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.


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.

paris_metro_elev_b1305601010270 97839cd5ab66d56b175160f4271f15d3 images image-3

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)


For the first time ever a month has passed without my posting anything. Is my blog dying? I fear it might be. As more and more my mind moves into the ‘life after Sequoia Gardens’ mode, the daily developments here seem less important, the big picture of the past 30 years, and the next 30, stand out clearer.

THtJB reflected s

Nearly four years ago I moved out of The House that Jack Built. In the first month of my blog I wrote about it here and little over a year later I wrote about moving into the big house here. I now know that moving out of my cottage was the start of where I am now; had I not left that inner sanctuary, I don’t think I would have managed to be on the brink of departure today, actually longing to put this time of limbo behind me.


I searched Google images before choosing this picture. In the early days of teaching on the mountain I remember saying to a class: “When Mandela dies the world will weep together like it has never wept for one man.” And it did, but not quite as I had imagined.  For too long all had known that death would be a blessed relief for him. The grief was tinged with relief, for this man deserved the right to die peacefully like few ever before him. In July my cousins gathered as usual on the farm on the Limpopo I have often written about, and where I took this photo.


City Press carried this headline this last week:

Africa mourns its towering baobab.

The eldest of the grandsons is the political editor of an important Johannesburg daily paper. The last thing he did from Polokwane before leaving ‘civilization’ in early July was to contact his team of people standing ready to cover Mandela’s death at the hospital in Pretoria where he lay critically ill, at his homes in Johannesburg and Qunu, at parliament and in various other places. Then he dropped down into the Limpopo valley where reception is at best erratic; twice a day he made a trip to higher ground to check on developments. Had Mandela died, he would have left within the hour. By the nature of things Mandela was central to our July discussions; it became clear to me that this young man was not just a great intellect and a people-person, but also a formidable manager. I mention this to illustrate the logistics underlying the death of a man of Mandela’s stature. But he didn’t die in July, and gradually the international press went home, and the time of waiting started.

Mateczka 9_taubie_at_the_new_stairs__yew_behind_her_650

There were other losses, and near losses, during this past month, less important perhaps, but more personal and thus more poignant. For some weeks I had had an ampoule of a calming fluid to give to my dear old dog, Taubie, when the time came to take her sore old body 35km down a twisting mountain pass to be put down. But I gave it instead to my youngest dog, Mateczka, my ridgeback, 4 years and 4 days old. She had developed over several weeks a progressive neurological degeneration which affected her movement and spacial perception and was constantly anxious, not understanding what on earth was happening to her. When she took a tumble whilst trying to squat, I knew that her life was no longer a joy to her. And so it happened that I came back up the mountain with a second ampoule, and took Taubie down 10 days later. Mateczka Mothertjie Muddypaws aged 3 months left, and Taubie in her prime seven years ago. And then there was Louis, who was it not for the miracle of modern sonar scans and medication would certainly have died during this past month.


I have been meaning for weeks to share my roses. Here is my favourite, The Hybrid Musk rose Penelope. And below is another favourite, known only as Aunty Corrie, from whom I got her. She blooms only once a year, but is magnificent. With a bit of luck I will have roses to pick next week – the first have bloomed after the destruction of October’s hail. And thus life continues. Even if I have yet to write a proper post on roses. Winking smile 

Aunty Corrie Rose s


Japanese Walk 3

I ended my previous post with a dying camera as I was about to take the above scene – so let us continue from here, for this is where the ache comes in: I have waited ten years for this effect to mature. And now Sequoia Gardens is in the market.

Japanese Walk 2

Originally the Japanese Walk was simply too sunny for mosses to take hold. But now the wisteria has grown and the Japanese maples have matured, and the rocks and stepping stones we manhandled into position with such effort are beginning to look as I imagined they would…

Japanese Walk

Taken a few minutes earlier in full sun, I thought the contrast in this photo would be too strong, but I just love the streaking resulting from the sun through the reed fence. The round objects are beautiful clay beer-brewing pots made in a traditional way in the local rural communities. Do you see why this minor part of the garden has ranked so high in my expectations over the years, even though it seldom featured in photographs? Here is another view of this area, taken several weeks ago from the opposite end and used a few posts back:

Alfred's Arches, the Japanese Walk, the entrance to the Anniversary Garden and the Ellensgate Garden in winter

The wooden pergola is planted with wisteria and below  Alfred’s Arches and on the opposite side of the pergola I planted hedges of seed-raised chaenomeles (Japanese quinces). They proved a bit of a mixed bag, but the best one ended up, we discovered three years ago, in the best position!

Chaenomeles on the wisteria arbour

It has a strong, clear colour, large and profuse flowers and, best of all, a vigorous inclination to climb. So it has joined the wisteria on the pergola and for a short, breath-taking period their flowering overlaps as these photos from spring 2012 prove.



I have a soft spot for chaenomeles, about which more anon. Enough said that in yesterday’s  sunny moments I enjoyed photographing these brash blossoms that hide coyly among dark twigs.


There are subtle colour variations from bush to bush: tomato red to darker shades, and some where white pigment gives shades of pinky orange. Notice how the petals are sometimes stalked, resulting in a less clean cup shape – the third, pale example below has lovely full petals.

More chaenomeles

A darker chaenomeles

Pale chaenomeles

In fact some flowers are white. (The seeds came from a mixed planting of red, white and crimson bushes.) It is a good, clean fully albino white – but can’t compete with the reds – or can it?

Red and white chaenomeles together white chaenomeles

I was first inspired to plant chaenomeles seed to see what came up by a lovely but shy-flowering ‘apple blossom’ self-seeded shrub below our original planting. It remains one of our more special seedlings.

apple blossom chaenomeles

Lastly one of the parents, a bought shrub from the days when impulse buying rather than knowledge dominated our purchases – I think it might be ‘Crimson and Gold’: it is lower growing and less strong than the norm, but quite floriferous.

Chaenomeles xsuperba 'Crimson and Gold ' perhaps

I said I had a soft spot for the flowering quinces, or Japonica as my grandmother, whose story I now tell, called them. I grew up with a painting which today hangs in my house. It was painted by her friend and neighbour Gerda Oerder (who also signed herself Oerder Pitlo, adding her maiden name), the wife of Frans Oerder; he is one of South Africa’s great impressionist painters, known especially for his still-lives of flowers. His death on 15 July 1944 is the start of my story. Listlessly Gerda went out into the garden on a bleak mid August day. The vague desire to paint again sent her in search of subject matter for the first time since his illness. All she found were a few twigs of chaenomeles, which she picked and placed in a beaker. Then she became absorbed and at last forgot about her unhappiness. Until she stood back, looked at the result and thought “Oh, I must call Frans to show him!” And returned to reality. My grandmother was next on her list. She came over, christened it ‘Eensaamheid’ (loneliness) and bought it immediately. Eensaamheid has always demanded a wall to itself, and after my father’s death I tried it in several spots, before hanging it on its own in the guest bedroom.




Piet Oudolf garden

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


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

Wet July view s


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


What better way to overcome my mid-holiday inertia – after meeting deadlines at school and with our first edition of the magazine, before welcoming visitors staying in the cottages over Christmas – than with my on-going saga: Part 4 of THE ROSE AND I. More specifically: with this photograph of a rose reviving when I had come to think that there was little chance of this happening.

Dorothy Perkins survives

The rose in question is Cecile Brunner, ‘the sweetheart rose’, which bears its tiny hybrid tea shaped blooms on a tall and robust (in fact, it seems, indestructible) bush. At nearly 3m after being cut back for the transplanting in the New Old Rose Garden, this was the giant amongst the transplants. But I watched the green recede from its twigs as they shrivelled… all but two of them. Then one. And suddenly yesterday whilst inspecting the roses after a week of continuous rain, I found this twig covered in new leaves. Not only that –six or more young shoots had sprung from the thick grey main stem! Cecile Brunner had become the third rose to recover from what seemed certain death!

Louis and Taubie

Rejuvenated by that discovery, I paged through the meagre pickings of the last weeks’ photos. There had simply been no time to indulge in photography. And here follows what I came up with for my final post for 2011. Above – Louis and Taubie, of whose relationship I am both jealous and proud, under the water oak at The House that Jack Built, with the last of Felicite et Perpetue’s blooms behind them. This was taken during the week he arrived in late November, when a quick afternoon walk was all he could savour of the new life on the farm. For the rest we were heads down in the office, working on the magazine. Soon you will be able to see the results – I will post on the magazine early in the new year.

New Dawn at the waterlily pond

At the waterlily pond New Dawn was spectacular this year, flowering fortissimo for weeks on end. She will flower all summer, although  not with such force. It must be six years since I planted a cutting to grow up into a young tree, and this year we saw a mature display. One of the decisions of the summer, a spectacular year for roses on the mountain, was that we should plant climbing roses in many more places.

Mothers' Garden from arboretum

Probably the biggest projectfor 2012 will be the Mothers’ Garden above the steps in the above photo, taken on another of our November walks. I first posted about that garden here, but it seems as though the design is changing from the original. Louis and I are looking forward to spending time working on the design together during the coming days. Oh, and if the stoep (verandah) is looking a little cluttered: it is. Superimposing two households does not happen overnight, especially when there are magazine deadlines to be met! Winking smile

Dreaming of a wet Christmas

Christmas Eve – and with the deadlines met and guests in the cottages, we were dealing with set-in rain which left the bark of the big gum tree shining orange. Christmas lunch was supposed to be a picnic for 23 plus a tiny baby by the river. It was moved in plan B to The House that Jack Built where my cousin and her clan are staying… and then mercifully a plan C came into effect when some of the guests could not even reach the farm, and another cousin felt that the remnants of his flu should not be inflicted in an enclosed space on a six-month old. As the arrangement was that each family catered for themselves, it was quite simple for the party to break into three – and so there were only ‘us four oldies’ for Christmas…

Yellow seedling dahlia

On the whole we’ve not had good weather for visitors, although everyone who has stayed has enjoyed chilling and no-one has complained of the weather. Our most constant sunshine has been this soft (for a dahlia) yellow plant right in front of the stoep. It is one of several that survived from a tray of ‘annual dahlias’ some ten years ago, gradually taking on more typically dahlia qualities as their bulbs matured. I assume that the originals had been hormone treated to get them to flower as tiny tiny plants… any comments or further info, anyone?

Stephan's rose

But this is a rose post. Steph’s Rose is a seedling, one of two I grew myself and named and planted in honour of a very dear friend and colleague who died of a brain tumour several years ago. They too were moved to the New Old Rose Garden, as they are slight little plants, but just like Steph did, they put up a brave fight and flower enthusiastically and seem to appreciate their new home.

Duet with Canna IMG_4829

This is Duet, looking even gawkier than she normally does on a bush that nearly didn’t survive the transplant, but a beautiful pink none the less. With her is a canna which survived from remnants when the ground was cleared, and which, unlike most cannas, makes an excellent foil for the roses with its soft colouring and bronzy foliage. It will be encouraged and divided, the first conscious (if accidental!) underplanting in the New Old Rose Garden…


In looking for an archive pic ( having run out of recent pics with which to end the year) the word ‘underplanted’ reminded me of this one from the heyday of the Rondel Garden. I published it to Mooseys with the following caption back in 2006: The garden was not designed to be looked at through the fence but this shot works! Mutabilis centre back, Genl Gallieni to its right. Rugosas and Hydrangya serrata underplanted with Tradescantia virginiana and the self-sown spurge (Euphorbia polychroma) However I would like to end on something more festive and so – here is a bouquet to the change-over of the years. May 2012 be a good one for us all! Cheers!



Mrs Oakley Fisher

I walked into the office an hour late this morning. I decided that tidying-up would be a priority – but only after I had posted to my blog. I fired up my computer and the internet instantly came alive. Life is good.

You see – on Monday, at some expense to install it, we went onto wireless broadbandish internet, which we need to run the business. And yesterday we signed off the first edition of the magazine, which is looking good. And of course it is already a week since my teaching career was over.

But the joy to share on my blog this morning was the realisation during the week that one of the sturdy roses that survived transplanting was my beloved Mrs Oakley Fisher. And I took this picture on Wednesday to share with you.


Spring 1957

Let me introduce you: Yours Truly – aged one year and possibly some days, posed with my birthday presents: one of those pyramids of ever smaller brightly-coloured do-nuts you pack onto a shaft and Lorna, the teddy-bear. I named him after one of my aunts. My mom is no longer there to ask how long after getting him this happened. I was not yet talking on my birthday. Notice, however, that it is ‘Peace’ I am holding, not the presents. I wonder if that was posed. If Lorna and the colourful do-nuts are vivid in my memory, that rose is seared. In fact, so is every flower in that garden. I still dream of them as they were then, especially ‘Peace’, meeting me squarely eye to eye. No wonder I find ‘Peace’ a little pale today…  If I think of being in the garden with my mom, she is busy with the roses. Dead-heading, it must be, for the nasturtiums are in full flower beneath the roses. And pruning in winter, dressed in red-brown crimplene slacks (to be worn at home only) and an old green jersey which kept getting caught on the thorns, causing her to curse gently to herself.

Spring 1957, front garden

Fifteen years later, during our last summer in this garden before we moved to a larger house, I sat with a bud of ‘Peace’ in a vase before me as I studied for my 9th grade exam and watched it swell and unfurl, marvelling for the first time with adult eyes at the complexity and delicacy of its structure and the way soft pinks, yellows and creams flowed through its colouring. That is about the time Lorna was finally pensioned from the family store of ‘toys for visiting kids’ – He was bald, earless and – I guess – unloved. But a fine bear in his day.

Compston 93 -0008

The next house never had the garden of the first, although there were over thirty fruit trees and vines and the greater part of the garden was an orchid rather than a garden. But I remember choosing several roses with my mother, some bare-rooted from the supermarket  – which means I just-just remember the pre-plastic era in gardening! We have to skip twenty years though to get to the above photo. It was only once Francois and I had moved back to Johannesburg that I started gardening seriously. My biggest project was the rose garden at our house in Greenside, where we started almost from scratch in a badly neglected garden. Next to the red gate in the back wall  I planted ‘Peace’. At this point Francois was already losing his final battle against cancer, which took his life four months later.

Gwen Fagan  Roses at the Cape of Good Hope

Some two years earlier he gave me this book: Gwen Fagan’s Roses at the Cape of Good Hope, and thus started our last great shared passion: the Old Roses. I tell the story, and how it led to the Rondel Garden where his ashes lie, in my post from July 2010: MY RONDEL GARDEN – or: To let go or To hold on?

Fagan on General Galieni

Here is a page from the book, and below is the ‘General Gallieni’ rose referred to on the page – grown from a cutting taken from the original planted in the Rondel Garden. The original is one of about 10% of the roses which did not survive being transplanted into The New Old Rose Garden, which I have mentioned often over the past three months. (Which in turn should indicate to you that the decision taken after the post referred to in the above link was to let go…) So taking further cuttings becomes a necessity.

General Gallieni

There then is an introduction. During the next few posts I will often refer to my roses, and especially the Old Roses, which are scarce in South Africa, but a great passion of mine!


The Rose and I – part 2

The Rose and I – part 3

The Rose and I – part 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 !

End of the weekly pic after two years of blogging

Without my really thinking about it, my previous post was the first of the Third Year Of My Blogging. Quite co-incidentally I am also at a turning point as a blogger. All of which has made me stop – no, let’s just make that pause – for thought. Decision: the weekly pic has served its purpose, it has run its course.

Broederstroom 1
The Broederstroom, as it flows through my cousin’s farm next door to mine.

For, you see, he said rather lamely: a river runs through it…

When I started my blog two years ago, it was with a certain aim in mind. After four or so years of happy garden sharing in the forums of Mooseyscountrygarden (still the cosiest gardening space on the internet I know of), it was time to start my own blog for very specific purposes. I had left teaching to design gardens, and I was developing Sequoia Gardens as a holiday destination and open garden. I needed a space where I could more obviously display what was on offer. And the original idea behind the weekly pic was for those wishing to visit Sequoia at a certain time of year to find an answer to the question ‘What will it look like then?’ In the beginning I was putting together a catalogue; more and more it has become a diary. Throughout the main point of it all was marketing. The sharing with other garden bloggers was a pleasant spin-off. However the return to full-time teaching has limited my blogging time, and I need to rationalise.

Broederstroom 3

Looking downstream from almost the same point.

Besides – I  have the basic tool now; now I need to refine it. Someone who has never seen my blog before needs to be able to find relevant information more easily. Much of the limited time I spend on my blog in the coming months will have to relate to that aim. There will still be new information, but I will concentrate on less regular and more substantial posts for the time being. But (publicity moment to fellow garden bloggers!): there are some very exciting developments I will post about in the near future, so don’t go away!!!

Broederstroom 4

These photos were taken this afternoon when I went down to collect building sand for one of the on-going cottage projects. The sand was conveniently washed up by the river during the great flood of 2000. My stream joins up with the river a few hundred meters after flowing into my cousin’s ground. My grandfather, a keen trout fisherman, bought the two Deeds of Sale in 1951 for the excellent trout fishing on the river. So you see: a river really does run through it.