I could start this post in many ways – but there is nothing like the wow-factor to get you reading… So let me introduce you to this beauty: it is Gladiolus densiflorus.
It is one of many plants I wish to touch on in this post, my contribution to Wildflower Wednesday, a monthly look by garden bloggers around the world at those plants which are native to their immediate area, started by Gail of Clay and Limestone several years ago.
I suddenly became aware again a few days back of a truth I’d come to take for granted: I grew to love gardening on this farm because everything grows so harmoniously here. Many years ago I walked through the young ‘garden’ with a friend, very much a city boy, who could not believe the scale and assumed every bit was considered and conceived, planned and planted. “Surely THIS you planted!” he would exclaim, pointing at three species with minute flowers and a small-leaved groundcover growing on a path which curved amongst grasses and ferns. “No,” I’d say, “we only mowed a path through the existing growth, which caused other plants to dominate in the more open habitat.” My mother once described it as a scarless world, and that sums up the way in which it was possible to gently expand the human presence without pushing nature aside.
Even the big lawn consists of grasses – and other greens! – that grow wild here, although other areas are kikuyu – a thuggish (exotic) grass which is by far the most popular lawn grass in most of South Africa. It was originally planted here back in the 40s and 50s as pasture for the mules used in the early days of timber-farming, and keeping it from spreading insidiously has been one of the on-going tasks in the garden. The picture above regular readers will recognise: the stand of Ouhout (literally ‘old wood’) trees – Leucosidea sericea – with a wild evergreen grass and other plants beneath it: all entirely the work of nature, with no more than the judicious removal of dead wood every few years by us. And one of the most beautiful spots in the whole garden… for 12 months of the year! In the photo above that you can see the mixed growth along a low cutting that first gave me the theme for this post: self-sown tree-ferns are becoming fine specimens, and an assortment of wild flowers, grasses, ferns and shrubs partial to conditions here have made this their happy home – all with minimal interference by us.
In many areas velvety mosses have covered bare earth – either because nothing much grows there, or because we have consciously kept the ground clear to encourage them, such as in the Japanese Walk where seven years on there is now sufficiently shade on the ground for my vision to start becoming a reality…
But this is all about wildFLOWER Wednesday, so let’s see what is blooming…
The rustic fence at the main entrance from the dirt road frames a lovely composition in blue and yellow – the blues appearing paler on film than in reality. The blue featured recently in a post: it is Wahlenbergia undulata, known locally as a ‘Bluebell’ ; the yellow is Hawkweed (Taraxacum officinale, and officially an exotic weed, but I claim it as one of our loveliest wild flowers…) and another smaller yellow daisy – one of the ubiquitous yellow daisies that we so easily just dismiss as weeds – possibly one of the many Senecio species.
Small flowers abound, and many I have had great trouble trying to identify. The next two might or might not be species of Selago or Tetraselago; I tend to think not. It is frustrating, but does not detract from the subtle beauty of these late-summer bloomers with their heads of minute flowers, each only about 3mm across.
There is a white flower too, almost certainly the same species.
We have our own indigenous knotweed, or Persicaria, P. attenuata I think it is; it might not be as attractive as some of the species I have seen in English gardens, but it does have the added value of being used to treat venereal diseases… Doctrine of Signatures, perhaps??
Something much more dramatic. In the fading light (and shot by flash) I come upon Crocosmia aurea just breaking bud. I have never noticed it like this before.
Immediately I think of the stock description of our other native, Crocosmia paniculata: “inflorescence zigzagging, each zigzag ending in a flower.” Can I still find paniculata in flower to show this, although one can also see it from the swelling seeds on the stalk? They flower a little earlier. Ah yes. Here it is.
On a walk I get to my hedgerow – a mixed planting, dense, forming a rough hedge, in honour of England, in memory of a specific walk in Gloucestershire some seven years ago… There is nothing remotely indigenous in this view…
Standen Walk (besides the inherent paradox in the words) I named after Philip Webb’s Arts & Crafts home in West Sussex, where I saw one of the most magnificent garden features of my entire 1995 pilgrimage: a long narrow walk with a shrub border on one side and on the other, beyond a low parapet wall, a long view over a meadow and across a valley. You can see it on one of those 360 degree thingies over here. In miniature I have something similar in Standen Walk. And the plants all come from Europe, and North America, and the East… Yet I heard, coming from an equally exotic conifer, the screechy hiss of one of South Africa’s most iconic birds. I’d heard it there the previous day too. What was this lover of afromontane forest doing in an exotic conifer?
The Knysna Loerie – or Turaco as we are now encouraged forced to call it – is an elegantly shaped and marked green bird, with bright red on its wings, pictured here in what is simply known as ‘Roberts’ – the bible of Southern African bird books. Like so many beautiful birds, its assorted calls are harsh, ugly. For years I hardly ever saw or even heard it in our gardens. Now, due to the many exotics here, it is resident. May I include it amongst the wild beauties in this post?
Was it after the heps of this rose in the hedgerow? Was it after the pyracantha berries below? Who knows. It was there, and it had not been there. I believe in the value of judicious planting of exotics. I rest my case.
I circle and flush the bird and manage a shot. It is blurred, without detail, but the shape is unmistakeable…
And so, in the glow of a summer evening, we make our way home.
But wait. I have not yet showed you all my shots of Gladiolus densiflorus. It is after all my subject for Wildflower Wednesday. My first memory of it is of a tighly packed double row of almost grey flowers. It was in neatness that its beauty lay. Densiflorus is an apt name, and nowhere clearer than in the elegant spike of developing flowers.
I have never deliberately grown these in the garden, although I am planning to harvest seed this year. Like so many of the wildings, the flower is small (each about the size of a thumbnail), but more importantly: their season is fleeting and their charm increases tenfold when come across unexpectedly in their season. And so, as I often do throughout the year, on a walk I will ask myself: ‘I wonder if xyz is flowering yet?’ And watching out for it adds immeasurably to the pleasure of a walk… As does finding it.
OK. We were returning home in the glow of a summer evening, tra-la…
It is a good time to sit on the stoep – veranda – with a drink and watch the colour drain from the world, and then slowly from the sky. Besides which: on two occasions this week five very indigenous Woolly-necked Storks (I posted about them here) soared in in the gloaming and settled with utmost grace in our very exotic big bluegum tree…