Sunset after the solstice

Every day now the sun sets sooner. I looked up yesterday at 1/4 to 6 and realised the sunlight was fading and went out to find the sun just dipping behind the horizon to the right of the tree on the left; on this date it leaves the far horizon and creeps in behind the close hill. That steep curve has a compound effect on day length from now till the next solstice. Sigh. But as I live only 50km beyond the Tropic of Capricorn I have little reason to complain of short winter days…

Acer rubrum detail

As we walk around the garden now, we are on the lookout for autumn colour. This Red Maple (Acer Rubrum) is deceptive though: only the first branches have turned, as this rather poor distant shot shows.

Acer rubrum

These pics really are snapshots. Our walks have mostly been quite late, and I have used the camera on my S4 phone. It is a quite remarkable camera and functions in much poorer light than my entry level (and 4 year old) Canon SLR, but later pics have focus and/or depth of field issues and often there is an annoying blue cast to the shadows.  I have not yet had either the time or the inclination since returning from our holiday (I might still post on that) to do any serious photography…

Cercidyphyllum japonicum

Cercidiphyllum japonicum can be one of the glories of autumn. Our two trees are so-so, and here you can clearly see the damage caused by October’s hail. Their chief attraction is the fact that the dying leaves smell of burnt sugar, as far as I know the only tree with this quality. To me they smell of candyfloss (well that IS burnt sugar, right?) and many people smell strawberries. I was curious to see how the foreman’s sons (who I call Alpha and Beta here) would respond. Alpha (aged 10) after some sniffing lit up and said ‘Pineapple!’ which I thought was brilliant considering the unexpectedness of my question. Yesterday I picked a sprig of our indigenous mint which flowers very beautifully now and asked him what it smelt of. I loved his answer: ‘Colgate!’  It reminds me of my own disappointment when I first and finally sniffed at a magnolia. It smelt of gift soap!

The boys find a perfect universe

The boys love our walks and as so often happens, they dashed around the ‘stepping stones’, as I imagined children would, when we got to The Great Incomplete, as I tend to think of The Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe ( about which you can read more here.) Boys being boys, they made their own rules though:

Caught cheating

Whilst on the subject of the boys – and introducing the dogs into the story – I love this pic of Beta and Monty. Monty is becoming quite grizzled, and I was horrified when one of my guests described him recently as fugly, but he is still full of games and joy (and visits to everyone in the valley). He loves nothing as much as a little personal attention. On a recent (cameraless) walk the interaction between Beta and Abigail, first with a fallen quince and then with a pair of pinecones, was a delight to watch. Is it because we can only dream of having their energy and dexterity that we so love children at play? Be it as it may, I love it when the boys join us on or walks!

Monty getting on

Here are the two dogs at the upper end of the Rosemary Terrace. It was with a pang that I suddenly realised that Abigail is also starting to age a little. However one of her sisters is quite matronly, and Abi is svelte and sassy… she is nearly seven after all…

Monty and Abigail at the top end of the Rosemary Terrace

Here we have a long view from within the parking area past the visitors’ entrance into the garden and with the same two pots at the far end of the view. Abi looking svelte and Beta looking active…

Looking along the rosemary Terrace

I prepared quite a number of pics for sharing tonight. But the rest will have to wait for a further post, which I hope will be quite soon. I’m off to bed now, bushed after a hectic week and play out on the first colour on Vitis vinifera. I really had to set up this picture, but night temps have started dipping below 10 degrees C (which is rather early), so autumn should gather pace now. My verdict is that at this stage it is rather slow for end March…

First colour in the vine


For the first time ever a month has passed without my posting anything. Is my blog dying? I fear it might be. As more and more my mind moves into the ‘life after Sequoia Gardens’ mode, the daily developments here seem less important, the big picture of the past 30 years, and the next 30, stand out clearer.

THtJB reflected s

Nearly four years ago I moved out of The House that Jack Built. In the first month of my blog I wrote about it here and little over a year later I wrote about moving into the big house here. I now know that moving out of my cottage was the start of where I am now; had I not left that inner sanctuary, I don’t think I would have managed to be on the brink of departure today, actually longing to put this time of limbo behind me.


I searched Google images before choosing this picture. In the early days of teaching on the mountain I remember saying to a class: “When Mandela dies the world will weep together like it has never wept for one man.” And it did, but not quite as I had imagined.  For too long all had known that death would be a blessed relief for him. The grief was tinged with relief, for this man deserved the right to die peacefully like few ever before him. In July my cousins gathered as usual on the farm on the Limpopo I have often written about, and where I took this photo.


City Press carried this headline this last week:

Africa mourns its towering baobab.

The eldest of the grandsons is the political editor of an important Johannesburg daily paper. The last thing he did from Polokwane before leaving ‘civilization’ in early July was to contact his team of people standing ready to cover Mandela’s death at the hospital in Pretoria where he lay critically ill, at his homes in Johannesburg and Qunu, at parliament and in various other places. Then he dropped down into the Limpopo valley where reception is at best erratic; twice a day he made a trip to higher ground to check on developments. Had Mandela died, he would have left within the hour. By the nature of things Mandela was central to our July discussions; it became clear to me that this young man was not just a great intellect and a people-person, but also a formidable manager. I mention this to illustrate the logistics underlying the death of a man of Mandela’s stature. But he didn’t die in July, and gradually the international press went home, and the time of waiting started.

Mateczka 9_taubie_at_the_new_stairs__yew_behind_her_650

There were other losses, and near losses, during this past month, less important perhaps, but more personal and thus more poignant. For some weeks I had had an ampoule of a calming fluid to give to my dear old dog, Taubie, when the time came to take her sore old body 35km down a twisting mountain pass to be put down. But I gave it instead to my youngest dog, Mateczka, my ridgeback, 4 years and 4 days old. She had developed over several weeks a progressive neurological degeneration which affected her movement and spacial perception and was constantly anxious, not understanding what on earth was happening to her. When she took a tumble whilst trying to squat, I knew that her life was no longer a joy to her. And so it happened that I came back up the mountain with a second ampoule, and took Taubie down 10 days later. Mateczka Mothertjie Muddypaws aged 3 months left, and Taubie in her prime seven years ago. And then there was Louis, who was it not for the miracle of modern sonar scans and medication would certainly have died during this past month.


I have been meaning for weeks to share my roses. Here is my favourite, The Hybrid Musk rose Penelope. And below is another favourite, known only as Aunty Corrie, from whom I got her. She blooms only once a year, but is magnificent. With a bit of luck I will have roses to pick next week – the first have bloomed after the destruction of October’s hail. And thus life continues. Even if I have yet to write a proper post on roses. Winking smile 

Aunty Corrie Rose s


Spring is all over: in the early blossoms, the first leaves, the blood…

Young maples

Above – young Japanese maple leaves. And above that, a sentence written a week ago. Since then the first heat has arrived and yesterday I awoke to a misty dawn and the frogs calling the rain. Now I sit in short sleeves, a week away from the equinox; it is 8pm and the french doors in front of and behind me are open, and the frogs are taunting the starry sky: the rain is close, the rain is close, we know…

Entry plants

Meanwhile I have been very busy with the magazine, the map and the webpage. Correction: I should right now be busy with the webpage. And so the flowers at the front door have featured more than usually central over the last days. The pot of stocks have been a swooning success. Stocks and clove pinks, salty and spicy, must be my two favourite flower scents, beating even the roses – and the buddlejas… the nicotianas, the viburnums. Here they are again, photographed this morning.

Entrance flowers

With my time fully taken  with the magazine, my mind , every spare moment, has been thinking through the details of the design for the house in my next life at Clearwaters Cove. There will be huge north (= sun) facing windows; perfect in winter, to be avoided in summer… from which was born an idea, supported by the view out through the flowers at and close to my front door.


1) I want an indigenous garden, which is not a flowery type of garden. 2) I want flowers, scented and/or bright with the light falling through them, close to the house.

And from that came the concept of  just beyond the full length sliding windows, still under the overhang of the roof (there is basically a balcony along the north facade) a windowbox filled with flowers, the outer wall a little higher than the inner one to cast shade on the roots. In winter the sun’s rays will swing across the box in through the windows, and in summer the box will stop the sun; light through their bright colours, and their scent constantly close. And it all sufficiently separated from ‘the land’ that I can indulge in contained exotics without compromising my indigenous approach.

In the last days we’ve had lovely walks, with the boys responding to the intoxication of spring.

Boys in a tree

I went to photograph the weeping cherry in its glory; the glory of the moment was much greater for them, as they used spray bottles as water pistols… (That is not, by the way, the weeping cherry which Beta has climbed!)

boys at play

Weeping cherry

Above is the tree, in all its glory. And below, in increments, we look at it closer and closer.

Weeping cherry and streama

I have studied Geoffrey Chadbund’s ‘Flowering Cherries’ in an attempt to identify it properly, and also Google Images. I can’t. I suspect it is Prunus subhirtella ‘Pendula’, but any pink in my blossoms is almost unnoticeable.

Weeping cherry dog and stream

Some years ago we nearly lost this most special of all our cherries when an adjoining invader was treated with ‘Chopper’ after being cut down. The cherry roots must have been intertwined with the invader’s; nearly we lost the tree we were trying to protect. Since then chemicals have been banned from most of our activities.

Weeping cherry detail

One of the reasons I believe this to be P subhirtella ‘pendula’ is that it flowers at the same time as our ‘wild cherry’, all trees self-sown from a magnificent mother tree in the Cheerio Gardens. If you read Chadbund’s description of this tree, (P. subhirtella) then its size and splendour are unique amongst cherries. I have admired the massive spreading dark branches with their delicately blossomed tips for over 30 years. Our own oldest example is now also an impressive specimen, although the contrast between its massiveness and its delicacy is difficult to capture in a photograph as the flowers are carried well above camera height.

Wild cherry tree

I was luckier when trying a close-up on one of the younger trees.

Fly on wild cherry

Fly on wild cherry detail

So tiny was this insect that it was only when I enlarged the photo that I could identify it as a fly and not a wasp or bee.

Wild cherry detail

So taken was I by these delicate blooms that I kept moving in (and cropping) closer, so here are two more versions:

Wild cherry close detail

Wild cherryvery close detail

In this shot across Freddie’s Dam, the upper left white is a young self-sown specimen with below it the weeping tree on the stream. To the right a dogwood (Cornus florida) makes its glorious contribution. Below it is a close-up of the flower – or rather flowers, surrounded by four bracts.

White blossoms across Freddie's Dam

White dogwood

This post has become quite long enough, although there are many photos ready to be added. I will end of with a close-up of a crab-apple, one of the lovely cultivars for which I don’t have a name – in fact it might very well be a South African seedling, rather than an imported cultivar…



For 12 years I taught at Stanford Lake College down the road. Only one of those years did the children not shiver in their skimpy clothes on Spring Day, when they dressed up in ‘civvies’. Guess what.  2013 followed the pattern.  After a balmy August and a mild winter, there was serious frost over the weekend.  And so the first azaleas got frosted.  And recovered…


I, meanwhile, have been busy busy busy for tomorrow the magazine goes to press and the day after the map we publish annually. I should not even be writing this right now. But jaded by work, I called the boys and the dogs and we went for a delightful walk amongst the blossoms and flowers. Blossoms featured here recently, and besides photos were not part of this walk..


But I taught the boys to smell the flowers, so they tend to rush up to a camellia, crush their noses into it, look disappointed and announce: ‘no smell!’ Most of the flowers at this time of the year, winter flowers, are scented, and they became our theme today.


In these photos we have two scented viburnums, one pink, one white. The white I should know but don’t now have the time to research, the pink is V. x bodnantiensis; both are rough, scraggly shrubs whose chief glory is their scented winter flowers. The dirty blue is our harbinger of heat, Buddleja salvifolia, an endemic shrubs which fills the air on warm days at this time of year with the  honey scent typical of buddleias from around the world.

1 2

Meanwhile the exuberant boys decided when the phone-camera came out that it was time for funny faces… Oh.  And Taubie, my x Bull Terrier who was with me for 14 years last month, has refused the last four invitations to a walk. Today it was warm and sunny, and I could see she was tempted, but her ears drew back apologetically and she turned back at the front steps…  I read that my gardening friend Mark’s beautiful Fletcher dog now takes his walks in San Francisco  from the comfort of a wheelbarrow. Taubie would panic if I were to suggest that. SmileTwice a day now I thank her for coming into my life.


The idea started this morning when I looked out the window to see this picture: as you might know my foreman and his wife, my housekeeper, mean more to me than I can ever pay them. What I can offer is the luxury, to a rural black family, of them living together as a family 7 days a week. The boys, who I will refer to here as Alpha and Beta, love the dogs and love to come along on a walk. They attend our local school and during term time I take them up to the tar road every morning to catch the school bus. With them on holiday at the moment there is extra opportunity and incentive for walks. But first this moment…

1 Zakia and Monty

Beta (the younger) jumped up when he realised I had my camera out, but then joined me as I took more shots of the lovely wintery view down the main axis.

2 View down the axis

3 Closer view down the axis

Which is when we spotted this fellow and brought him closer to photograph.

4 Chameleon

He’s a tiny fellow, the Drakensburg Dwarf Chameleon, and plentiful on Sequoia. Below you can see just how tiny as he sits on my hand.

5 a tiny fellow

There’s a reason he was sitting on my hand and not one of the boys’: many black people, even sophisticated westernised ones, have an irrational fear of chameleons similar to the more common fear of snakes. If they see one, they kill it. Over the years I have persuaded my staff to at least ignore them, if not appreciate them. Yesterday for the first time I got Alpha to hold another, larger specimen, but Beta had shied away from doing so. Luckily by the time we had finished studying this one, both boys had held it and lost their fear. Then we took it to the greenhouse were we released it into a warmer atmosphere than the great outdoors in winter…

7 released in the greenhouse

We photographed him and then searched for yesterday’s fellow, who we had also released here.6 Zakia and Renki come to have a look

And we found him! But we couldn’t find a third one, a very tiny fellow, whom Beta had spotted in the greenhouse when I was showing this one to them after taking it there yesterday.

8 Company

When I was still living down at The House that Jack Built, chameleons moving in in the late winter afternoons to the warmth of the clematis that grows in under the roof at the front door was cause for daily excitement. One winter I counted five most nights! That is why I know that they seek out warmer spots in winter.

9 Examining a snail shell

This afternoon’s walk started off as an inspection of the stocks and primulas planted in the Rosemary Border in the hope of having additional colour as visitors arrive during the Spring Fair at the end of September. A few plants show on the right. Alpha is examining a snail shell which lay hidden under the growth cut away in preparing for the annuals. Here it is on the wall.

10 Snail shell

We are incredibly lucky that these, the only snails we ever see here, are carnivorous. I’ve always feared accidentally bringing in the round snails I’ve seen chew up whole beds in London – and do only slightly less damage in Johannesburg.

11 Makou dam in winter

Then the walk continued. Taubie is now 14 years old and although she is slow and for a large part of the day quite sedentary, she loves a walk and still eats well. But two years ago I would not have predicted that she would still be with us now…

12 Taubie at the stream

Whilst in an elegiac mood – I took on today’s walk what might well be the last photo of the pine trees around The House that Jack Built. The sawmill is cutting in our forests and I’ve decided that these trees, now all 35 or more years old, must go. In a plantation they would be cut after 25 years. There will be some rethinking of the area around the cottage once they’ve gone.

13 THtJB before the pines are cut

From here we zig-zagged through the arboretum, the boys playing hide-and-seek amongst the tall azaleas, jumping on puff-balls and making the happy noise children make when they can run free.

14 Big House reflected

One would think it was quite a long walk – but Mateczka decided otherwise. She started a game of running, tearing through the dried cannas, and got the boys as excited as she was. I kept swinging around with the camera, trying to achieve no more than having a dog, a boy, or both in the shot when I pressed the shutter…

15 Action shot - Mateczka

16 Action Mateczka and Zakia

17 Action blur

19 Action again

18 Mateczka camouflaged

Then eventually Mateczka stopped dead in the cannas, as if she knew how well camouflaged she was…

20 Renki in the Garden Celibrating an Imperfect Universe

And when I looked again, Beta was jumping along the Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe, just as I imagined children would jump when I first conceived the garden two years ago… it really must be completed now!

21 Autumn rose in Alfred's Arches

By now we were making our way back up Alfred’s Arches and with the leaf canopy gone I could marvel at just how many bird-sown plants were growing in the dappled shade it provides – including a pair of willowy roses almost opposite each other. Could they have Rugosa blood?! With a bit of luck they will flower next year and I will learn more about them. To end off, a farewell to autumn shot: also growing here courtesy of the birds, and perhaps storm water, are many nandinas and several berberis. Here they make an impressive showing, even though the solstice has come and gone!

22 Autumn finale


butterflies after dark 1

Mid-summer is when the butterfly migration takes place. I posted on it some years back over here. When I went looking for my Monty dog one recent evening, I photographed them all asleep in the grasses, where they looked like flowers. (Monty not only visits anyone who is a guest in the valley, especially if there are children present – he also all but disappears for days at a time when the neighbours’ cross-German Shepherds are on heat… as they were again of late.)

Stacked beds

The snapshot taken with my phone which I showed in the previous post really got me obsessed about the view back across the garden, with its layers of stacked planting, and I took several more photos with my DSLR. That in turn has got me thinking about upgrading my blog theme to show bigger photographs. But as my current theme is discontinued, I dare not do anything in haste, as I won’t be able to return to the current format. So watch this space… perhaps come Feb there will be a change…

Stacked beds detail

Here meanwhile are a few details. Clicking on the pics of course shows them full size, or you could increase your screen view to around 125% so that the blog fills the full screen width.

Stacked beds reflected

Lastly I want to share a home-grown rose which has featured before, and impressed me. Now it has wowed me. A fresh shoot, grown since it was planted out last summer, has flowered, and the way in which the flowers on it are carried is most unusual. I  might just have a second worthwhile rose of my own breeding here! (‘Cascade’ being the first; you can read more about it in these posts.)

Guest room rose

The flowers are quite large, semi-double, frilly, lightly scented, and of a very pleasing pink with a touch of salmon, and lighter towards the centre.

Guest room rose detail

The last shot shows them with the Watsonias in the adjacent bed beneath the guest room window; I have always thought of them as being salmon-coloured, rather than pink…

Guest room rose with watsonias



1 Mothers' Garden hedges planted

The hedges are planted! After more than a year in which the rectangle of barren earth needed constant explanation, the Mothers’ Garden is laid out, the hedges planted and the central yew trimmed dramatically in preparation for training as a pyramid. I hummed and hahed before realising the obvious… The pillars of the lower steps must be visible and the yew must not obscure the dam. But it is surprising how long it took me to realise that a pyramid would be the ideal shape. Since the newly laid grass path has a topdressing of compost similar to the beds, it rather disappears at the moment. And in the harsh light the irrigation pipes are the dominant line. But I promise you: when you sit on the bench looking across this view, with the curves of the New Old Rose Garden to your left, the big lawn and the blobby rhythm of the Upper Rosemary Border to your right, and an assortment of trees framing the view and protecting your back… it is, I believe, potentially the most beautiful spot in the garden. You can read about the planning of the garden here. We have revisited the choice of roses and made some changes. Hopefully when we go to Johannesburg at the end of the month we will collect the 26 roses due to go in here. Although quite frankly at this stage I’d be happy for the hedges to settle down first.

2 Ellensgate to new Mothers' Garden

Here is the view from across the big lawn. To the left you can see where we dug up the grass for the paths and are still digging for other lawn work. In the process the upper border is being squared off and enlarged. This will give a new area for annuals and other flowers. I want to start collecting dahlias, as there are a great many old varieties around Haenertsburg. There is a whole new development waiting here! In the process the lawn is now finally surrounded by straight lines – the wavy top border, its shape never really planned, was more and more of an anomaly.

3 Alfred's Arches

When I turned my head from taking the last picture, this is what I saw. With a bit of imagination you can see the water-spout beyond Alfred’s Arches. Last year I decided the Arches, of pussy-willow, had to be cut down and grow out again; then I relented, but in the winter decided that the Arches really were looking tatty. Now I look at them as they start to fill out with young green, and I find the rustic rhythm totally enchanting. What to do? I guess there is so much else that needs doing that this is far from a priority!

4 arboretum reflected

The dogs and I make our way down the Arches, past the Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe (much more of a priority!) and down to the Makou Dam. Where we stop to enjoy the reflections and the thousands of backlit plants in the arboretum.

5 Scilla natelensis on Makou Dam

Along the edge there is a self-sown clump of the beautiful local lily, Scilla natelensis. Usually they choose stony well-drained slopes, but these, perched on the edge 30cm above the water, are blissfully happy. Which makes me so too.

6 Siberian Iries on the makou Dam

Around the corner on the dam wall grow the clump of Siberian irises we first planted there 20 odd years ago, and which we thought had disappeared. As you can see – they are back in force! Then we stop to collect stones for a rosemary bonsai I am preparing as a birthday present for Felicity, my dad’s care-giver and my adopted sister.

Rosemary bonsai

Here it is, settling in in the greenhouse. I know nothing about bonsai and have never attempted it before. I’m sure my rocks overhanging the container break every rule, but I’m quite pleased with the way I managed to arrange the gnarled plant as though it had grown out from amongst the stones, just like the ones I found growing in the garrigue when I was in the south of France… But onward and upward (to quote my blogging friend Frances…)

7 View of formal gardens from arboretum

I stopped to photograph the pink flowering cherry, but it was the view of the garden that intrigued me. Look how neat the hedges are on the left, and how good the Upper Rosemary Border is looking with its regular shrubby rhythm. To the right of the red azaleas (which are looking great against the long blue line of the rosemary hedge) there is over 100m2 of recently planted scatterpack. It is germinating nicely and a green haze lies across the ground there. I’m hoping for a fortissimo display by December. And in the bed below that the cannas are beginning to make an impression.

8 Dogs at the mollis and copper beech 

This is the area I particularly came to see:  the mollis azaleas in shades of yellow and orange near the darkest of our three copper beeches. Let’s take a closer look.

9 Copper beech and orange mo;;is

Difficult to capture the luminous darkness of the beech without the orange of the azalea looking washed out by the strong sunlight.

10 Dark orange mollis

So we need to take a look at the azalea on its own – and even then the light is far from ideal…

11 Yellow Mollis

The yellow one, in the shade, is easier to capture. But what I can’t share is the heavenly scent of these azaleas.

12 Orange mollis

For richness of colour, delicacy and perfume these azaleas are a match for the best roses can offer – what a pity that they flower for only a week or two!

13 Dark yellow Mollis close-up

I spend some time here, treasuring the moment, enjoying the scented shade.

14 Taubie among the azaleas

Taubie agrees and joins me; Mateczka and Abigail snuffle around happily, chase down paths, then come back to check all is OK with us. Monty is away patrolling his territory, probably entertaining visitors at the Cheerio tea-garden, relishing his role as the alpha male (human and otherwise) of the valley…

15 Mollis and Copper beech in arboretum

All in all it is a good place to be… especially at this time of year.

16 The Avenue


Never before have the months leading up to spring been this dry; but twice that I  know of we have had much drier years, where the water stops flowing from the dams, even if seepage means there is still a slight inflow. Those are desperate years. This year the sponge of the mountain is still quite wet after two lots of extremely good rain in early 2012, but I’m pretty certain we are at the beginning of a dry cycle. We don’t really feel climate change in South Africa – we are used to cycles of good years and bad years. In fact the last 40 odd years, from my perspective at least, have been less extreme, not more so. Unlike the UK we have not swung from one record to the next these last 20 years…

Freddie's Dam overflow

The memory of those two dry years remain. In fact my own memory of the drought of the 60s and my parents’ recall of the drought of the 30s when my maternal grandfather had to give up farming and move his young family to the city, add a spiritual dimension to the need for rain. And that is why on Friday afternoon’s damp walk, with the week’s rainfall figure heading towards 100mm, I listened to and looked at the gurgling stream and I heard my late mother’s voice say: “Oh if only my father could see the water flow on this farm!”

Taubie drinking from the stream

These shots were taken in poor light on my phone. There were many more – but most too blurred to even consider as snapshots… In the upper photo an unusual view of the rear end of the Icon Bridge, and dogwoods and blossoms and fresh greens in the distance. In the lower photo Taubie celebrates the water in her way, drinking from the brim-full overflow of Freddie’s Dam. Two more shots are worth sharing:

White Cornus florida - dogwood

a white dogwood – Cornus florida and the first leaves on my favourite Japanese maple, one which has the most delicately red young foliage which turns green within weeks.

The Japanese maple with red young leaves

Later: the rain stopped after 101mm. Sunday was gloriously sunny and I went on a long walk with my camera. There are 65 photos I titled and added to the shortlist from 100s. The screenshot of that selection I include now because it best of all illustrates the sudden brightening, the change in the colour palette as spring kicks in… Over the next days – expect some spring colour here!



Makou Dam in August

By mid-August I find new material difficult to come by. Remember it is our February, when even the joys of winter have become tedious. True, as I took the staff’s children up to the tar road to catch the school bus this past week, it was perfectly light on the way there and the sun rose as I returned, burning red against the escarpment sky. Red because of the dust and smoke: not only is it drier than I can ever recall, but August, traditionally our windiest month, is true to form. Result in our high biomass and forested area…. worse fires than normal at this time of year.

Winter across the Makou Dam

Today, Sunday, is gustier than I can recall, although one does tend to forget such horrors, and the wind is chilly; during last week, according to one report, there was snow in all 9 provinces on one day for the first time ever. Result: a biting wind, although our night time lows remained above freezing. In our protected valley the much more insidious effect of slowly dropping still air brings more cold than a wind which stirs things up and evens out the temperature gradient between places.

Protecting the tree ferns

This strange bit of land sculpture  – a forest of bamboo stakes – is Lucas’ effective solution to  protecting the young tree ferns from the porcupines who, just as in the drought of the 90s, have taken to eating out the hearts of the tree ferns.

4 dogs

It is a while since all four dogs featured in one photo and there is not a great deal else to share. So here they are, from front to back: Monty, x Jack Russell, alpha male of all  species including human in the valley, showing he’s done a few more miles than in his youth, but still going strong; Taubie, x Bull Terrier/Border Collie, oldest and most beloved of all my dogs, the matriarch; Abigail, daughter to Monty and a Dr Seuss creation, tiniest and busiest of the dogs, who works hard all day with the staff and then turns into the sweetest of lapdogs at night; and Mateczka, Rhodesian Ridgeback and the puppy, even though she is nearly three and by far the largest. Watching her and Abigail play is one of lives great joys!

Rosemary Border in August

I’ve kept this shot of the Upper Rosemary Border for last, because it really doesn’t show anything new. However it is very satisfying to see how good this border can still look at the windy tail-end of winter!

1 White Helmetshrike

Stop Press: after days of keeping my (rather unsatisfactory) long lens on the ready, I have just photographed a White Helmetshrike through the guest room window. I remember first seeing them on the farm in the late 90s, once only. Rather humorous looking with their large yellow serrated eye-wattle and grey ‘helmet’, they move in groups and are very noticeable as they flutter their way along in small bursts. They have been a regular presence the last few months. Roberts’ Book of Birds speaks of “irruptions westwards in times of drought”; having looked up irruptions, a new word to me, (Ecology – to increase rapidly and irregularly in number) I come to the conclusion that here we have yet another sign of drought. Is it that they do not like our mountain in the wet?

2 White Helmetshrike

More of the end of May–and a dedication

I am in Johannesburg, (or rather: I was when I compiled this on Saturday and Sunday) attending a trade expo and, much to my surprise, there is no free wi-fi to be had. So these last two posts, compiled in quiet times – of which there are too many Sad smile –  will have to wait till I am home for posting…

To get back into the spirit of things: some fingered end-of-autumn leaves!

24 Red plane

The thick five fingered leaf of a plane tree is unmistakeable; it is more solid than any maple or liquidambar with which it might be confused. Usually they turn a rather pale yellow before browning and falling, but the reds in this leaf already indicate something unusual…

25 Red plane

It is from my ‘red plane’! I found the tree in a rural wholesale nursery one autumn in the early nineties, sporting red leaves amongst a sea of yellow. I nonchalantly loaded it onto my trolley and looked for more. I think I selected four, but none were as red as this one. Only one of its brethren I can now identify for certain, and it has never proved itself unusual, but this tree… It shows the first signs of colour in mid-February. It is predominantly red, but there are strong yellow and even orange markings as well. And it drops its last leaves in mid-June. That is four months of autumn colour!

26 Red plane

Here a selection of leaves lie on the grass below it…

27 Taubie

Whilst I photograph the plane, Taubie plods off into the water under the nearby  weeping flowering cherry. Only on studying the photo now do I realise how the graft has developed into an  unsightly swelling as so often happens… to hide, or to o ignore? What does this pic achieve? Perhaps to show how lovely our days can be, even as winter approaches.

28 Taubie beyond jetty

And here she is again in this season of fallen leaves…

29 Woodland walk

This photo continues that theme.

30 Beech Border Bench

As does this one, showing the bench under the beech at the top of the Beech Borders. Beyond,  the bright buttery yellow of Acer davidii, one of the snake-bark maples, lies strewn across the slope.

31 Beech Borders

Another view from a few meters on; Taubie snuffling among the azaleas and shrub roses of the Beech Borders, with berberis and the bare stems of the Japanese maples along the stream from the spring; I wrote about them a few posts back.

32 Mateczka, birch, holly

Lest she gets jealous, here again is Mateczka, in the arboretum with birches, an oak-leaved hydrangea and a particularly neat holly.

33 Arboretum view

Since in our meanderings we’ve ended up back in the arboretum, here is another view. but let us get back to the water!

34 Freddie's Dam

The view across Freddie’s Dam is always interesting, and always changing. By the way, clicking on photos will enlarge them!

36 THtJB and Acer davidii

This photo is the opposite view of the one above it, taken from under the yellow snake-bark maple in the centre of the above photo.

35 View across Makou Dam

This time we are looking across the Makou Dam and the comments in my previous post about the shrubs in the Upper Rosemary Border come to mind.

37 Viburnum x bodnantiensis 

Viburnum x bodnantiensis is a tall scruffy shrub at the best of times, lacking the grace and beauty of many viburnums. Like several relations it makes up for this with relatively inconspicuous but nicely scented flowers in winter. However it is a touch too cold for them here, and so a perfect cluster is hard to find. And quite frankly the scent does not appeal greatly to me. I guess I keep it for its snob value: it is quite rare and the link with the magnificent gardens at Bodnant in Wales is irresistible…

38 Cotoneaster detail

A plant that does give me a lot of joy I planted as Cotoneaster horizontalis. Especially now as it is covered in berries and autumn leaves it is a delight…

39 Cotoneaster

But the sheer height to which it has grown makes me wonder if this really is the plant I have…

40 Graham Stuart Thomas in the Anniversary Garden

I really enjoy this rather muddled view. The last blooms on Graham Stuart Thomas (which in South Africa is a ‘climber’ – most of Austin’s roses grow very leggy in our climate) stand out against a hazel. In the background the wisteria yellows on the pergola and a Japanese maple shows some colour. Watching over it all is the sentinel of Melaleuca ‘Johannesburg Gold’ which is always this warm yellow colour – the best yellow-leaved tree of all in our climate.

42 yellow conifer

However this ubiquitous yellow conifer is not to be dismissed…

43 Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe

I end this post with the garden that has haunted me for how long? Fourteen months! The Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe. In this imperfect universe very little has happened here this past summer. Children arrive and hop from stump to stump, proving my basic assumption right. The water spout wets it rocks at the end  of the Alfred’s Arches axis. Wild flowers (and weeds) have softened the setting. This last summer brought many changes in my life, but all were more demanding than I’d anticipated and I spent less time – and money -  in the garden than ever. I can only hope that the coming year will bring the opportunity to spend time here…

PS: This morning I showed all these photos to my father, with whom I am staying during the expo. When he saw the date of the photos – 29 May 2012 – he told me that I took them 60 years to the day after he declared his love to my mother and they started going steady. As the love of trees – and the planting of them – very much started with my dad, I dedicate this post to him. And that makes this a perfect opportunity to share a photo he took of our valley one midwinter in the early 50s. It contains some wonderful details and some tantalising uncertainties.

50s panorama s 

To orientate you: the building to the left of centre is the stone barn. The tall gum trees to the left of it are those to the right of the big house today. I suspect the top of the big gum in the arboretum is showing above the curve of the grassy hill near the left of the photo. Only about half the current area was planted to pine, seed potatoes were the main crop, and pigs were kept in the old sties near where the house now is. The old main house, over to the right of the picture, is on the part of the farm that now belongs to my cousin.

The arboretum in early May

My father’s vision and energy have changed the farm dramatically, especially over the last 30 years. The arboretum in particular will be his lasting monument. And remember that the tall gum was claimed by my mother as hers on their honeymoon. But if any spot on Sequoia is truly his, it is the avenue of sequoias that lead up to his dream house where I now live. So it seems appropriate to end this post with a photo sent to me by a couple who celebrated their wedding on Sequoia in April, of them setting off on life together from under this avenue…

Bridal couple in Sequoia avenue