Tonight’s pics are a few days old – and here is the reason why:

bougainvillea at The Ranch Hotel

I have been away at the annual Rotary District Conference at The Ranch Hotel near Polokwane, some 80km away. Their lovely gardens too were hit by the recent extreme cold, but this pot which we all walked past at least twice a day was pretty well protected. It stands next to a functional but featureless path (at this point) where it skirts a building, and is one of the most effective examples of simple but striking design I’ve seen. It is a bougainvillea, a woody creeper, grown to tumble gently out of a huge rounded pot, over one meter  in diameter and almost a meter high. It flowers for many months and reminded me of nothing as much as the magnificently trained roses at Sissinghurst: ultimate artifice appearing artless. (For a spectacularly beautiful series of  8 photographic posts on Sissinghurst, visit my friend Tatyana’s blog posts at )

Barbed grasses Barbed grass

Do you know that moment on a walk when you can’t resist hauling out your camera, and after that it becomes a photography walk? This was it. On a warm afternoon nearly a week after a severe frost turned autumn to winter, these grass seeds caught my eye and set the tone for the rest of the photoshoot…

End of a dandelion

frosted bracken

Frosted Bracken

Little yellow daisy weed

Frosted creeper

Vernonia in seed

Rough grass seed

Old Gold Everlastings

Yellow everlastings turned to old gold by the cold.

Fallen leaves

Grassy measdow

Zinnias after frost

Zinnias and marigolds

Marigold in winter

Wilted aloe

Mushy aloes, and below – the hydrangeas in front of the old barn: I do like the clarity of our seasons!

Winter view of the old barn


Autumn's Embers

I have been in Johannesburg and Pretoria for a week on Warriors business, staying with a cousin. Late May is a time of beautiful days, and the ever present knowledge that it can all change at any moment. Last night we were surprised by a good old Highveld thunderstorm – at least a month later than one would normally expect one – and I thought it might herald the arrival of the cold. But today was cooler rather than cold. Meanwhile I wonder about Sequoia, and miss my blog; and share this photo of a birch grove taken from an upstairs window in Johannesburg.


Farewell to Dad's garden

Last Friday I bade my father’s house farewell. During the week my brother and I had packed it all up, and I drove slowly up to Sequoia from Johannesburg with a heavily laden trailer. When I return to Johannesburg from the Cape next week, the last things will be awaiting the trip in my (once again) heavily laden MPV parked in  my cousin’s garage. The above photo shows part of the garden remodelling I did for my parents in 1997. The one below shows the aloe which produced such a beautiful flower spike at the end of last year to mark my dad’s final passage; it produced a further spike to mark this occasion – all rather unusual as most aloes flower in winter.

Dad's aloe


I am staying with my cousin and his family whilst on business in the beautifully green  subtropical to warm-temperate climate of Kwazulu-Natal. His wife describes gardening here as being more about what you take out than what you put in, for everything grows here. One of the schools I visited, Kearsney College,  just up the hill from them, has the most magnificent avenue of plane trees I’ve ever seen outside of a London park. Yet a myriad tropical and subtropical plants also thrive here. In Pietermaritzburg yesterday, on the more temperate end of the scale, I saw a glorious pink Pride of India (Lagerstroemia indica, Crepe Myrtle) intertwined with a purple Tibouchina granulosa.

Duranta at veranda

My cousins live in a beautifully restored old stone farmhouse against Botha’s Hill, and one of the most ubiquitous plants in modern South African gardens is doing nicely as standards against the veranda – Duranta repens. Often the yellow-leaved variety ‘Sheena’s Gold’ is grown for topiarising, but this variety has the plain green leaf but larger white-edged flowers, and is as continuously in bloom as the less showy parent, which has not only lovely blue flowers, but also showy yellow berries. I don’t think I’ve yet seen berries on these – a sterile hybrid or clone perhaps?

stone steps

The garden is over 60 years old and contains magnificent stone work, covered in lichens and mosses and opportunistic ferns and other plants.

begonia and fuchsia

A curved stone wall backed by terraces lies to the right of the lawn in front of the house. Here a magnificent begonia, a fuchsia and hydrangeas share space with various plants of a more tropical nature – just to the right of this shot a dracaena grows! Stately palms frame  the backdrop to this wall.


Here is a close-up of the begonia, growing more luxuriously than any I have ever seen!


Bromeliads are another more tropical plant I am barely familiar with. This orange version has multiplied over the years and there are a vast number in the garden. Below is a red species, growing with a plant that is native on Sequoia too: Crocosmia aurea. In fact it is growing with a wide variety of other plants, including a plentiful maiden hair fern, and this photo gives an impression of just how lush this garden is, and what my cousin meant in her opening statement!

Red bromeliad

A complete surprise was finding a lovely soft pink Japanese Anemone growing in the garden. I know it exists, but have only seen the glorious white ‘Honorine Joubert’ and the over-saturated deep-pink (‘Prince Heinrich’?) versions in South Africa. This one is a soft pink and I will be back to beg a piece when next I am here; this time round I am away from home for another 3 1/2 weeks. But wait: I think I am hatching a plan for a nursemaid…!

Japanese anemone

One last picture, and an effect I love: a daylily (Hemerocallis) of the softest butter yellow seen against a checkerboard of stone and lawn. My cousin moans about her garden; I hope this tribute makes her see it in a new light!




Nearby neighbours (if that is not tautology!) Nipper and Sophie Thompson are still pretty unique in a South African context. I say ‘still’ because just as in the rest of the world, the organic movement is growing here. But for many South Africans ‘organic’ is the equivalent of the ultimate third world horror: ‘unmodern’ and even ‘backward’.

Wisteria at Wegraakbosch

Yesterday they invited me over to see the wisteria outside the dairy, which is in glorious full flower. That surprised me, because my earliest ones are not yet showing colour and my last to flower are still showing no sign of growth at all. Although barely 1 km away, it is much warmer here than we are, but still… It IS a glorious sight, the longest of the racemes nearly 1/2 a meter long and the colour a good strong mauve. It grows over the pergola where the rustic tables stand where people share their cheese platters on a visit. Adjacent, in a neat amphitheatre curve of narrow terraces, is the vegetable garden where the Thompsons raise the organic greens for which they are also famous.1

But what made me decide to write about the dairy, not only on my blog but also at , was the way in which the farm animals welcomed me, as they clearly do all visitors to this local tourist attraction. These geese positively ran up to be photographed – or so it seemed!


And the dogs were as welcoming as only intelligent and well-loved dogs can be. These two sheep dogs are working farm animals, helping to look after the goats and cows that provide the milk for the organic dairy. Even on my short visit I had an overwhelming sense: this is a place where the world is at peace with itself…

Wisteria close-up at Wegraakbosch


Purples and pinks

As Esther Hoffmann in ‘A Star is Born’, Barbra Streisand’s sings ‘Everything’.  The words of this song, one of my all-time favourites, came to mind when I saw these Tibouchinas: surely even Esther Hoffmann – and Barbra Streisand! – would have been satisfied…?

Tibouchina tunnel

I want to learn what life is for –
I don’t want much, I just want more.
Ask what I want and I will sing
I want everything, everything:
I’d cure the cold and the traffic jam
If there were floods, I’d give a dam
I’d never sleep, I’d only sing
Let me do everything, everything!
I’d like to plan a city, play the cello
Play at Monte Carlo, play Othello
Move into the White House, paint it yellow
Speak Portuguese and Dutch
And if it’s not too much
I’d like to have the perfect twin:
One who’d go out as I come in

Politsi panorama

A year ago I posted on Tibouchinas – both our local ‘wild tibouchinas’ and the real thing, including this species: Tibouchina granulosa. It is worth reading as an introduction to today’s show – and not only because it lead directly to the opportunity to visit these spectacular trees!


I had heard of this magnificent garden, but the invitation to come see it for myself followed as a direct result of the above post. I guess it helped that over the years I had taught six of the owners’ grandchildren, and consider their son and daughter-in-law to be good friends… but I did not know that the family read or even knew of my blog!

Last February passed all to quickly and I never got there… but this year, as I drove down to Tzaneen and saw along the way examples of these pink and purple trees, I undertook to phone and invite myself. However before I did that the typically forthright invitation from Dawn arrived: Hi Jack, if you want to see the tibouchinas here you better make a plan!!    I did, and we were entertained not only to a stupendous sight, but a ditto view, not to mention delicious cake and tea (in that order) whilst looking across the view from their terrace…

View from Terrace

If you consider that each of these is a tree of substantial size, you will realise how vivid this slope is. Politsi, where we find ourselves, is an amazing valley on the edge of the escarpment. Look back to the photo above the close-up: my garden lies somewhere behind the neck on the left of the picture and the Dap Naude Dam which I wrote about here lies beyond and to the right of the highest point; behind that highest point the Forest Drive snakes down. Politsi is claimed – I’ve not been able to confirm this – to have the 2nd highest rainfall in South Africa. It lies high enough above the Lowveld to escape the impossibly humid heat of the area, yet is essentially sub-tropical. This makes the valley ideal for growing macadamia nuts, avocados and semi-hardy ornamental plants which are marketed to Gauteng, where the country’s wealth is concentrated. It also makes for spectacular gardening.


Dawn had obviously read my blog with more attentiveness than is usual. Whilst I was photographing the above close-up, she announced gleefully that she had found a mistake on my blog. (She was also a teacher in her day, and it shows…) And so, Dawn, I dedicate the correction of Cythna Letty’s name (I had spelt it Cynthia in this post) to you; Cythna Letty was an amazing woman whom you greatly admire. I join you in that admiration, and thank you for a wonderful morning!

Tibouchina drive


1 Cannas

This I have to share! On Friday our local Garden Club took a 90km trip to a beautiful lavender farm  and its energetic owner, a charming woman who creates beauty as far as she goes. There I met  her neighbour for the second time. We are distant relations; our grandmothers were cousins. Questions were asked about my garden and when I said that my cannas had been very good this year, she invited me to go across to see hers, as they were her pride and joy in a lovely garden. Off we went and luckily along went my camera!

d 2 Cannas c 1 Cannas
b 3 Cannas a 4 Cannas
f 5 cannas e 6 Cannas

I saw cannas in colours I’d never seen before: soft yellows and oranges, gorgeous peachy shades, something she called puce, which I always thought was grey-brown, but I see the dictionary defines as dark red or purple-brown; it is pictured top left, and I would describe it as a dusky red. Leaves in every shade of green, through brown or red-tinged to the dark leaves I have. And bicolours, spotted, striped and fringed, some overlaid, so that when you see a petal from below it is quite different to the view from above.

3 Cannas 

And all of them planted in a gorgeous muddle, so that the distinctions between the various shades created a rich texture, and even the pinks which I avoid with my many bright oranges, looked lovely in the mix.

4 Cannas 

The whole set in a garden of equal richness, a cottagy mix of colours and plants that I love.

5 Cannas

And the garden in its turn is set in flat farmland plains, with beautiful mountains in the near distance.

6 Cannas

Something really excited me – and that was the way the cannas were at times combined with roses. Usually their colours blended, but my mind started racing… There are many lovely roses that I have always thought too brash and not used. I have visions of combining them now with cannas.

7 Cannas

Other plants can after all contrast dramatically as well as tone in with cannas…

8 Cannas

I have the perfect place for this new planting: right at the entrance to the farm where I am fixing up the Croft Cottage to let out to holiday makers.

9 Cannas

There they can form a dramatic welcome to visitors and contribute to the Croft Cottage’s own immediate setting. Here it is, pictured below: on the far left the hydrangeas and cannas that have featured on my blog during the last ten days can just be seen and the barn is hidden by the tree separating the area in front of Croft Cottage from the massed cannas. To the right is an elm tree (Ulmus parvifolia) and a Pin Oak (Quercus palustris)  that form the lower end of a dense planting along the road. At the moment they are underplanted with azaleas, with the area on their sunny side (on their left) due for development as part of the Croft Cottage’s garden.

Croft Cottage taking shape

I shall replace the azaleas in the shade with a rich mix of blue hydrangeas, and, on a smaller scale than a little further on, plant the slope with a mix of my cousin’s cannas and  brightly coloured roses against a backdrop of climbing roses, clematis and honeysuckle on trellises. What a colour-burst to greet visitors over the Christmas season, the height of our summer holidays! Especially visitors from Europe and America, escaping the cold of a drab winter… I am so excited!

10 Cannas

And so a visit to the garden of a fellow canna enthusiast and distant relation, a beautiful garden of the type I most admire, an unexpected interlude in a lovely afternoon, inspired the perfect solution to a problem I am currently grappling with… I can’t wait for cousin Audrey to visit so that I can show her my garden and how she has helped me to find a solution!

11 Cannas

Thank you, Cousin Audrey!


Last week I was in Johannesburg, 400km south of Sequoia Gardens, my hometown before I settled permanently on the farm. Johannesburg has been described as the biggest man-made forest in the world – until 20 years ago gardens in even less affluent suburbs were large, and the climate is the best in the world: not too hot in summer, nor too cold in winter,  little wind, summer storms that bring plenty of rain, few mosquitoes and other bugs… and early November it is at its most beautiful when the thousands of Jacaranda trees fill the streets and gardens.Jacaranda street scene

The Bougainvilleas (Bougainvillea glabra) growing into Jacarandas (Jacaranda mimosifolia) are iconic in Johannesburg, in shades from brick red to dark purple, but this is, I believe, the best I’ve ever seen as a composition!

 The next photo I took the same day in Pretoria, which has called itself the Jacaranda City for years. It is from an area where the average temperature is a good 5 degrees warmer than Johannesburg, though only about 35 km away. There are three different climbers into the lilac Jacaranda; purple Bougainvillea (scarcely visible here), pink Zimbabwe creeper (Podranea ricasoliana) and salmon and orange Trumpet Vine (Bignonia radicans). In addition there is a white Brugmansia (Brugmansia candida) on the pavement and between it and the Jacaranda in the garden there is a red Australian Flame Tree ( Brachychiton Acerifolius). What a glorious mix of strong but harmonious colour, and on what a grand scale the composition is!

Pretoria street scene