Winter is here. For days we have had scary weather forecast for the end of the week. On Thursday afternoon a hot berg wind – strong winds from high altitudes towards the sea – started blowing. Berg winds blow ahead of cold fronts, but mostly we are too far north to have such a textbook arrival of the cold. I have been in Grahamstown, close to the southern coast of Africa, when the berg winds have whipped the temperature up to 36 degrees Celsius, a sign that a massive cold front is following. And then seen it plunge in half an hour at midday to 14 degrees. When I went out at 10 last night the wind has died down and it was remarkably warm. By 2 I was aware of wind and I knew this would be the cold one. So when I went out at 6.10 this morning to take Alpha and Beta (as I refer to my foreman’s sons here) to the bus, I was dressed for real cold.

Swamp cypress on the makou dam

In fact it was not nearly as bad as I’d expected and the day could at most be described as bracing. But I guess tonight we will see a real frost… Mid-afternoon the boys and I went for a walk. After taking the top photo and hitting the cold shadows across the dam, we decided to double back to the sunny side of the valley.

Porcupine damage to the cannas

And so I came to notice for the first time how extensive the recent damage to the cannas is… Early this summer the porcupines after 20 years discovered they liked cannas. We started fencing the canna beds with shade netting and that seemed to put them off. But we ran out of shade netting and this end of the largest bed was never completed. In the last days – perhaps as other food became scarcer – they returned to the cannas. Sad smileFrost tonight will most likely shrivel the plants, but not their tubers. Will this be enough to chase off the porcupines or will they return with renewed relish now that there will be even less to eat? Luckily they are messy eaters and leave enough behind to regrow, but I fear our stock is more than a little depleted. Here they are in all their glory last summer –


Thus is the nature of gardening with rather than against nature.

Boys at play, Oak ave

A strange, fractured shot (because it was an on-camera panorama) of the boys at play along Oak Avenue captures the sunny, wintery nature of the walk. At 8pm tonight the outside temp was –1; that is remarkably low for so early at night, and considering that the lowest measurement of the season to date was +1. An at this point I shall prepare for bed, for at 6am I must depart for a Rotary function 150km away…

frost 140607

Saturday afternoon. When I left this morning it was –5 degrees. This is what I came home to; these New Guinea impatiens,  frost haters, were  standing up against the house walls well in on the veranda. The aloes that were coming along so beautifully hang shrivelled – see their recurring story in ‘Death of a drama queen’ from two years and one week ago. Let us return to earlier joys…

THtJB across the dam

Although it might look wintery in this shot from Thursday’s walk, it was still warm enough for the boys, in T-shirts, to wade into the stream to play. And of course Beta got water into the top of his gumboots. I’m certain his mother cussed when he got home…

Boys at play in the water

It was a bittersweet walk, the boys still excitedly picking up beautiful autumn leaves and playing happy games, whilst I contemplated the fact that I was on my last autumn walk through my gardens, knowing that within hours winter would set in.

Here is Alpha holding two leaves of the spectacular red plane – a tree I discovered as a sapling in a nursery many autumns ago, bearing red not yellow leaves. It has given us great joy, starting to turn in mid-Feb and some years holding onto its last few leaves right through to mid July!  I am pleased to say we have propagated successful cuttings from it, and one will go with me into my new life when we move from Sequoia Gardens in the months ahead.
Alpha with red plane leaves

The garden constantly surprises me. Only a few weeks back I discovered a self-sown (or rather bird-sown) rose in the Upper Rosemary Border, arching out over a shrub. Then I discovered that it was in bud – out of season, perhaps, because it was a chanceling, valiantly proving its right to life?  Here it is on Thursday, with an oak-leaved hydrangea in the background. I must check tomorrow if the bud – visible at the bottom of the photo – survived the cold.

Self sown rose in the Rosemary Border

Foraging into the back of beds and in under trees, I found, at the far end of Oak Avenue, some beautiful autumnal hydrangeas – and one solitary fresh bloom on the powder blue plant. Ah, for blue among the russets!

Late blue hydrangea

Wine and mint hydrangea

End of season hydrangea colours

To end this end-of-autumn post, I’d like to pay tribute to one of the great performers of late autumn – the always cheerful Chinese Maple. Here’s to a good winter: cold enough to kill off the bugs; predictable enough to not confuse too many plants; long enough to prevent an ominously early spring; and over before we grow too tired of it.

Chinese maples



  1. Jack, Just as your garden is going into dormancy, mine is springing to life. As much as I love the rush of blooms in early summer, however, autumn remains my favorite season. I love your wishes for winter — sounds a bit like Camelot 🙂

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