The good rain, I am sure, will result in earlier and more beautiful leaves. Here the first leaves of a Spanish Chestnut against the thick carpet of last season’s leaves.

This is a Horse Chestnut, larger than life-size. The five-fingered compound leaves quickly turn green. I am hoping this tree will flower for the first time this summer – it must now be over 12 years old…


Evergreens they might be, but even the pines display a freshness at this season as their growth buds elongate.

The Swamp Cypresses, till recently still delighting us with their cinnamon autumnal shades, are showing a shimmering green haze.

And the mosses which languished during the dry months have plumped up.

Some Japanese Maples are dressed and ready – others are still quite naked.

My favourite Japanese Maple with the red young leaves is glowing expectantly, with young leaves emerging like butterflies into the spring air.

But perhaps the Liquidamber formosanas best illustrate the fresh greens which we so desperately crave!


A whirlwind dance, snapping away on Monday as the sun dropped low; an awareness all week that the true beauty of spring was now upon us; a longing to share the spirit of my garden in this mid-October week…

azalea view

Fifty five processed pics there are from that one walk. Some editing is called for… Let’s start with the expected: azaleas (other than the deciduous kinds) and cherries – the flowers which form the heart of the Magoebaskloof Spring Festival !

azalea with a face detail

Cheerful, hey! Smile

Prunus Kanzan

And having started with the brightest – here’s ‘ Kanzan’, brightest of the cherries…

Prunus Kanzan 2



‘Ukon’ – single, white shaded green and palest pink, is the subtlest and (sometimes) my favourite…

Fluffy Prunus 2

But this one, shot at very high ISO in poor light, whose name escapes me now, so I will call it the fluffy cherry, is really the prettiest – so here below it is again …

Fluffy Prunus 3

Everywhere there are azaleas…

Clematis in pinoak, azaleas showing through

Here they shine through a pin oak going into leaf, with a Clematis montana growing through it.

appleblossom azalea

Large mauve azalea

Pale pink azalea

Pink azalea

Pink rosebud azalea

Pinky-mauve azalea

In several photos I needed to adjust the brightness and light balance – but I made a point nowhere to bump up the saturation levels – what you see is what you get! (This time meant entirely positively, unlike last week Winking smile)

pink-tinted white azalea

But let us leave colour right out of it for a moment. Look at the subtle variations between the various white azaleas…

small white azalea

White azalea 2

White azalea 3

White azalea

      This last one is just beginning to show signs of doubling up –         a good flower to carry into a junior botany class to explain how this happens…

White garden

Whilst we are talking white – here is the white garden as seen from the side this week.

Ellensgate and White Gardens

And here it is again, not looking very white (work is needed) when seen through the Ellensgate Garden where – at last – the fountain has been refurbished! And below you see the fountain again, on the opposite axis, as seen from outside the living-room window. A trio of water-features now bubble and gurgle and splash. Eureka!

Ellensgate fountain refurbished

In what would have been part two of my October Fest post  – but since nothing is yet published a week on, we will combine the parts – I want to share with you my deciduous azaleas.

Pink deciduous azalea

This picture best illustrates how the deciduous azaleas differ from the evergreen varieties. In spring the upright tips erupt into either a rosette of leaves or a claw-like cluster of flower buds, almost always substantially darker in bud than in flower.

Salmon deciduous azalea

These rich subtleties in shade and the markings on the individual flower, make them of the most fascinating flowers I know.

Pale deciduous azalea

Add to that the brevity of their season, and you have something truly precious!‘

Dark pink decideous azalea

Pale pink deciduous azalea no 2

All most all of these deciduous azaleas are from a seed-tray containing literally hundreds of seedlings I received as a gift from my friends Erie and Laurie, owners of the nearby Sandford Heights Nursery at the top of Magoebaskloof.

Pink deciduous azalea detail 2

Unfortunately these azaleas are much more specific in their climatic requirements, and very difficult to grow in the Gauteng climate.

Yellow deciduous azalea in arboretum

Curry deciduous azalea in arboretum

Decideous orange azalea

Yellow deciduous azalea

Yellow deciduous azalea no 2 detail

Pink deciduous azalea detail

Pale deciduous azalea

Yellow-Pink deciduous azalea

Enough? Smile One more?

Yellow-Pink deciduous azalea 2

My patient companions on the walk also deserve mention – especially as for once all four featured in a reasonable shot.

dogs 2

And the clematis on The House that Jack Built deserves mention too.

The House that Jack Built




It is school holiday, and so Lucas and Petunia’s sons – Phutania (8), right, and Zakia (5) – are back with us. I watched their reaction the day they arrived, as four dogs stormed out to greet them. Hardly a start. And this time Mateczka was part of their games and through the window a few days ago I saw Zakia plant a kiss on her nose. No more fear there! (Read more about the previous holiday here.)This morning, when it was still thoroughly cold out, I walked into the lounge to this picture. Monty would never be allowed on the furniture under normal circumstances…

With work on the rose gardens continuing – see the previous post – I decided we needed to get going on the fountain at the end of the axis and do some more work on The Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe,  about which you can read more here. In this photo to set the scene, the boys (and Monty) are studying a frog in the fountain basin whilst Phillip and Jimmy start on some ground work. The gap in the background is just too far off the axis to exploit as part of it, and today I finally decided to plant something solid on the far side of the gap to well and truly terminate the axis against the thicket.

Then, whilst I was cutting back some branches that hung over the stepping logs – you can see discarded branches in the background – I was aware of the boys doing exactly what I had pictured when I first conceived the garden… children hopping from log to log, lost in a game. But what I was not prepared for was Zakia’s next game, and I’d love to know what exactly was passing through his little head as he stacked out bits of crusty mud on a log and created his own imperfect (?) universe…



Panorama from guest room -reduced

Saturday I did You Tube, the light sliding in. Sunday I did detail – and completed Monty Don’s The Ivington Diaries.

Detail - lawn and driveway

I have two disconnected issues top of (horticultural) mind at the moment, yet there is definitely a link. On the one hand there is the infinite and obsessive fascination with my own garden in every season and every mood, and the desire to describe it and record it. And on the other hand there is that rare occurrence, especially when one is skidding down the wrong slope of fifty: I have found me a hero.

Detail Gum and camellias

Over a year ago a dear friend, mother of varsity friends, lent me her copy of Monty Don’s TV series Around the World in Eighty Gardens. I was smitten. Not so much by the gardens, as by the man, and his passionate fascination with what makes gardeners tick, and gardens resonate.

Detail towards Upper Rosemary Border

I could relate. And I could learn. And above all, I could appreciate his intensity. I immediately sought out his  books, finding first  The Complete Gardener (I think –I’ve lent it to a friend.) It is a highly personal ‘how-to’ book. Then Louis gave me the book version of the DVD series, Extraordinary Gardens of the World; an extraordinarily beautiful book. Then I went onto the net and ordered The Ivington Diaries, compiled from 15 years’ diaries of his own garden.

Detail towards Ellensgate Garden

This is a unique account of one gardener’s responses to his garden, and his life. I kept marking pages to get back to. I used extracts in class to illustrate style and structure in writing. I moved with him through the garden as it developed, saying sometimes yes!  and sometimes really?, and all the time I felt as if I’d always known him.

Detail; steps below Mothers' Garden

An example: on 30 September 2001, recalling a conversation about 9/11, he writes: Someone said that things like gardening and cooking seemed unbearably trivial at times like these, almost disrespectful…But I am sure that this is not just wrong but a real misreading of the times…I am sure that certainties will now seem doubly precious. Verifiable honesty matters more than ever. The flash, the glib and all things phoney will be exposed in this new, rawer light as the dross that they are. Growing things, making something beautiful, eating simple, fresh food – these things matter now more than ever. I often think of how Aldous Huxley, after years of intense exploration, came to the conclusion that all religious and spiritual learning could be summarised into two words: ‘Pay attention’.

Purple Beech in the Beech Borders

Pay attention.

I like that!

Monty Don – The Ivington Diaries, 2009, Bloomsbury, ISBN 978 1 4088 0249 6


First the frost came. Then the killing frost came. My guess – my min/max thermometer having been (I hope only) misplaced – is that on Thursday night temps dropped below -5° C ; when I returned from school on Friday afternoon the aloe buds had already collapsed.

When I leave for work between 7:30 and 8:00, the light is magnificent. So this morning –Saturday – I set up my camera in the guest bedroom and took the following series between 7:22 and 8:26. How I wish that the best view in the house was not from here – on the other hand, I don’t have guests that often. Perhaps I must get into the habit of having my morning coffee in this bay window, after years of having it in the blue bay at The House that Jack Built…

Winter sunrise from the guestroom

Well, that was a learning curve. But now me are part of You Tube too Winking smile


I set off this morning – a perfect sunny Saturday – with the intention of focusing on the close-up or macro picture I need for Gardening Gone Wild’s May ‘Picture This’ competition.

3 Cotoneaster horizontalis

The brief is to specifically look at the effect of effective lighting in close-ups and macros. I took 172 shots; I have processed 23 to share. Not all are for the competition; and some I took for the competition didn’t even make it to the shortlist. Above: Cotoneaster horizontalis. Verdict: not competition worthy.

a Makoudam with swamp cypresses

From about the same position as the cotoneaster, I took the above shot down the Long Border towards one of the Swamp Cypresses on the Makou Dam. They will feature in the following shots as well.

a Makoudam from under swamp cypresses

The Swamp Cypress or Taxodium distichum is a deciduous conifer from the eastern USA. Its leaves turn a lovely cinnamon colour. but none of my close-ups qualify…

a Makoudam and  swamp cypress

The interesting thing about them is that each tree marches to its own drum. Some turn early, some late. But year after year they are consistent.

a Makoudam with swamp cypress reflection

As we make our way around the Makou Dam, there is the opportunity to photograph the progress at the site of The Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe. Don’t know about it? Find out more here.

a Site of the new garden

The Bugle I bought on auction from which the water will spill – the Celestial Trumpet – has arrived, and I’ve discovered that the dogs’ water-bowl, a flat, rectangular copper vase that was demoted when I tired of having a plastic bowl in the middle of everything, has the proportions of the Golden Rectangle (1:1.618)… I do think that the trumpet should rise from it…(besides anything else, I like the progression: vase>water- bowl>symbol of perfection)

a Site of the new garden 2

But I set out to take close-ups…

b Liquidambar avenue

Here is The Avenue – the Tulip Trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) which make their way up through the Arboretum in a double avenue with azaleas between them and hydrangeas beneath them. (I took several hydrangea photos, but they don’t feature today.) The fallen leaves, in various stages of decay and catching the light, proved very photogenic.

b liquodambar detail

A detail from the previous photo, this does not quite qualify for the competition.

5 Dappled light on fallen leaves

But this one does…

6 Dappled light on fallen leaves

…As does this one.

d Mateczka

But this one doesn’t!

Autumn azaleas

Many azaleas are blooming. As always in autumn, the semi-deciduous mauve ones are putting on a spectacular show… perhaps there is a competition entry here…

1 azalea filaments

However I do anticipate my entry being an autumn shot…

d Off camera

This photo is exactly as it came off the camera. I’m not at all certain if it is an accident or was planned!

7 Japanese maple against the light

The Japanese Maples  are an obvious choice, though. This one and the next are Acer palmatum ‘Tricolor’ and the pink/cream/green variegation results in interesting autumn shades as well.

8 Japanese maple against the light

Hmmm – those two are more similar than I realised. The next is almost not recognizably a Japanese maple.

10 Mutated Japanese maple

I grew it from seed. It is a mutation, slow growing, actually rather messy in appearance, but fascinating. Instead of having hand-shaped leaves, they are reduced to just the central finger or, as in the leaf pointing upwards, separated into three leaves. In addition they are congested and appear at the end of twigs only, on a narrow, upright tree. It is now about 2.5m tall, and becoming more and more interesting. Although truth be told – it is more interesting in concept than in reality…

c View across freddy's Dam

This glimpse, stolen across Freddy’s Dam towards a Parrotia persica coming into its own, is rather romantic, I think. And forms a modulation between possible entries.

9 Red Plane

One of my proudest possessions is this plane tree. Instead of having yellow autumn leaves, they are red. What is more, they start turning in mid February and last till mid May. That is three months of spectacular autumn colour. I found it in a rural nursery in KwaZulu-Natal amongst yellowing plane saplings, and sneaked it away nonchalantly…This photo was taken up into the light, with some leaves showing their backs and others their upper surface, I liked this so much I cropped it closer:

9 Red Plane detail

I like this photo. It might be called an elegant composition. Sparse. Simple. To the point: this IS what the red plane is all about.

d Japanese Maple avenue

One last photo, of the Japanese Maple avenue on my way home, before – well, before the very first photo I took. The one I believe might well be my entry. And literally the first of the day. There were several more of this subject, but the first, impulsive and unconsidered, was the best. Interesting…

2 Elephant Ears

These Elephant Ears , or Alocasia, came to me from England, of all places. I bought the seeds, from Thompson & Morgan, as I recall, because they were said to repel moles. I doubt that they have done so, but in the process I obtained a wonderful foliage plant of a family that does not cope – usually – with our cold winters. These grow dramatically outside the staff’s house as one enters Sequoia Gardens – thus the pinkish background – and I intend introducing it into a few of my borders in spring. For simplicity and effectiveness of composition, for textural detail as a result of the lighting, I think this is the best of my attempts to date. Think of the theme: Lighting: look closer.


1 In the pine plantation

Hurry, this will be a quick walk, almost a jog. Little time. And no books on hand to confirm niceties of names. We went to check on the cutting that was happening.

2 Crocosmias in the forest

Crocosmias love the pines. So do the dogs.

3 plectranthus leaves

In late summer plectranthus with white or pale blue flowers grow in abundance in the shade. The most attractive have a blotch, caused by an air bubble under the outer ‘skin’

4 Plectranthus Flower detail

They are gently hairy and the tiny flowers in long spikes are worth a closer look.

5 Flowers of Plectranthus

Eve Palmer rather fancifully maintains that from the right angle the flowers look like little mice. (Note to self: A post on her book Under the Olive which I’ve just reread.)

6 Silver shade-loving helichryssum

Another note to self. Try propagating this silver-leaved helichrysum which unlike most grey leaved plants which are that colour to protect against heat, seem to be mirrored in order to catch as much light as possible in the shade which they love.

7 Forest hibiscus

We call it the forest hibiscus, a herby shrub with coin-sized flowers in late summer. Usually they are apple-blossom pink. This white one caught my eye. It too needs to be propagated!

8 Dogs love forest walks

On the home stretch. The dogs always love a walk in the pine forests.


I continue to think azaleas, and then chanced whilst looking for material for another post on the following, which I posted at Mooseys on 1 Oct ’07. It had rained gently all of the previous week. Our spring, often harsh and hot, was kind that year, and the azaleas never looked better, before or since; there follows a selection of the photos I included in that post. 

I am satiated, saturated, sick with colour, drugged into a stupor, left floating on a cloud, overwhelmed. A walk in the arboretum  on the 1st of October after a week of rain must be as close to chromatic overkill as one can get. Did I really say once that spring on the mountain is overrated?

Dad among the azaleasAzaleas 3Azaleas 2 Azaleas 4Azaleas 5

Azaleas 10 Azaleas 6Azaleas 7Azaleas 9

Azaleas 3

Azaleas 8