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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

75 Buffalo panorama

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

76 Buffelo panorama

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


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



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


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

You want to see the lions? Here they are.


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


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


Oops. Not this one’s either.


Nor this last ones… (breathe)


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


Next: a bounty of buffaloes




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


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


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


We had just been incredibly lucky!

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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




Right. I think we have our story. CUT!


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

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



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


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


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


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

Vuyatela (143)

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


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


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


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


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


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



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


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

The Bushveld should be known as The Treeveld

Pierneef Bushveld Trees

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

43 Mainly Marula Trees

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

43 paint effect

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

Studie in Blou

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


A visit to the Fairest Cape – and a frosty welcome back home

panorama of Table Mountain

OK, fine. This is a gardening blog with a ‘come stay in my cottages’ slant. The fact that I’ve just spent several days in one of the world’s most beautiful cities, staying in an apartment overlooking that city’s icon, really is not important. So forgive me if it keeps creeping in to my conversation. The above panorama I took leaning out of the sliding doors soon after waking on my first morning there, in order to get the full 180 degrees in-your-face of Table Mountain…

Stellenbosch - Jonkershoek Valley

On a visit to a beautiful tea-garden in the Jonkershoek Valley above Stellenbosch I took this photograph… but to what extent was it the similarities with home that inspired me? Although this opposite view is very different to anything OUR mountain can offer!

Jonkershoek mountains

We went up Table Mountain on a perfect day. I deliberately avoided taking too many pics. And the one I choose to share with you I took back down in the road, right next to where our car was parked. It is one of the many beautiful proteas that grow on Table Mountain.

We returned home after dark on Thursday. And woke to a surprise. I had forgotten that our neighbour’s gum plantation was being cut down… We had dreaded the day, but our row of big gums now breaks the sheer expanse of the devastation beyond. This was the surprise as I opened the front door on Friday morning…

Gums down

I mark the end of autumn on 15 May. Anything after that is a bonus. And so it should not surprise me that the composition is suddenly wintery on the morning of 18 May… But winter has its flowers too and the early aloes usually get to flower before the frosts get too heavy.

First aloes

The Japanese Maple on the edge of the lawn was originally chosen for its rich colour which lasts well beyond most others. As it has grown it has not disappointed, and it ensures that autumn lingers.

Autumn maples and beech

The bare ground to the right is the top end of the Mothers’ Garden, which has lain fallow all summer. Come spring we need to at least plant the hedges…

Japanese maple

This morning there was a light frost. And as I set off on this afternoon’s walk I suddenly realised: that frost had been the first. The striped zinnias (about which I posted here) which yesterday were still flowering bravely were now browned. And from there on I kept seeing more signs of frost damage. Then whilst photographing the damage to the canna below there was a crash and a huge branch broke out of the biggest gum across the Makou Dam and fell to the ground. I have only known such things to happen on hot, still afternoons following on either heavy rain or great swings in temperature. When I got there I saw it was – before shattering – over 8m (yards) long and as thick as my thigh at its thick end. I was pleased to not have started my walk 10 minutes earlier…

Flesh coloured canna after frost

Strange how I set off to photograph the end of autumn, but kept feeling I was capturing the beginning of winter… Here is the view from the Makou Dam’s wall.


On Thursday whilst we were on our way back from Cape Town the local garden club paid a visit. I’ve received many compliments, but I do hope they experienced something slightly more like autumn! This is the view this afternoon from the bridge across Freddie’s Dam.

Freddie's Dam

As I walked I regretted not being here for the end of autumn, and thought of the Fairest Cape where I had been instead. The cable-way climbs from the station in this picture, taken from our window, to the pimple up on the top of the mountain. The elevation there is just over 1000m – and the see at its closest point can not be much more than 1000m away!

I thought of the trawler which in a bizarre accident was stranded last week at Clifton, one of the world’s most exclusive stretches of beach, and the words of one of the men involved in successfully towing it back to sea yesterday without any environmental mishaps… “that is the most beautiful empty space I have ever seen!” (Watch the video as the ship comes free here.)

I stood at the Cottage Garden at The house that Jack Built and I thought of the flight home across our vast and rugged country; of endless mountain ranges and valleys; of empty plains where there was hardly a homestead to be seen in the semi-desert; of rivers and huge circular patterns of irrigated lands, and of not reading one paragraph between take-off and landing as I stared out the window … and then I turned to my own piece of  paradise, and was pleased to be home.



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.


Africa as you picture it

Let’s call it the weekly post rather than the weekly pic, as my garden doesn’t feature this week – rather some photos taken two weeks ago when I was camping with my cousins on their farm on the banks of the Limpopo. But this I guess is closer to Africa as you picture it: baobab trees, dry – even dead – wood all over, and a rugged charm. The above scene lies only 100m away from the river below – and the farm some 200km north of Sequoia.

Limpopo from klippe


Rainy day portrait

Some weeks ago I arrived home from Johannesburg  towards late afternoon. It was a cloudy day, and there had been drizzle for hours; all in all a rather drab day. But in the Ellensgate Garden there was bright colour. Three important members of my team were at work there, wearing their rain suits, clearing up. It seemed a good moment for a portrait. Let me introduce you to them.

On the left is Phillip Modiba. He came to Sequoia as one of the temps in November. Unusually,  he had had quite extensive experience as a gardener before. Phillip is currently working, among other things, on resurrecting the hedges. In the middle is Johannes Makgoba, who is Plantation Foreman and has been with us for about 5 years.  The Makgoba clan gave its name to Magoebaskloof (Valley of the Makgobas), as our local area is known. Besides being in control of the more agricultural side of operations, he is second-in-command to my new Foreman, Lucas Letsoalo, on the right. These three are at the centre of a  team of which I am very proud, especially as some rocky ground had to be crossed during the last  months of last year. I have mentioned before that I lost four members of staff during the fourth quarter of last year and eventually terminated my foreman’s contract at the end of December. At that stage I had already identified Lucas as the person with whom I wished  to replace him. Lucas’ wife,
Petunia (aptly named!), is my domestic helper – which of course means that she also looks after the cottages which are let.

Colour in the garden. Besides the obvious irony of the colour in the pic coming from humans rather than plants, there is more subtext  to my title. Since  the ‘bad old days’, and  to this day, people who are not ‘white’ (European – frankly, ‘pink’ would be a better description) are referred to as being ‘of colour’. All this ‘colour’ came to be celebrated  as things changed when we proudly started calling ourselves The Rainbow Nation in the early 1990s. The fact that the end of the 20th century did not witness in South Africa one of the great bloodbaths in history is a miracle for which we can not stop giving thanks. Instead 27 April 1994, 17 years ago today, all South Africans went to the polls for the first non-racial elections, followed soon thereafter by the investiture of Nelson Mandela as president. The Rainbow Nation is a celebration, not only of unity in diversity, but of the end of a dark and stormy period in our history.

Children & dogs

During the school holiday Lucas and Petunia’s sons, Phutiana (9) and Zakia (5), spent a great deal of time on the farm. Black people seldom keep dogs as pets, with the result that even quite big children are often terrified of dogs. But it was not long before even Mateczka was included in their games, although unlike the other dogs, the two never sat down together with her and stroked her.


Cascade Rose
You might recall that the previous set of blooms opened progressively paler. These were consistent and faded gently, ‘Cascade’ rose is at all times more intensely coloured than ‘Ballerina’, though: it is a richer, darker pink. (Photo taken 2 March) With the old blooms fading and falling, the,4th generation is coming into bloom. Considering how young this plant is, its readiness to flower is amazing, and I suspect it really will rival ‘Ballerina’ as a shrub rose! (Photo taken 21 March)

I have reported several times on the exciting little rose I discovered growing IN fast flowing water and IN the shade, three tiny pink blooms drawing my attention to it. The last time, with links to older posts, was here. As I learn more about ‘Cascade’ – as I christened it after its place of birth – I become more and more convinced that I’m onto a winner.

Do you remember the post in which I told of the orchid which had been trashed by baboons? I cut up the flowering stems and planted them. Not unexpectedly the six rootless ones did not take, but the one which had a small piece of root attached remains as green as when I planted it, and I am confident that it will survive. Note the growing medium. I found old decayed pine logs that I could break with my fingers, and their spongy chunks form the basis of what looks to this amateur like rather professional orchid growing medium. Smile 

So much for plants – what else in this progress report?

Fence at entrance

I started 2011 with a new foreman; I was rather pleased when eventually my previous foreman and I parted company, and I had already identified his replacement. Partially the previous foreman was responsible for four of my staff not being with us anymore and in November five temps started to work with the team. We were fortunate. They proved so willing and capable that I decided at the end of February to employ all five, rather than  three as  I had intended. In the process I decided not to replace my ‘estate lawnmower’ but rather to continue using the two strimmers for the purpose of cutting meadows and lawns. Such is the reality of rural Africa that the purchase price of an  industrial lawnmower is not much less than the annual salary of one man. In the process I keep mechanical costs down, leave  a smaller carbon footprint, and put food on the table of one more family. With rural unemployment at over 30%, you will realise the importance of a single job to an extended family. But why the pic? The fence at the entrance, and the work on it, was their idea. Made of invader wattle lathes and finished at the joints with wattle bark, it has already lifted the approach to Sequoia Gardens in a way I love – it is clear but unassuming. And it is a symbol of a new beginning in the way things get done at Sequoia Gardens. This was a casual photo taken the day I came home from teaching to find the fence half built. I will in due course feature it more fully.

Croft Cottage

Croft Cottage is also nearing completion. In fact all that needs to be done is the last furniture to be bought. Oh – and now that my trailer has been reconditioned – a process that took longer than it aught – I can fetch old tires to line the soak-pit beyond the septic tank, thus completing the plumbing and making the cottage habitable. The original stone structure was built sometime in the early 20th century. I broke out the side wall and doubled it in size, put on a new roof and added a shower-room towards the back and a stone-pillared veranda in front. Because for many years the stone-walled room was used as a store or inhabited by farm workers, I decided to call it Croft Cottage; a crofter being, in the north of the UK, a tenant farmer. It has been a slow process, for we owner-built it all, but I am very happy with the end product.

And so, here I am, at the end of a hectic period; this morning I completed my first-term reports. Yesterday our Rotary Club hosted the Ebenezer Mile Swim, our major fund-raiser for the year. On 1 March, the beginning of the financial year, I officially bought the crop of pine trees from my father, and all income from and responsibility for the farm is now mine. (It is a lifestyle farm: 40% of my salary plus the income from the farm is needed to sustain it, one of the reasons I’m developing tourist accommodation.)

By Friday I will be on leave. We are making progress in all sorts of ways. There are plans afoot. I am happy.