starting to make an impression.

Sequoia avenue May 97

The next photo, a self-portrait I took once I was living in the big  house, shows how imposing they have become in a mere 20 years:

With the dogs in the Sequoia Avenue

In the far corner of the garden lies Quercus Corner – my father’s collection of some 50 different oaks, many grown by him from seed. One day I’d still like to get an oak expert in to identify the many we don’t know…

Quercus Corner, my dad's collection of oak trees.

Bankie Christine

We used this photo of my parents looking across Quercus Corner on my father’s funeral program –  and ended it with this one:

Seat overlooking the older part of Quercus Corner

My father is a man who left a great many legacies, who did much to promote industry in this country, and who always cared deeply for others, a gentleman and a gentle man as Louis described him at the time of his death. As Stanford Lake College matures, the trees he donated and even helped plant there before I became involved with the school are also maturing. But no legacy is as tangible, and it will hopefully remain so for decades to come, as the trees he planted on Sequoia.

My father and his arboritum, autumn 2009

This is part of a series – part 1 and part 2 can be found by clicking on the links; future parts will focus on the development of the formal areas of the garden.



Nearly four months on since Part 1 and I try to pick up the threads – in my own mind and amongst the photos…

Dams in a gardenless valley s

In December 1978 I spent a month clearing invader trees on the farm – my first stay of more than a few days on the farm. This dog belonged to the farm manager, and he left sometime in 1980. Where he lies the big water oak in front of The House that Jack Built now stands. It was one of the first trees we planted. Nothing you see here was part of the development my dad and the family started. That all came later.

Freddies Dam in an empty valley s

From within what is today a 2nd generation pine plantation I look across my meadow and my cottage, across Freddie’s Dam towards the beacon that has stood out since the farm came into the family over 60 years ago: my mother’s bluegum tree. It is difficult to imagine a time when the valley this empty.

An empty valley s

I have said The Plett was brought into a featureless valley. There was the stream and two dams. Very little else. Today the big house stands between the two tall bluegums breaking the horizon on the right and on the very right the old barn can be seen, visible down the length of the valley in those long gone days! Did we picture the valley as it is today? No. Or perhaps a little. We knew we were ‘improving’ it. But so little of the laying of the bones was done consciously, with specific effects in mind.

Flora's Path s

Here from a few years later – perhaps ‘85 – is Flora’s Path, the line of Chinese maples that mark the end of the garden in front of the big house. On this side now lies the New Old Rose Garden, and beyond the trees the parking area for visitors. I remember we planted these trees to mask our much enlarged staff house, as well as my uncle’s. In those days the main vista was still down the valley, not across it, and these two new and raw structures rather dominated the view.

Mom shows how much a swamp cypress has grown

One of those photos which seem quite ridiculous at the time, but grow in value as time passes: my mom indicates how much a Swamp Cypress has grown since ‘last we looked.’

Stone end

Also from the early 80s, a photo which has become quite important. Why? Between us and The Plett runs a hedge of abelias. They were moved from my folks’ house in Johannesburg when a new terrace was built outside the dining-room there. My father deliberately, consciously, and possibly resignedly planted them here to mark, as he pointedly put it, “the stone-end of the garden.” We would not, like our neighbour at Cheerio Gardens, lose the plot and turn our farm into a garden. We would garden around The Plett only. Except of course for the few trees we planted into the wider landscape….

When the big house was built they were moved to form a hedge along the staff house; by then they no longer marked the end of the garden… And when my dad started building, old Phineas, his foreman, proudly informed him: “My lawn will reach the dam before your house is completed.” And it did.

No sign of a garden - early 80s

Up until then the area between The Plett and the dam was just grassland, showing the remains of the terracing which had been done to make the slope less steep back in the days when these were potato lands ploughed with a mule-drawn plough.

Oct 90 - the garden-to-be

October 1990, and both the house and the lawn are complete, although most of the trees in the garden area are still self-sown pines and now being systematically removed. In the foreground the azaleas that today form a solid mass two meters high are young plants yet to knit. The pin-oak under which the bench stands today can just be made out in front of the left end of the huge heap of brown pine branches which must be the reason the soon-to-depart pines are looking so neat.

In the next instalment I will tell of the coming of the arboretum; here meanwhile is a damp early autumnal picture, taken this morning, with which to end this post.

Autumn rain



50s panorama s

I start this post with a snapshot I have shared before – taken by my father in the early 50s and showing our valley. It seems there are still ploughed lands – the potato crops were failing fast due to eelworm in the soil and soon the valley returned to grassland and more pine was planted. The big house with its twin gables today lies to the left of the range of buildings near the middle. The pine trees marching down the foreground slope would partially obscure it. It is my father’s dream house, and today it is my home. As his life approaches its end I find myself assessing my relationship with him, and the farm looms large in our relationship.

1 Mom assists with surveying

It is early in 1981 here and my mom, a few years younger than I am now, seems to be holding onto some sort of measuring device whilst helping my father to plot the position of The Plett, our first home on the farm. But it started long before… my father took the picture below of my mother swimming in the river on their honeymoon in the early 50s, only three or four years after my grandfather bought the farm. It was at this time that she claimed the big bluegum as HER tree.

Mom in their honeymoon

I was born with the farm in my blood. My first memory, aged 2 1/2 , is on the farm. The day I got my driver’s licence my cousin and I came to camp out at the very spot my mom was photographed. In 1979 I spent my summer holiday cleaning out invader trees on the farm. And by 1980 my father took over one half of the farm from my grandfather, and the family agreed with him to call our portion ‘Sequoia’ after the unusual trees planted there. His sister, who received the remaining half, inherited the house, over on the right of the first picture. It was many years later, only after my gardening persona had matured, that I realised how the three terraces in front of this house had influenced my development. The picture below was taken from the middle terrace – the little creature on the right is me.

Goedvertrouwen house 1967

As I write this, my cousin and his wife are retiring from their careers in Johannesburg and preparing to come to live permanently in this house. But back to those earliest days when it became OUR farm… My dad and I did some clearing – there was a fair amount of neglect – and we started planting temperate deciduous trees: eight, I believe, before we started preparing for the erection of The Plett. From the earliest days of owning the farm my father was dreaming of trees, and I along with him. The (recent) picture below shows not only the original stand of Sequoias to the right, but also an avenue of Liquidambars, all of which were germinated by him.

Liquodamber avenue and original sequoias

When we first put up The Plett our valley was mainly grasslands with a few self-sown pine trees, escapees from the plantations. You get some idea from the next photo, with the bulldozer preparing the site for The Plett. With a little imagination you can make out the Makou Dam between the trunks of the pines. As happens so often on the farm, rain was complicating matters. What followed was six weeks of sunshine.

2 grading the site

Six weeks of sunshine, that is, which ended the day before The Plett came slithering down our hill to an anxious reception…

3 The Plett arrives

There was no way the low-loader would be able to turn off the narrow road and into our narrow entrance, make its way up the steepish grassed slope of the two-track and onto the newly graded ‘drive’ to where it would deposit The Plett on its prepared site, then continue on a loop through the valley (past where today The House that Jack Built stands), and back up to the ‘main’ road… In fact the driver was terrified of sliding down the steep wet road, let alone leaving it, and turned the front of his truck into my aunt’s entrance.

4 Fear of sliding

Not for the last time Steven’s Lumber Mill – who’ve had the contract on the farm now for 35 odd years – and their trusty tractor drivers came to the rescue. Even the winch on the low-loader could not be used to lower The Plett because of the steepness of the road. The details of how the poor driver of the low-loader first did his best for a proper on-site handover whilst a tractor trundled his precious cargo through the mud, and then had to get his vehicle back to the tar, I leave to your imagination; the following pictures tell some of the story…

5 SLM to the rescue

Although The Plett arrived with a tow-bar, to in theory enable manoeuvring on site, the tractor could not hook it, as its ball was too high. And so chains were used… at times long ones when working around corners, then shorter ones. Luckily moving huge tree trunks into position for loading had prepared our tractor-man for this challenge!

6 turning in

My mother, wearing a most bizarre improvised rain bonnet, watches in trepidation as her precious new home is literally manhandled on its journey. And traffic on the road simply comes to a halt…

7 Muddy entrance


Heave-ho… and off we go!

8 Mom worried about her house

Ironically this is one of the best photos I have of the building which nearly 30 years later became Croft Cottage.

9 Getting there


Another scary moment as the tractor leaves the road and pulls The Plett onto the temporary drive to its final standing. We think this is the moment when sufficient flex occurred to prevent the large windows  of the living area from ever opening fully – the only damage during the entire nerve-wracking process. Where the tractor is, there is today a gable.

10 Another scary moment

We are on site! There were times during the morning we thought this would never happen! The block in the middle marks the point where the right rear jack must stand. And that in itself shows you how much fine tuning must still happen in the mud. My father, a control freak, calmly directs proceedings.  My brother, laid back as ever, (a much more subtle control freak) has his hands in his pockets. I run around frantically with the camera.

11 On site

My mother (think The Princess and the Pea) finally has her new home in position. Oh. Have you noticed the sun has come out, even though the tractor is still on site?

12 Sunshine

It is the next day. We have water on site. Me, my mother and my father, and my cousin’s vintage Chevy with which we fetched the water tank. We did not yet have a farm bakkie (truck or ute) of our own.

13 water on site


The Plett in place, the sun in the heavens, we start erecting the veranda, connecting the gas and the sewerage and all those things. Today the roses of Trudie’s Garden are in the foreground.

14 adding the veranda

My folks go home after the Easter long weekend and I – on varsity holiday – stay on to finish the veranda and try to create order in the mud of a building site.

15 Finishing touches - and mud


The next weekend the family returns, and there is time to relax in the shade over a pre-lunch drink, as we start to enjoy our new holiday home. In the background – grass and self-sown pines.

16 Holiday time



The Rosemary Borders in colourful splendour in January 2007

By early 2007 the Rosemary Borders were looking the best they ever did. I have told of how they were planned and developed here and here. Pictures of the Upper Rosemary Border have featured over the months, but I will post  on it in detail in future. Today I wish to show you, in celebration of the coming of a new decade and in the high hopes that in 2010 I will again attempt such delicious excess, the profusion of flowers from scatterpacks in the summer of 2006-7. Most of the Lower Rosemary Border that year  was prepared and sowed to mixed summer annuals, known in South Africa as “scatterpacks”.

The Lower Rosemary Border starting to show colour. The cannas are in the bed just above the road and visible in the distance shots from my previous post on the Rosemary Borders

 I over-catered and sowed slightly more densely than recommended – plus we were exceptionally lucky with our weather and germination was wonderfully successful. I have seen scatterpacks literally scattered amongst shrubs and the individual plants and their flowers then showed up beautifully. But THIS border I pictured as excess – and boy-o-boy did I achieve it!

Evening light through the cosmos

If disasters such as shrivelling heat at the seedling stage or too much rain can be avoided, it is not difficult to succeed as long as one doesn’t start off with a residue of weed seed in the soil. Weeding is difficult and time-consuming and in fact impossible until you can see which are weeds and which desirables!

I sowed shorter seed on the edges, but will mix them in drifts in future. The young Rosemary hedge, growing from cuttings, barely survived the attack!

Here is an extract from my Moosey diary of 15 January 2007: the scatterpacks (also known as Meadowmix in SA due to the original trade name, and it seems called simply ‘wild flowers’ in NZ if I have understood correctly) which I planted in the Lower Rosemary Border were just coming into their own when I left in December. Now they are lovely! Mainly cosmos at this stage, it is infinitely better than the ‘species’ we harvested by the roadside. Flowers are larger, and there is more variety. There are lovely plants of the amaranthus family which I guess are celosias, gorgeous zinnias and many more; sunflowers, marigolds, daisies, dianthus – my experience is that different species will come to the fore as summer progresses.


What has constantly struck me in these borders where I have used a greater variety of plants and colours than ever before, is how often one achieves marvellous combinations by accident, and how seldom combinations actually jar and create problems.


Jewel colours against the water

For Moosey’s I assembled a range of collages to share my joy in the excess. Here they are: a firework display to herald the new decade!

And last but not least: one that was too good to reduce!

You want an encore?


The Italian pot never looked better than it did in February 2007. Note how the dark background necessitates lime green planting.

This post follows on a post from the earliest days of my blog in late August, which you will find here.   It tells how I first planned the borders and how I feel about the results three years on. Let’s take a closer look at the thinking behind the design now. Three distance shots from the arboretum over more than 16 years give ‘the lay of the land’.

Six months after the house was completed, this shot from spring 1990 shows how Phineas, the foreman and a keen gardener, dealt with the vague terraces from the days when this was a potato land by turning the steep slopes between terraces into beds. In the foreground the young azaleas work hard at making a show. Across the dam the young Pin Oaks can be seen against a berm of browning pine branches, packed there after the trimming of the trees in the background. All of them have since gone. Those on the right mark the present Anniversary Garden.

February 2005 and the Anniversary Garden is taking shape, Alfred’s Arches have become a feature and what is to become the Rosemary Terrace, levelled when we had to have a bulldozer on sight some two years earlier, already has a markedly different feel to the lawns above and below it. The entrance to the Rosemary Terrace from the path was built and the large Italian jar on the opposite end was in place, out of frame to the right.

January 2007 and the Upper Rosemary Terrace is filling out, whilst the Lower Rosemary Terrace is solid with scatterpack annuals. The staircase is visible hard against the right-hand gum tree. Between the trees the bed of coloured-leaved cannas looks as good as it has ever done.

In the early days of planning the gardens along the axis from the front door I was concerned with how the lawned gardens on one’s left as you came down would differ from one another. With some imagination it was possible to see that the second lawn, being somewhat longer and considerably narrower, could be turned into a long vista towards a focal point. My dad bought into the idea and after I installed the Italian pot at the end of the vista, he decided a wall needed to be built, echoing the one below the house. I protested, rather half-heartedly, that the money could be spent more effectively elsewhere in the garden. He won the day, and I am eternally grateful, for this rather non-descript transitional area has become the most effective part of the entire garden, and gives us the most joy from the house.

Monty and Taubie playing on the Rosemary Terrace in March 2007, with the Italian pot which forms the focal point in the background. The Rosemary hedge is growing nicely.

The Italian pot never looked better than it did in February 2007. Note how the dark background necessitates lime green planting.

The garden got its name quite early on in my planning: I intended to mask the slopes above and below the terrace with two Rosemary hedges. The lower hedge has happened, successfully grown from cuttings planted in situ and thinned out later. The upper hedge, once the wall was built, became a rhythmic punctuation with clipped balls of Rosemary. Humph. They were planted, but never clipped. On my endless TTD list, “clip rosemary balls” hardly ever features. I would  like clipped balls along the way… but I don’t think Rosemary lends itself to such close clipping, and so this becomes one of the refinements I dream of… oneday, when the garden is a tourist attraction… oneday, when I am rich… oneday when I start looking for things to keep me busy…

The Abelia ‘Francis Mason’ squares around the pot have grown too tall and leggy since this shot was taken. There is too much shade for them to grow vigorously and fill out after clipping. The conifer has died of neglect – regular watering of pots is a habit I only succeeded in teaching my gardener who works in this area BECAUSE it had died. I am thinking of the next step, and seriously considering zebra grass, both in the pot and to replace the abelia. Any comments or ideas?

Looking in the opposite direction, with the bottom of the stairs on the right.

If one looks in the opposite direction, one sees the pots that flank the entrance to the Rosemary Terrace from the path on the axis from the front door. They were my 50th birthday present from my parents, and I treasure them! Getting the hedges level instead of following the contour is one of the challenges of 2009 we never got around to facing. To the left of the hedge Pride of India is in full flower. (Crepe Myrtle, Lagerstroemia indica, and actually from China!) It combines spectacularly with the mass of cosmos in the Lower Rosemary Border, an effect I can easily repeat and really ought to!  Above the hedge there is another tree in flower which is also sometimes known as Pride of India. It is Koelreuteria paniculata or the Golden-rain-tree, also from China.  The hedge we grew from cuttings of an evergreen viburnum bought years ago, I suspect Viburnum tinus; it makes an excellent hedge in my climate, dense, clothed to the ground and not needing too much cutting.

The pots at the entrance are also planted with Rosemary.

In Part 3 I will look at the planting in these two gardens. Prepare for a colour assault for Christmas, as I post collages of annuals from the Lower Rosemary Border!

The Rosemary borders part 1 – repost of ‘A walk around my garden Part 3′

July 2006, the wall above the Rosemary Terrace under construction. To the left of Alfred's Arches lies the Anniversary Garden, about which I shall still write!

A week has passed since my rather pathetic post on the Rosemary Borders. Amongst other problems the connection was so slow that the photographs were quite fuzzy. It has been a hectic week, starting off with a wonderful but exhausting 3 day hike in the mountains, three days on site in a garden I’m currently working on and including the annual visit to our Rotary Club of the District Governor. As I’m the current president it was very much my responsibility. I’m pleased to report it was a huge success. Reasons enough I guess to explain why I’ve taken a week to fix the mess and to post something new! So here goes; first a complete re-post of the existing info, then I’ll delete last week’s post, then I’ll add something new… that’s the plan, anyway!


I’m getting a little tired of my pic-with-caption blogs. Time for something more substantial. I need to spend time in the garden, camera in hand, to share the first signs of new life with you, but daylight hours are otherwise engaged at the moment… work, and Friday through Sunday: hiking in the mountains!

But I’ve also been wanting to continue the walk through my garden, so here it is: part three, or ‘The Rosemary Borders’. I will write linking bits, and quote from old Moosey diaries in italics.  The result will (hopefully) be a clever compression of what happened during the last three years, a bit like some of the 60s-70s-80s experimental literature playing with time-in-the-novel. Here’s hoping!

Building the wall and planning the Rosemary Borders, mid 2006. To the left of Alfred's Arches lies the Anniversary Garden, about which I shall still write!

Building the wall and planning the Rosemary Borders, mid 2006. To the left of Alfred’s Arches lies the Anniversary Garden, about which I shall still write!

23 July 2006

Let’s use the next pic to pick up on the Walk around my Garden. A quick  reminder: top centre is the living room gable, and that window looks out over the Ellensgate garden. On the axis from the front door lies Alfred’s Arches, with the Anniversary Garden to the left, then down some steps and to our right lies the Rosemary Terrace. There you can see the new wall. At the bottom of the big lawn on the very right of the pic a staircase is still being built and beyond it the wall continues. The bed above the wall is 35m long up to the steps and 5m deep. It has developed over the years as a rather short season display area for self-seeders and easily divided plants: foxgloves (to stay) and yellow coreopsis and rudbeckias (to go elsewhere).



Here follows my plans for the garden from 3 years ago. It is going to be interesting to see how the results differ…

My plans here? The soil is sandy so drainage will be good. It slopes north-west and will be warm to hot. I want to plant it for year round interest (so not too many herbaceous perennials!), with plants that must be low enough not to spoil the view of the dam (OK, pond!) I want an overall colour focus on muddy pinks, purples and mustards – think day lilies – but with a variety of other colours as well. Yellows and pinks must not be too bright. Shapes must be hummocky, with occasional vertical accents, and varied leaf colour and texture. At regular intervals just above the wall I want tight balls of rosemary.


On the far side near Alfred's Arches the bed was already densely planted. For the rest only a few plants were retained during the makeover.



Straightening out the upper edge which had undulated haphazardly before. In the foreground five 'Ballerina' roses which had formed a perfect clump but not been pruned for three years await attention.


Before we go any further – which of these objectives have I achieved to date? Winter shape and colour has been good, if rather subdued and, well… wintery. Colours have worked, except for the coreopsis and rudbeckias which returned with a vengeance and added way too much bright yellow. My mom loves their pluck, and so they stayed. Shapes are ok to good, textures awful. Everything is twiggy, small leaved and upright. As a result photographs tend to be fuzzy. (Not fuzzy like my original post – fuzzy as in too much fine stuff which results in leaves one doesn’t FOCUS on…) After three years several shrubs need rejuvenation.  And as for the daylilies… well they’re there for a day. What a disappointment they’ve been. Oh. And the balls of rosemary: rosemary never grows into balls – it gets pruned into them. As a kind school report would say: ‘there is room for improvement’…

And here is the garden 18 months later... across the dam Doubly is swimming and wondering what I'm up to. Along the bank are some of the many tree ferns that have self-sown over the last few years.

And here is the garden 18 months later… across the dam Doubly is swimming and wondering what I’m up to. Along the bank are some of the many tree ferns that have self-sown over the last few years.

A walk around my garden, part 2

A slight problem: the bees have discovered the pots and a subtle modification is needed to restore tranquility to the Japanese Walk...

This time we’ll really set off on that walk…  although the dogs’ expectant looks will show you that they thought I too often stopped to take a pic!

My purpose is to give you an idea of the layout of the garden. One of the many lessons I learn during my tour of England is how often the unexpected combination of formal and informal have delightful results, and whilst still there I started wondering how I would achieve this on the farm. It made sense that the formal gardens related to my parents’ house, altogether a grander and more conventional structure than mine: the existing steps directly in line with the front door gave me a starting point…

The view down the main axis from the front door. All the formality is seen against the backdrop of a natural woodland garden in the narrow valley. There are two lakes, or  dams as we call them in South Africa, in the stream which flows through the valley.

The view down the main axis from the front door. All the formality is seen against the backdrop of a natural woodland garden in the narrow valley. There are two lakes, or dams as we call them in South Africa, in the stream which flows through the valley.

That then is the first pic – the view from the front door. We gave the pots to my parents as a house warming present and planted them with miniature roses. Every two or three years they are replaced. However we don’t throw them out: they are planted as a border to the rose garden outside their living room, where they flourish and provide many more blooms than they ever do in the small pots. Only when my mom wants to prune them – she approaches all roses as if they were hybrid teas – is there a problem; and when I say ‘just shear them’, she is always horrified!

Stompie is my parents' dog, but moves in with me when they return to Johannesburg where they spend half or more of their time. I have four dogs of my own and will introduce you to them as we come across them.

Stompie is my parents’ dog, but moves in with me when they return to Johannesburg where they spend half or more of their time. I have four dogs of my own and will introduce you to them as we come across them.

Next we stand at the top of the stairs, Stompie patiently waiting for me to get going. To the right is the Ellensgate garden. At the end of the vista, through the archway, there should be a tall jet of water sparkling in the afternoon light. That fountain is only half-completed and is in fact a little forgotten these days – completing the lower part of the axis is one of the jobs awaiting me now that the school no longer takes up so much of my time. (So where is all this new time? says I…)

Doubly the Border Collie waits under Alfred's Arches. My male dogs have always been called after generals- a family tradition. I inhereited him with his mere corporal name (he has a double white stripe around his neck). Sentimental, beautiful, loving and compulsive in his behaviour, he is not bright enough for a higher rank.

Doubly the Border Collie waits under Alfred’s Arches. My male dogs have always been called after generals- a family tradition. I inherited him with his mere corporal name (he has a double white stripe around his neck). Sentimental, beautiful, loving and compulsive in his behaviour, he is not bright enough for a higher rank.

Now we are standing outside the gate of Ellensgate. I learnt about bergenia edging paving at Hestercombe in Somerset – possible the greatest lesson in economy of planting I ever learnt. Usually the bergenia is in need of weeding. The grass-like plant is an indigenous diarama which I have removed regularly… The top of the Abelia ‘Francis Mason’ hedge is supposed to be at paving height. These days it is 20cm higher. Come the spring growth it will be cut back more than usual! The Ellensgate Garden received plenty of exposure in part 1, and in the coming weeks will be exposed again as it undergoes a make-over.

I never realised how effective this would turn out to be!

I never realised how effective this would turn out to be!

Alfred’s Arches is one of the big success stories of the garden. I planted Salix caprea (pussy willow) as a plentiful and quick growing edging to narrow the focus, then tied them across the tops. They are now grafted and are cut twice a season, and create a delightful tunnel. They are called after Alfred, a remarkable young man, a creative and enthusiastic gardener, who used to take perfect care of my hedges; I had to fire him because of his uncontrollable cleptomania, the last time he stole the neighbour’s camera, which gave him a criminal record. I do miss him though, and his enthusiastic understanding of what we were working towards. On the left the willows are underplanted with a variety of herbaceous and annual flowers in a very narrow bed, which make for a delightful stroll down the outside of the arches: yellow and brown Rudbeckia hirta varieties, deep blue indigenous Agapanthus inapertus, and other odd flowers, survivors of a long gone scatter pack, are great conversation pieces when my mom and I take to the garden. Perhaps for this summer it is time to re-sow though, as the variety is getting less. On the right there is a low hedge of chaenomeles (flowering quince) which helps to keep the deer away from the roses in the adjoining Anniversary Garden. Some shade loving self-seeders – also from a scatterpack – surprise us here from time to time. In the heat of summer this is a truly delightful area, even though I never anticipated its potential.

With my folks is Taubie, a x-Bull Terrier and my most beloved dog of all time. After two thoroughbred Bull Terriers I swore I'd never take on that battle of wills again. But then she looked at me and I was smitten. I'd guess labrador has played a part in her bloodline: she is the most intelligent, obliging and amenable dog I have ever known, with a gentle and loving nature.

With my folks is Taubie, a x-Bull Terrier and my most beloved dog of all time. After two thoroughbred Bull Terriers I swore I’d never take on that battle of wills again. But then she looked at me and I was smitten. I’d guess Labrador has played a part in her bloodline: she is the most intelligent, obliging and amenable dog I have ever known, with a gentle and loving nature.

Here is a summer photo of my parents at the walk; cornflowers and Queen Anne’s Lace in the background. Unfortunately walks now are more and more difficult, but luckily most of the major areas are accessible by vehicle, and I load them into my 4×4 and we ride through the farm in low range at low speed. Truth be told though, until I can persuade my mother into a wheelchair, a circumnavigation of the big lawn is more than she can cope with. But that gives me an idea of how I can justify the wheelchair to her…

The Japanese Walk really is stil raw raw raw here, and it is not a good photo - but the hose I warned about is there!

The Japanese Walk really is stil raw raw raw here, and it is not a good photo – but the hose I warned about is there!

Just before the start of Alfred’s Arches we look to the right down the Japanese Walk. This is parallel with the view across the Ellensgate Garden into the White Garden in part 1. It is the most recently completed of my projects. Imagine the space between the slate paving and the various rocks filled with green moss… The path is designed to be wheelchair friendly, should it in time to come be needed. (Aha – I wrote all the above in May 2006!) The path goes as far as the entrance to the Anniversary Garden, then up a step to a less obviously ‘paved’ area which is still incomplete. It is known as the Japanese walk, because of the three Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) flanking the path. Once that concept was established, other japanesque elements came into play; the bed to the right (the edge in fact of the Ellensgate Garden) is planted thickly with beautiful specimens of Japanese bamboo (Nandina domestica); there are now two cut-leaf Japanese maples as well beyond the nandina. There is the bamboo infill in the pergola wall. And there is of course the future, when the pergola will be positively dripping with deep mauve wisteria flowers…

A slight problem: the bees have discovered the pots and a subtle modification is needed to restore tranquility to the Japanese Walk...

A slight problem: the bees have discovered the pots and a subtle modification is needed to restore tranquility to the Japanese Walk…

I must slip in another photo here: not one of last weeks walk-arounds: this is the plinth containing home made beer pots acquired from the home of one of our farm workers; our best bit of ‘garden ornament’, I think! Again, imagine it on a sea of thick, lush green moss… Three years on that ideal is far from realised, but this summer the wisteria will start to cover the horizontal plane.

And that is enough of the tour for now. So we’ll take a last look up towards the front door from the steps below the bottom of Alfred’s Arches, there where the fountain aught to be…

Next we will take a look at the Rosemary Lawn and the Rosemary Borders that stretch off to the right...

Next we will take a look at the Rosemary Terrace and the Rosemary Borders that stretch off to the right…

A walk around my garden – part 1

In May 2006 I took my friends at www.mooseyscountrygarden.com. on a walk, and it is much the same walk we are going on now. I am going to show you things warts and all: the hosepipe left lying from last week, and the reed from last month, the edges untrimmed, paving stones awaiting their future, autumn leaves left lying after two windy late autumn days (liar: many have been there for weeks). In addition I have not waited for the right light to photograph by, but have set off late morning on this nippy but sunny day.

4 Outside_the_gate

The Ellensgate Garden and its entrance are the only perfectly level areas in the entire garden. Pinks flank the brick path on this side and bergenias on the outside.

My purpose is to give you an idea of the layout of the garden. In 1995 I spent more than 3 months travelling through the UK in a camper, intensively studying gardens and garden design. (When I returned to South Africa I started designing and installing gardens in Johannesburg whilst further developing the nursery and garden on the farm. Eventually I realized that two one-man businesses 400km apart could never work and decided to give up my city life.) One of the many lessons I learn in England was that often the unexpected combination of formal and informal have delightful results, and whilst still there started wondering how I would achieve this on the farm…

I knew that it was out of the question near my cottage. It was intrinsic that it stood ‘in the veldt’ as we say in South Africa – in other words in a meadow. I had already compromised when I started developing the cottage garden outside the front door… It made sense that the formal gardens related to my parents’ house, altogether a grander and more conventional structure: but how?

The answer was already there: the house sits on a terrace retained by a waist high wall which slopes down parallel with the valley. Directly in line with the front door and the entrance steps, a set of steps cuts into this terrace. The line from the front door down these steps would determine my main axis. To the left of the line would be the expanse of the open garden, over which one would look from the verandah (‘stoep’ in South Africa) across the dam to the Arboritum. To the right would be a series of garden rooms of different scale and mood. Up and down I wondered, planting pegs and staring, making cryptic notes to myself that even I sometimes couldn’t Up to the mid 50s this area had been potato lands, ploughed by a mule-drawn single-share plough. It had become veldt over the years since then, but it was still vaguely terraced; not level, simply less steep than the natural contour had been. I felt it important that this topography was respected – besides: the cost and effort involved in substantial regrading was out of the question, and many trees had already been planted over a 15 year period.

And so things developed: the Ellensgate Garden was on the first level below the stairs. Work started quite soon on it and on the main axis. As this axis dropped down each of the old terraces, a flight of stairs was called for; the bottom ones are yet to be built ten years later! (Recent note: And STILL not built going on 14 years later…)

5 ellensgate_garden_across_lawn

The awkward brickwork triangle on the side facing the lawn is hidden by an Abelia ‘Francis Mason’ hedge – here very much in need of a trim! To the left of the gate is a “Paul’s Scarlet Climber”; one of my aunts remembered it when reminiscing about the garden at Ellensgate and I planted it for her.

2 Ellensgate_gate

The gate and its garden with the white garden beyond. One day the white garden was there : the viburnum opulus was in flower and there were some self-sown white nicotianas (tobacco flowers) in the foreground; all it needed was some fine-tuning. Coloured nicotianas are removed and promptly, on pain of death, presented to my mother for putting into vases.

The Ellensgate Garden started with just that: Ellensgate. My paternal grandfather carpented the gate himself in the early twenties. It was the front gate to their house in Pretoria. Ellen was my father’s eldest sister, and her favourite spot in the garden was near this gate. She died in a typhoid epidemic in 1928; my father was born early the next year, the only son. I don’t know whether it was before or after her death that the house was officially christened Ellensgate. When the house was sold in 1954 my father himself removed the brass plaque from the gate. I remember it from my boyhood, lying in the bottom of his bedside drawer. For 40 years the house was used as a boarding house, growing progressively seedier, until it was bought by Pieter and Willem, who started renovating it. My father drove past on one of his occasional pilgrimages and saw the improvement. He stopped and within 20 minutes all three were in tears around the dining room table. Pieter and Willem have since become our friends and visit us on the farm. (See their website: www.ellensgate.co.za )

My father had always spoken of someday buying the gate – I knew now that it would happen, and it was part of my planning for that first garden from the very beginning: it was for my parents’ 70th birthdays and 45th wedding anniversary, and it was to be a tribute to four generations who had sought to beautify their surroundings: the sandstone of the gate pillar cappings and the fountain comes from the Orange Free State Province, near where my great grandparents built a home of similar sandstone in the early 1900s after the devastation of the Anglo Boer War. The black slate pathways are in tribute to the thick slabs of black slate of which Ellensgate itself is built. The wooden walls and ‘windows’ are of Sequoia sempervirens – Californian Redwood – grown and harvested on this farm, after which we have named it Sequoia Farm.

1 Ellensgate_garden_from_the_living_room

Perfect symmetry from the living room window. Beyond the pergola in the Anniversary Garden, at that stage still incomplete, can be seen.

One of my earliest gardening lessons I learnt from a neighbour who, when building her house on a nearby hilltop with a spectacular 300 degree view, designed her garden on such a small scale that one stooped to pass through the rose arches. The contrast between the greater and the closer space was breathtaking. I wanted something similar: a small, totally contained and introverted space. Also I wished to pay tribute to the ultimate formal gardens: the enclosed courtyard gardens of Islam, divided into four quadrants by rills and a central fountain. Except here the rills were replaced with paths! The garden is six meters square. When standing in the bay window of the living room, one looks through a ‘window’ into the garden with its central fountain aligned to the centre of the living room. The three paths all contain benches set between low pillars (tea tables!) which echo the gate posts of the fourth path.

6 Ellensgate_gdn

In theory the Ellensgate Garden is perfectly manicured, with only the occasional self-seeders allowed. The reality is somewhat different, and it is often messier than this. The catmints are just showing colour but two plants which are ubiquitous in my garden are making their presence felt: Erigeron karvinskianus (the little white daisy) and Verbena bonariensis (the highly fashionable, tall ‘see-through’ purple verbena – a weed in South Africa!)

A hedge of myrtle (Myrtus communis) flanks the paths. This replaced a sowing of Nicotiana alata which proved much too exuberant and sticky! The centre of the quadrants were originally grass: impossible to mow as they are less than 2m square, and cutting the lawn with nail scissors has never been my idea of therapeutic activity. They are now paved with large terracotta squares interplanted with wonderfully scented pink pinks (Dianthus whatever; never figured that one out; the blue-grey grassy leaved tussocky ones that smell so deliciously of cloves.) There are L-shaped raised boxes between the pillars, planted with pink roses, catmint and an unusual jasmine in each corner. The importance of scent in this garden was always paramount. The roses are ‘Bewitched’, a very tall and prolific, slightly mottled mid pink HT and ‘Bella Rosa’, a shortish darker pink floribunda. “People’s Princess” planted in the four corners, like their namesake, all died spectacularly at an early age. Yet it is still in the catalogues, and highly praised…  (Currently: the myrtle has been removed, for it too was difficult to keep to scale. The ‘Bewitched roses are due to be moved in the next weeks – as tall and robust as ‘Queen Elizabeth’ (an ancestor) they tower way over ones head and are also out of proportion. The pump recently packed up and must be replaced. All in all it is time for a serious overhaul in this, my parents’ 80th year!)

The White Garden is gradually being developed further, with ‘Iceberg’ roses, white hydrangeas, gaura, ox-eyes, and Rose ‘Purezza’ (just visible against the red azalea). This is a repeat-flowering white banksias for which Ludwig’s Roses provide no varietal name – a mystery rose! I have recently scattered seed of Nicotiana sylvestris. The pot in the distance is due to be moved elsewhere and a sundial set more to the centre will replace it. It will mark the crossing of the white Garden and the Yew Walk axes.

The White Garden is gradually being developed further, with ‘Iceberg’ roses, white hydrangeas, gaura, ox-eyes, and Rose ‘Purezza’ (just visible against the red azalea). This is a repeat-flowering white banksias for which Ludwig’s Roses (SA’s top growers) provide no varietal name – a mystery rose! I have recently scattered seed of Nicotiana sylvestris. The pot in the distance is due to be moved elsewhere and a sundial set more to the centre will replace it. It will mark the crossing of the White Garden and the Yew Walk axes.

One day I looked across from the gate and the White Garden was born – it was all there already, it only needed editing. But now I have run out of time, and the tour has only just started. We will have to continue on another occasion, when today’s pics (May 2006) will feature as I promised in the beginning of this post, instead of these I went foraging for …


Japanese maple unfurling

The start of the Spring Fair has been rather like a typical Spring Civvies Day celebration at a school: after days of lovely weather, girls in strappy dresses and boys in shorts are blue with the cold, as nature sniggers at their enthusiasm.  This (accidental) photo manages to capture the ‘better indoors’ feel of Saturday, the first day of the Haenertsburg Magoebaskloof Spring Fair.  Luckily today has been drier, warmer and at times even sunny. Perfect in fact, and the garden has been full of people.

Cold and wet outside

One more Saturday photo, before we move on to brighter shots: the Salix cuprea of Alfred’s Arches are suddenly in bud, but this misty panorama shows that the overall colour, typical of Sequoia Gardens during the Fair, is drab, with splashes of bright colour and the earliest greens.

panorama across lawn Sat

In fact the next is also a Saturday shot, of the view to the left of this panorama and taken at the same time, but I’ve pumped up the brightness and the colour.

Looking across to the arboretum

Even though I wish the festival took place two weeks later, we are ready, the hedges are trimmed and everything is about as shipshape as can be in such a large garden.

Hedges trimmed

I have picked the first of the Clove Pinks, unassuming flowers but with the most intoxicating scent.  It stands with me in a tiny alabaster vase as I write this, one flower enough to scent my bubble as I look out on the late sun across the garden.

clove pinkLeaves unfurl – first our Horse Chestnut (a proud possession in South Africa, and this one flowered for the first time last year) and then one of the Japanese maples in the Japanese Walk.

Horse chestnut close-up

Japanese maple unfurling

Here is a view of the Japanese Walk.

Japanese Walk

 Blossoms are one of the great features of the Fair – but many of mine won’t flower till October.  The crab-apples are early though and this one is Malus purpurea .

malus purpurea

malus purpurea detail

malus purpurea micro detail


I never thought my next post would focus on a rose, but of all the exciting things that have happened in the last fortnight, this is the most surprising. Quite out of season – in other words super early – several buds I had not even noticed opened on the seedling rose outside the guest room.

Sequoia Rose

I’ve searched back through my writings on this particular rose which was selected rather randomly from amongst the seed and cutting-grown roses in my nursery to replace a deceased standard. At that stage the young rose merely had the right colour bloom, and did not show any particular promise or distinctive habit. But it soon proved worth mentioning. You’ll be wading through a lot of rose-talk to find it in this post but it is described in detail here.

Now, after watching it over two years, noting its disease resistance, its fondness for flowering, its willingness to grow long willowy shoots and finally its early start, I’ve decided it deserves a name. If I have ‘Cascade’ and ’Mothertjie’, and not forgetting ‘Stef’ and ‘Stephan’ as well as a clutch of other unnamed and largely unremarkable roses, then this must need a moniker. I hereby christen you THE SEQUOIA ROSE. May your cuttings, which took so willingly, prosper and please me in places I do not yet know; may they also go out and please other people and spread the memory of the one bright shining hour of my private Camelot.

And as all my other pics and stories really are quite separate, and it is bedtime – let me post this. The rest can wait.


Acer palmatum senkaki

A cool to cold August, which included damaging frost, was followed by a strangely subdued start to September. It just didn’t warm up. And the frogs remain ominously quiet. It is dry – and too much heat now without moisture can do harm. But when one gets beyond the frost damage, I think this late spring promises to be a good one.

crabapple malus floribunda

My problem is that the Spring Fair starts on Friday. It is always at least a week too early for my garden, and on a year like this at least two. Last year I spent money on instant colour, but the plants that survived have adjusted to our climate and won’t be performing fully before October. So this year it is ‘what you see is what you get’. The beauty is there for them as will look. And I really don’t cater for them as what won’t.

Winking smile

crab apple

Luckily the crab-apples are always ready in time. And you can walk for 40m under them up in the arboretum. For them what’s prepared to climb to get to them. Once there the azaleas are coming along nicely with new colours around every turn. It is time to start careful walks with tripod and camera. Next post…

ex canna bed cannabed close upah acanna

Framed in thick black, the famous canna bed of my header pic. Remember the porcupines after 25 years suddenly developed a taste for cannas. I think they also taught the bush-pigs – our version of wild boar, They had done so much damage we decided to let them get on with it. So this is the sight that greeted me today. Total desolation. (And an interestingly organic edge Winking smile ) Top right you can see the few little roots lying on the surface, and ne’er a blade or a tuber in sight. Oh no wait: in the furthest corner I find a sign of life. But there is no doubt – any cannas that survive here will be moved to the bed at the old barn, which is luckily intact. i think a mass of bright annuals here that can be sown directly into the sandy soil. Perhaps neon orange california poppies and some white alyssum to leven them… Problem is that there is nearly 100m2 of ground to cover here. Even cheap and easy seeds will cost!

wisteria Dark red chaenomeles

On a much happier note – the chaenomeles are looking lovely bordering the Anniversary Garden and the wisteria has started to flower there. One of my favourite combinations in the whole garden, although not foreseen!

red and mauve together



sparaxis 2

More than a month earlier than I expected, the first Sparaxis at the front door opened on 5 August. For the first time they had not been lifted but overplanted, and when the young leaves started to push through in early winter, we cleared out other planting. No food, no nothing. This is what I call economical gardening with bulbs! (CLICK ON THE TITLE OF THE POST TO SEE IN A LARGER FORMAT)

sparaxis 1

Since then I’ve enjoyed welcoming new flowers in new colours on an almost daily basis. They are not known as “Harlequin Flower” for nothing!

c Sparaxis brick red

d Sparaxis coming along nicely

d Sparaxis coming to prime

e reddest sparaxis

f Sequoia window and sparaxis

g sparaxis with bee

h Pale red-brown sparaxis

i Sparaxis is not called Harlequin Flower for nothing

j Monty and sparaxis

k pikotee sparaxis

l colour-tipped sparaxis

m massed and backlit

n white and yellow sparaxis

o bud and flower sparaxis

p Massed sparaxis

q pots of sparaxis

r perfect sparaxis

s prototype sparaxis




Not the best photo I’ve taken lately, you’ll be pleased to hear – but the sprouting of our endemic Scilla natelensis and the sudden honey scent of Buddleja salvifolia on a recent warm walk signify the change in season at Sequoia Gardens – spring is here(ish). This morning we we woke to soft, measurable rain – 25mm in fact, the first rain to speak of since April!

Bluebells sprouting

Cannas sprouting

The Spanish Bluebells are sprouting and will flower if the bokkies (deer) allow; and the Japanese anemones that will mark the swansong of summer are already showing their first leaves. And over at the entrance the cannas which had been brown since June’s frost and were starting to collapse as though an elephant had been rolling on them, have been cleaned away, revealing the sprouting leaves hidden in the mess. Time to water, and to fertilise. (Thanks again for last night’s rain!)

Cleaning and watering cannas

At the entrance


The dominant colour remains wintery, but the first spring colour is beginning to show:

Spring and winter

Few azaleas are ready for full-length portraits, but detail opportunities are becoming plentiful.

Frilly bicolour azalea

whitr azalea

pink face azalea

Frilly palest pink azalea

pink double azale

watermelon double azalea

And as you might have noticed – we had a few drops of rain before last night’s decent downpours.

But back to the somewhat wintery: I have three Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’ in pots. I got them from Sandford Heights Nursery, our wonderful local source of all plants happy here, and fast becoming one of South Africa’s top sources of a huge variety of Japanese maples. Yes, this is a plug, but not paid for; owners Erie and Laurie’s mom, Gub, is my gardening guru. Had it not been for her back in the 80s I don’t think I would have had more than a passing interest in plants. And last night I attended the 40th birthday party of their daughter, one of my good friends; friendship across three generations!

Acer palmatum Sango-kaku

Sango-kaku is my favourite amongst these, my favourite species of trees. Also know as the coral-bark maple – for reasons obvious from these pics – it has small, neat leaves with yellowish veins and stems, and buttery autumn colour; the way the corals and yellows combine is truly magical. Here one last leaf speaks of late winter, not a long gone autumn.

Acer palmatum Sango-kaku detail

Step back from these details and the view widens. We are at the public entrance to the garden, the wintery seats early in the post mark a resting space near the entrance, shaded in summer. The pots with ‘Sango-kaku’ form part of this area.

Rosemary Borders from entrance

The pots are behind the tree to the left. We are looking down the length of the Rosemary Terrace, much foreshortened in this view. Stand back, and the proportions become clearer.

Rosemary Borders from parking

Entrance from parking

Here we are now, looking across the guest parking towards the garden. To the right the avenue of Sequoia trees along the driveway to the house form a visual barier. Ahead the Chinese maples along Flora’s path separate the garden from the parking area; and below – since we’ve been reversing – the boys, the dogs and I set off down the Sequoia avenue at the start of a recent walk. We are halfway through the photos I have prepared…

Sequoia avenue - boys and dogs



The bleakness of the season (remember it is the end of winter here) but more so: the wonderful black and white photography of my friend Laura at eljaygee (just another fauxtography blog) has inspired me to experiment with draining the last vestiges of colour from my shots. I’m afraid these are just snapshots from an afternoon stroll, but they have excited me.


Some photos look more drained in colour than in black and white…

                   The bench under the beech - Beech Borders  bEECH bORDERS BENCH

But I cannot get away from colour, no matter how slight…

First crabapple blossoms

These are the first tentative crab-apple blossoms, testing the air to see if it is time yet to all frolic forth.

First crabapple blossoms 2

And these are the first sparaxis blooms, the flowers I associate so strongly with my mother’s last spring five years ago, when I first planted them. These, overwintered (or rather – oversummered) in their pots, are in bloom a full month earlier than in previous years.

First sparaxis

And so another spring starts, things start to perk up in the garden, and as Sequoia grows ever brighter and more colourful, I still don’t know when I will shut the hall door with its flanking panels of stained glass depicting Sequoia trees for the last time behind me.

Front door

Dazzling Dixter

Jack Holloway:

Great Dixter and Sissinghurst are the two gardens that inspired me most as I developed Sequoia Gardens. Recently my gardening friend Dan Cooper visited Great Dixter – and reported so beautifully that for the first time I reblog (share) someone else’s post. Thank you Dan!

Originally posted on The Frustrated Gardener:

Having been utterly engrossed in our own garden for the last few weeks it was a relief to get out and about and start the summer holiday proper. Our destination was Great Dixter, the house and garden of the late, great Christopher Lloyd, nestled in the bucolic East Sussex countryside. The mellow Wealden house is a combination of an original 15th century dwelling with part of a 16th century yeoman’s house, transported here from neighbouring Kent. In 1912 the resulting building was sympathetically added to and updated by Edwin Lutyens, accentuating the property’s air of great antiquity.

Tall chimneys, typical of many Lutyens country houses, rise above the flowers in the Peacock Garden

Tall chimneys, typical of many of Lutyens’ country houses, rise above the flowers in the Peacock Garden

I have to confess to not having fully appreciated or enjoyed Great Dixter’s gardens on previous visits. I understand this statement might be considered tantamount to blasphemy in horticultural circles, but I put it down to poor timing and my own underdeveloped taste. On paper I ought to be in complete harmony with…

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Wondering how to share with you my dream, I went to Google Images. I did not really find what I want, but this image captures the spirit if not in any way the subject of my dream.


an early 20th century card by Josef  Madlener

I have asked myself the question: what if I won the lotto before I leave Sequoia Gardens. Would I stay? What would I do to develop the gardens further? I must admit that I think I would leave, for in my head I am ready for the next stage of my journey. But I would regret not completing three projects: The Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe, about which I have often written, e.g. here

The boys find a perfect universe

The potential of this garden, the size and simplicity of the idea, the audacity of it makes it my greatest loss; the project I would most like to complete.

Next in line is a recent concept,  and one which is so far beyond my financial reach or any practical implementation in the way I envisage it, that I allow myself to dream ever bigger. It is impossible – so don’t even consider the possible! That is where the top picture comes in. I was dreaming of a magical space – a spiritual place, a chapel or a meditation retreat under the avenue of pin oaks. I cleaned the site up a little in this photograph.

My cathedral space

Under these tall, upright pin oaks there is an space that can easily be levelled. The trees soar like the pillars of a gothic cathedral. In winter their traceries meet overhead, but in summer the leaves form a dense roof high up. Cleaning up and levelling the space beneath them is very possible – in fact it would be my first project should I stay. But then the dream kicks in. Beautiful as this space is, it cannot protect one from the elements. A simple glass-roofed structure on slim supports will protect those gathered beneath. Simple. Oh, exquisitely simple. The supports would be cast in specially prepared moulds; or perhaps carved from a softer material. They would be the attenuated organic shapes one finds in the best Art Nouveau work; picture the entrance to a classic Parisian Metro; or beautiful Art Nouveau stained glass. Perhaps loops and curves, great bone-like shapes.

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Did I mention stained glass? The roofs would be clear – except for swirling tendrils creating the structure. But perhaps at eye level – or higher – between the pillars – there could be stained glass such as one finds of the period; a botanical, illustrating our native flowers; or perhaps allegorical scenes. Or even glorious unstained glass…

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Imagine our natives immortalised in beautiful stained glass…

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Oh right. . There’s a third dream. But it doesn’t quite  flow from here, so let’s keep it for later…

(I see now – yesterday it was the 5th anniversary of my blog… happy birthday to me!  That is quite an achievement, I think Smile)