Piet Oudolf garden

I have for years been lusting after the effects Piet Oudolf achieves. (For those ‘less in the know’: Oudolf is a Dutch garden designer and plantsman, the power behind what is loosely called the New Perennial Movement, and undoubtedly the most famous garden innovator in the world today.) I picked up a magazine with an article about one of his gardens and was struck – not for the first time – by how many of the effects he strives for are similar to what I do at Sequoia Gardens. It is essentially ‘natural looking’ with some formal structural elements, it respects the seasons and the plant in its seasons, and it tends to be too twiggy to make for good photography!


The two pics I use on my facebook pages illustrate what I mean. And also make me realise where I fall short. It is the old 20% of the effect takes 80% of the effort formula. It is Mercedes-Benz versus the best from China. I have achieved a great deal. To achieve to the next level will take more time, money and even energy than I think I can muster. And that leads to the next instalment of my tale… Here meanwhile (a tree-scale rather than a perennial-scale!) is a view taken on this damp winter’s morning, with some of our Liquidambar formosana still colouring beautifully when others have long passed their prime.

Wet July view s


Ellensgate Garden

I was planning a post on our wild flowers to slot in with the celebration of Wildflower Wednesday and have been saving suitable pics for days – it being high summer and wild flowers plentiful. But my own recent writing has prompted thought on the subject (see my nature/nurture pic on my previous post) and as a direct result of that  post I discovered This is a fascinating forum for serious talk about gardening and why we do it; about gardening as art, or at least as highly conscious construction.

Ellensgate Garden detail

This morning when I stuck my head across the gate of the Ellensgate Garden it struck me, not for the first time but more forcibly than before, that this most considered and contrived of my gardens had shown me a toffee and done its own thing – rather spectacularly well. What is more, self-sown wildings like the ferns, the mass of Gladiolus dalenii and the yellow arum, Zantedeschia albomaculata contribute substantially to this mutiny. As do the mosses and lichen on the very expensive sandstone trimmings from 800km away I commissioned – even if they now might just as well be cast concrete…

Ellensgate Garden detail 2 Zantedeschia albomaculata

The Ellensgate Garden  was the first development along the new axis from the front door. I started on it in 1996. It came to be because my father acquired the gate made by his father for their family home back in the 30s – read more about it here and follow the link given for full explanations of the material used etc. That original description, first used on a gardening forum nearly 10 years ago, makes for amusing reading against the backdrop of my present plight – is this carefully designed and built garden all about control? Is it the living abandon within the framework of control that makes it a success or a failure? Is what we are witnessing now simply the result of neglect? And then we can ramble on to the ethical/aesthetic debate around “can a garden which is the result of neglect even be considered to be a ‘good’ garden?” And as every gardener knows, that question leads on to all sorts of issues like the passing of time and the need for maintenance, which are like frame and wall to a painting…

Under the Ouhout

You see, the above is to my mind one of the most successful parts of my garden. Snag is that the only human intervention here has been the removal of some dead branches every few years. The trees were planted by nature. So were the grasses and the creeper. All natural, indigenous, endemic, native. Does that mean that it is not a garden? Or that I am such a poor gardener that I can’t compete with something so totally random?

Wild yellow daisy

What if I told you that the deepest joy of my gardening is these random incidents? The moments where Nature says – so it seems to me – ‘well done, Jack, and as a reward I will give you this as well!’ Witness these wild daisies in the arboretum growing, you guessed it, amongst wild grasses and other wild plants but against a backdrop of highly exotic camellias.

Wild yellow daisy detail

Here it is in close-up: Berkeya setifera, called Buffalo Tongue because of its large rough leaves…

Lobelia and agapanthus

Of course it is easy for me in our mountain’s kind climate with its varied flora to call on nature to contribute… The garden lobelia in the pot and the agapanthus beyond are close relatives of our wildings.

16 Lobelia erinus

This is Lobelia erinus, the species of the garden hybrid, photographed growing wild on the farm; individually possibly more beautiful, but not as floriferous as the garden hybrids.

Agapanthus inapertus

And here, planted in the narrow bed up against Alfred’s Arches and raised from seed from a wilding on the farm, is Agapanthus inapertus, a different species from those most garden Agapanthus hybrids originate from.

Crinum & Agapanthus inapertus

Above, the same two flower heads, photographed a few days earlier from the opposite side, together with possibly our most spectacular wilding, Crinum macowanii, seen in more detail below.


Of course not all the wildings are spectacular. The two flowers below are each no bigger than a finger nail, the yellow Hypoxis hiding in rough lawn and the blue Wahlenbergia floating inches above it on thin stems.

Hypoxis Wahlenbergia

Some are little more than weeds. Weeds? Ah, there too is a whole argument. Rephrase: some are so fleeting in flower and willing in seed that they have no garden value, tend to spread, and have value only as sudden little incidents in the wilder parts of the garden. Ergo, the kind of flowers I love. The flowers of Vernonia, below, are a case in point, especially in a strongly coloured example such as this one, seen against a little fern. Ferns too are worth an investigation on their own…


I have told the story before of how, on a tour to Sissinghurst, I was first attracted to Phygelius. ‘Don’t you know it?’ asked a lady on the tour, ‘It is from South Africa!’ I didn’t explain that just because one came from Washington DC it meant one knew the president. But I remembered the flower.

Phygelius aequalis

To my absolute surprise I discovered huge sheets of it just below Freddie’s Dam’s wall on my return to South Africa. But one needs to wade through the marches to get to see it in close-up. Which is well worth doing.

Phygelius detail

It took me another 15 years to strike a cutting, and that has been languishing for over a year on my kitchen window sill. That is the kind of sharing of one’s inadequacies which leads to angst – or perhaps stills it. (Never mind; I’m not nearly as angst-ridden as you might suspect. Winking smile) However it does reopen the debate about neglect and good gardening… Change the subject.

Samaria irrigation dams

We move further and further away from Wildflower Wednesday, and I have been away overnight to my cousins on Samaria near Mapungubwe – see this post which tells more about Samaria and links in to many of my other current thoughts. It was hot – night-time minimums equalling day-time maximums in less extreme parts of the country during last week’s heat-wave. And I want to share just one plant from this visit: an indigenous plant but considered a pest by many farmers; its English name, Devil’s Thorn, gives just one reason. The seed has vicious prickles. I have more than once had it go right through the sole of a shoe into my foot!


My sister tells of arriving in the arid city of Windhoek as a young woman. Dotted around her sandy ‘garden’ were the prettiest yellow flowers. So she dug them up and planted them on either side of her concrete entrance path. She wondered why the neighbour looked at her strangely. Until the seeds developed and she understood…


Sticking to the joys of wildings, I am pleased to report the survival of an attack by baboons (which you can read about here) of the Eulophia orchid. Here is its first flower of the season, on the only stalk. Not as robust as before, but alive!

Blue Thunbergia 4

I end this post, written over several days, with a reference to one of our quieter but more pervasive wildings, a flower that grows on you with close scrutiny – Thunbergia natalensis: a perfect example of the charms of a wilding as expressed by gardeners around the world on Wildflower Wednesday, a monthly post initiated by Gail of ‘Clay and Limestone’.


Three threads, of which two are in the title: a book, and a seasonal marker. But more importantly there is a great question; a Quo Vadis of a kind you ask yourself as the year changes, but especially when your father dies.

Laie afternoon in mid summer

The late sun on the summer solstice. The light flows up the valley at this time of the year, side-lighting the view from the big house. A garden on a golden afternoon. Which led me to my title – and some thoughts. (Did you know that the sun is setting at 6.30pm and soon after 7 it is dark? But then we are just 50km from the Tropic of Capricorn, and in mid-winter it only gets dark after 5.30.)

Gardens of a Golden afternoon

I first read Jane Brown’s Sissinghurst – Portrait of a Garden 19 years ago, sitting in our newly beautiful garden in high summer, whilst Francois slept inside, now obviously approaching the terminal stages of cancer. Strange to say when your partner and soul mate is dying, but I don’t think I have ever in my life been as serenely happy as I was then.

Compston 93 -0007

The garden in Johannesburg, 1993

Reading Jane Brown  changed my life. Literally. It pushed me from being an interested gardener to being a passionate gardener and led 18 months later to my resigning from my job in marketing and setting off for 6 months in Europe in a camper, spending most of my time studying the great gardens of the UK.

Europe1995 - Hatfield 1197 Europe1995 - Hatfield 1177

The summer of ‘95: the camper, and one of the most beautiful gardens of the world, Hatfield, where grand gesture and huge scale are successfully combined with intimate plantsmanship.

The experience changed me profoundly. I came to understand the delicate balance between nature and nurture, structure and incident, control and abandon which I believe to be the central tension of gardening as an art. And I realised that formal design could add to our beautiful valley. The question was how, where and why should I add it. The answer I have often dealt with elsewhere. (Possibly most directly in this link.)

The Sunk garden Great Dixter

The Sunk Garden at Great Dixter in 1995

When I acquired Jane Brown’s Gardens of a Golden Afternoon I was already familiar with the work and especially the influence of the Lutyens-Jekyll partnership. It can surely  be said that this book documents, as the title suggests, the culmination of a golden age which ended abruptly when the First World War broke out – a century minus 18 months and odd days ago. And that much of gardening since then has been a nostalgic and romantic longing for ‘the good old days’ before the tensions of modern life, when time passed slowly and labour was cheap.

big house and Iron Crown from  arboretum s

A panorama from the top corner of the arboretum, with the big house and its garden on the left and the Iron Crown, Limpopo Province’s highest mountain to the right.

When time passed slowly and labour was cheap. Each year passes faster as we grow older, because, among other reasons, it forms a smaller percentage of our lives. I am eternally (no pun!) thankful that I started gardening seriously in my 20s, for 30 years on there is so much that has grown to maturity. And 30 years seems forever when you are 25. Now I have crossed one of life’s great thresholds: I have buried my father. I know that the next 30 years, if I am destined to live longer than him, will pass in a flash; and that year on year I will be able to measure the diminishing of my energies.

Gladiolus and St John's Wort

Nature and nurture – self-sown local wilding, Gladiolus dalenii, in the Upper Rosemary Border

Sequoia Gardens has never been more beautiful than it is now. Yes, there is work to be done. There are areas to develop and to redevelop; there is constant maintenance; there are dreams not yet dreamt. As I look across the garden, I am eternally thankful (those words again!) to my staff. Last week I thanked them ceremoniously for a good year before finalising their December pay, Christmas allowance and annual bonus. It added up to considerably more than I’ve ever received as a  salary cheque, even when an annual bonus was included. And that too set me thinking.

Big house reflected

In the Southern Hemisphere things are different to Europe and North America

You see – I paid eight people. And I’ve never earned a substantial salary. A century on, South Africa still has cheap labour. And Sequoia Gardens would not have come into existence, nor can it be sustained by me, without cheap labour. Does this make me an exploiter? I’ll leave that to you to decide. But two years ago five of my staff were temps, and for economic reasons I decided that two had to leave and three be permanently appointed. After much discussion they themselves suggested that they all take smaller salaries instead. I took a deep breath, paid them all a little less than I’d intended and absorbed 1 1/2 salaries myself – paying 5 from 3 would have pushed each share below the minimum legal wage, besides anything else… For you see, there is vast unemployment amongst poorly educated rural people, and almost all of these men support an extended family. As part of the ‘Xmas Box’ I handed out my late father’s clothes and shoes, from still-in-a-wrapper to 20 year old quality to near rags. Only the jerseys will fit any of my staff; everyone was happy with whatever they got. What they don’t use themselves will be handed to family, bartered or even sold.


Structure and incident – the front door axis from inside Alfred’s Arches

I wish I could shrink my monthly wage bill; I don’t have the heart to let anyone go. I considered a smaller annual bonus, which is not controlled by law or negotiation; I could not justify doing it, for my staff have gone the extra mile for me this year. In fact I wished I could have doubled their bonuses.

Control & abandon

Control and abandon – the hedge beyond the Upper Rosemary Border

Quo Vadis? The South Africa my staff live in is not the South Africa that was fought for. Twenty years ago I would not have believed it possible for me to employ 8 people today. For how long will this continue? Much went right in the ‘New South Africa’. Education went horribly wrong. It went wrong before in 1976 when the slogan ‘Liberation before Education’ emptied the schools and destroyed discipline; by 1990 order was being restored. Ambitious new education plans were launched in 1994. Too ambitious. They have been revised and revised again. This year it took the Limpopo Education Department eight months to get text books to some schools. How do you teach like that?? We lost a generation to the struggle in the 70s and 80s. We lost a generation to bad management and misguided idealism in the 90s and 00s. The 10s see the gap between the haves (definitely no longer white only) and the have-nots still opening. Education is the key to a country’s future. For many rural black people there is no future. Do you see why my staff are keen for their jobs, thankful to be treated fairly and humanely?

Organic Gardening

I need to introduce a fourth thread to reach my conclusion, and my Christmas present from Louis is an ideal vehicle: HRH The Prince of Wales’ book The Elements of Organic Gardening. I already own all his other books on architecture and gardening and the organic movement. I take a rather unkind pleasure in the way the world’s perception of him has changed from oddball eccentric to prophetic guardian. I relate deeply to his obvious need to create a haven of beauty and wholeness in a chaotic world. I envy him his resources whilst admiring the obvious lack of modern-day materialism that drives him. I am side-tracking myself. The fourth thread is sustainability.

Looking down on the garden, Serala in background

Looking down on the garden from the neighbour’s recently cut plantation. Serala, our second highest mountain peak, touches the frame right of centre.

Sustainability. Having a garden that contributes to Nature and Her functioning (to use the prince’s capitalisation), rather than detracts from it. But also in a more concrete way, a garden that can be justified – economically, emotionally and socially.

Sequoia Gardens entrance

The garden is open to the public. Not because it could possibly be a source of meaningful income, but because I cannot justify owning something like this and not sharing it.

cottage and big house from Biebuyck s

The House that Jack Built in its meadow on the left, the big house through the trees and the Iron Crown on the right. 15 acres of garden in the valley.

I can’t know what the future holds. Will it still be economically possible for me to continue in years to come? It is even now already really not the case. My dad was a relatively wealthy man. I am not, merely blessed. Will the South African economy join the modern world, or will a part of it continue to limp along a century behind the times? When will my own diminishing energies make the whole exercise pointless? Who will the next custodian be and how will he or she experience and develop Sequoia? How will the Golden Afternoon end?

Ripples on the water


By the time I publish this I will have been home a week – but there hasn’t been much time for my blog, or even for photography. So this will be a rather random photo-essay, impressions after two weeks away. The continuation of my story about my dad and Sequoia will have to wait. It needs time to prepare. But since we ended with the arrival of The Plett, let us start off there today.

Plett today

There was a rather similar angle of The Plett as it arrived. Last year I added the 2nd roof and pergola and expanded on the gardening around The Plett. It is looking lovely, as the following photos (almost) show.

Plett Garden developing

Creepers are making their way up the pillars and the paved area is surrounded by lush shrubs and perennials.

Plett Garden

Privacy between The Plett and the big house improves every week and this garden area is fast becoming THE place to explore. This path is a reminder of the route The Plett followed to get here.

Detail from Plett Garden

In addition there is plenty of scope for cuttings of new perennials from here… I wander down to inspect other parts of the garden. The big lawn is looking neat and finished, although not one plant from the past-their-sell-by-date seed packs we planted in the straightened lower edge of the top bed germinated. Good. Room for perennials then!

Looking across big lawn

The pale orange dahlias that were planted too late last summer have recovered fully and make a strong statement. My plan is to document and collect from the vast variety of old dahlias around the village and neighbouring gardens that have survived since the heyday of the dahlia half a century ago…

Summer greens with dahlias in foreground

This one (bought new though) will start the collection. One thing I did learn – not that one doesn’t know this of dahlias: beware which colours you plant where!

Dahlias towards Plett

The magenta-purple dahlia on the right is all wrong! Luckily it is also of very short stature; it will be moved. This soft orange is ideal. We have pure yellow pompoms (although there is already rather too much pure yellow around) and clear reds of an orange rather than purple shade will work here; also the many russets growing around my cousin’s staff house, survivors from the terraced gardens next door… One thing I learnt late last summer: dahlias can be moved when not quite dormant and still survive, and that is what I plan to do later in the summer!

My purples

Before moving on I admire my favourite plant combination in the whole garden, seen in the background of the last dahlia pic. It gives me pleasure for at least ten months of the year! Then I turn to the Upper Rosemary Border.

Upper Rosemary Border

It is looking lush and richly textured. Not for the first time my mind wonders to the impossibility of achieving such richness in time for the Spring Festival when much in my garden has yet to awake…

Mozart Rose

This is Mozart, a Hybrid Musk rose much like Ballerina (and my own Cascade Rose)  but larger and more inclined to sprawl. Each year it has looked better, spilling over other plants in this border.

Cardinal Hume

And here, finally, is a good shot of the cardinal red of Cardinal Hume which grows close by in this border. Below – a more general shot again of the varied plants in the Upper Rosemary Border.

Upper Rosemary Border 2

And yes – if the plant dead centre looks suspiciously like a weed – it is! One of my favourite weeds. With great anticipation I turn to investigate the Lower Rosemary Border where the scatterpacks of annual seeds were just beginning to flower when last I was here…

Meadow planting

Mmm… at first glance, disappointment. A little selene which we already have, dominates, followed by gypsophila and a few yellow daisies. But there are signs of more to come, although I don’t think we can expect the exuberance of the last sowing, some 5 years ago. This morning I returned with my camera for a few close-ups…

Dominant selene Selene close-up

Here are the selenes. Like so many flowers, there is just too much of magenta and too little of pink about them. Below are a pair of blue flowers.

A tiny blue daisy Blue weed

On the left a blue daisy which could be one of any number of ‘blue daisies’; on the right something I know as a weed of sandy riverbeds, but a flower I’ve always admired. Rather like a morning glory in appearance, it is carried on a fleshy shrub-like plant with spiky leaves, and if I’m not mistaken forms a large spiky seed capsule. I shall have to identify it and check how weedy it will be in our climate; in fact I wonder how a lone plant ended up in my seed mix… 

Wine red cosmos Nemesias and gypsophilla

A wine-red cosmos hints at the rich colours to come, and a variety of nemesias and gypsophila show that all is not magenta…

Nemesia red and yellow Nemesia blue & white 

In fact, it is worth seeking out the nemesias and coming in close to see their delicious colours.

Colour contrast

Searching through the bed I start to find the startling clashes and serendipitous blends that so enchanted me during the last incarnation of this garden. I believe it will be a success after all…


Satiated, I turn to the next bed down – the groupings of cannas. And am enchanted by the sinuous lines that characterise this part of the garden.

canna bed

On I go, crossing the wall of the Makou Dam.

Makou Dam

Stopping to look back across the garden I think – I know not for the last time – ‘How I would love Dad to be standing beside me looking back at what we have achieved!’

Across Makou Dam

And on, up into the arboretum.

Mothers'  Garden

The Mothers’ Garden still awaits its roses, but over the next days I will clip its hedges. I took the big Toyota Condor seen in front of the garages – a 4×4 based on a Malaysian commercial vehicle, simple, cavernous and ideal for transporting both goods and people, and even for sleeping in when camping (and of course now off the market, leaving a gaping void waiting to be filled) – to Johannesburg in late November, intending to buy the roses. But life took over…

Double Rugosa Rose

In the arboretum I find the double  Rugosa flowering. I must propagate this intriguing rose. Grown from species seed, like all my Rosa rugosas, this one is double instead of single. Whether it is a mutation or in fact a cross I suppose I will never know. But I suspect it to be a mutation as the colour, growth and leaf is stock-standard.

Beech Border axis hydrangeas

Onwards I go, enjoying being on the farm again with my dogs, finding the new sights of the season, and listening to the rush of summer waters…

Freddie's Dam overflow


10 October traditionally marks the start of the rainy season. Anything before that is both a bonus and a bad omen. Joining as it did other bad omens, I had mixed feelings about the wonderful early September rain…

Aristea in the rain

But this past week has grown progressively wetter, mist turning to rain and quite decent rain forecast for today to follow on the 10mm we measured over the last three days. Only one problem: tomorrow my cousin gets married and photos are scheduled in the garden… But there is a chance of some sunshine at appropriate times tomorrow.

wet view from the guest room

The sharp-eyed will notice both the trailer and the bakkie (ute, truck) parked on the lower road. We had carted compost from the plantations, a wonderful source of good free nourishment for the newly developed straight edge to the top bed after 25 years under lawn. Most of the new area has been seeded with ‘easy flowers’ – although some packs passed there sell-by date in 2005 *blush* so we shall see what’s forthcoming… Be it as it may: the weather is ideal!

Reshaping the upper edge of the big lawn

Here are some rather careless wet-lens snapshots of recent developments, with resultant flare. Under the Japanese Maple – rounded and GREEN and lovely in the rain, growing as you look at it – we have planted a hedge of Abelia ‘Francis Mason’ to match the one visible across the lawn at the Ellensgate Garden. The blue flower in the top pic, by the way, is our local Aristea, a wonderful little bulb which has ‘flowering days’ and ‘non-flowering days’. It always reminds me of stories I’ve heard over the years from my lady colleagues about life in the girls’ boarding house at school…

Across Mothers' Garden

Here you can see the Mothers’ Garden all hedged and ready for the roses which will be planted here; another area which will respond thankfully to the rain!

Water spout

By special request from my friend Diana of Elephant’s Eye here is a progress report (imperfect) on The Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe; first a view across the water spout incorrectly aligning the axis with the view through to the other side. This was one of the many imperfections I had to consider here, and the eventual decision was to plug this (totally accidental) extension of the axis 5 degrees off centre with a shrub or two on the far end. It is yet to happen. Beyond the spout and at a lower level you can see, if you know what to look for, the logs that form the spiral in this garden. Below you CAN see them. As well as the softening that has happened from the rather casual introduction of some flowers here. The big project is the construction of the water spiral, fed by the overflow from the house-water fountain, which will come up through a central ‘celestial trumpet’ before flowing down a homemade spiral shute , around and out from the stepping logs. But in the imperfect world we celebrate in this garden, none of that has been constructed although most material is on site, and we are 18 months from conception. Bit of an elephant, although hopefully neither pink nor white.

The Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe spiral


New seating area

I promised a view of the completed seating area; like most newly completed garden features, it makes an unsatisfactory subject: not even I can see the Coralbark Maples planted in the three pots to the right; the foreground is decidedly raw and the various stumps beyond the seats make no visual sense. Not to mention the fact that the very utilitarian garden tap, deliberately included in the design, rather dominates the foreground despite the presence of Abigail. But last Sunday I came upon two ladies enjoying their picnic lunch here, even before the garden was completed. Mission accomplished.

The season would not be complete without a few sweeping views of the azaleas in flower. So here goes. All these photos were taken up in the arboretum, specifically along the bank of azaleas that rises all the way up the slope between the tulip trees which form The Avenue.

Azaleas at a junction 

Azaleas en masse

Azaleas in popping colours

Azaleas in toning colours

azaleas up the avenue

Lastly some views at the Lilypond, where the wisteria has spectacular long trusses and the Mothertjie rose has now grown to flower throughout the indigenous  Rhamnus prinoides tree which hosts it known as a Blinkblaar (Bright Leaf) or, more confusingly considering our dramatically flowering American versions, as a Dogwood.


lilypond 2

lilypond panorama 1


Panorama from big house

Two weeks, it is, since last I posted… It is the time of the Spring Festival; accommodation and the open garden at Sequoia Gardens and MountainGetaways are keeping me very busy. The unexpected 120mm in early September have resulted in more green than is usual in spring – we are heading for the best spring ever. What a pity the festival is over as my garden gets into its stride… The above photo, a 180 degree panorama, gives an idea of what the valley is looking like. The drive, of course, forms a straight line from left to right, but further away there is less distortion.

Mothers' Garden panorama

To celebrate my birthday I decided it was time to plant the hedges in the Mothers’ Garden, and give some purpose to the strange oblong of basically bare ground visitors find between the curves of the New Old Rose Garden (on the left above) and the big lawn. I finally decided on an informal hedge of Grevillea, (I think G. rosmarinifolia) an easy Australian plant that over many months starting in winter carries charming but unobtrusive coral flowers amongst its grey-green needles l which are greatly appreciated by nectar-loving birds. We also planted an Abelia x ‘Francis Mason’ hedge which will echo in shape the triangular one on the opposite side of the lawn against the Ellensgate Garden, before turning through 90 degrees, dropping to knee height and edging the seating platform. You can see the existing hedge below, together with the wisteria on the pergola in the Anniversary Garden.

Wisteria, Alfred's Arches, Ellensgate and Japanese Walk

These hedges are of course all grown from cuttings. Over the years we have propagated literally tens of thousands of plants to populate the six hectares of garden we have. In the above photo you can see one of the themes we have focused on in getting ready for the festival: making sure the pots were looking good. I am still smarting from a comment made last spring, about which I posted rather angrily over here

Entrance to garden

I particularly focused on the area around the entrance, as a month before the festival everything was bleak and wintery and I was despairing about how to convince visitors it was worth even looking at my garden and calling it a spring garden… There is a strange and shady threshold you cross from a very rural parking area into a deliberately formal garden. In the event all the bright colour I decided on turned to shades of brick and mustard with a few white and pale blue highlights. But I think it is more effective and better integrated this way. To celebrate the opening, my huge (and recently transplanted) Mutabilis rose chose to push forth its first blossoms over the pots with colour. Success! On Saturday morning I took some terrible pics of the occurrence. Perhaps tomorrow I can pick up something better. Such has this week been that I’ve not ventured out with my camera leisurely in hand.

Later: a composite below – getting all the detail in one pic was not possible. Rosa chinensis mutabilis opens apricot, fades to straw, then reddens to crimson. Only semi-consciously I chose these colours when selecting my plants; my very first notes years ago for the colours in the Upper Rosemary Border were ‘brick reds and mustardy yellows’.

mutabilis 2

mutabilis 4

Under mutabilis

Since the photo below was taken last week, the struggling, excessively shaded Rosemaries to the left of the pot fountain have been ripped out and replaced with 7 Hydrangea serrata as part of a development in the shade of the tree. A small new paved area with seating will be completed this weekend when I plant the three pots with Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’, the Japanese Coral-bark Maple. Besides being a spot for visitors to rest in the shade, it also sets the scene of rustic formality I wish to impress on them.

Entrance fountain

This has been the first opportunity in weeks to work with my staff in the garden. However our visitors who have seen the garden before, all commented on how very lovely the garden is looking, how neat and cared for everything appears. It was good to share this news with the staff, because it has mostly been their own initiative that inspired these comments.

Entrance room

Pics of the completed Entrance Room (as I’ve decided to call it) will have to wait for the next post. Here are a few more pics of the entrance area – looking from the entrance and then looking back to it.

View from entrance

Looking towards the entrance

The entrance is also where we announce the latest of the tourism initiatives on The Mountain: the TMA  Mountain Bike Trails, two of which pass through Sequoia Gardens, one of 5 and one of 25km:

Entrance and cycle info

Cycle TRail

But back to visitors: allow me to brag with this pic of the visitors’ parking filled with cars last Sunday…

Full guest parking

To end: a collage of pots…

Flower pot 6

Flower pot 4


Beech borders

The Beech Borders: so named because they lead down across the lily-pond, across the valley and up the cutting through the poplars where the blue hydrangeas are massed on the axis from the biggest of our beech trees. Under the beech there’s a bench looking down these borders, and behind the tree a semi-circle of what was envisaged as pleached limes. Currently they are sapling-like lime trees, not quite beyond pleaching, and interplanted with witch-hazels. Oops. Confusion in the nursery. And one of the random qualities I love about Sequoia’s gardens! (See the blue hydrangeas here and the bench under the beech here. And in the process see the garden in other seasons! )

maple avenue 2

At an angle to the axis, tapering down to a point, grow a line of Japanese maples, Acer palmatum, one of our earliest and most successful plantings. They were planted along the stream from the fountain from where we get our house-water. In the above photo you can see the pipe which takes the water from the collection tank near the fountain to the storage tank from where it is pumped up to the house tank.

Young maple avenue

When I laid out the Beech Borders I planted a second row of Japanese maples in exact symmetry with the the existing ones. They seemed impossibly far of to the left of the axis, and stuck out in the unwelcoming veldt. But they are beginning to make a statement in their own right, as can be seen in the above photo, even if they don’t yet relate – 8 or more years later – to the axis. We are looking back up the slope from the bottom here.

Looking into a mature maple

Thirty years on the original trees are majestic, every bit as lovely – nay, more so! – than those we admired at the neighbours, sometime in the mid-seventies when we still thought them crazy to have allowed the garden to take over the farm. (See my post on Cheerio Gardens.)


Here we are looking down that line of Japanese maples, the pipe again visible, with a snakebark maple (Acer davidii) blazing bright yellow in the foreground. But it is in the close-ups that the true beauty and grace of these trees can really be understood…

maple avenue


close-up 2

close-up 3

There. The peak of my year in the garden…

Change of pace now as we stand near the bottom of the Beech Borders and a little off the axis, looking across the water-lily pond to the original grove of swamp cypresses (Taxodium distichum). In the background my exclamation mark gum about which I recently posted.

swamp cypresses across the waterlily pond

And  we wind up our autumn walk looking across the lower terrace, with more swamp cypresses, Liquidamber formosana and cannas that look good surrounded by autumn colour. As does Mateczka.

Mateczka on the bottom terrace


Garden as seen from verandah

I was going to start this post with a quote or a fine example. Something from John Brookes, or Beth Chatto, or Penelope Hobhouse or Garden Design for Dummies. Something about focal point plants, or a little more literately – full-stops and exclamation marks. But I have neither the time nor the inclination to search for such a quote.

Dark Eucomis in the Upper Rosemary Border

We all know such plants. Always (?) vertical (thus exclamation mark), they are strong enough in a composition to bring the eye to rest (thus full-stop). An example: the above Eucomis  or Pineapple Lily, surrounded by frothy small-leaved plants – in this case Lonicera nitida, Rosa rugosa and penstemons, about a third from the right in the border you see in the first picture.

Morning mist from the stoep

This picture possibly best illustrates what I  wish to talk about tonight: the vast scale of my two punctuation marks. The view from the stoep (veranda) of the Big House is across a series of descending horizontals with the dam at the bottom of the valley followed by the road on the opposite side and finally the expanse of the arboretum. Contrasting with these horizontals are the vertical lines of the two gum trees.

Spring view from Big House 2

The front gum, larger and considerably older, was claimed by my mother as HER tree whilst they were on honeymoon back in 1954. Even then it dominated the valley from all angles. Thus, over the years, we have had plantation trees, garden trees, and Mom’s Tree.


Even though from some angles the second tree appears as tall or even taller, the ground is at least 10m (30 foot) higher where it grows. 0ne of the plans for the next year or two is the layout of the Mothers’ Garden, commemorating Louis’ and my mothers (about which you can read more here), which faces her tree. Looking back to the bench which already marks the top of the Mothers’ Garden, you can see what we are heading towards…

Golden light of sunset - in the lowest bed the canna leaves begin to show up

Hold it. This pic doesn’t yet include the bench I’m talking about. Try this one…

Bluegums, house and Mothers' garden from arboretum

These trees form an exclamation in any season…

Gum at first lighht

Garden as seen from verandah 2

Sunset from stoep

Liquidambar formosana in arboretum

They exclaim from unexpected angles…

Big Gum reflected

076 sunset across lilypond

Reflections and silhouettes; both accentuate the power of these trees. Even from inside The House that Jack Built, their silhouettes can dominate a view if the light is right.

075 sunset across cottage gdn

6 Salvia, grasses and trees at sunset

And so often they are part of a sunset composition – either catching the last light or seen against a glowing sky.

Summer sunset

But let’s get back to a more naturalistic view of the garden for our final photo…

There. I miss the icon of my garden, the curved bridge reflected in the water which one sees from The House that Jack Built, where I used to live. But this is pretty good as garden focal points go!


Two projects are report-on-able. One has been twelve years in the waiting and eight in the making. And yet it was one of the simplest: the waterspout  at the end of the front door axis.

The fountain from the front door

Through the front door itself the spout is just noticeable, a little whitish stripe plumb centre at the foot of Alfred’s Arches. (The stained glass tree, one of a pair flanking the front door, is a Sequoia, commissioned by my father when the house was built.)

The fountain down the axis

Step outside and the spout  is a lot more visible; make your way down the first flight of stairs to the junipers and – voila!

The fountain from the junipers

You can see it in all its glory! Remember I said we would cut back Alfred’s Arches this year? Postponed! Those dark rustic old branches flanking the silver spout are just too good to loose. Like most of my garden, we will live with its imperfections… Winking smile. And so the dustbin, planted eight years ago to act as a reservoir beneath the spout, is finally put to use.


May 2006. The wall on the Rosemary Terrace is not yet built, but already the Italian Pot at the far end of the vista has its third or fourth (unsatisfactory) planting, and the Abelia ‘Francis Mason’ cubes surrounding it are too big and too tall, obscuring its shape rather than enhancing it. These complaints were to surface regularly over the next five years, and satisfactory photos really do not exist. The one below, spoilt by a skew conifer, is about the best.


Rosemary Terrace with new work being done

The puzzle of the problematic pot became more pressing once it was not only the focal point  which  drew the eye down the vista, but also became the first feature visitors see  on arriving at the garden, entering along the Rosemary Terrace. I removed all vegetation – and was reminded that the whole structure was most wonderfully aligned to the left corner of the terrace Sad smile – besides: it was simply too elaborate. Eventually I decided to fill the pot with water which ‘boiled’ from a central spout. But the pot was too tall – or mounted too high – and one fine day it dawned on me that there was no option but to rebuild its plinth, lowering and straightening it.

Fixing the Italian pot's base

Freddy to the rescue – my builder who has been responsible for almost every improvement and development over the last year; a fine and skilful man. This water feature too is complete, although the four shallow pots of annuals that will stand on the arms of the cross are yet to be planted. However the frost is (touch wood) over, and next week I shall buy the plants and post a picture from both views.

Water feature