Three years ago today I started this blog. I started in fact by cutting and pasting a three-year old post from where I still occasionally post, in the forums of which I served my blogging apprenticeship; Moosey’s is, I believe, still the best gardening writing on the net and I love reading her journals. It is worth taking a look at my first post, because it still does exactly what I intended it to do: it introduces you to the gardens at Sequoia.


Along the way I added a tab with maps of the garden, but the above is all you will find there… It is one of my dreams that have moved onto the backburner to have a really lovely map of the garden drawn, based on the above aerial view. You can see it in more detail by going to Google Earth; the coordinates are 23° 53’59.61″S    29°  56’57.34″E And if you slide the time back you can see how the garden has developed since 2001.

What was my objective back in July 2009 when I started this blog? Hmmm.

I had just spent my first 7 months gardening professionally again after leaving teaching. (In the late 90s I gardened professionally in Johannesburg.) It started with a bang on a huge project which fizzled dramatically and left me out of pocket the equivalent of 2 months teacher’s salary, which it took  3 months to get from the client. From there on I did some interesting stuff, but never really found it financially viable. I’ve looked at that first year’s posts at Moosey again: there are two non-descript pictures of work projects, the rest are still mainly about my garden. I started the blog to promote my ability as a gardener and garden designer. The second blog I had intended to start on my projects never happened. I have found my post at Mooseys, written when this  blog was just 10 days old, explaining the need to have my own blog because I was now ‘writing with an agenda’. By the way – I pay tribute to Moosey in what I  think is one of my best bits of writing EVER over here!

Within 6 weeks of starting the blog my mother took ill and I spent the next seven weeks nursing her intensively. It really was the death-knell for my professional gardening, although a few projects ticked over. In 2010 I returned to part time teaching and started developing the cottages on Sequoia Gardens as holiday accommodation.

A walk today

This picture possibly represents the final ‘gardening’ done by my mother – she is studying the arboretum’s spring awakening through her binocs from her wheelchair. The stained glass panels either side of the front door represent Sequoia trees.

During the months after my mother’s death there was a state of transition as I  moved out of my beloved home, now let to holiday-makers as The House that Jack Built – first into The Plett, which I temporarily rechristened Trailertrash Cottage, as the veranda was home to six dogs and their paraphernalia (of which the eldest two have passed on) as well as assorted brooms and bins. I had even fewer square meters than before and a complex work situation: it was during my year as Rotary president and I was still needing to use a drawing board from time to time. After a few months I moved into the Big House. My father decided that running two households at the age of 81 was really not necessary. Since then he has been in the guest suite when visiting on the farm.

Van Schalkwyk Garden

One of my garden projects, creating a new shaded seating area in sub-tropical Tzaneen.

As the three cottages were set up for visitors, the focus on this blog as a marketing tool developed and I added the assortment of green tabs at the top of the page for those who wanted quick and easy info on visiting here.

3-the-house-that-jack-built-from-carpetgarden  THtJB

Croft Cottage2
Croft Cottage

Three places to stay

The Plett

I’ve looked back at what I had to say when my blog was one year old: what I’ve not mentioned was the importance of (now moribund but not defunct) as a meeting place for garden bloggers. There in the earliest days of my blogging I met many people from across the world I consider gardening friends, and many of my earlier – and I think current – followers found me. The stats are interesting: almost 12700 visitors in that first year, and 113 the record number in a day; when my readership peaked in April this year I averaged 120 visits per day. I am heading for 52000 visitors and my record is 246 in one day. WordPress introduced a country-of-origin function in February this year. Besides showing me that there is hardly a country in the world from which I’ve not had a visitor, it has taught me that just under 50% of my visitors are from the USA, 25% from South Africa and 10% from the UK. So it is still very much a garden-blogger following, but there has been an encouraging growth of interest from South Africans – which I’d like to think will translate into ‘bums-in-beds’. Fact is that like the rest of the world we are feeling the economic pinch and tourism is a luxury industry…

Louis plants his tree in the  arboretum 27 Sept 1997

Louis planting his ceremonial  tree in the arboretum, 27/9/1997, nearly 15 years ago… It was my birthday and each member of the family planted a tree of their choice in this exciting new addition to the gardens. Louis’ was a liquidamber – and truth be told, of all the ceremonial trees it is today the most effective…

Around the time I was planning my move into the Big House, it started becoming clear that my partner, Louis, was too white, too male and too old: his contract at work at a theatre in Johannesburg would not be renewed. And with a sense of relief we started planning for his move to the farm towards the end of 2011. That in turn lead to the purchase of, the local tourism marketing magazine and webpage, and thus the end of my teaching career. Back in the early  90s I had yet another career, as marketing manager of Interflora African Areas, the flower relay organisation. We had come full circle. When I first moved here permanently in 1999, I was pretty certain that I would build a career in tourism marketing… In April, realising that tourism internationally was going through a rather quiet period (to add to our local woes the access road to our valley is being rebuilt and there is at any given time at least two stop-goes in the area…) I was very pleased to be offered the marketing of in South Africa, a local gap-year adventure program that I have been close to since its inception and in which I have a passionate belief.

Do you see why I say that I have never spent so little time in my garden, or as little money on it as this year? Thank heavens I have excellent staff now, and although there is creative work which has been neglected, the garden is looking neater and more cared for than ever before!

Zinnias and Rudbeckias glow in the evening light

A rather random choice to illustrate the careful nurturing of the garden by my staff…

 And thus we are here. It has been three years of new beginnings, cranking up of new ventures, huge expending of energy for (still) very slight returns, but three fascinating and exciting years none the less. One thing, however, has given me a sense of effort rewarded, and that has been this blog. May I feel the same about all my other ventures on their third birthdays!


12 thoughts on “THREE YEARS AGO I STARTED…

  1. Jack you leave me speechless (very difficult to do!) And proud. Well done! The progress is amazing. Our Moms would have loved this. X

    • I ditto Leonie’s remark! Great to read the whole on your blog — have been aware of the details over the years but good to read the big picture. We should all have such blogs for the sake of the children and their understanding of our lives. Having said that, I realise it just goes to show how old I must be! Hehe, I sound like my father. Jack’s little sis.

  2. Happy Blogaversary, Jack! I didn’t appreciate how much change you’ve seen in the past three years. Wow! I also didn’t realize that we were both dealing with our mothers’ last illnesses in those early blogging days of 2009. (My own 3rd blogging anniversary is a few weeks away.) I’m looking forward to going to look at some of your earlier writing at Moosey’s. I’m also looking forward to more of your writing, photography, and garden inspiration in the coming year. -Jean

  3. Jack, let me echo others’ responses. It’s fascinating to hear about your last three years and the challenges and triumphs you have faced, and how they are reflected in your garden and in your blog. I look forward to the next three years…

  4. Happy blogoversary! Your life has certainly evolved with the passage of years! I enjoyed reading some of your history. I have always admired your gorgeous gardens, and now I have a better understanding of its context. Best wishes for continued growth and success in the future!

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