The grasslands on the Haenertsburg Common can give a magnificent spring floral display, especially if the long grass was gently burnt during the winter, and there is sufficient early rain. I don’t have that (I’m working on it!) but my summer meadows, which start maturing around now, are pretty good. Here Doubly is waiting to see if this will turn into a walk or whether he has followed me out under false pretences. Below is the jewel in our meadow’s crown – Gladiolus dalenii. It is strange that there are two completely different strains: one in bright yellow and orange which flowers in autumn, and this one, more common in our area, which flowers around mid-summer. This one is quite colourful – often they are a soft lime-green with brown markings. (Incidently – we mark summer from around mid October when the spring flowers are over to Easter or later – over 5 months we call summer! Spring is less than two months, as is autumn, which leaves only about 3 months for winter… But I am thinking of all in the North today, for whom the longest night has finally come!)
December 21, 2009
December 8, 2009
The Afrikaans name for hydrangeas is Christmas Roses – appropriate, as they dominate gardens in so many parts of the country during December. Last Saturday our Rotary Club hosted the annual Christmas lunch for pensioners, and each table had a large flat dish of baby blue mopheads, three white candles and a sprinkling of thread-like silver tinsel. Not quite the way northerners picture Christmas – but very appropriate in South Africa!
Personally I tend to favour a well-grown lacecap to a mophead, as the plant is more graceful. Having said that, I collect every hydrangya I can lay my hands on. But I have yet to grow a climbing hydrangya successfully – I suspect few other have because one seldom sees them for sale, and I have never seen H. aspera, which I truly crave, and several other famous species and cultivars in South Africa. Above is H. serrata ‘Blue Bird’ in the Cottage Garden, and below H. macrophylla ‘ Blue Wave’ and H. quercifolia grow above the wall below the big house.
December 2, 2009
Serious cheating – this is more of a photo essay.
I picked Frances of Fairegarden’s brain about her wonderful pics and found out that her camera is not too fancy: the same as mine but 4 generations more advanced. The quality of her pics has more to do with getting the light and everything else right than with technical know-how or equipment. So I could and should go out and do better than I’ve been doing!
At the end of a cloudy day I took my camera and tripod to the Rosemary Borders. As the sun sinks low in the west on such a day, it might break through the clouds which often don’t extend across the much drier plains to the west of us. The light can be spectacular; today was merely adequate. And so to the subject of this week’s pictures…
So this week’s pic – or perhaps it should be pick! – is of the penstemons in the Upper Rosemary Border. I love them with the species rugosa rose and ‘Antony Waterer’ spiraea; the colours are identical but the plants so different. I love them against the hummocky shapes that dominate this bed, and I love the mauve and pink varieties together.
We move down to the Lower Rosemary Border for this shot. This bed was originally planted with scatterpacks, and I want to get back there, but it is currently more of a grow-on bed for Canna Durban (Tropicanna) and my indigenous orange poppy which featured a few weeks back in the weekly pic. Here Durban grows with the California poppy.
We move lower yet to the Makou Dam. I love this year’s ferns and last year’s oak leaves against the water.
Finally – the sun breaks through beneath the clouds as it sets.
November 10, 2009
I was so certain that the roses would feature this week. But I think a longer post on my blowsy, rather unconventional approach to roses is needed; besides which, none of this morning’s rose pics, the first I’ve taken this second week of November, jumped out at me and demanded to be used.
So instead I present: Papaver aculeatum, the South African Poppy. It fills me with wonder that this obviously-poppy poppy is the only poppy indigenous to South Africa; is in fact the only poppy in the entire Southern Hemisphere. It is rare but quite widely spread, and can be either a soft orange like our local strain, or salmon-pink. I consulted Mark Griffihs’ “The New Royal Horticultural Society Dictionary: Index of Garden Plants” which to my even greater surprise lists it as native to both Australia and South Africa. How? When? I was quite prepared to believe that millenia ago a migrant bird brought a single seed from the North, and that developed into our poppy. But the same species in Australia? The only one there too? I must get an answer – is this possibly a mistake, or just another of the myriad questions nature dangles before us?
Our lovely display started as a single flower found wild on the farm. Over the years we have encouraged it in one spot, where it grows in the Lower Rosemary Border amongst the unfurling leaves of the marvellously coloured Canna ‘Phaeson’ , sometimes incorrrectly called C. ‘Durban’ . I think this year I must conciously harvest as much seed as possible. This plant is a treasure!
October 16, 2009
Right. I have a small problem. I have moved 97 photographs taken over the last weeks into a file marked ‘azaleas’ with the intention of writing on this most ubiquitous plant on our mountain. As a teacher my pupils knew my favourite quote from Churchill: “Please excuse this long letter, but I don’t have the time to write a short one.”…
Perhaps I must tell their story, and show their portraits, and add captions only where necessary. And not try too hard to edit and order. And leave room for a follow-up. So here goes!
Sometime in the Seventies we became aware of the Spring Festival, today known as the Magoebaskloof Spring Faire. For two weeks as first the azaleas and then the flowering cherries put on their show, the local Garden Club ladies opened the ‘garden’ of our neighbour to the public. Over the years the Garden Cottages where built with the proceeds: a group of 20 or so cottages let at excellent rates to retired folks in our local village of Haenertsburg. The Faire has grown to include numerous activities and venues, and the 25th anniversary of the ‘modern’ Faire was celebrated this year.
Box Thompson, our neighbour, the infinitely gentle spinster daughter of a pioneering legend on the mountain, was a brilliant horticulturist who obtained a B.Sc degree in Botany and Zoology before WW2. She at first grew indigenous and exotic bulbs in her nursery, but for various reasons started changing to azaleas and flowering cherries during the 1960s. (In “Between Woodbush and Wolkberg” her mother, Googoo Thompson, recounts her fascinating 96 years to Brigitte Wongtschowski - a worthwhile read for anyone wanting a sense of our local history.)
Our first visit to Box’s ‘garden’ was magic. It was not really a garden but a series of mother-beds and grow-on beds and cutting beds clambering up the hills in small terraces, reflected in several still pools and shaded by a magnificent collection of trees.
“The woman is mad” we said, “she has turned her whole farm into a garden!” But the seed was sown and within a few years we were well on our way to madness ourselves… Today the gardens are owned by her niece, and go by the name Cheerio Gardens – and I have seen the glorious mix of red and pink azaleas reflected in the water on a calendar I found in Europe!
Our first azaleas we bought in full flower during the festival from Box and from various neighbours. They would be dug up with a spadeful of soil and wrapped in wet newspaper and a piece of plastic, and we would plant them shallowly in rich acidic soil without them so much as dropping a bloom. It was wonderful, standing among hundreds of gorgeous plants and saying “Let’s have that one…and that one… and that one…” and paying next to nothing for them! Almost immediately we started taking our own cuttings. Happily the best time coincided with the long summer holiday over Christmas; and happily my dad had had a little wall built behind which my mother organised her cutting bed. It was a comfortable height for inserting the cuttings, and afterwards she would shield them with umbrellas of bracken fronds. By the time we planted the arboretum we too were producing at nursery scale! And just as well, for my dad planted over 1000 of them during that spring and summer of 1997…
Because of the way they were bought and propagated, names never entered the picture, although yet another of Box’s nieces is very good at identifying and naming the various colours and growth patterns. I must admit that I’ve never tried to master the intricacies of the subtle differences between cultivars. In fact I’m rather vague on the whole genus Rhododendron. Originally Rhododendrons and Azaleas were classified separately. Today the over 900 species, not to mention many thousands of hybrids, are lumped together. I would say I could tell the one from the other – until an expert tries to confuse me with borderline examples. Then I’ll be useless. The easy answer is that we find few rhododendrons in South Africa (Why? I don’t know…), so it is most likely an azalea.
Rhododendrons –and from here on I’m talking entirely from my own knowledge and experience, not from books, so don’t take it as gospel – rhododendrons are altogether coarser plants, with bigger, thicker leaves. Those I know in our part of the world are tree-like rather than shrub-like. They carry their flowers in trusses which develop from huge buds like many deciduous trees, just bigger; those pictured above are 3cm (over an inch) long. The new year’s flowerless growth is from similar but slimmer buds. The bud top right is beginning to break into individual flower buds.
Azaleas on the other hand are less bullet-like in their buds and more twiggy in their growth. The flowers show colour from early on, rather than breaking from a bud. And if you count, you will see that they are mostly carried in threes – it is the density of the twigs that gives the impression that an azalea is smothered in flowers.
And smothered they are; on a good bush one sees hardly any leaves. Typical also are the markings on the flower, and it is here where the infinite variety comes in; white azaleas, for instance we have in three sizes, each with soft green, strong green, soft pink, strong pink or no spots.
Speaking of white azaleas – these seem to have two not three buds. So I went on a bit of a search; and I change my statement to ‘evergreen azaleas have two or three buds, seldom more’. Although these azaleas are evergreen, in autumn a percentage – say 20% – of their leaves change to lacquered red, orange or yellow, set of by the bright green of the remaining leaves. As a complement to the wonderful autumn trees they are perfect!
Our evergreen azaleas come in every imaginable shade between white and brightest pink, some two-toned or picatee, reds from half-ripe tomato via watermelon to pure rich red, and all shades of mauve. Flower size varies from 15mm (1/2 inch) to 75mm.
Halfway between the deciduous and the evergreen azaleas lies our pale mauve one. It is more deciduous than not, and there is a quality about its colouring which is uniquely its own. It is tall and upright like the deciduous azaleas, and like most of them it is scented, but only lightly. Yet its buds are those of the evergreen azalea, although here they seem to be grouped in fours and fives. Let’s take a look at the “claws” of the deciduous azalea, and you will see how much they differ:
Try to ignore the stunning smoky flame colour and look how the flowers start from a single point within a growth bud (you can see the bracts that covered the bud below the flowers). More importantly, look how they were folded together within the bud. If the evergreen azalea starts off like this, then the flowers have become like little candles by the time they are visible.
So to me the biggest difference between the two lies in the way the flowers are carried – the evergreens’ are candles, the deciduous’ are claws. Then of course there is the colour. Whereas the evergreens tend to white-pink-red, the deciduous are mainly in the cream-yellow-orange range, often with magnificent smoky oranges you find in few other flowers.
However you also find soft pure pinks, and many salmony tones.
And when they are covered in blooms they can be as generous as any evergreen, with their profuse claws making up for their fewer twigs. This pale cream one with russet buds has the most wonderful scent as well, like so many of these deciduous azaleas!
A 2006 photo of the white azaleas across my dam – how the trees have grown!
I love the white azaleas, but there is no doubt that there are very few garden plants that can blast you with colour the way azaleas can. Combine them – with one another or with other plants – and the possible colour effects are endless, from the most subtle to the most strident, and a walk through the garden in azalea season is about as close to sensory overload as one can get! I’ll leave the visuals to speak for themselves…
October 11, 2009
Someone asked for more pics of wisterias… and I have long wanted to consolidate my wisteria photos into a story – so here goes! Most of our wisterias we grew from seed, taken from a plant which was the off-spring (clonal, I think) of one at the family farm which was originally planted in the early 1900s. We grew them because we – my dad and I – had just discovered the joy of germination on the farm and well: because they were there! Wisterias carry long velvety seedpods with big seeds that call out “good with beginners”!
These first two photos are in fact the last I took. This particular plant, incredibly robust, covers a camphor tree and the adjacent pin oak, which is just visible beyond the camellia on the right. It has completely swamped the small pergola built for it between the two trees and has set off through the adjacent shrubbery, where last year we realised that it was leaning too heavily on a flowering dogwood and twenty assorted shrubs. I was looking at it yesterday and thinking that it needed further curtailing. The blue spikes below it are Scilla natalensis, a bulb which grows wild on Sequoia. The netting is to protect it and the young roses from the deer (more correctly buck – duiker and bush buck). Early in the season when food is scarce they love to nibble on fresh rose foliage and the blue firework flower stalks.
Here it is in close-up. Definitely; this year we will search for rooted cuttings amongst its meanderings. It is floriferous, with good colour and long racemes, and the fact that it is two weeks later than most can only be an advantage. I will plant it in the huge old mother-pine where its sister’s dumpy flowers are over before the yellow banksia rose gets under way.
Every year I have to act the contortionist just to get the yellow and mauve into the same frame. The banksia was planted by a friend’s mother as a young woman. When their yard was subdivided, he offered me the huge old root ball. Within three years it proved a good investment, worth transporting 350km (over 200 miles) to its new home!
Today I went and took this photo specially. The banksia flowers 10 meters up into the tree. The wisteria reaches twice as high and will eventually climb to the top of the tree – but no longer has a single flower. Now imagine the banksia combined with the day before yesterday’s sprawling giant…
The next example I think is a brother; a sprawling good-for-nothing brat, a disgrace to the family name; why he has not been disinherited I do not know! He grew right here from a root in what used to be the nursery holding area. As a result he was a bit neglected as a child. Surrounded by trees (some of which have subsequently been removed), he didn’t have one of his own to look up to – and so he was left to his own devices and became a scruffy introvert. The brown behind him is an unsuccessful rescue job (just as well, considering where it was planted), a conifer from a terracotta pot that I valued more than its occupant. Beyond, an assortment of conifers including a gawky ginkgo not yet in leaf. The area to the right is the future Sage’s Walk, a path through a collection of salvias (in sun) and plectranthus (in shade) culminating in the azalea crescent in the distance. It is also the area where most of my collection of seed-grown pink deciduous azaleas are concentrated. Their twiggy outlines add to the general scruffiness, but by this morning they too were coming into flower!
We now move to an area up on the boundary below the neighbour’s gum plantation across from my house, where many of the seedlings were planted just to get rid of them. Bear in mind that it takes up to ten years for a seed-grown wisteria to flower. That is according to several sources I’ve just consulted. The figure I remember is seven, and my first ones flowered at five years if I remember correctly. It was a convenient spot to dump them while we waited. Out of sight proved to be out of mind, and not one of them was ever moved. They are a motley collection, mostly disappointing and can easily be grubbed out if something better comes along. However one of them, visible in the centre, will still make me my fortune (he said wishfully.)
This wisteria’s flowers are of good but not spectacular colour, but their length and grace is exceptional. What really makes this plant unusual though is that it chose to be a tree rather than a climber. From a young age it had a sturdy, self-supporting stem. As time passed it became clear why: the space between nodes is compressed. This has a further advantage: the magnificent trusses are carried close together, so that the flowers literally hang like a beaded curtain…
Here you can see my wisteria tree, al the way from its stem to its spectacular flowers. On the left an altogether less impressive sibling grovels before my Joseph’s Coat (hmmm: Wisteria ‘Joseph’s Coat’ - it has a ring to it!) In addition to its typically short flowering season , it is most beautifully hung with silver-brown velvet pods for many months of the year, some of which can still be seen in this photo!
If the tree wisteria is my most important specimen, this one is my most successful. It grows over the pump-house (I have to stoop slightly to fit under that green cross-beam) and the surrounding trees. To the left foreground lies my water-lily pond. I have a dream of building a deck and a pergola over the edge of the water to support the wisteria and its reflection… but that will relate to developing Sequoia Gardens as a tourist destination in years to come!
To give you an idea of the setting, here is a picture taken this morning; the wisteria is spent, but the first water-lilies are in bloom! To the left an indigenous tree fern is stretching out its 2 meter fronds, at this stage still rolled and golden. And as I tend to interrupt myself when speaking, why not do so here? So here’s a bonus pic :
As the pump-house wisteria is all round my best example, and the flowers hang conveniently low, here are a few close-ups and flower studies.
Each pea-flower is perfection in itself.
And then a bee arrived to complete the photo-shoot!
Just about the only wisterias not propagated on Sequoia are the matching clones planted in the Anniversary Garden. Their tresses are disappointingly short, but born profusely and richly coloured. If it was not a five year project – at least – I would replace them though with cuttings from the pump-house. This photo you have seen in a previous post.
To end off – a romantic shot of a carpet of wisteria flowers and a yellow iris; one of those shots that make me feel I have achieved my objective in the Anniversary Garden!
October 6, 2009
Going through my blog to get the feel of reading it as a unit, I realised that I had left out a photograph in my 30 September ‘Spring Kicks In’ post. Do go take a look at it; it shows the view across the water to my cottage as the Acer palmatum atropurpureum comes into silvery leaf. I wrote about it, but never posted the photo.
Talking of coloured foliage led me to one of this week’s shots. It is of the plant association I am most proud of in my garden.
Flanking the path at the start of the axis down past the Ellensgate Garden are a pair of pungent junipers with lovely blue-grey foliage, not so ungreen as to be cold or dull. They are I would say Juniperus x media ‘Blaauw’ – or as close to it as I have ever been able to identify any garden conifer. Planted hard up against it – too hard at the moment as the junipers needs careful cutting back – is a particularly fine Prunus cerasifolia nigra. In South Africa no attempt is ever made to identify cultivars – in fact few nurseries do more than lump them together under Prunus nigra, the Black Plum. However each of my 7 or so plants is distinctly different, with flowers of different sizes and leaves of different shades. I found this one in some now forgotten nursery and was immediately struck by the small, lacquered leaves of an intense wine red. I’ve paired it with Berberis thunbergii ‘Rose Glow’ , just coming into leaf in the photo. Next to the berberis is one of the Abelia cultivars that were launched with great fanfare a few years ago, but have since seemingly disappeared – low-growing with a palish leaf with yellow and pink colorations. Finding its name would be a mission. Below the juniper is the Abelia grandiflora ‘Francis Mason’ hedge which masks the triangle of brickwork where the Ellensgate Garden is built up. This is the most successful and effective yellow-leaved hedging shrub in my climate, although Durantha ‘Sheena’s Gold’ is used more freely in the warmer parts of South Africa. Below that the willow of Alfred’s Arches, Salix caprea, is coming into leaf.
The foreground is one of the most neglected and satisfying parts of the garden. It lies above the wall and next to the steps leading down the axis. Given over to self-seeding annuals, it is seldom without something of interest and often magnificent. We started the year with a wonderful assortment of Nemesias now a little overshadowed by the green growth of early summer flowerers; no wait – the Namaqualand Daisies (Dimorphotheca sinuata, but no-one would have a clue what you were referring to here!) flowered from late winter and a few are still in bloom – cheerful sunny orange daisies. Cornflowers are coming along, and opium poppies are growing nicely. My all-time favourite, near-species Nicotiana elata add white, moody mauves and deep red; their seed has been nurtured in the family for over fifty years. By high summer the zinnias will be a show. Occasionally we pull out the spent flowers but only after they have seeded. Studying the content of the waist-high bed makes a wonderful last stop on a walk, before climbing the steps to the front door.
September 9, 2009
Blossom time – and therefore a perfect excuse to have two pics this week!
August 30, 2009
A beautiful Sunday on the veranda at my parents’ house; a glorious roast leg of lamb for lunch, and afterwards my mother’s first ever perambulation around the garden in a wheelchair; she is 80, has been diabetic for 45 years and of late has become frail. ‘Broos’ we say in Afrikaans, which also translates as fragile and vulnerable. After fighting against the idea of a wheelchair for ages, she quite looked forward to the ride, and was amused by the word perambulation. (Did you know that pram, as in a baby’s pushcart, is a contraction of this word?) Out on the veranda she could admire the combination up against the house of the earliest of the diaramas, D. gracile, with its silvery-white bracts and soft mauve flowers against the orange Aloe saponaria which has been flowering since autumn.
Diarama (hairbells, fairybells, wandflowers or most poetically: fairies’ fishing rods) is one of the most beautiful of our indigenous flowers, and D. gracile is endemic to our area. It is a shorter and more solid plant than most, carrying its flowers on shorter and more upright wands and it is the first to flower. The bracts appear silvery in the sunlight and combine exquisitely with the soft mauve flowers. But the zing comes from the contrasting Aloe saponaria flowers! They are one of the few aloes that can survive our bitter winter nights unscathed. They multiply gleefully from the root and flower cheerfully for months on end.
So out we went, round the back of the house where the steps are shallow, and for the first time this visit she saw the primulas growing where they will – seeding in cracks one doesn’t even realise exist. She looked and looked as I practiced small manoeuvres with the wheelchair and the dogs looked on in exasperation at this new, slow form of going for a walk.
It always amazes me that we battle so to grow most primulas in South Africa – in fact many are quite impossible, disliking our harsh springs, but in late winter P. malacoides puts on a brilliant show, spreading as it wishes. Once you’ve planted it, it is there for ever. I remember one plant that somehow found its way to the steps to my classroom. Four years later there were so many that I allowed the girls to pick them on their way into class!
Out onto the drive we went, and past the first azalaes. Confidently my mother declared the white ones her favourite these days, musing on the days when the pinks, or mauves, or reds took her fancy first…
Down we went past the flowering quinces (japonica, or Chaenomeles speciosa). They were of the first shrubs we planted when we started gardening here in the early 80s; a red, a white and a spectacular small crimson one (perhaps ‘Atrococcinea’). To our delight the mix produced an offspring across the road, to where one of the beautiful but bitter yellow fruit must have rolled. It is apple-blossom pink. We stopped to admire it and to reminisce about the first time we noticed its blossoms. Subsequently one year I grew a large number of seedlings from here and planted two hedges on either side of the Anniversary Garden from them. Some are rampant, some beautiful, some non-descript. Turning seedlings into hedges is not a good idea at the best of times, but I love the haphazardness of it all.
On we went… stopped to pick a sprig of witchhazel, to discuss the nemesias which deserve a post of their own, the new growth on the roses and aphids and their absense (thankfully!) We looked at the changes I made during the winter to the Big Lawn, simplifying the upper edge and removing three of the five circular beds cut into it by our late great gardener, Phineas Magoale, who did so much to establish the garden. We looked at the young sweetpeas, planted where he had always done, and remembered how proud he used to be of them. Then we turned back and up the avenue between the Sequoia trees past more azaleas and two beautiful camellias, stopping and studying plants that have become friends in the years since they were planted: the Scilla natalensis, wild off the farm, beginning to shoot; the rose-scented pelargonium, always the worse for frost at this time of year; also from wild stock on the farm the Aristea galpinii, with the promise of their glorious blue stars only just beginning to show through the leaves although last week in Tzaneen’s sub-tropical climate I saw them in full bloom… then back around the house and another threshold crossed as she sank into her familiar, comfortable chair near the fire.