MY FATHER, A FARM, AND I (part 2)

Nearly four months on since Part 1 and I try to pick up the threads – in my own mind and amongst the photos…

Dams in a gardenless valley s

In December 1978 I spent a month clearing invader trees on the farm – my first stay of more than a few days on the farm. This dog belonged to the farm manager, and he left sometime in 1980. Where he lies the big water oak in front of The House that Jack Built now stands. It was one of the first trees we planted. Nothing you see here was part of the development my dad and the family started. That all came later.

Freddies Dam in an empty valley s

From within what is today a 2nd generation pine plantation I look across my meadow and my cottage, across Freddie’s Dam towards the beacon that has stood out since the farm came into the family over 60 years ago: my mother’s bluegum tree. It is difficult to imagine a time when the valley this empty.

An empty valley s

I have said The Plett was brought into a featureless valley. There was the stream and two dams. Very little else. Today the big house stands between the two tall bluegums breaking the horizon on the right and on the very right the old barn can be seen, visible down the length of the valley in those long gone days! Did we picture the valley as it is today? No. Or perhaps a little. We knew we were ‘improving’ it. But so little of the laying of the bones was done consciously, with specific effects in mind.

Flora's Path s

Here from a few years later – perhaps ‘85 – is Flora’s Path, the line of Chinese maples that mark the end of the garden in front of the big house. On this side now lies the New Old Rose Garden, and beyond the trees the parking area for visitors. I remember we planted these trees to mask our much enlarged staff house, as well as my uncle’s. In those days the main vista was still down the valley, not across it, and these two new and raw structures rather dominated the view.

Mom shows how much a swamp cypress has grown

One of those photos which seem quite ridiculous at the time, but grow in value as time passes: my mom indicates how much a Swamp Cypress has grown since ‘last we looked.’

Stone end

Also from the early 80s, a photo which has become quite important. Why? Between us and The Plett runs a hedge of abelias. They were moved from my folks’ house in Johannesburg when a new terrace was built outside the dining-room there. My father deliberately, consciously, and possibly resignedly planted them here to mark, as he pointedly put it, “the stone-end of the garden.” We would not, like our neighbour at Cheerio Gardens, lose the plot and turn our farm into a garden. We would garden around The Plett only. Except of course for the few trees we planted into the wider landscape….

When the big house was built they were moved to form a hedge along the staff house; by then they no longer marked the end of the garden… And when my dad started building, old Phineas, his foreman, proudly informed him: “My lawn will reach the dam before your house is completed.” And it did.

No sign of a garden - early 80s

Up until then the area between The Plett and the dam was just grassland, showing the remains of the terracing which had been done to make the slope less steep back in the days when these were potato lands ploughed with a mule-drawn plough.

Oct 90 - the garden-to-be

October 1990, and both the house and the lawn are complete, although most of the trees in the garden area are still self-sown pines and now being systematically removed. In the foreground the azaleas that today form a solid mass two meters high are young plants yet to knit. The pin-oak under which the bench stands today can just be made out in front of the left end of the huge heap of brown pine branches which must be the reason the soon-to-depart pines are looking so neat.

In the next instalment I will tell of the coming of the arboretum; here meanwhile is a damp early autumnal picture, taken this morning, with which to end this post.

Autumn rain

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9 thoughts on “MY FATHER, A FARM, AND I (part 2)

  1. Looks idyllic Jack. We’ve still got arctic conditions here. Very much enjoyed your trip down memory lane. A reminder of how much can be achieved in a reasonably short time span and how a landscape can be transformed by someone with a good eye.

    • Don – do you know of the ‘900 years’ riddle? What is 300 years in the growing, 300 years in maturity and 300 years in the dying? An oak tree. In our climate you can divide that by 10. In the first picture, starting behind the foreground pine, runs a row of oak trees, planted in the late 1920s and in their prime. By 1990 they were dropping huge limbs. Earlier this year one collapsed across the road after only minimal provocation… I might live long enough to see trees I planted die of old age! But the net result is that even the arboretum, now a mere 16 years old, contains some mature trees.

    • Hi Barry! It was a man called Kole, the last of several to unsuccessfully succeed Freddie Thom (after whom the dam is named). He died of cancer in the mid 70s. His family still have strong links with our area. Freddy’s daughter Linda owns the Pennefarther complex in the village and can be found in the bookstore there.most days. We refer to each other as brother and sister!

  2. Jack, I tried following every step of this fascinating account – can see all the effort involved in ‘improving’ and glad it was not all laid out on paper first. Intuition is done on the hoof as it were. Any chance in your busy life that you could juxtapose these nostalgic in-development images with up-to-dates so the changes become more self-evident to those who are not lucky enough to see it all first hand?

    • Thank you, Laura! I must admit the thought has crossed my mind, although many photos will have so much foreground that one won’t, as it were, be able to see the wood for the trees!

  3. Pingback: MY FATHER, A FARM AND I (Part 3: The Coming of the Arboretum) | Sequoia Gardens Blog

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