DREAMSPACE

Wondering how to share with you my dream, I went to Google Images. I did not really find what I want, but this image captures the spirit if not in any way the subject of my dream.

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an early 20th century card by Josef  Madlener

I have asked myself the question: what if I won the lotto before I leave Sequoia Gardens. Would I stay? What would I do to develop the gardens further? I must admit that I think I would leave, for in my head I am ready for the next stage of my journey. But I would regret not completing three projects: The Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe, about which I have often written, e.g. here

The boys find a perfect universe

The potential of this garden, the size and simplicity of the idea, the audacity of it makes it my greatest loss; the project I would most like to complete.

Next in line is a recent concept,  and one which is so far beyond my financial reach or any practical implementation in the way I envisage it, that I allow myself to dream ever bigger. It is impossible – so don’t even consider the possible! That is where the top picture comes in. I was dreaming of a magical space – a spiritual place, a chapel or a meditation retreat under the avenue of pin oaks. I cleaned the site up a little in this photograph.

My cathedral space

Under these tall, upright pin oaks there is an space that can easily be levelled. The trees soar like the pillars of a gothic cathedral. In winter their traceries meet overhead, but in summer the leaves form a dense roof high up. Cleaning up and levelling the space beneath them is very possible – in fact it would be my first project should I stay. But then the dream kicks in. Beautiful as this space is, it cannot protect one from the elements. A simple glass-roofed structure on slim supports will protect those gathered beneath. Simple. Oh, exquisitely simple. The supports would be cast in specially prepared moulds; or perhaps carved from a softer material. They would be the attenuated organic shapes one finds in the best Art Nouveau work; picture the entrance to a classic Parisian Metro; or beautiful Art Nouveau stained glass. Perhaps loops and curves, great bone-like shapes.

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Did I mention stained glass? The roofs would be clear – except for swirling tendrils creating the structure. But perhaps at eye level – or higher – between the pillars – there could be stained glass such as one finds of the period; a botanical, illustrating our native flowers; or perhaps allegorical scenes. Or even glorious unstained glass…

a b c d e

Imagine our natives immortalised in beautiful stained glass…

schizostylis-coccinea 16-lobelia-erinus gladiolus-dalenii-2 ouhout-thicket impatienssylvicola agapanthus-inapertus begonia-sutherlandii

Oh right. . There’s a third dream. But it doesn’t quite  flow from here, so let’s keep it for later…

(I see now – yesterday it was the 5th anniversary of my blog… happy birthday to me!  That is quite an achievement, I think Smile)

THOUGHTS ON THE CREATION, CURATION AND LIFESPAN OF BEAUTY

A weighty title to warn you – this one aint goin’ to be easy! Winking smile

Problem no. 1: finding a first pic to introduce this theme; and then the pics to follow… Right. I think I have it.

Sissinghurst Rose Garden

Sissinghurst, from my scanned slides of my 1995 trip. Reading Jane Brown’s Vita’s Other World in our beautiful suburban garden as Francois lay dying in late 1993 was a turning point in my view of myself as a gardener and today I often think of Brown’s evocative writing, and of Vita’s cry of “Never Never Never”. And of the subsequent debates about how Sissinghurst has changed (for the worse?) under National Trust curatorship, right through to Adam Nicholson’s Sissinghurst – An unfinished history. You see: I, down in the lower parts of Africa, I too feel a bond with, even a kind of ownership of this garden, perhaps because I’ve read every word Harold and Vita (and quite a few others) wrote about it, partly because I’ve wondered through it in three seasons and in different years. And in my memories the crowds aren’t there.

05Oct25 Anniversary gdn panarama across valley

Mothers' Garden and Main garden from arboretum

And more than partly because my own garden seems to me to share with it a rather random rightness, an intellectual and romantic reasoning. I’ve written passionately about it, and dreamt intensely of it. I am, of course, talking of the garden in my head as much as of the one visitors see. Yes, there is hubris in the comparison. If you cannot accept that, please forgive me.

Great Dixter meadow grass

Five years before becoming more than vaguely aware of Sissinghurst, or of Great Dixter, I determined that my cottage (today called ‘The House that Jack Built’) would stand in a meadow amongst grasses and wild flowers. I would garden elsewhere, but not around my house. So you can imagine the impact my first visit to Great Dixter in ‘95 had on me, when I took the above photo.

THtJB across meadow panorama

panorama from above meadow 2

In the years since ‘95 my garden has developed, and I’ve written widely about it at Mooseyscountrygarden.com  and on my blog. Wandering through all those English gardens, it was the motivation for a formal structure in my wild valley I was seeking. And eventually the obvious dawned on me: to develop the axis from the big house’s front door, already established by the first set of brick steps. Below, a chronological series of shots taken along that main axis with various garden areas branching off it to either side.

tHE AXIS IN 2000

052 Alfred's Arches axis

Mateczka on the axis

The fountain from the front door

Twenty years on what started as a vague dream has grown into a maturing reality. Sequoia Gardens consists of 6ha of gardens, some intensely formal although little is cultivated to a precise degree. Some is no more than paths cut through the natural growth with possibly a few shrubs or trees added. The arboretum across the valley visible in the above photo is growing into a delightful space full of secret paths and unexpected plants. It is my father’s greatest contribution. He was always a tree-man rather than a gardener.

The garden January 2013 s

And now Sequoia Gardens is in the market. I have overruled my cries of ‘Never Never Never’. I can not indefinitely maintain the garden, let alone develop it to the next level. Thus my pondering on this ponderous topic. And here endeth the introduction.

ROOTS OF BEAUTY

I have had, all my life, a deep fascination with the business of aesthetics. Not just with beauty, but with the context and cause – and cost – of beauty. Living in Africa brings an added frisson to my preoccupation with the glories of human civilization. Africa is beautiful. There is possibly more beauty undiluted by human involvement than anywhere else in the world; often my esoteric obsession has seemed pure decadence in this context.

Samaria 2010

The foreground ‘belongs’ to my cousins and we holiday here, leaving as slight a footprint as possible. For the first 60 years the farm was in the family nothing that could be termed a permanent structure was built. Beyond the river lies Zimbabwe and the heart of Africa. Click to enlarge and see the context in which I must judge beauty.

Ouhout forest

Even in my own garden I constantly vie with nature for attention. In fact I embrace this tension and find in it one of the strengths of my gardening. The above grove I have often shared: nothing other than the light pruning out of dead branches every few years is the work of man, but it is one of the most beautiful spots in the garden. Wholly indigenous, nay: wholly endemic and unplanted.

Ellensgate with hedges

Why then the obsession with the conscious manipulation of nature, the arrangement of the parts to create an effect? What primal force is at work in me? The Ellensgate Garden is the most formal and cerebral of my gardens. I search it for a justification. As best I recall, these were my motivations:

1) I knew from my extensive visits to mainly UK gardens in 1995 that I loved the juxtaposition of formality set in a wider natural context. Also a lifetime of interest in domestic architecture had early on spilled over into the manipulation of garden spaces.

2) At a time when the valley was much more open, I wanted an enclosed  introspective space. Friends on The Mountain had years before built a garden of small scale in vast space which had struck a chord.

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3) My parents were turning 70 and I wanted to gift them a garden on the axis from their living room, as the first of the formal areas along the main axis. The above photo was taken from the centre of the living room bay window and shows the axial nature of the relationship.

Ellensgate from archives

4) My dad had recently acquired the gate from Ellensgate, his parental home in Pretoria (today a guest house by that name), which had been made by his father in the early 1930s.

The white garden seen through the Ellensgate Garden

5) Quite organically the decision came to pay tribute to the building materials associated with family homes: the black slate of Ellensgate; the sandstone of the family farmstead built four generations ago by early settlers in the Eastern Freestate; sequoia wood off the farm (after which we named it) and red brick to tie in with the existing garden walls, and (shhh) as a tribute to Sissinghurst. As I thought of this tiny square space, the exact proportions of my father’s dream room in his dream house, I knew that a symmetrical crucifix plan paying homage to the gardens of Islam was the only possible way to go. The plaque on the gate lived in my father’s bedside drawer throughout my youth. We ceremoniously reunited it with the gate on their 40th wedding anniversary. The gate will move with me, and replacing it is one of the 2014 projects.

Ellensgate  with roses

So, to get back to our current topic, the roots of beauty: I can justify my reason for making this particular space on many levels. I guess I could analyse and justify my other spaces and not dismiss them as pastiche, imitation or pretence, or – worst of all – as pretty. I could justify having created ‘beautiful spaces’. But why the pressing need to create them? That is the stuff of serious philosophy. Enough that it is there. Smile

FROM CREATE TO CURATE

Francois was an actor and theatre director. I remember him lamenting that as the curtain dropped on the final night, nothing tangible was left of the act of creation. Which of course often led to discussions on the intangible remains… On the opposite end of the scale, the oldest known human ‘creations of beauty’ date back 77 000 years and come ironically from a cave called  Blombos (Flower Bush)  at the very southernmost tip of Africa – well, on the coast, 120km and less than half a degree away from the tip, which is pretty close!

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Moments in the garden might be ephemeral – like this shot of the light beginning to break through the mist – but the garden itself is somewhat more substantial. Which doesn’t mean it will last 77 000 years. On the contrary: three years of neglect will destroy much of it, and I don’t expect a visitor at the turn of the next century to even realise joyfully: here once was a thing of beauty…

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You don’t have to be a gardener yourself to instinctively understand: gardens take more curating than most other things that might be called art. And much of the joy of gardening lies in that curating – especially when managed by the creator or an heir, spiritual or otherwise. The Sissinghurst debates mentioned in my first paragraph (and others on famous gardens) have criticised the curation process from many, often opposite, angles. Some say the preserving in aspic of someone else’s vision leads to twee fakeness. Others say Sissinghurst has changed too much to accommodate the huge crowds and to extend the seasons. One can imagine Harold and Vita returning to their beloved garden and being in turn delighted and mortified. Fact of the matter is – sooner or later the creator of any garden moves on. A new owner steers the garden on a new course, or the garden ceases to be, or, very occasionally, an artificial curating process starts.

early autumn

SEQUOIA GARDENS

How does all of this affect me? Much (but not all) of my gardening has after 30 plus years become curating rather than creating. I would love to up the standards of curation – but can’t afford it. I would love to complete a few more acts of creation – but can’t afford it. And I’m not talking  money only. I’m looking at cash available, but also at financial investment, and particularly time and energy invested. I am looking at the fact that selling Sequoia Gardens improves the chance that it will continue to grow – if I manage to sell to the right person.

Above all I cannot and will not dictate a preserved in aspic future. I have done what I needed to do. Or rather as much of it as I can manage to do. I have created beauty. But the future of that beauty, and its future development, I must throw to the universe. My garden is open to the public because I believe it a moral imperative to not keep it to myself. In the same way I must now open up the ownership, just as I have the enjoyment. And I must trust that in that way the beauty I created will last for longer than if I cling desperately to it.

Looking up the axis path Looking back up the axis

I DREAM A DREAM

Somewhere in the world there is someone to whom 15 acres of garden and an excellent team to look after it – as important to me that they are retained as that the garden is loved – will be a dream come true. Most people see such a large garden as a liability, not an asset. But sooner rather than later I dream I will find a buyer who will love the garden and appreciate the fact that every year enough timber is harvested on the farm to substantially reduce the cost of maintaining it…

(Play music, and zoom in over distance and time)

Sequoia December 2003

Big House in 2003

Big House in autumn

HELLO JUNE!

Autumn spires

Hello, I’m home…!

And in celebration I took several hundred photos today, selected 68, and will now weed them down to a story… But the very first – above – captures the sunny exuberance of this Indian summer quite perfectly. There was some frost in late April, but night-time lows have been above 5 degrees with day-time temps in the low 20s. More or less what those of you in Britain are hoping for from this summer, I’d guess. We are having a memorable late autumn.

An aloe year

In fact we could say we are having an ideal year for aloes. For now, anyway. The aloe on the left often has one bloom turning yellow, the one on the right seldom gets this advanced. Watch this space. The next 10 nights are still forecast to be well above freezing. Except we go to Samaria – the game farm on the Limpopo I’ve at times reported on – towards the end of the coming week. So I might not see the ‘end of the aloes’ after all. Or I might return to a once-in-a-decade show!

Main garden in early June

Another morning shot (afternoon ones will soon be included) showing Alfred’s Arches nude  and gnarled, and the pots emptied of their summer stock – soon to be replaced with winter stocks (BAD pun Sad smile)

Rosemary Borders

This picture of the top end of the Rosemary Borders makes clear the name – below the lawn a hedge of rosemary and above it many rosemary bushes give rhythm to the border.

Rosemary Borders panorama

Here we are looking at the furthest third of the Rosemary Borders, with rosemary bushes spilling over the wall on either side of the stairs and  beyond Flora’s Path – the row of Chinese maples I’ve referred to in recent posts about the early days of the garden – in all their silver seedy glory. Each tree has hundreds of thousands of seeds and they are all keen to germinate.

Looking down Flora's path

Another shot, taken from along Flora’s Path and looking down onto the Entrance Fountain Pot. Periwinkle in the foreground and the furthest part of the rosemary hedge beyond that.

Louis on Flora's Path

One final shot in the opposite direction, taken this afternoon as we returned from our walk. Flora’s Path started life as a screen between the Plett and the newly built staff houses of both my father and my uncle, each three times the size of our caravan-home. It was one of the first features to be named – after the indolent and slovenly wife of an early employee whose young sons  nearly burnt the farm down when playing with matches. My mother  always commented that the least loved person ever was best commemorated! On the opposite side of the big lawn Alfred’s Arches commemorates a cheerful and capable young man. Our paths diverged when his kleptomaniac tendencies – a source of some frustration – led to him stealing a camera in full view of the owner on the neighbour’s farm…

Mothers' Garden

Well that was a bit of a tangent. Whilst in this general area, here is the Mothers’ Garden, still consisting only of hedges, although these now nicely established. My thinking on these four beds – first discussed here – grows ever simpler. Before summer I want to plant the roses and perennials that will fill them!

Mateczka at the Mothers' Garden

Ninety degrees to the right and you can see the young abelia hedge under the maple tree that will eventually mirror the one across the big lawn outside the Ellensgate Garden. And an impatient dog. The stones to the right are the steps to the platform from where a bench looks over the Mothers’ Garden.

Sequoia Avenue

That same young hedge and its maple are to the right in this picture, an unusual angle I took to capture the Sequoia Avenue. Paler and softer in texture beyond them is a Kashmir cypress -Cupressus cashmeriana – a very lovely tree and one of the many I can remember in detail how when and where I acquired it! The garage wing (and the window of my office) on the left, with the old stone barn giving texture through the stems of the sequoias and Croft Cottage to the right of it. In the foreground yet another area which should have been planted this summer but wasn’t. We will replant here this coming week and add Namaqualand daisies for colour at the time of the Spring Festival.

Japanese maple at Anniversary Garden

We seem to have strayed somewhat from the topic which, rather loosely, was about where we stand with autumn now that June is here. The Japanese maples are mostly over, but not all are, as these photos of the tree behind the Anniversary Garden show.

Japanese maple at Anniversary Garden 2

However these leaves are falling fast, as the richly coloured carpet below the tree testifies…and here I will stop for tonight. Remaining photos will have to wait for later in the week…

Japanese maple at Anniversary Garden leaves

MY FATHER, A FARM, AND I (part 1)

50s panorama s

I start this post with a snapshot I have shared before – taken by my father in the early 50s and showing our valley. It seems there are still ploughed lands – the potato crops were failing fast due to eelworm in the soil and soon the valley returned to grassland and more pine was planted. The big house with its twin gables today lies to the left of the range of buildings near the middle. The pine trees marching down the foreground slope would partially obscure it. It is my father’s dream house, and today it is my home. As his life approaches its end I find myself assessing my relationship with him, and the farm looms large in our relationship.

1 Mom assists with surveying

It is early in 1981 here and my mom, a few years younger than I am now, seems to be holding onto some sort of measuring device whilst helping my father to plot the position of The Plett, our first home on the farm. But it started long before… my father took the picture below of my mother swimming in the river on their honeymoon in the early 50s, only three or four years after my grandfather bought the farm. It was at this time that she claimed the big bluegum as HER tree.

Mom in their honeymoon

I was born with the farm in my blood. My first memory, aged 2 1/2 , is on the farm. The day I got my driver’s licence my cousin and I came to camp out at the very spot my mom was photographed. In 1979 I spent my summer holiday cleaning out invader trees on the farm. And by 1980 my father took over one half of the farm from my grandfather, and the family agreed with him to call our portion ‘Sequoia’ after the unusual trees planted there. His sister, who received the remaining half, inherited the house, over on the right of the first picture. It was many years later, only after my gardening persona had matured, that I realised how the three terraces in front of this house had influenced my development. The picture below was taken from the middle terrace – the little creature on the right is me.

Goedvertrouwen house 1967

As I write this, my cousin and his wife are retiring from their careers in Johannesburg and preparing to come to live permanently in this house. But back to those earliest days when it became OUR farm… My dad and I did some clearing – there was a fair amount of neglect – and we started planting temperate deciduous trees: eight, I believe, before we started preparing for the erection of The Plett. From the earliest days of owning the farm my father was dreaming of trees, and I along with him. The (recent) picture below shows not only the original stand of Sequoias to the right, but also an avenue of Liquidambars, all of which were germinated by him.

Liquodamber avenue and original sequoias

When we first put up The Plett our valley was mainly grasslands with a few self-sown pine trees, escapees from the plantations. You get some idea from the next photo, with the bulldozer preparing the site for The Plett. With a little imagination you can make out the Makou Dam between the trunks of the pines. As happens so often on the farm, rain was complicating matters. What followed was six weeks of sunshine.

2 grading the site

Six weeks of sunshine, that is, which ended the day before The Plett came slithering down our hill to an anxious reception…

3 The Plett arrives

There was no way the low-loader would be able to turn off the narrow road and into our narrow entrance, make its way up the steepish grassed slope of the two-track and onto the newly graded ‘drive’ to where it would deposit The Plett on its prepared site, then continue on a loop through the valley (past where today The House that Jack Built stands), and back up to the ‘main’ road… In fact the driver was terrified of sliding down the steep wet road, let alone leaving it, and turned the front of his truck into my aunt’s entrance.

4 Fear of sliding

Not for the last time Steven’s Lumber Mill – who’ve had the contract on the farm now for 35 odd years – and their trusty tractor drivers came to the rescue. Even the winch on the low-loader could not be used to lower The Plett because of the steepness of the road. The details of how the poor driver of the low-loader first did his best for a proper on-site handover whilst a tractor trundled his precious cargo through the mud, and then had to get his vehicle back to the tar, I leave to your imagination; the following pictures tell some of the story…

5 SLM to the rescue

Although The Plett arrived with a tow-bar, to in theory enable manoeuvring on site, the tractor could not hook it, as its ball was too high. And so chains were used… at times long ones when working around corners, then shorter ones. Luckily moving huge tree trunks into position for loading had prepared our tractor-man for this challenge!

6 turning in

My mother, wearing a most bizarre improvised rain bonnet, watches in trepidation as her precious new home is literally manhandled on its journey. And traffic on the road simply comes to a halt…

7 Muddy entrance

 

Heave-ho… and off we go!

8 Mom worried about her house

Ironically this is one of the best photos I have of the building which nearly 30 years later became Croft Cottage.

9 Getting there

 

Another scary moment as the tractor leaves the road and pulls The Plett onto the temporary drive to its final standing. We think this is the moment when sufficient flex occurred to prevent the large windows  of the living area from ever opening fully – the only damage during the entire nerve-wracking process. Where the tractor is, there is today a gable.

10 Another scary moment

We are on site! There were times during the morning we thought this would never happen! The block in the middle marks the point where the right rear jack must stand. And that in itself shows you how much fine tuning must still happen in the mud. My father, a control freak, calmly directs proceedings.  My brother, laid back as ever, (a much more subtle control freak) has his hands in his pockets. I run around frantically with the camera.

11 On site

My mother (think The Princess and the Pea) finally has her new home in position. Oh. Have you noticed the sun has come out, even though the tractor is still on site?

12 Sunshine

It is the next day. We have water on site. Me, my mother and my father, and my cousin’s vintage Chevy with which we fetched the water tank. We did not yet have a farm bakkie (truck or ute) of our own.

13 water on site

 

The Plett in place, the sun in the heavens, we start erecting the veranda, connecting the gas and the sewerage and all those things. Today the roses of Trudie’s Garden are in the foreground.

14 adding the veranda

My folks go home after the Easter long weekend and I – on varsity holiday – stay on to finish the veranda and try to create order in the mud of a building site.

15 Finishing touches - and mud

 

The next weekend the family returns, and there is time to relax in the shade over a pre-lunch drink, as we start to enjoy our new holiday home. In the background – grass and self-sown pines.

16 Holiday time

PROGRESS TO REPORT–AND THEN SPRING PICS

1 Mothers' Garden hedges planted

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

2 Ellensgate to new Mothers' Garden

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

3 Alfred's Arches

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

4 arboretum reflected

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

5 Scilla natelensis on Makou Dam

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

6 Siberian Iries on the makou Dam

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

Rosemary bonsai

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

7 View of formal gardens from arboretum

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

8 Dogs at the mollis and copper beech 

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

9 Copper beech and orange mo;;is

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

10 Dark orange mollis

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

11 Yellow Mollis

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

12 Orange mollis

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

13 Dark yellow Mollis close-up

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

14 Taubie among the azaleas

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

15 Mollis and Copper beech in arboretum

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

16 The Avenue

EARLY SPRING, VISITORS

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

In need of TLC

I awake in the middle of the night, without reason, and gradually descend into an anxiety attack, something which happens to me much less often than it ought to. So I get up and write this.

The water spout 

A visitor to my garden, someone I know and would have thought to  – literally and figuratively – understand the bigger picture, told me during the week that my garden was in need of TLC. I looked at her blankly. “There are pots with nothing in them,” she explained. I looked her in the eye, struck her off my list, and said flatly before moving on: “What you see is what you get.”

in need of TLC

The pots do not have nothing in them. They have weeds. Which ironically makes them a lot emptier. And the dustbin lid which for eight years covered the dustbin reservoir beneath the water spout, still lingers longingly from a prime position. At the end of the festival week it is still there, although she did not mention it. What you see, lady, is what you get.

The Italian Pot and Rosemary Terrace

What I see is the opposite of her statement. When I popped home from school unexpectedly midweek I saw four people sitting on the bottom end of the big lawn, weeding out my beloved yellow gazanias from the turf. Lucas, my foreman, is a much neater person than I am, and clearly he is working towards having a perfect lawn. The fact that I would consider strimming the grass up against the wall on  the Rosemary Terrace of higher priority is not important. Truth be told, there is a whole team giving the garden TLC. And when one considers that no matter how you argue things, most of them earn a pittance and are pleased for a job, their TLC is to be very highly prized.

Breath deeply.

Ouhout forest

The Ouhout Forest is the most natural and possibly the most beautiful part of the garden. Self-sown trees and grasses, all in their natural environment. But even here a judicious pruning out (again) of dead branches and twigs will be an improvement. We will get there.

garden at Croft Cottage

During autumn Lucas planted up a corner of raw earth at the recently completed Croft Cottage. I wondered if it would survive the winter. Last week the first ever visitors were greeted by a charming display of red, blue and lilac annuals and perennials. There’s TLC for you.

First rose in New Old Rose Garden to bloom - Pink Grootendorst Rosa hugonis,- first to flower

 

The first roses are blooming in the New Old Rose Garden, to where my staff transplanted 125 out-of-ground roses and some 75 bagged seedlings and cuttings in late winter. There’s TLC for you. (They are, for the record and the curious, ‘Pink Grootendorst’, a rugosa as the thorny twigs show, and Rosa hugonis, always the first to bloom.)

Bench which will overlook the Mothers' Garden

Whilst we installed and fine-tuned the irrigation system, they watered all these roses daily with a hand-held hose. At least 90% will survive the move. There’s TLC for you.

Freddy's Dam

They have managed the edge of the Makou Dam – so unobtrusively that I barely notice a difference, so well that for the first time in several years I saw not one, but five Iris sibirica in bloom this spring. I thought we had lost them! There’s TLC for you…

Iris sibirica and Cyathea dregei

And so it is  to my staff  I dedicate this photo of Mateczka, my closest garden-walk companion, an unfurling tree fern, Cyathea dregei, and a Siberian Iris. And to you, lady, with all my love (take a deep breath): a basket of raspberries !

JUST ADD WATER

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.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

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

 

WELCOME TO THE WORKPLACE!

Greenhouse under construction

This is the backdoor to my living-room on the South-Eastern (shady) side of my house. To the left is the table where I have been pottering with cuttings since I moved up here. To the right are two newly acquired propagating tents and beyond that, under construction, my greenhouse…

greenhouse - complete, doors closed

Last week the sealed structure was completed and I could start taking temperature readings to compare minimums and maximums inside and outside the structure; I’m also experimenting with heating in the propagating tents – that is an indoor-outdoor thermometer for a car you see on the empty seedling tray. The greenhouse is 3.5m wide and 12m long.

greenhouse - complete, doors open

Here the near doors are both opened. Look how niftily the whole area under the eaves opens out! The same happens on the far side. My father had the brick wall built in such a way that my mom would be able to plant her endless azalea cuttings at a comfortable height. There is an existing drainage ditch under the alley, and water and outside electricity were already available; in fact, it was in all ways, including aspect,  the perfect spot for a greenhouse, as summer heat is more of a problem than keeping temperatures above freezing in winter. Just to the left of the open door the white min-max thermometer is hanging. Minimum temperatures, without heating, have been on average three degrees higher in the greenhouse over the last eight days, with max about five degrees higher. With serious ground frost, if not extreme weather, we were still  a few degrees above freezing in the greenhouse. I believe one domestic heater, perhaps two, will give all the heat I’ll ever need there – especially once heating in the propagating tents is sorted out.

Greenhouse complete

Up against the embankment along the entire length there are inward opening hatches for maximum ventilation in summer. Clear corrugated polycarbonate and silver woodwork means maximum light enters the greenhouse. A gutter is still to be fitted. In the photo below the open hatches are being given their first coat of white paint. Treated gumpoles stamped into the embankment support the structure, which is tied to the rafters on the other side.

Greenhouse - painting the side vents

Here is an early construction photo. Interestingly the main bedroom and bathroom to which the windows belong are considerably lighter than before, because of the reflective silver woodwork which mirrors sunlight back into the rooms. And from  my bedside I will be able to monitor the temperature in the greenhouse using the car thermometer  – how’s that for cool! (Or should that be warm?)Winking smile

Greenhouse beginning to happen

The next greenhouse photos I share will show me (and the propagating tents and table) moved in and – hopefully – spring veggies and flowers a-sprouting! Meanwhile other things have also been happening – one of which is the moving of the old fashioned roses to the New Old Rose Garden (half completed) and the building of the seating platform that will overlook the Mothers’ Garden. Below is an overview from the guest room’s bay window taken this morning, with details from it below that.

Building in the Mothers' Garden s

Building in the Mothers' Garden detail

Building in the Mothers' Garden - extreme detail

Centre bottom the corner of the platform can be seen, with a curved grass path in the New Old Rose Garden beyond it. The tree which is still autumny – in mid August! – is our original Liquidambar formosana, a Christmas present from about thirty years ago. It is arguably the most stately of all our trees, not only because of its classically lovely shape, but also because it holds on to its leaves long after all others have shed theirs. It is the Queen Mother of our garden.