MORNING COFFEE ON THE LIMPOPO Morning coffee on the Limpopo. Two old people, perched impossibly high on a granite slab (how DID they get there?), looking out over the first wintery sun on the river, reminiscing. My father, 81, and his sister, my godmother, 87. The setting: Samaria, her family’s game farm in the very north of South Africa on the Limpopo river, home during winter holidays for over 80 years. Today the farm is part of the Mapungubwe National Park, a world heritage site for reasons geological, archaeological and cultural. Not to mention one of the most stupendously beautiful places in the world to watch game and study trees – or veldt flowers, the opportunistic wildings of a harsh climate.

Samaria golden hour Coffee conversation

Somehow these pictures of my father and godmother seem an appropriate place to start saying what I want to say,  for the passing of time and the importance of human communication are important markers in these thoughts: we start with the printing press, and all the history of the Age of Enlightenment which followed. The importance of colour printing can not be under-estimated, nor  the huge advances in the field over the last 30 years. I have before me, here on the Limpopo, a copy of Margery Fish’s book Cottage Garden Flowers. Published 49 years ago, it contains not a single colour picture and only 36 b&w photographs.

Margery Fish The Dustcover (photographed on the very same table the octogenarians are sitting on) tries to make up for this lack: it is Über Cottage Garden! And anyone over 50 can remember gardening magazines which contained fewer than one third colour photographs…

Colour photography… 15 years ago I spent 6 months in Europe, mainly studying UK gardens. On my first visit to Sissinghurst, a dream come true, I took exactly 17 slides. My budget was limited and film precious. Over 3 visits in 3 seasons  I might have taken 70 photos – from which in due course will follow the long promised Sissinghurst post. During that visit I enquired on the progress in digital photography: it was used at vast expense for specialised passport photography only, I was told. Wait five years… I bought my first laptop that day from the same salesman – black and white, for who needed colour?

Wilding with impalas and baobabs Today we have cameras at the ready, and need never think of the cost per frame…

Wilding  middle ground We process photographs ourselves, ‘fixing’ indifferent ones, even when there is no electricity available, like on Samaria…

Opportunistic wilding, to be identified

And with relatively cheap cameras we can take close-ups that would have demanded very sophisticated outfits just ten years ago… (My cousin will be emailing me earlier views, taken in April, when the veldt was quite pink with these flowers after the late rain and the dry summer – no-one can quite remember taking note of them during the last 60 years; where did the seed come from? How long had they been waiting for just the right opportunity to dominate the landscape so thoroughly? And what are they called? Work there for Jack to research…)

Wilding Then we send those photographs out into the big wide world via cyberspace… and so I come to share across the world, for no clear-cut reason, on my blog a tiny, tiny wilding from a huge landscape – and many a flower is NOT born to blush unseen and waste its sweetness on the desert air… (I’ve checked the books I’ve brought along. There is no internet as I write. The one above – 7mm in diameter – remains a mystery. Might the pink one be  Hermbstaedtia linearis? It’s a long shot…)

Coffee conversation 2 Back to our subject. Blogging in time – time to blog.

Why this post? Why this title? First the second part: well, why not? And well – I’m a little behind with blogging, both in time and in scope. I WANT to achieve more! As for the first part, reading Margery Fish (toilet reading, a chapter at a time) has made me aware of how a garden writer like Mrs Fish, one of the great classics of the 20th century, is extinct as a published author. I read half a dozen posts per week, beautifully written AND illustrated, which share in the way she shared. Thoughts around a theme; chatty sharing of intimate plant knowledge; a shared passion indulged. The democratisation of knowledge which started over 500 years ago.

Baobab on Samaria And so I sit in an ancient landscape, where the Kaapvaal and Zimbabwe  Cratons collided 2700 million years ago as the earliest continents formed, and I am surrounded by the specialisation of eons of evolution. There are 1700 species of trees in South Africa, and I wonder how many hundred grow on Samaria. How many shrubs? Grasses? Herbs? How many wildings that have never been described and named? How many garden worthy plants unknown in gardens? Where lies the future – and what might happen to knowledge as it becomes more and more freely available?


  1. Very nice of you to share this moment with us, Jack. We lucky to have so thoughtful an observer to report it back to us. I too wonder about how the massive amounts of media will change how we regard information and the world in general. I definitely qualify as old enough to recall when color photos in magazines were sparse if there were any at all. Now we feel lucky to have a few precious photos of grandparents and really lucky if they leave behind a diary or some letters that give us a sense of their day to day lives. In the future I imagine there will be more images of everyone at every age than we could possibly care to look at. Surely video will strip away any veil from what it was like to live in the current era.

    Nice to see another Baobab by the way.

    • Thank you, Mark. I always think of you when I post on the bushveld! I just always wonder at HOW info will be preserved. If my father hadn’t at considerable cost in time and equipment copied all the old family videos, they would be moulding away on a shelf now…

  2. (Slow Blog). If you write like this, I would rather wait patiently to be rewarded by your post. Apparently they are archiving Twitter, which doesn’t sound too inspirational. But all the – it seemed like a good idea at the time – blogs, are still lurking on the internet. Forever? Or till the power runs out?

    • Thank you, Diana! Yes – I too wonder about the cosmic litter we leave about. Will we one day feel the same about it as we do today about the Hakia introduced to stabilize the Cape Flats’s sand dunes and now one of our worst invaders???

  3. Jack, This is a wonderful post. I will admit to being ambivalent about the wonders of digital photography. Sometimes I go out and snap dozens of frames and when I come back in and download them, I find that none of them are very good. I think I was much more careful about composition, exposure, and focus back in the days when I only had 36 exposures on a roll of film and couldn’t fix my mistakes after the fact! Perhaps more isn’t always better. I agree with Diana — better fewer high quality posts. And you really delivered here.

  4. Oh my, Jack, this brought tears to my eyes! Such deep thoughts, the mysteries of the universe, all contained in a garden blog post! You have hit upon profound realizations, the leveling of the field for everyone with a digital camera and computer access, the sharing of thoughts and sights and loves. I am old enough to remember the slow process of film cameras and a world without color television even, but not so old to remember no tv at all. Your relatives are divine, and so are you and your world. Please keep sharing it with the world! 🙂

    • Thank you, Frances! We only got TV in 1974 in South Africa, the year I finished school. I hate TV and have never been in the habit of parking off in front of it. An abysmal waste of time, I think! (And in the process have missed out on some wonderful things, but achieved a lot more than I would have otherwise…)

      • We had one of the first TV’s in our city, a big bulky Danish modern cabinet with a tiny screen behind doors. There were few shows on back then, early 1950’s. Oops, showing my age there. 🙂

  5. Such a thoughtful post. My husband and I often talk about the changes in what, how, and when we take photographs now, with digital cameras, compared to when we used film. Digital photography is a blessing to me, not just for taking pictures of my garden, but for taking pictures of people – especially family gatherings. Not so that I can have lots of low quality pictures, but so that with my rather limited skills I might end up with one good one! And so those photos of your father and godmother are very touching to me. I’m not in favor of everything being digitized – I have no interest in reading an e-book, for instance. But if it weren’t for the internet and the digital world, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to read your post!

    • I agree, Ginny – nothing beats a book! Thanks for popping by and your comments. I’ve visited your blog and will be back!

  6. Jack, your writing never disappoints me, and this one is something special.The photographs of your father and his sister are precious. For me, older people are like an anchor in this unstable, everchanging world. As for the photography, yes – I remember how exciting was to watch, in a dark room, a wet b&w print emerging from a dish with photochemicals. Your post brings a lot of memories and thoughts. You bring the wonders of the beautiful part of the world closer to us, your readers. And for that, thanks!

  7. Pingback: ABANDON CONTROL NEGLECT « Sequoia Gardens Blog

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