View from terrace at THtJB

A week has passed since I walked down to The House that Jack Built to make certain that all was ready for the arrival of the bride and her groom, my cousin’s son, the next day. What I saw took even my breath away, despite 11 years of calling this spot ‘home’. It has never been more beautiful.

Freddie's Dam for the Bridal couple

Even before he proposed he asked me what the most beautiful time was on the mountain in spring. I said mid-October. When he proposed he had his plans laid out, the venue booked…

THtJB with Clematis

This is where they came after the wedding and reception at the neighbouring Cheerio Gardens to spend their wedding night. As a little boy he had seen me build this house, and this was where he wished to bring his bride…

THtJB bridal cottage

I took these photos either the day before or the day after the wedding. I remember the earnest little boy, fishing rod in hand, talking to me as I worked on the space where the curved wooden window now stands. With him then was his best friend, the photographer at the wedding, who took a set of photographs here more unique, from what I’ve heard, than you will ever find. I hope to share a few in due course…

View across Freddie's Dam from under the oak

Across the dam the yellow azaleas under the purple  Japanese maple were more splendid than ever.

THtJB bridal cottage 2

So I wondered in to photograph them, and got caught up in the beauty of the Japanese maples as well.

Carpetgarden from below

Growing in the shade below the wall of the Carpetgarden, almost completely hidden these days by the purple maple and a dogwood, are two dissected Japanese maples, one green, one purple – or wine red, which better describes their leaves.

Acer palmatum dissectum detail

Here you can see what the leaves look like on this exquisite low-growing tree, and below the soft mound it forms. Beyond is the purple form.

Japanese maples at Carpetgarden

The yellow azaleas also demanded more attention.

Yellow azalea at Carpetgarden

Yellow azalea at Carpetgarden 2

But these yellows, as you could see in my previous posts, do not alone represent the deciduous azaleas – here are a few more photographed in recent days.

Pale deciduous azalea 2

Orange deciduous azaleas 2

Pale deciduous azalea 3

Pink deciduous azalea detail

This last one is growing right outside the glass doors outside the living room of the big house. Here it is again:

Pink deciduous azalea at house

There are more, and when I return from Johannesburg where I am spending time with my father, I will hopefully get to photograph them too…

Japanese Cherry

It is also the season of the Japanese flowering cherries, and I have not photographed them sufficiently.

Japanese Cherry detail


Kanzan detail

There is more, azaleas and other Japanese maples, not to mention the first irises and roses… They will have to wait for a further post. My time is limited, and it is time now for bed…


Gladiolus densiflorus

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.

Self-sown Tree ferns

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…

Japanese Walk

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.

Wahlenbergia undulata Yellow weedy daisy - senecio

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.

Blue panicle

Blue panicle2

Blue panicle 3

There is a white flower too, almost certainly the same species.

White panicle

White panicle 2

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??

Our knotweed2

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.

Crocosmia aurea

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.

Crocosmia paniculata

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

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?

Knysna Loerie

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?

Hedgerow rose

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…

Knysna turaco

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.

Gladiolus densiflorus in bud Gladiolus densiflorus flower spike

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.

Gladiolus densiflorus side view Gladiolus densiflorus stand at entrance

gladiolus densiflorus close up

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…


Loose ends, but not at a loose end

Blue & Yellow

Interesting stats at the moment… I have most likely never published as few posts per week as I have over the last three months. I have had fewer comments posted than ever. I have posted very few comments on other’s blogs. Blotanical is right off my radar. Yet Feb 2012 has seen the highest number of visitors per day to my site since I started blogging in July 2009. Why? Bleak winter weather in the North? Could be – I’ve noticed that my viewership peaks in Jan-March, but ‘soared‘ rather than ‘peaked’ would be the right word this year. More potential business? Could be, as I advertise the open garden and the holiday accommodation much more intensely these days – yet not many people leave the sort of trace that I can recognise ‘business’ visitors by, such as clicking on the ‘visit/stay’ page… Be that all as it may, the above pic with its blue and yellow (daylily) was a composition that reminded me of one of my few remaining regular blogging correspondents, Jean from Jean’s Garden, and thus I dedicate this photo – as well as my interest in the academics of blogging – to you, Jean.

Haenertsburg lilies

In my previous post I spoke of the Haenertsburg Lilies, Lilium formosanum; last weekend a couple planned their wedding in my garden to coincide with the lilies. An interesting wedding, where the guests were to bring their own picnic baskets and the setting was all. Unfortunately an almighty shower in the early hours of Saturday, followed by what looked like set-in heavy rain, made them move the venue back to Polokwane, 60km away, were they and most of their guests come from. By 10am the sun was shining and the roads passable… But no-one would have guessed that at 8… They were back to spend their wedding night in the cottage, and they will be back to take the ‘official’ pictures.  The above photo, taken from the veranda of The House that Jack Built, is dedicated to Amrian & Liebie.

The enemy

Now this is random. I was photographing some of the various wild flowers for next week’s Wild Flower Wednesday and decided to include these grasses. But then I saw The Enemy – and include it here. You might recall my letting off steam last week about horrid invaders that are not on lists whilst the beautiful Haenertsburg Lilies are. Well, I was specifically referring to the plant just to the left of the grasses, known in our family as The Enemy. It is Conyza albida, also known as C. sumatrensis and commonly as fleabane – although there are garden-worthy asters that also go by that name. So potent is it, that it can shoot up from near invisibility to this flowering stage in only a few days. What is more, a plant pulled out at this stage (luckily quite an easy action) needs to have its flowers stripped off, otherwise the buds will go to seed on the dying stem!

Ginger 1

Change of mood. Something bright for the northern winters again. The Ginger lily – Hedychium gardnerianum – is considered one of the really bad invaders, despite its beauty and scent. I have seen how in frost-free areas just a few kilometres away it spreads wildly. But here they get frosted to the ground every year before the seeds are ripe, and so I allow them in controlled garden conditions. Their leaves are lovely and their rather untidy flowers form beautiful heads of orange and soft yellow.

Ginger 2

It is a while since I posted dedicated dog pics. Here Louis is playing with Mateczka, teasing her with a length of bluegum bark off the big tree.

Louis & Mateczka 1 Louis & Mateczka 2
Louis & Mateczka 3 Louis & Mateczka 4

The canna beds were recently replanted and their varied leaves form the first layer across the water in the view towards the big house. I love the massed effect of their dramatic leaves that lasts all summer. Mateczka loves the rustling sound they make when she charges through them. Ouch! That doesn’t make for good dog discipline…

Reflection of house

On the home stretch of an afternoon walk I look up to see my favourite plant combination in the whole garden catching the late light. Besides: the gate after which Ellensgate is named has recently been cleaned up, the golden abelia hedge is trimmed and Monty is striking a pose…


Here it is in close up: the junipers that frame the top of the axis path are desperately in need of trimming, perhaps even replacing with young cutting-grown specimens. They are too big now… I have just gone through my books and I am pretty certain that what I have is a species form of Juniperus squamata. It is not blue enough to be the form ‘Meyeri’, but there is a definite blue tinge to the foliage. It grows with Berberis thunbrgii ‘Rose Glow’.

Ellensgate 2

When the planting was still very young I discovered somewhere in a rustic nursery a particularly fine form of what is sold in South Africa as ‘Prunus nigra’, regardless of the detail of leaf or flower colour. More correctly, I guess, because no-one has made this clear to me, it should be classified as Prunus cerasifera ‘Nigra group’ as there are pink and white flowered forms in various sizes, but all are of the earliest blossomers. It was simply through growing them myself that I became aware that they differed greatly, and I started looking out for special examples. Which this one was. The leaves seemed thinner and more delicate, so that their claret colour had a translucent glow, very different from the lugubrious darkness of some examples. I planted it hopelessly too close between the juniper and the berberis. However the scale has always been perfect, and it has always remained a small shrub in ideal proportion to the berberis.


The above photo was taken in November 2006 (which proves how long this has been a favourite composition!) The photo below follows on the upper ones and illustrates a remarkable quality of this prunus: as summer progresses and the leaves thicken, they gradually take on a bluish tinge which relates them more closely to the juniper than the berberis.

Ellensgate 3

At a later stage I added one of the Abelias introduced a few years ago – when I snoop around Google Images the name Abelia x grandiflora ‘Confetti’ rings a bell. (I know it is not ‘Harlequin’, which I have yet to try…) It adds further interesting leaf colour and foreground stature to the composition (see the first two pictures), but it is the threesome which represents my idea of a perfect foliage mix!



This is just about the last plant in my garden I thought would ever feature here. But it is definitely this week’s choice. The photo above I took to show you the plant at its worst. But I love it. Which just goes to show – photos don’t always tell the truth. What do you think this plant might be?

2 This is really the sort of effect I wanted to show you which made it the plant of the week… any ideas yet?

3b Are those fronds, you are thinking…. no, they are not. This is not a fern. Nor is it a palm.

3 Got it yet? It is a cycad. Cycas revoluta, the Japanese Sago Cycad. Although South Africa has more indigenous cycads than any other country in the world, this one – the easiest to grow and most popular around the world – comes from Japan (You guessed it!) I was going to turf it out after all the winter damage and then over the weekend I discovered its fresh boss of leaves unfurling.

4 And now, I must admit, I am hooked. I only started appreciating cycads about two years ago. Most of the more interesting species would not be hardy in my garden though – and they can cost an arm and a leg… or more. And those little wild flowers peeping around the stem? They are  Wahlenbergia undulata, a delightful wilding. Darn. I thought I was going to keep my ‘weekly pic’ feature, although multi-picced, at least mono-planted…



Metasequoia glyptostroboides

We’re back with an advertising break: above is the Dawn Redwood, which goes by the cumbersome name of Metasequoia glyptostroboides; “next to sequoia, like a glyptostrobus’, a name about which the inimitable Hugh Johnson has the following to say: “…an indication perhaps of (the Japanese taxonomist’s) state of scholarly indecision, rather than of his barbaric ear.” (p113, Hugh Johnson’s Encyclopaedia of Trees, ISBN 0 85533 546 7) Only four Glyptostrobus are known in cultivation, none in the wild. It is a deciduous member of the Swamp Cypress family.

Here starts the advertisement – for this very book and author, at his best when telling the tale of the Dawn Redwood, discovered in 1941 in eastern Szechwan, China. It was 1948 before the first seeds germinated at Kew and in Boston.  The newcomers grew away happily though, and some young plants of the first Kew germination were sent to the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens, then one of the important cities of the British Empire. (The subsequent history of these gardens is a sad tale of third world neglect however…) My neighbour and gardening guru was a friend of the curator – and thus some of the earliest seed from a cultivated tree was germinated by Gub Turner (whose sister created Cheerio Gardens which is today run by Gub’s daughter and granddaughter…) and my dad in turn germinated seed from Gub’s tree… we have several growing in the arboretum. It is distinguished from the Swamp Cypress (Taxodium)  by having branchlets and needles which are opposite, whereas the Swamp Cypress’s are alternate. But the easiest way, says Hugh Johnson, to recognise the Dawn Redwood is by the unique habit of having the next year’s buds underneath the branchlets – clearly noticeable here.

Swamp Cypress Here is a Swamp Cypress, photographed two days earlier, for comparison. Both colour a lovely cinnamony colour with the fresh green showing to the very end. A good example  of either is one of the loveliest trees imaginable!

Big House The way the Big House suddenly appears in a gap from the arboretum is lovely – and the fact that it happens so seldom these days is an indication that some ruthless opening up of vistas through the arboretum is due. It is difficult to believe that it is only 12 years ago that this area was planted. The white horizontal to the right of the yellow tree top left (a golden Melaleuca) is all that can be seen of my current home, Trailertrash Cottage. It is a trailer home which we erected in 1981 when my father inherited the part of the farm that did not have a house; in those days, believe it or not, this valley was mostly grassland with a few self-sown pines; until the late 50s seed potatoes were grown here, and the mule-drawn plough is now installed as a focal point in my garden. The eelworms remain to plague us… Oh: until I moved in in January of this year with all the paraphernalia to feed and sleep six dogs on the deck, plus assorted gumboots, buckets and brooms, the trailer home went by the much more elegant name of The Plett.

Acer palmatum detail A detail of the Acer palmatum in the above view; the most elegant of all our trees!

Croft Cottage From near my previous vantage, a view to the right; neither the huge stems of the two big gum trees, nor the Japanese maple and azaleas are the subject of this photo, but rather the red gable sticking out to the left of the gum tree. That is Croft Cottage, now nearing completion. With The House that Jack Built, its function is to help increase the income off the farm…

Hydrangea close-up A teaser for a post to come: over 80 of yesterday’s pics – and an equal number at least over the last weeks – are for a post on the wonderful pearlescent colours that my hydrangeas take on as the season progresses… watch this space!

Mateczka Taubie

 The dogs however were not impressed with the hydrangeas – the walk was well into its second hour – and Mateczka decided a snooze was a good cure for boredom!

1 2

Then on again (flowering cherries give the main colour) followed by yet another wait. Read my lips, says Mateczka.

3 Flowering cherry 4 Chinese maple
5 Pride of India 6 Q velutina

I, meanwhile, get more and more caught up in the leaves. Clockwise from top left: Flowering Cherry Prunus ‘Tai Haku’ ; Chinese maple Acer buergeranum ; Quercus velutina has the largest leaves of all our oaks and Pride of India or Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica), usually best known for its lovely mottled, pale and smooth bark and its crepe flowers, also turns beautifully in our climate; in the following picture the ones at the bottom of the front door axis can be seen from the arboretum.

Lagerstroemia indica Darkest red Japanese maple The darkest of our Japanese maples has lost most of its leaves. I love its beautiful bark and shape where it leans across the stream, its beauty slim and ethereal after the heavy dark velvets of its summer clothing.

Liquodamber avenue We’ve reached the furthest edge of our 6 ha (15 acres) of garden – the avenue of Liquidambars which marches up from the stream to the Sequoia grove which gave the farm its name. My father germinated all these trees about 30 years ago from the seed of a single tree. It is amazing how they differ, and how each tree – in fact each limb – colours in the same way and in the same order year after year. It was his success with these Liquidambars that lead to the birth of the arboretum idea.

Liquidambar detail The five-fingered leaves of Liquidambar  styraciflua often lead to them being mistaken for maples – the corky ridges on the twigs are diagnostic though, as are the alternate leaves, whereas maples are opposite.

Cornus florida A young dogwood (Cornus florida) in the Dell, a rather unsuccessful development next to the Liquidambar avenue. The soil here is sandy, less fertile and moisture retentive than elsewhere, and the original planting was followed by several years of lacklustre rainfall. However I am looking at the area with new eyes… there is room here for consolidation. Drat! More work! 😉

Cornus florida detail Besides of the most beautiful autumn foliage, C. florida has a graceful shape, and leaves which curl back, revealing a softer, more silvery shade of both the summer and the autumn leaf colour. And soon this tree will start producing its abundant spring bracts, either in white or if I am very lucky, in reddish pink. Truly a tree for all seasons – for most of the winter one can watch the flower buds swell and the bracts slowly open before the leaves appear. It is called anticipation!

Hydrangeas and maple As we make our way back I again photograph hydrangeas (my best ones are here under Oak Avenue near The House that Jack Built, and under the Tulip Trees in The Avenue in the arboretum… a little seed-grown Japanese maple is slow but lovely. And as we slowly make our way home, sunset comes closer, and I am pleased I took my tripod along…

Sunset Sunset in the lily pond



1.2 Doubly and Mateczka

Rest in peace, dearly departed Doubly Dog, Border Collie of the gentlest and most loving nature, and softest of fur; mother (even though a man) to our puppy Mateczka; companion for nearly 10 of your 11 years; tireless swimmer in your youth; herder of swallows and dragonflies. You are the first of our three older dogs to leave us. The inevitable has happened. We thought we were losing you in September, but you lived to see our puppy through her needy youth; and you were oh so taken by the beautiful young lady’s attentions. No more of your plentiful fur on the carpets, no more your nuzzling muzzle upsetting my mouse hand at the computer.  A part of my life is past, and you were its symbol…

2 Big house from arboretum 

More than just a season has passed. Last week my dad finalised his  decision to leave the big house to me. He and Felicity – his caregiver and my adopted sister – arrived this afternoon on their last visit as the householders, not the house guests. He brought two paintings which belong to me and have been hanging in his house, and will take two others back with him. Thus will start my long journey of taking ownership.

1 Doubly and Taubie

On Sunday I arrived home after four days at the Rotary District Conference to find autumn well and truly entrenched – and Doubly with two lesions on his arthritic old hips. But he was quite ready for a walk around the garden, exploring the effects of autumn, and though subdued he was happy. Along too, came Taubie, the x-Bull Terrier, my first dog and still my greatest love, subtler and brighter than any dog I have ever known, and also aging. And Stompie, the Fox Terrier, Dad’s dog (when he is here, but mine when he is not), looking like an aging vamp who should have given up on stiletto’s ages ago, she staggers along but loves the walk. Then there are the younger dogs, Monty, my Alpha Male, a x-Jack Russell who believes he can conquer the world with whatever it takes: charm, guile or sheer Napoleonic chutzpah; his daughter Abigail, whose mother looked like a character from Dr Zeuss, and she a tiny little thing who farms hard with the staff all day then comes home, if she chooses, to be a lapdog – or else protects us with a shrill yelp from creatures of the night: porcupines, jackals, and other dangers real or imaginary. And lastly there is Mateczka, a red Rhodesian Ridgeback, 5 months old now, who threads between us like greased lightning, delirious with life…

4Autumn from the Cottage Garden

We get to The House that Jack Built and a stab goes through my heart as I realise not for the first time that this is no longer my daily canvas. The view towards the Liquodambers is yet again, miraculously, turning to flames of red, orange, yellow and purple. Autumn leaves have more magic even than flowers.

Autumn flames

Here the view is again, this time from the bridge.

Mateczka, Taubie and Stompie

Acer palmatum atropurpureum, Stompie, Taubie

and Mateczka bounding towards me,

always out of focus…

3 The House that Jack Built from carpetgarden

The House that Jack Built … framed from the Carpetgarden by another Acer  palmatum atropurpureum (Red-leaved Japanese Maple) and a Cornus Florida (Flowering Dogwood). These are only the first of over 200 photos I took on the walk. I will be posting more on the rapid changes that take place now in the garden.


autumn 1

Last Thursday we saw the sun. And on Friday it didn’t rain at all whilst the 18 ladies from the garden club were here. For the rest… well, we’ve measured 78mm (over 3 inches) on 6 of the last 9 days, much of it in slow, damp, misty drizzles. And the summer rain was supposed to peter out by the end of March.

autumn 5

Not that it is summery anymore. Lack of sun has lead to gradually lowering temperatures, but cloudy nights have kept the minimums high for late April. Autumn limps along, the colour that should by now be a blaze, is rather… well, watery. Still the garden club ladies, all from the sub-tropical area down the mountain, loved my garden, and all including two sprightly and elegant ladies in their late 70s or even 80s undertook the 600m/yard walk around the dams…

autumn 6

These photos I took on Thursday’s recci – which left me rather despondent. So their enthusiasm was  a great boost to me. The first photo I took just beyond “The House that Jack Built”. If one looks out the bay window and sharp right, you see these trees: Liquodambers forming a backdrop to Japanese maples, dogwoods and others, and a maple across the water. The second photo shows mainly a purple-leaved Japanese maple and a weepng flowering cherry, whilst the one above shows my pride and joy: a plane which colours red instead of yellow. None really wow-factor pics…

autumn 8

Here we look back across the dam from under the maple, with the jetty on the right and the entrance to the Rondel Garden beyond the meadow. As I said: all rather watery…

cornus florida 2

This close-up of a dogwood, Cornus florida, gives some idea of what autumn aught to look like by now… will it all be washed out? Or will the slow start mean  colder nights later in the season which, combined with our traditionally sunny warm days, will lead to a more beautiful late autumn?

down a damp path 3

Here the dogs lead the way down a damp path – Mateczka, the five month–old Rhodesian Ridgeback is now taller than the aging Taubie. She is a lovely dog – bright, beautiful and a personality. And Taubie remains my first love among the dogs…

Tupelo and grasses 4 

We were following the path to see how the Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) which I grew from seed was getting along. Its inner leaves were shining orange among the bright greens. Much promise there…

vitis vinifera 7

The Vitis vinifera growing into a tree looks the worse for wear by late summer, but I get great joy from its  dog-eared shabbiness; it has seen summer and is ready for a rest.

Flowering cherry 9

The flowering cherries, on the other hand, manage to look fresh and jewel-like, despite the lack of sun, their brightness a reminder of what autumn may still have in store…


Standing right in among the cannas – a new experience!

I promised a post on cannas – and this is for all of you facing dazzling, beautiful, overwhelming WHITE at the moment!

What could be sunnier?

Allthough in mid-summer the flowers are very impressive, they are not the main reason I grow cannas.

Flame effects that not even dahlias can match.

Although I bet right now you don’t believe me!

Flowers fortissimo!

No – I grow cannas for their leaves which give many months of joy.

Young canna leaves

Of these the most beautiful is known as  ‘Durban’  or  ‘Tropicanna’ or sometimes, incorrectly as someone tried to register it under this name, as  ‘Phasion’.

Durban is South Africa’s most tropical city; Tropicanna is a good name for this exquisite leaf! But the joys of cannas can also be much more subtle…

And not all flowers are brash.

In fact sometimes they can be as delicate as irises.

Most cannas today are hybrids and it seems species names are not readily attached, much like with roses. Sometimes they are incorrectly referred to as Canna x hybrida, or even more incorrectly as C. hybrida.

However we do have some species cannas. The small flowers belong to two sub-species of Canna indica. The lovely red one, with a red margin and tinge to the leaf and lovely dark seed-heads seems to me to be  C.i. var. warszewiczi.

 Then we have a thug, a boring, invasive plant which we try constantly to eradicate. It looks very similar, but is relentlessly green, with tiny yellow and red flowers. It seems to be called Canna indica var. maculata.

We have another and quite unusual species canna, Canna iridiflora, with elegant, hanging flowers in a lovely shade of pink.

You might have seen it before where it grows in the lower Rosemary Border.

You might also remember the massed cannas really showing off their lovely leaves in the third photograph over here.

Here are a few more cannas to brighten your day.

And lastly – the bright yellow canna, which we have unfairly neglected.


Serious cheating – this is more of a photo essay.

I picked Frances of Fairegarden’s brain about her wonderful pics and found out that her camera is not too fancy: the same as mine but 4 generations more advanced. The quality of her pics has more to do with getting the light and everything else right than with technical know-how or equipment. So I could and should  go out and do better than I’ve been doing!

At the end of a cloudy day I took my camera and tripod to the Rosemary Borders.  As the sun sinks low in the west on such a day, it might break through the clouds which often don’t extend across the much drier plains to the west of us.  The light can be spectacular; today was merely adequate. And so to the subject of this week’s pictures…

So this week’s pic – or perhaps it should be pick! – is of the penstemons in the Upper Rosemary Border. I love them with the species rugosa rose and ‘Antony Waterer’ spiraea; the colours are identical but the plants so different. I love them against the hummocky shapes that dominate this bed, and I love the mauve and pink varieties together.

We move down to the Lower Rosemary Border for this shot. This bed was originally planted with scatterpacks, and I want to get back there, but it is currently more of a grow-on bed for Canna Durban (Tropicanna) and my indigenous orange poppy which featured a few weeks back in the weekly pic. Here Durban grows with the California poppy.

We move lower yet to the Makou Dam. I love this year’s ferns and last year’s oak leaves against the water.

Finally – the sun breaks through beneath the clouds as it sets.

Coloured foliage, and an update to an old post

Going through my blog to get the feel of reading it as a unit, I realised that I had left out a photograph in my 30 September ‘Spring Kicks In’ post. Do go take a look at it; it shows the view across the water to my cottage as the Acer palmatum atropurpureum comes into silvery leaf.  I wrote about it, but never posted the photo.

Talking of coloured foliage led me to one of this week’s shots. It is of the plant association I am most proud of in my garden.

Foliage colour

Flanking the path at the start of the axis down past the Ellensgate Garden are a pair of pungent junipers with lovely blue-grey foliage, not so ungreen as to be cold or dull. They are I would say Juniperus x media ‘Blaauw’ – or as close to it as I have ever been able to identify any garden conifer. Planted hard up against it – too hard at the moment as the junipers needs careful cutting back – is a particularly fine Prunus cerasifolia nigra. In South Africa no attempt is ever made to identify cultivars – in fact few nurseries do more than lump them together under Prunus nigra, the Black Plum. However each of my 7 or so plants is distinctly different, with flowers of different sizes and leaves of different shades. I found this one in some now forgotten nursery and was immediately struck by the small, lacquered leaves of an intense wine red. I’ve paired it with Berberis thunbergii ‘Rose Glow’ , just coming into leaf in the photo. Next to the berberis is one of the Abelia cultivars that were launched with great fanfare a few years ago, but have since seemingly disappeared – low-growing with a palish leaf with yellow and pink colorations. Finding its name would be a mission. Below the juniper is the Abelia grandiflora ‘Francis Mason’ hedge which masks the triangle of brickwork where the Ellensgate Garden is built up. This is the most successful and effective yellow-leaved hedging shrub in my climate, although Durantha ‘Sheena’s Gold’ is used more freely in the warmer parts of South Africa. Below that the willow of Alfred’s Arches, Salix caprea, is coming into leaf.

The foreground is one of the most neglected and satisfying parts of the garden. It lies above the wall and next to the steps leading down the axis. Given over to self-seeding annuals, it is seldom without something of interest and often magnificent. We started the year with a wonderful assortment of Nemesias now a little overshadowed by the green growth of early summer flowerers; no wait – the Namaqualand Daisies (Dimorphotheca sinuata, but no-one would have a clue what you were referring to here!)  flowered from late winter and a few are still in bloom – cheerful sunny orange daisies. Cornflowers are coming along, and opium poppies are growing nicely. My all-time favourite, near-species Nicotiana elata add white, moody mauves and deep red; their seed has been nurtured in the family for over fifty years. By high summer the zinnias will be a show. Occasionally we pull out the spent flowers but only after they have seeded. Studying the content of the waist-high bed makes a wonderful last stop on a walk, before climbing the steps to the front door.