Spring on Sequoia consists of two separate and distinct events – a subtle greening and a flamboyant flowering.
October 6, 2010
Spring on Sequoia consists of two separate and distinct events – a subtle greening and a flamboyant flowering.
October 3, 2010
As I’ve come over the rise in the road from the opposite direction these last weeks and seen the haze of yellow where Senecio polyanthemoides flowers in a recently cleared bluegum plantation, I’ve known: this month I’ll at last contribute to Wild Flower Wednesday.* Ah, well… rather late than never. The pics were taken a week ago, if that lessons (later: the pedantic English teacher will eventually win…) – if that lessens my laxness .
A weed of disturbed ground, I might just collect some seed, for it forms – remarkably early in the season – a wiry, substantial and well rounded bush (especially when growing on its own) with bright flowers that moves most effectively in the wind.
*Wild Flower Wednesday, the 4th Wednesday of every month, was started by Gail of Clay and Limestone to celebrate Wildflowers in and out of gardens around the world – but especially IN gardens. Clicking on the pink lettering will link you to her blog – and to the background to WFW if you click on the first example. As I have by both intent and default many wild flowers in my garden, I will make a point of diarising the 4th Wednesday from now on!
September 29, 2010
There is no doubt about it – end September is about the massed effect of fresh greens and azaleas in white, magenta, pink and red – and a few other flowers thrown in: here, the last of the blossoms in pink and white, nicotiana (ditto) and the first pale yellow irises. The view across to the arboretum changes with the light, and anyone who stays put on the veranda to gaze can be forgiven for not taking a walk in the garden. Or can they?
September 19, 2010
I’m sitting by the window, supposedly marking. Tomorrow term marks are due. Outside spring has shifted into high gear. Sigh. I think a post is in order, and I’ve selected two pics from my spring 2006 postings to Mooseys. The first is a Cornus florida rubra of which I am very proud – they are scarce in South Africa, but wonderfully at home in my mountain climate.
The second is of the Italian pot, currently the focal point at the far end of the Rosemary Terrace, but soon also to be the focal point at the public entrance to the garden. A rethink is called for. The new entrance will be beneath the trees in the background. Currently the composition is in yellow-greens to be seen against the green of the Chinese maples (Acer buergeranum). Now an arch will be trimmed into the trees on this axis, so the background will largely disappear when seen from this side. More importantly, it is now the first feature seen by visitors – from the opposite side, so seen against the long stretch of lawn behind it. I’m thinking zebra grass to replace the Abelia ‘Francis Mason’ and a colourful bronze-yellow mixed planting of mainly annuals with Helichrysum petiolare ‘Limelight’ in the pot. Back to work now!
September 7, 2010
Quite the most exciting flower to me in this week of spring awakening (think sudden flushes of pink, mauve, red and white as blossoms blossom and azaleas – well – do whatever azaleas do) has been the white watsonia outside the main bedroom. It started to flower last week as I took up residence there. It is beautiful, and I have no recall of ever seeing it before. That is really strange, for a year ago I spent more time looking out this window than any other, for I was nursing my mother who lay in the room.
The plant was there. Its bulk in the general composition of the view I well remember. But I was completely taken by surprise when it flowered white. So what colour was it before then? I have played with the idea from every angle. I remember the plant, I knew it is a watsonia; I do not recall its flower. My mother always had an off-beat sense of fun. I credit her for organising a bit of cosmic Alzheimer’s Lite.
About the rockery outside the main bedroom: it is a troublesome spot. The house is cut back into the hillside at this point. Facing slightly west of south (think north, up north!) the rockery is really only visible from the main bedroom, but there it forms the main view. It is constantly showered with eucalyptus leaves, making neatness nigh impossible. It receives little direct sun, and that always obliquely. It is always either overgrown with nondescript colonisers, or underplanted. It needs some dramatic treatment I think, but I don’t know what. But I’m tempted to put up colourful crafty panels of stained glass and mosaics and plant acanthus and such like. On the other hand, a garden that chases you up and out to start the day is not a bad thing, now is it?
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 28, 2009
End September sees the greening of the valley, the first wet weather and above all – the chorus of frogs! This morning all were noticable from the veranda of the big house…