Early spring in the arboritum

Three or four warm days, and blossoms and flowers multiply. Where a week ago there was barely promise, there is now  profusion. And so spring gains momentum.

Looking across from the arboritum towards the big house; camellias and pears.

Looking across from the arboritum towards the big house; camellias and pears.

Yesterday morning we took an early and rather chilly walk into the arboritum to explore the changes. The arboritum is the most ambitious project in our garden by far. It covers over a hectare on the opposite side of the valley from the houses and replaced a pine plantation. We – that is my father with my assistance and support – started planning it in the early 90s and by 1998 he was celebrating recovering from a heart bypass by planting the trees we had collected and the azaleas we had propogated. Every evening in Johannesburg I would get a progress report and a tally… ’17 trees and 48 azaleas today, that makes it 94 trees and 530 azaleas…’ It was a lesson to me in listing what had been achieved , not what still had to be done!

Two massive white stemmed gum trees, already impressive when my grandfather bought the farm in 1951, anchor the view of the arboritum from the big house.

Two massive white stemmed gum trees, already impressive when my grandfather bought the farm in 1951, anchor the view of the arboritum from the big house.

Situated on a steep east facing slope, the arboritum’s aspect helps protect the trees from the extreme heat possible on a summer afternoon, but is not ideal for the camellia blossoms that are exposed to sunlight soon after frosting. However now that the bushes are growing larger and more solid, more and more flowers are lovely, even in cold weather.

Looking up the valley from among the camellias. Higher up the valley lies Cheerio Gardens, first opened to the public in spring in the 60s and a great inspiration to us in starting to garden on Sequoia in the early 80s.

Looking up the valley from among the camellias. Higher up the valley lies Cheerio Gardens, first opened to the public in spring in the 60s and a great inspiration to us in starting to garden on Sequoia in the early 80s.

Cheerio Gardens, our neighbours higher up the valley, are known especially for their azaleas and flowering cherries; in both these plants they were South African pioneers. Most of our azalea stock comes originally from them and in sourcing trees for the arboritum we scoured the country for different blossoms to add to the cherries bought from them.  Our focus on autumn colour distinguishes us most clearly from the neighbours – that and a formal approach to aspects of the design, even in the arboritum, where there is a huge swath of azaleas flanked by tulip trees marching up the slope at an angle. More on that later in the season when those azaleas flower and the trees are in leaf!

What we call an 'apple-blossom pink azalea' against a juniper.  A limited number of fine conifers add solid contrast to the arboritum in all seasons.

What we call an 'apple-blossom pink azalea' against a juniper. A limited number of fine conifers add solid contrast to the arboritum in all seasons.

We are not terribly scientific about our azaleas. We know few by name. Most are evergreen azaleas of Indica and Kurume type. Athough evergreen, some of their leaves turn to laquered shades of red and yellow in autumn. One of our favourites doesn’t fit the mould, it is mauve (rather than white, pink or red) and is closer to the decidious azaleas; besides being slightly scented, it all but looses its leaves in winter.

Our much loved mauve azalea.

Our much loved mauve azalea.

After a lovely walk we head down past the Makou Dam and up to the big house to find out if my mother has had a good night… Despite all the spring about us, the look is still wintery.

SPRING SUNRISE MAKOUDAM

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