I have, I truly have been revelling in the coming of spring, even if four days may go by without a walk. And this is only my third post in this fastest changing of months. What is more, I last had so few visitors to my site in August 2011. As spring gains momentum, my blogging is loosing it. Ah well…

Spring greens

At least I do have several 100 pics to record this spring, even if I have not done any editing for nearly 3 weeks. And tonight I am stealing time to write a rather disjointed post. Lets start at the end – sudden cold and 17mm of rain over two days after a bone dry and often sweltering September.

Finally rain

Actually last weekend, when I took most of my photos, we also had 40 hours of damp cold, but it was not much more than mist, an immeasurable amount, though it made for rather lovely photos early the next morning… I was planning a post called ‘Evanescent Spring’, but it never got written. These pics explain.

pink and white azalea

pink and white azalea 2

White cherry supposedly Tai Haku

Siberian iris

It was of course the Spring Fair these last 10 days. I always lament the unreadiness of my garden, but our work paid off this year – we had annuals in the ground, and in pots, and there was more green after the milder than usual winter…

Blues purples and yellows in a planter

I’m very taken with the pair of matching planters at the steps below the Ellensgate Garden: Petunias in pink, pale mauve and deep purple and pale blue lobelia combined with soft yellow foliage and flowers.

Pots on the stairs

After spending the winter in the greenhouse, these pots, previously from the area near the entrance, were redeployed on the next set of steps down from the Ellensgate Garden just above the Rosemary Terrace.

Sweet Pea threaded through rosemary

Some cheating. Sweetpeas in pots grown in the greenhouse were placed in the Rosemary Terrace, hidden behind and threaded through shrubs such as this rosemary.


On Sunday, the damp and cold day, we took a daytrip (3 hours either way) to Samaria, the game farm on the Limpopo river where on holiday we camp under the trees by the river. Here it was cloudy and mercifully cool. (The trees along the river form a dark strip in the middle right of the photo.)


My cousins whose family Samaria belong to were visiting from 800km away for the weekend. For the first time in her life Sylva was a day visitor to Samaria! A rock-fig many years ago found a pocket of soil in the rock, then sent roots down to find more moisture below; and in the photo above that: an ancient baobab in a dry landscape.

Samaria bleached bone and stump

The harshness of the climate here is always a shock after the softness of our Mountain. Near each other on the beautifully striated rock were this stump and bone. I brought them together and took several photos. The texture of the veldt is beautiful, full of vastness and vignettes.

Big bed above lawn

I really must record that in the week before the Fair two important bits of planting were done: in the Anniversary Garden we sorted out the two side beds, a project I have been dithering about for five years. And the big bed above the big lawn, the last step in the layout around this area, has finally been replanted with blocks of perennials and rivers running through it. Hopefully both areas will mature successfully this summer…  But we are known for our OTT spring colour, so let’s play out on that note, shall we?

Avenue azaleas


After two weeks on Samaria, my cousins’ farm which is today part of the Mapungubwe Nature Reserve and World Heritage Site, the (very excited) dogs and I took a late afternoon walk when we arrived home.

Aloes after the frost

Observation no 1: there has been frost, and it has done damage… (collapsed aloes x 3  in foreground, returned 4×4 with borrowed caravan in background)

Observation no 2: there are still signs of autumn about: Cornus florida with a bud promising new life in spring. Most photos were taken on auto, with flash, although it was not yet 6 pm; the  winter solstice is upon us…

Cornus florida in June

Observation no 3: it is easy to say it is winter, and I’m told last night the frost was HEAVY, although I was comfortable in short sleeves still at 5pm.

Red plane in June

For my friend Jo, whom I owe a letter: the red plane, with a waxing moon behind it and below, a fallen leaf.

Red plane leaves in June

The walk was about the dogs; below Monty – growing white in the whiskers – tries for once to blend in unobtrusively in a patch of fallen leaves.

Monty among the leaves

The rear approach to the Beech Borders, below, with a  semi-circle of lime trees planted as a hedge, and accidentally interspersed with witchazel (an amusing mistake) forming a backdrop to the beech tree.  This is a picture which needs near winter conditions and flash lighting to differentiate the elements. It is one of the most self-consciously contrived and classical effects in the garden and I love it.

Beech Borders from rear entrance

But I think I must end with a picture from my vacation – a sight as far from a contrived garden as can possibly be imagined: a pair of giraffe passing in front of a baobab tree.

Giraffe on Samaria


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’.


The pedant in me questioned the word ‘buffaloes’ with which I ended my last post. As usual the net came to the rescue – here is wiki-answers’ take on it. The pedant bowed to the poet and ‘buffalo’ prevailed… Smile


So… Our fourth and last game drive; we leave camp before sunrise on Sunday. It is beautiful. And in the open vehicle, despite the very low speeds, it is downright icy.


We drive for quite a while and see little that is particularly exciting, but the bushveld is beautiful in the early light, and we all enjoy that.


From conversations on the radio and on meeting another vehicle I gather, from where I am sitting in the back row, that we are planning to meet up with a very large herd of buffalo making their way to the water.


Eventually we come upon a few buffalo. To me the bushveld as a whole is still the more interesting to look at…


Gradually we realise how many there are around us – and, when quietly grazing, how much like cattle they behave and sound.


As we quietly watch their slow movement, someone comments on how it seems they all have different personalities – some placid, some grumpy, some dowdy and some grand. But make no mistake: a buffalo is one of the most dangerous animals of the African bush, especially a lone old bull – for they look and act as though they have a hangover and would like to blame life for it…


We move on, towards the water where they are obviously heading, and on the way stop for the umpteenth time to admire the grace and beauty of the most common of all the bushveld animals – the impala.


We drive to the dam towards which the buffalo are heading and stop for coffee and rusks. There is a nifty fold-out table around which we gather before moving off, steaming mug in hand, to admire the view. At night we have drinks served from this table as we watch night descend on the bush. The tracker’s seat is beyond the table, now with its backrest down; it is possible for him to look right down at the tracks beneath him. In the dead tree beyond there are communal weaver nests.


Another view of the game-drive vehicle with its four rows of seats, each higher than the one in front of it. These vehicles have come a long way  since the first ones I saw – Land-Rovers way past their sell-by date with the coachwork chopped off and rickety grandstands attached any old how… They are now delivered off the shelf, having been adapted from brand-new bakkies (trucks/utes) by  specialist coachbuilders. But lets move on to the opposite side of the dam, because from the many oxpeckers in the air – the birds that follow the buffalo and clean them of ticks and other parasites – it is clear that the buffalo are approaching the water.


You’d be forgiven if you can’t see the leading buffalo in this picture,  but the three resident hippos have all surfaced and their ears and eyes are trained on the approaching rumble.  Unthreatening as the experience might be, in nature being observant is everything…


Then the first ones arrive. I was looking to see: would it be a matriarch? A dominant bull? But it seemed to be a gentle rolling over, a speeding up as the water was reached, pockets of activity as youngsters gambolled, planless and shapeless as the great plan of nature so often appears to be…


And still they keep coming, spreading out along the water, sudden rolls  of activity in the grass beyond, but mostly just a steady movement.


Although the water does seem to induce a rather unsubtle friskiness in the bulls, which the cows strangely don’t seem to appreciate and which the humans, equally strangely, find fascinating…

75 Buffalo panorama

And still they stream towards the water, more and more…

76 Buffelo panorama

…and the humans count and quantify amongst themselves: “There must be a thousand!” “No, surely not that many?” “Count a section and extrapolate…”


For, unlike the buffalo at the water, we seem to battle to quietly, contentedly, observantly, just to BE.



This is a gardening blog, after all. So allow me a slight diversion between leopards and lions. This is an impala lily (Adenium multiflorum) – one of the PRETTIEST flowers you can imagine: it grows on leafless succulent stems that can form a largish shrub, and in winter, when all around shades of grey, tawny, taupe and chaff dominate, they are as incongruous as any flower can possibly be. I never cease to be taken by total surprise when I see them…


After the impala lily even this must be an anti-climax. It is, I strongly suspect, Dicerocaryum senecioides. A beautiful foxglove-like flower, it seems to lie stemless amongst dry grasses in harsh climates. I have seen it on the Limpopo and in Namibia and again at Djuma. But don’t be deceived: its common name is  Devil Thorn, for its horrid  seed-capsule that can penetrate a too thin sole, and immersed in water the trailing stems forms a slimy mess that can be used as a rather yucky soap substitute.

You want to see the lions? Here they are.


After we saw the leopard, dusk soon turned to dark, as happens in Africa – even when you are over 100km south of the Tropic of Capricorn. But before dark we got the message: a pride of lions was lying right by the side of the road, waiting before starting on the hunt. We found them where they lay patiently and stopped within meters of them. There were nine of them. They ignored us; we might as well not have been there.


Then a large female – the alpha female?  – got up and walked in front of the vehicle, standing as if at attention, her massively strong forequarters on display, seeming to sense the night air and the action plan for the hunt. She turned and returned to the group. And then an eerie thing happened. Quietly, one by one, the lions got up and moved past the vehicle, a mere meter behind it and set off to our left. I didn’t dare move – no-one did. I don’t think we breathed as one by one they passed by us, paying no attention to us. But each as it passed left me with a sense of relief: I was not to be this night’s supper.


Oops. Not this one’s either.


Nor this last ones… (breathe)


And then, feeling like intruders, we followed them a little way as they walked single file down a narrow track, but we never got to see the hunt itself…


Next: a bounty of buffaloes




“What would you like to see?” Ephraim, the Game Ranger and driver of the game-viewing vehicle – about which I will tell our overseas visitors more in due course – asked, as we stood at the vehicle before our first drive late on Friday afternoon. We chimed a series of requests, but I’m pretty certain leopard headed the list. He and Amos, the tracker, who sits on a seat right on the front of the vehicle from where he can survey the spoor, glanced at each other. Less than 5 minutes later, scarcely out of the camp, we drove 100m off the road and they pointed one out to us. They had clearly done a bit of homework before the drive! You can’t see it? Neither could I! I was looking for movement way off in the distance. Here he is:


Only meters away from us, he was so well camouflaged, stretched out asleep on the short grass, that I mistook him for a stump as I scanned the depth between the bushes.


Immediately we teased Ephraim: he was dead and stuffed, put out as a first welcome to guests. No, look at his tail twitching. He was staked to the ground. No, this was for real.


We had just been incredibly lucky!

Off we drove – and I include only one further highlight from that first evening’s drive. It was quite dark, and Amos held a powerful hand-lamp. Suddenly a rhinoceros came out of the bushes to our right, moved down the road some meters and crossed into the dark on the left. I managed this rather atmospheric shot.


The next evening we elected to start with a walk near the camp – that is when I photographed the first of my tree shots in the first of my Djuma posts. But then we got the message on the radio – a leopard had been spotted not too far away. And so the vehicle came to pick us up to go find it…


Notice that Amos is sitting inside as we connect with the leopard in dense bush, in the sun straight ahead … We learnt about a ‘bush GPS’ here: put your vehicle into neutral and rev it, so that another vehicle can pinpoint where you are! (That evening we used the night version so that another vehicle could find the lions we were following: shine the search-light up into the sky. The communication between rangers, often so unobtrusive that visitors are not aware of it, is part of the bush experience. All animals move freely over thousands of hectares and any encounter is based as much on luck as on tracking skills and communication. But the good ranger ‘finds the story’ and creates the drama of the encounter. And Ephraim and Amos were an excellent combo!)


The leopard played her part too, climbing up on to an anthill to survey the terrain, ignoring the two vehicles flanking her. In time they realise that the vehicles prove no threat. But don’t think of climbing down or even changing the silhouette of the vehicle by standing up when close to most animals… She is the mother, we hear, of the young male we saw the previous day. These rangers know their animals!


Thank you, Ma’am; we could hardly have posed you better if we’d done it ourselves!


The pleasure, my dear man, is mine. (Actually I wish they’d scram and leave me to my hunting! But a girl’s got to wave her tail to the populace…)


Now, if you’d excuse me… I do have other commitments.

And off she goes… But this royal loves the paparazzi, for she finds another opportunity to pose, first scratching hear head seductively against the tree-trunk, before hopping up on to it, the lighting and camera angle always in the back of her mind.




Right. I think we have our story. CUT!


Go check the webcam at Djuma if you have not yet done so… besides the interesting views of wild animals (I watched a buffalo scratching itself on a stump earlier), when the camera swings to the left you might recognise the view of the boma I wrote about yesterday…

POSTSCRIPT: Do take a look at the comments – my gardening friend Bonnie in Texas who I have corresponded with over several years, recognised the leopard as Karula and we talk about her some more in the comments. As I say there: small world – in which Djuma obviously plays an inordinately large part!!



I had rather ignored the three-story tower in the camp at Djuma where we were staying; the view from the deck and the boma was expansive and open and the tower nestling into the trees to one side didn’t seem to offer anything new.


You can see the structure here, as one of our party carries some snacks down to the boma, a round seating area around a fire pit. (The word is from Swahili and originally indicated a fortified village square or place were cattle were herded overnight – in the South African Game Lodge culture it always indicates an open gathering place around a fire.) The snapshot below gives some idea.


However I am getting side-tracked into semantics… Perhaps I should start with an indication of where we were: here! The link takes you to the remarkably responsive live webcam at the waterhole, positioned in the tree which just breaks into the right-hand frame of the above photo. The rest of the Djuma webpage is only a click away from the camera… One last shot before I return to the monkeys, taken across Louis and my personal plunge pool outside our suite. The suites are spread out along a path through the bush, so that you have complete privacy whilst showering in your outside shower; something which can be done easily here in mid-winter; although we decided not to use the pool!


OK – one last one before we return to the monkeys: taken in the boma by our hostess, yours truly on the left, camera in hand…

Vuyatela (143)

And on to the other primates… The view from the tower was no better after all. But soon I could photograph a Redbilled Hornbill sitting in the dead tree near me.


And across in a  combretum tree, sunning her belly in the last sun, a monkey was chewing away at its seeds.


At which point I swung around to take these photos. Monkeys are naturally inquisitive, and as happens so easily around human habitation, they have learnt that there is food to be stolen from the serving area which is open in many directions. And they have learnt to be as curious about human behaviour as humans are about theirs.


And so there they were, peering at me across the canvas sunshades of the tower, scampering through the trees surrounding it.


Especially with the two youngest it became a game of hide-and-seek; they would pop up unexpectedly and I would point and shoot, poor focus often being a function of movement – theirs and swinging the camera – rather than shutter speed.


As the game intensifies I move onto the stairs and capture these two shots split seconds apart as a monkey moves onto the upper deck I have just vacated.



Finally… shall we call it stalemate? I’ve got you in sight and you’ve got me…


These are Vervet Monkeys,  Cercopithecus aethiops, although zoologists aren’t nearly as set on scientific nomenclature as we are. They are the most common monkey in Southern Africa, often looked on as vermin because of the ease with which they learn to deal with human habitation and the damage they can do to fruit and vegetable crops. They are found all along East Africa up into Ethiopia.

The Bushveld should be known as The Treeveld

Pierneef Bushveld Trees

If there is one artist who can be said to have captured the psyche of South Africans’ love of their land, it must be Pierneef. Many people who could not name you one other artist will recognise his extensive landscapes, which often add a strong Art Deco element to the self-conscious way in which he distilled the literally millions of magnificent compositions, turning painting after painting into an iconic composition; compositions I found myself snapping away at on our recent visit to the Bushveld.

43 Mainly Marula Trees

I have chosen one of the thirteen tree compositions I  set aside among the 80 best photos – 25% of the weekend’s takings – to illustrate this. There is a vast amount of info out there on Pierneef, and I include a link to photographs of his work on auction here . And just for the hell of it, I played around with a painterly effect on the above photo…

43 paint effect

One can see an Art Deco influence in the above painting. Possibly his most famous paintings move away from the impressionist- realism so beloved by South Africans and artists of his generation. Below is a very poor reproduction – the best I could find on the net – of his “Study in Blue”: the title already illustrates how far we have moved from popular realism.

Studie in Blou

We had a most wonderful time, staying in a lodge deep in the bush on which a journalist friend is doing an article; on our game drives we saw lions, leopards, a vast herd of buffalo and many other animals, besides the wonderful trees… Over the next weeks I hope to share some of this with you!




The Haenertsburg Grasslands are very much on my mind after a recent talk I attended on this small, unique and threatened biome, and after discovering the Crossandras I posted about earlier in the week. (Click on colour for links.) This 2007 walk on the Haenertsburg Common is not yet the promised post – I want to do something meatier, if that can be said of a vegen topic – but it does link you to a picture gallery I posted at Mooseyscountrygarden back then. There has been a redesign of the Moosey forums. Hovering over the picture will give the (often descriptive, but often also vague) title of each pic, which one could see in the past. As in the past clicking on the pic at Mooseys will open it to its full size – worthwhile with several of them!


Here is a photo I took of Crossandra that day – definitely the same species as this week’s discovery; C.zuluensis, I believe it to be. In the first photo Sequoia Gardens lies just to the left off shot behind the rounded green hill, Dap Naude Dam on which I posted recently lies below the peak on the furthest horizon which forms the smaller blob near the left, and Magoebaskloof Pass drops down to the Lowveld  left of the highest point in the centre of the photo. To the left of Magoebaskloof, hidden by the hill, The Forest Drive winds down its own valley, whilst the Appel road, another dirt-road pass, snakes down below the tall trees on the right horizon. Off shot to the right the tarred George’s Valley road makes its way down its own spectacular valley, which can be seen in the photo below. Four passes, each down its own valley, within such close proximity, make our Mountain a dream destination for both mountain bikers and road bikers… and we have seen exotic sportscars and even veterans enjoying an outing on our roads followed by a visit to our local pubs with their friendly atmosphere, sport-screens and excellent food… They can be forgiven for flaunting  rather English names like ‘The Iron Crown’ and ‘The Pot and Plow’ – an eatery pub is not a typical South African institution at all!


‘The Iron Crown’ is named after Limpopo Province’s highest peak, which you can see looking uphill from the Haenertsburg Common on the photo below. The above photo shows the second highest peak, Serala, just sticking out beyond the George’s Valley mountain near the right of the photo. I guess a post on Serala and the wonderland of the Wolkberg (Cloud Mountain) Wilderness Area is also due… The houses in the centre look down on the Ebenezer Dam where our Rotary Club hosts one of the best open-water swims in the country on the 3rd Sunday of March each year. (Another post? A link to the webpage I am currently designing? – hopefully visible by Monday!) And then – to turn your attention to the next pic – we also host in July each year The Iron Crown Trial Run, a half-marathon which starts and ends on the Village Green and passes through some exquisite examples of the Haenertsburg Grassland biome before turning at the beacon on the top of the Iron Crown!


Winter fire – especially what is known as a ‘cool fire’ which burns the grass cover but not much more, as noticeable  on the above pic, followed by early rain and plenty of sun is the ideal recipe for a wide variety of flowers. That was the case in late September 2007 when these photos were taken. The white flowers – they go by the ungainly scientific name of Trichodesma physaloides – are of the loveliest on the grasslands and are commonly called Chocolate Bells; the picture below shows why.


Our Mountain is a unique destination in many ways, and whatever prompts your visit – you are sure to enjoy the beauty of nature. Even if all you see is mist and all you experience is tranquillity… Smile


When does sight-seeing become botanising? Especially when you are showing visitors around your mountain?

Dap Naude dam

Two trips over the last two weeks made me think of the link between birding and botanising as holiday pastimes. There are great advantages to botanising – a week later you know exactly where to find a specific plant. And plants don’t take flight when you try to photograph them. But like casual birding, there is much to look out for that is not on the tick-list…

Broederstroom at Goedvertrouwen

The Broederstroom, one of the two rivers that flow through the valleys of our mountain, here twists its way through my cousin’s part of the farm. From a beautiful still pool the water folds over a rock ridge before frothing its way across a cascade. Some 80m higher in altitude and several kilometres away lies the Dap Naude Dam which you can see in the first photo. We don’t have many lakes – natural bodies of water – in South Africa and so this almost natural looking mountain ‘lake’ is a bit of a draw card in our area. The route to it I like to take leads to a look-out above Houtbosdorp. Here you’ll find one of the many divides in the local eco-systems. You stand on the edge of the mist-belt and look northwest across a harsh, dry valley to where on a clear day in the blue distance the Soutpansberg abruptly plunges into nothingness on its western-most edge, and you look northeast across the lowveld towards the Kruger Park. Unfortunately on both trips it was misty at this point, so no photos.

Earthbank in Woodbush

Then you enter the Woodbush, possibly the second biggest area containing mostly natural forests in South Africa. (The Tsitsikamma on the Garden Route along the southern coast is the biggest.) As you drop down into the valley of the Broederstroom, you find yourself for the first time in the indigenous forest. On the earth bank next to the road grow white streptocarpus, pink impatients, ferns and – in their season – clivias. On the downhill side mosses, ferns and even clivias grow on the contorted branches of forest trees.

Above Dap Naude

Not long after, the view opens up to the sight of ‘Dap’, as it is affectionately known, in the first photo. But first, some botanising…

Streptocarpus wilmsii

Streptocarpus wilmsii is, I think, the name of the streptocarpus which so richly covers the bank above. Below is Impatiens sylvicola which also grows wild in my garden.

Impatiens sylvicola

Another view of a steep bank along the road, with a clump of clivia leaves shining at the top of the bank.

clivias on a forest bank

But now – let us drop down to ‘Dap’. Above the dam the river winds lazily.

Dap Naude bo-loop

And as we reach the river we are greeted by a view that is about as unAfrican as any on our mountain…

Oaks at Dap Naude

Yet under the oaks grow of our loveliest wild flowers: Freesia grandiflora – previously classified as first Lapeirousia g. and then Anomatheca g. To my untrained eye it does not look like a freesia, but I am pleased to find it classified with these most beautiful garden flowers.

Freesia grandiflora

Just across the road grows a very similar flower, but slightly fleshier and fond of growing near water. It is also found in white and pink, and I grow these in my garden… but I really must plant some of the red ones, which I have found wild on Sequoia,  for they are the most beautiful.

Schizostylis coccinea

They are known appropriately as Scarlet River Lilies and, confusingly, I have just discovered that their name has been changed from Schizostylis coccinea to Hesperantha c. Here they grow on either side of the Broederstroom just above the Dap Naude Dam.

Broederstroom at Dap Naude with Schizostylis

Down we went on the first trip, past the dam wall and back along the river, where we saw bushpig (6 in total!) and many duikers (small buck). We also saw this clump of parasitic flowers growing in the pine forest – but try as I might I have had no luck in identifying them…

parasite in forest 2 parasite in forest
parasite in forest 4 parasite in forest 3

On the way home the  last light shone through the pine trees, one of the sights that makes our most important crop on the mountain a thing of beauty.

Pine trees

The next trip saw us leaving ‘Dap’ by a different route, climbing instead up the opposite side of the valley and back into some mist, before dropping down the famous ‘Forest Drive’ – a dirt track recommended for 4x4s only, which leads down a steep pass from the mist belt to the Lowveld. Here we stopped to look back from about 2/3 way down.

Looking up from lower down the Forest Drive

It is a trip best done ON the roof (if there has to be one) and I remember my first trip down there in the early 60s on the roof carrier of my father’s 1959 Opel Caravan, but the photo I find in the family archives dates from 1955, with the self-same roof carrier on the Opel Olympia; today my cousin has an open buggy, and I still will do the trip in it! Modern cars, let alone modern ideas about safety, have put a stop to rooftop travel…

forest drive

But I run ahead – before the photo below was taken, looking down on the lower reaches of the pass where some pine has recently been cut and where the road dips into valleys where the indigenous forest still grows, we stopped to admire many wild flowers.

looking down on the Forest Drive

Agapanthus inapertus

Agapanthus inapertus, our most common local agapanthus, has diagnostic hanging bells and good colour. It is herbaceous and thus less valuable as a foliage plant than most agapanthus. Soon I must post on a huge stand of them nearby, as I think we are heading for an excellent year for aggies!

Treeferns in the landscape

Just to make certain we are all on the same page -right now we are on often damp grassland. Huge fields of yellow helicrysum grow amongst the grasses, and in the foreground other flowers (Berkheya?) have already gone to seed. The tree ferns along  a stream where possibly moved there when the Dap Naude Dam was built in the early 1960s.

Lobelia coronopifolia

The delicate flowers of Lobelia coronopifilia grow on a little straggler by the roadside, one of several wild lobelias. The beautiful blue flower below I have too poor a record of to identify. It might be an Aristea, which I remember seeing but not photographing…

Little blue flowered herb

Dissotis canescens is starting its long season – I blogged about it in my garden for Wildflower Wednesday last year. (in fact I think an advance link to Wildflower Wednesday of this post is in order! Or perhaps a backward link to December is easier: click here to find it!)

Dissotis canescens

Gladiolus dalenii is another of the wild flowers I’ve posted on before. Here are more photos of this subtly coloured flower from this trip.

gladiolus dalenii 2 gladiolus dalenii

The fiery arrival of the crocosmias signals to me that summer has passed its midpoint, and sure enough: I saw my first Crocosmia paniculata – one of the parents of the famous ‘Lucifer’ – near Dap Naude Dam.

Crocosmia paniculata

Growing by the side of the road we found a sheet of little yellow flowers I could not identify. I pored over my books for ages… and then had a brainwave: that starry boss belonged to one species only – Hypericum!

Hypericum lalandii

A search quickly revealed that there is a herbaceous species called H. lalandii and indeed, this was it. Tiny, slight, obviously ephemeral, I had not thought to associate this finger-nail sized flower with the robust H. revolutum that is one of our mainstays on the mountain! Here it is again in more detail.

Hypericum lalandii 2

Time for us to move on down the forest drive, to more ferns and flowers already recorded, and to a few new lovers of cool, damp shade… such as the various Plectranthus – just beginning to come into flower – and the Begonias. Here are two of them together: P. fruticosus and B. sonderiana.

Blue Plectranthus fruticosus and Begonia sonderiana

B. sonderiana has a clearly recognisable begonia leaf, which is what first alerted me to the fact that we have wild begonias growing in our area – yet another garden plant I could call my own! B. sutherlandii must be one of the most delicate and beautifully coloured flowers in the whole world: a soft but distinctive orange which glows in the deep shade it prefers.

Begonia sutherlandii

Ever down we go…

Forest drive

Eventually we stop for something to drink at a beautiful waterfall.

Forest Drive waterfall

Next to which a forest path ascends…

Forest Drive waterfall path

Eventually we stop in at Debengeni, about which you can learn more here. These fascinating falls – more of a vast cascade than a waterfall – are a favoured picnic spot and can be reached from the R71 at the bottom of Magoebaskloof, from where it is only a few kilometres on easy gravel. If you intend including the Forest Drive in a visit, it is much better to start from the Houtbosdorp road at the top of Magoebaskloof and to do the Drive downhill ending at Debengeni!


Beyond the trees the first part of the falls cascade into a huge icy mountain pool, ideal for a bracing swim, before making its way in a leisurely way across sheets of rock – which then dip down into a vast and dangerous slope pock-marked with huge maelstrom craters – this last photo doesn’t begin to give the full impression of the ground between the observation deck and the quiet area under the trees way below…

Debengeni 2

There; remember you are looking down at this, not up! And, continuer, time now after all of this to return home! Round trip: possibly 30km.

PS: I had forgotten that the Forest Drive featured in a previous post – here is a link to it!