More of the end of May–and a dedication

I am in Johannesburg, (or rather: I was when I compiled this on Saturday and Sunday) attending a trade expo and, much to my surprise, there is no free wi-fi to be had. So these last two posts, compiled in quiet times – of which there are too many Sad smile –  will have to wait till I am home for posting…

To get back into the spirit of things: some fingered end-of-autumn leaves!

24 Red plane

The thick five fingered leaf of a plane tree is unmistakeable; it is more solid than any maple or liquidambar with which it might be confused. Usually they turn a rather pale yellow before browning and falling, but the reds in this leaf already indicate something unusual…

25 Red plane

It is from my ‘red plane’! I found the tree in a rural wholesale nursery one autumn in the early nineties, sporting red leaves amongst a sea of yellow. I nonchalantly loaded it onto my trolley and looked for more. I think I selected four, but none were as red as this one. Only one of its brethren I can now identify for certain, and it has never proved itself unusual, but this tree… It shows the first signs of colour in mid-February. It is predominantly red, but there are strong yellow and even orange markings as well. And it drops its last leaves in mid-June. That is four months of autumn colour!

26 Red plane

Here a selection of leaves lie on the grass below it…

27 Taubie

Whilst I photograph the plane, Taubie plods off into the water under the nearby  weeping flowering cherry. Only on studying the photo now do I realise how the graft has developed into an  unsightly swelling as so often happens… to hide, or to o ignore? What does this pic achieve? Perhaps to show how lovely our days can be, even as winter approaches.

28 Taubie beyond jetty

And here she is again in this season of fallen leaves…

29 Woodland walk

This photo continues that theme.

30 Beech Border Bench

As does this one, showing the bench under the beech at the top of the Beech Borders. Beyond,  the bright buttery yellow of Acer davidii, one of the snake-bark maples, lies strewn across the slope.

31 Beech Borders

Another view from a few meters on; Taubie snuffling among the azaleas and shrub roses of the Beech Borders, with berberis and the bare stems of the Japanese maples along the stream from the spring; I wrote about them a few posts back.

32 Mateczka, birch, holly

Lest she gets jealous, here again is Mateczka, in the arboretum with birches, an oak-leaved hydrangea and a particularly neat holly.

33 Arboretum view

Since in our meanderings we’ve ended up back in the arboretum, here is another view. but let us get back to the water!

34 Freddie's Dam

The view across Freddie’s Dam is always interesting, and always changing. By the way, clicking on photos will enlarge them!

36 THtJB and Acer davidii

This photo is the opposite view of the one above it, taken from under the yellow snake-bark maple in the centre of the above photo.

35 View across Makou Dam

This time we are looking across the Makou Dam and the comments in my previous post about the shrubs in the Upper Rosemary Border come to mind.

37 Viburnum x bodnantiensis 

Viburnum x bodnantiensis is a tall scruffy shrub at the best of times, lacking the grace and beauty of many viburnums. Like several relations it makes up for this with relatively inconspicuous but nicely scented flowers in winter. However it is a touch too cold for them here, and so a perfect cluster is hard to find. And quite frankly the scent does not appeal greatly to me. I guess I keep it for its snob value: it is quite rare and the link with the magnificent gardens at Bodnant in Wales is irresistible…

38 Cotoneaster detail

A plant that does give me a lot of joy I planted as Cotoneaster horizontalis. Especially now as it is covered in berries and autumn leaves it is a delight…

39 Cotoneaster

But the sheer height to which it has grown makes me wonder if this really is the plant I have…

40 Graham Stuart Thomas in the Anniversary Garden

I really enjoy this rather muddled view. The last blooms on Graham Stuart Thomas (which in South Africa is a ‘climber’ – most of Austin’s roses grow very leggy in our climate) stand out against a hazel. In the background the wisteria yellows on the pergola and a Japanese maple shows some colour. Watching over it all is the sentinel of Melaleuca ‘Johannesburg Gold’ which is always this warm yellow colour – the best yellow-leaved tree of all in our climate.

42 yellow conifer

However this ubiquitous yellow conifer is not to be dismissed…

43 Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe

I end this post with the garden that has haunted me for how long? Fourteen months! The Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe. In this imperfect universe very little has happened here this past summer. Children arrive and hop from stump to stump, proving my basic assumption right. The water spout wets it rocks at the end  of the Alfred’s Arches axis. Wild flowers (and weeds) have softened the setting. This last summer brought many changes in my life, but all were more demanding than I’d anticipated and I spent less time – and money -  in the garden than ever. I can only hope that the coming year will bring the opportunity to spend time here…

PS: This morning I showed all these photos to my father, with whom I am staying during the expo. When he saw the date of the photos – 29 May 2012 – he told me that I took them 60 years to the day after he declared his love to my mother and they started going steady. As the love of trees – and the planting of them – very much started with my dad, I dedicate this post to him. And that makes this a perfect opportunity to share a photo he took of our valley one midwinter in the early 50s. It contains some wonderful details and some tantalising uncertainties.

50s panorama s 

To orientate you: the building to the left of centre is the stone barn. The tall gum trees to the left of it are those to the right of the big house today. I suspect the top of the big gum in the arboretum is showing above the curve of the grassy hill near the left of the photo. Only about half the current area was planted to pine, seed potatoes were the main crop, and pigs were kept in the old sties near where the house now is. The old main house, over to the right of the picture, is on the part of the farm that now belongs to my cousin.

The arboretum in early May

My father’s vision and energy have changed the farm dramatically, especially over the last 30 years. The arboretum in particular will be his lasting monument. And remember that the tall gum was claimed by my mother as hers on their honeymoon. But if any spot on Sequoia is truly his, it is the avenue of sequoias that lead up to his dream house where I now live. So it seems appropriate to end this post with a photo sent to me by a couple who celebrated their wedding on Sequoia in April, of them setting off on life together from under this avenue…

Bridal couple in Sequoia avenue

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.



Acer palmatum avenue 4

Acer palmatum avenue 2

Acer palmatum avenue 3

Acer palmatum avenue 1

The  avenue of seven Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) along the house-water stream in autumn is possibly the highlight of my  gardening year. In my previous post – April week 5 – you got to see the whole avenue. These photos were also taken yesterday, in less than ideal, breezy conditions. There is a chance that it will grow more  spectacular, but I was not going to risk waiting…,

Over the years I posted some rather impressive autumn shots at Mooseys, and as this is my second autumn on my own blog, you might even find a few here. But for those wishing to see my best, here are a few links to my postings at Mooseys:


June week 1

I returned from Johannesburg last night and this morning found frost on the lawn for the first time. Typical of a sunny winter’s morn, there is the slightest mist rising off the water – and autumn is still a strong presence, with the swamp cypress in the right centre not yet at its peak and various maples, cherries, sweet chestnuts and dawn redwoods contributing. The green tree left of centre is a Liquidambar formosana. It has a three-fingered leaf rather than the five of the more common L. styraciflua. Less impressive than the five-fingered tree in autumn, its virtue is the lateness of its turning, carrying autumn through into July in a good year. In the foreground the zinnias have now really gone to seed – but are contributing very fashionable ‘winter interest’ as well as ‘winter food/cover/accommodation’!


Metasequoia glyptostroboides

We’re back with an advertising break: above is the Dawn Redwood, which goes by the cumbersome name of Metasequoia glyptostroboides; “next to sequoia, like a glyptostrobus’, a name about which the inimitable Hugh Johnson has the following to say: “…an indication perhaps of (the Japanese taxonomist’s) state of scholarly indecision, rather than of his barbaric ear.” (p113, Hugh Johnson’s Encyclopaedia of Trees, ISBN 0 85533 546 7) Only four Glyptostrobus are known in cultivation, none in the wild. It is a deciduous member of the Swamp Cypress family.

Here starts the advertisement – for this very book and author, at his best when telling the tale of the Dawn Redwood, discovered in 1941 in eastern Szechwan, China. It was 1948 before the first seeds germinated at Kew and in Boston.  The newcomers grew away happily though, and some young plants of the first Kew germination were sent to the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens, then one of the important cities of the British Empire. (The subsequent history of these gardens is a sad tale of third world neglect however…) My neighbour and gardening guru was a friend of the curator – and thus some of the earliest seed from a cultivated tree was germinated by Gub Turner (whose sister created Cheerio Gardens which is today run by Gub’s daughter and granddaughter…) and my dad in turn germinated seed from Gub’s tree… we have several growing in the arboretum. It is distinguished from the Swamp Cypress (Taxodium)  by having branchlets and needles which are opposite, whereas the Swamp Cypress’s are alternate. But the easiest way, says Hugh Johnson, to recognise the Dawn Redwood is by the unique habit of having the next year’s buds underneath the branchlets – clearly noticeable here.

Swamp Cypress Here is a Swamp Cypress, photographed two days earlier, for comparison. Both colour a lovely cinnamony colour with the fresh green showing to the very end. A good example  of either is one of the loveliest trees imaginable!

Big House The way the Big House suddenly appears in a gap from the arboretum is lovely – and the fact that it happens so seldom these days is an indication that some ruthless opening up of vistas through the arboretum is due. It is difficult to believe that it is only 12 years ago that this area was planted. The white horizontal to the right of the yellow tree top left (a golden Melaleuca) is all that can be seen of my current home, Trailertrash Cottage. It is a trailer home which we erected in 1981 when my father inherited the part of the farm that did not have a house; in those days, believe it or not, this valley was mostly grassland with a few self-sown pines; until the late 50s seed potatoes were grown here, and the mule-drawn plough is now installed as a focal point in my garden. The eelworms remain to plague us… Oh: until I moved in in January of this year with all the paraphernalia to feed and sleep six dogs on the deck, plus assorted gumboots, buckets and brooms, the trailer home went by the much more elegant name of The Plett.

Acer palmatum detail A detail of the Acer palmatum in the above view; the most elegant of all our trees!

Croft Cottage From near my previous vantage, a view to the right; neither the huge stems of the two big gum trees, nor the Japanese maple and azaleas are the subject of this photo, but rather the red gable sticking out to the left of the gum tree. That is Croft Cottage, now nearing completion. With The House that Jack Built, its function is to help increase the income off the farm…

Hydrangea close-up A teaser for a post to come: over 80 of yesterday’s pics – and an equal number at least over the last weeks – are for a post on the wonderful pearlescent colours that my hydrangeas take on as the season progresses… watch this space!

Mateczka Taubie

 The dogs however were not impressed with the hydrangeas – the walk was well into its second hour – and Mateczka decided a snooze was a good cure for boredom!

1 2

Then on again (flowering cherries give the main colour) followed by yet another wait. Read my lips, says Mateczka.

3 Flowering cherry 4 Chinese maple
5 Pride of India 6 Q velutina

I, meanwhile, get more and more caught up in the leaves. Clockwise from top left: Flowering Cherry Prunus ‘Tai Haku’ ; Chinese maple Acer buergeranum ; Quercus velutina has the largest leaves of all our oaks and Pride of India or Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica), usually best known for its lovely mottled, pale and smooth bark and its crepe flowers, also turns beautifully in our climate; in the following picture the ones at the bottom of the front door axis can be seen from the arboretum.

Lagerstroemia indica Darkest red Japanese maple The darkest of our Japanese maples has lost most of its leaves. I love its beautiful bark and shape where it leans across the stream, its beauty slim and ethereal after the heavy dark velvets of its summer clothing.

Liquodamber avenue We’ve reached the furthest edge of our 6 ha (15 acres) of garden – the avenue of Liquidambars which marches up from the stream to the Sequoia grove which gave the farm its name. My father germinated all these trees about 30 years ago from the seed of a single tree. It is amazing how they differ, and how each tree – in fact each limb – colours in the same way and in the same order year after year. It was his success with these Liquidambars that lead to the birth of the arboretum idea.

Liquidambar detail The five-fingered leaves of Liquidambar  styraciflua often lead to them being mistaken for maples – the corky ridges on the twigs are diagnostic though, as are the alternate leaves, whereas maples are opposite.

Cornus florida A young dogwood (Cornus florida) in the Dell, a rather unsuccessful development next to the Liquidambar avenue. The soil here is sandy, less fertile and moisture retentive than elsewhere, and the original planting was followed by several years of lacklustre rainfall. However I am looking at the area with new eyes… there is room here for consolidation. Drat! More work! 😉

Cornus florida detail Besides of the most beautiful autumn foliage, C. florida has a graceful shape, and leaves which curl back, revealing a softer, more silvery shade of both the summer and the autumn leaf colour. And soon this tree will start producing its abundant spring bracts, either in white or if I am very lucky, in reddish pink. Truly a tree for all seasons – for most of the winter one can watch the flower buds swell and the bracts slowly open before the leaves appear. It is called anticipation!

Hydrangeas and maple As we make our way back I again photograph hydrangeas (my best ones are here under Oak Avenue near The House that Jack Built, and under the Tulip Trees in The Avenue in the arboretum… a little seed-grown Japanese maple is slow but lovely. And as we slowly make our way home, sunset comes closer, and I am pleased I took my tripod along…

Sunset Sunset in the lily pond



IMG_5765 Immediately behind this point a rustic set of steps goes down to where the overflow pipe for the Makou dam empties into a pool and then gurgles down a furrow against the ridge before spilling over a waterfall and down into the bottom of the valley. It is a shaded spot, always with the sound of running water; one of the special spots in the garden, and one which we too seldom visit, and could do more with. Mateczka definitely thinks so! She stormed up and down on the crackling leaves, leapt in and out of the water and let the other dogs understand: this is FUN!

IMG_5742 IMG_5744
IMG_5750 IMG_5754
IMG_5747 IMG_5753
IMG_5759 IMG_5760

And I too found it fun to take my camera down there in mid afternoon, knowing that the walk might continue till sunset… I love the way the dogs at times are only blurs in these slow-shutter photos, taken with a tripod. And as you can see, Stompie tottered along gamely, but stood still to enjoy the ambience… she stayed with us for most of the walk, but eventually came home on her own to lie down on a soft blanket and await our return.

Autumn azalea This autumn’s clocks are out of line; some things are late, even very late, others are early. There are trees not turning because they think it is still summer, and flowers blooming because they think it is already spring… This azalea flowering against the russet leaves of a Prunus sargentii is a case in point.

Yellow deciduous azalea And this poor deciduous azalea thinks it is both autumn and spring! I can’t remember this ever happening before – but how lovely, even if the flowers are rather feeble.

Berkheya setifera Berkheya setifera is listed as flowering  Sep-Feb, and yet today I chanced across this colony growing wild in the arboretum, and looking even happier than I’ve ever seen this cheerful flower look before!

Berkheya setifera 2 The autumn of the azaleas

Here you can see its robust, hairy leaves as well; and then I couldn’t resist yet another shot of the autumn of the azaleas.

IMG_5791 IMG_5793

Frustrated attempts at photographing a VERY tiny flower… mainly because a certain puppy kept thinking that it was a great opportunity to lick my ears whilst I was down on my knees…

IMG_5792 …in the process all but sitting on the flowers… but after some harsh words…

Lobelia erinus …success!!! In fact, brilliant success, two of the best macros I’ve ever taken…

Lobelia erinus 2

And so here in all its minute glory I present to you…the wild form of the garden lobelia – Lobelia erinus! And although the walk is far from over, it is after one in the morning now – and so I think the post must end and the walk continue tomorrow!


May week4

No cheating this week, please take note! I knew the aloes would feature. In fact I’m preparing a whole post on them. But I wanted the right shot for today, which I found when looking up from where I was kneeling, dealing with the complications that go with four dogs gently but insistently wanting affection at the same time. So out came the camera. And it is surprising how much is in this shot.

The aloe is Aloe arborescens, one of the smallest of the ‘tree’ or multi-stemmed aloes. Some years ago there was so much damage from the cold that we cut back the rosettes and the result is a very dense version – so dense that flowering is not as plentiful as it could be. In a good year each rosette or branch will produce at least one flower spike. It seems as if I need to put on my thickest and longest gloves and prune out some rosettes at the end of winter. They grow on very quickly into new plants when stuck into a sandy mix after being allowed to dry for a few days and form a callus. All the same, the spiky medusa heads are green all your and contrast beautifully with the soft mounds of Rose Geranium that grown next to them.

Immediately behind the aloe is the gaunt shape of a bottlebrush, Callistemon citrinus, whose hard textures are so typically Australian, although the warty seed pods start life as fluffy red flowers which give the shrub its common name. The sunbirds  -our version of hummingbirds – love them and in summer one can watch them come and go for hours. In winter they turn to the aloes, one of the  reasons for growing them so close to the house. The elaborate bird bath – about which I blow hot and cold – was recently moved here, and the birds love its new position. A fruit feeder also hangs in the bottlebrush.

Further down a Japanese Maple is in full autumn splendour. We are having a strange autumn, with many trees being quite late to turn. Although we have missed out on the intensity of a ‘normal’ autumn, we are in for a long one it seems! It was the combination of hot colours that drew my attention to this composition.

Below that  and behind the birdbath is my yew (Taxus baccata). It took years to decide to stay with us, produced several hundred cuttings a few years back which I gleefully planted as hedges – and lost. It seems yew hedges are not to grace Sequoia Gardens after all… This yew will form the centrepiece of the Mothers’ Garden which I’m planning to edge the Big Lawn and which will commemorate my and my partner’s late mothers. Sometime.

And then right down on the Makou Dam’s wall the fan shape of one of the 40-odd young tree ferns that have germinated for us of their own accord  over the past 20 years can be made out.


1 about to cross the Makou Dam

“Come on, what’s keeping you?!” Mateczka seems to be saying, and well she might, because never have I been this tardy with a post: yesterday these photos were a fortnight old. A very different world is out there – but, surprisingly, still damp and still no real cold – i.e. I don’t think night temps have been below 5 degrees Celsius. Here we are setting off on our walk and about to cross the wall of the Makou Dam below the Big House.

2 view across Makou Dam

Here we look upstream; the rounded yellow tree in the centre is the Water Oak (Quercus nigra) outside The House that Jack Built. Most of the colour in the above two photos is from Pin Oaks (Q. palustris) and Swamp Cypresses (Taxodium distichum).

3 Always a good spot to reconnect...

The bench under the Pin Oak is always a good spot to stop and stare. And the dogs cavort on the lawn or snuffle in the undergrowth when I sit here. As good as a walk, they say.

4 looking across to Big House through Acer forrestii

As we climb the slope to the Arboretum, the Big House and its gardens are framed by an Acer forrestii.

5 Camelia sassanqua and Doubly taking a rest

We climb still higher and Doubly takes a rest whilst I photograph the double pink Camellia Sasanqua.

6 Stompie is also getting very old but still enjoys a walk

Here it is again on the right; the red is mainly Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) and the yellows far left are the Pin Oaks and Liquidambars which one sees from The House that Jack Built. Tomorrow morning I must decide if my dad’s little Fox Terrier, Stompie, must be taken to the vet and be put down. I think not yet; despite pain and discomfort, yesterday she again accompanied us on a walk after a few days of not being interested. I used to fold her ears over her head and call her the Duchess of Windsor. She has always eaten like a horse but remained perfectly thin. Besides looking like the Duchess with her ears on top of her head (remember her odd squared-off hair style?) she always reminded me of the Duchess’ infamous words: one can never be too rich or too thin. Well, too rich we never quite managed…

7Acer rubrum I

Here is a close-up of, I think, Acer rubrum, the Red Maple, which featured last week with mauve azaleas…

8 Red flowers and red autumn leaves on an azalea

Many of the’evergreen’ azaleas feature the odd bright red or yellow leaves, forming a lovely chorus line for the main autumn characters. This one has some unseasonal red flowers to boot.  (or is that ‘to dancing shoe’?)

9 Autumn from the arboritum

Here we look out again across the autumn garden, the two tall Eucalyptus trees dominating, even with just their trunks…

10 a close-up

And here you see it again in a little more detail.

11 Looking across the Tulip Trees in The Avenue and up the valley

Here we look a little more to the left and up the valley. The yellow in the centre is the double avenue of Tulip Trees (Liriodendron tulipifera). Before the neighbour’s house, a tree from the avenue of Sweetgums (Liquidambar styraciflua) on our border can be seen  behind an avenue of Pin Oaks.

12 Pointilism as practiced by nature

In a close-up from the same spot – who says Seurat invented pointillism?!

13 Tulip trees

I always thought the Tulip Tree was named thus because the unusual leaves look like a child’s drawing of a tulip. Not so; it is the vague resemblance of its flowers that gave the name!

14 The last hydrangea of summer

‘The last hydrangea of summer’ doesn’t quite have the ring of ‘the last rose’, but this one from the planting under the tulip trees sure shows why I love the long season of interest the mopheads give me…

15 Framed 

From under a Tulip Tree – the middle ground colour is from the flowering cherry Prunus ‘Kanzan’ and a Silver Maple, Acer saccharinum.

16 Louis' Liquodamber and others

Most of this colour is from Liquidambars; those in the middle are near The House that Jack Built and the furthest ones are the avenue marching up the hill on our border towards the stand of Sequoia trees (Sequoia sempervirens) which break the horizon and which gave the farm its name.

17 Looking down on Freddy's Dam

Here is a closer view of the same subject, focusing on the crescendo of our autumn compositions: the trees on Freddy’s Dam near The House hat Jack Built. In the centre, the smaller, brighter flame is an orangeTupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) planted right on top of a yellow Persian Ironwood (Parrotia persica) which seemed to be dying but revived the moment there was competition. To their left Liquidambars provide red, orange , yellow and purple; they in turn are backed by an avenue of Pin Oaks. To the right of the flame the rounded shape of a Japanese Maple is in the early stages of turning. Behind them pink and white Dogwoods (Cornus florida) and several different flowering cherries (Prunus sp.) also provide  magnificent autumn colour, as do several different Berberis, Spiraea, Viburnum and an Amelanchier. For now you’ll have to believe me when I mention all this profusion!

18 The road from which many people first see The House that Jack Built

Now we’ve dropped down to the road below the arboretum; here we are in the area across the dam from The House that Jack Built, with maples and flowering cherries providing most of the colour.

18b Cercidiphyllum japonicum

Nearby the Katsura Tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) has the unusual distinction of autumn leaves which smell of burnt sugar… candyfloss comes to mind for most people!

19 The road upstream from Freddy's Dam 

As we move upstream along the road, we see a magnificent Prunus subhirtella pendula surrounded by several fine examples of Acer palmatum atropurpureum group which show various levels of red in their leaves through the seasons, and all turn in different ways in autumn.

20 Close-up of Nyssa leaves

Near here is a fine example of Nyssa sylvatica which I grew from seed – one of the most mouth-watering of all autumn trees.

21 Dogs exploring

The stream is just visible beneath the weeping cherry, the dogs explore, waiting for me to speed up, and my favourite red-leaved plane is showing further down the road.

22 And Doubly following at his own pace

And Doubly follows at his own pace…

23 Red plane leaves

The autumn leaves of a Plane ( Platanus x hispanica)  are usually yellowish. This strong red leaf I found amongst hundreds of typical trees in a nursery  far from Sequoia one autumn. I picked it up nonchalantly, hoping no-one would notice what a treasure I had just collected… it starts to turn in mid-Feb and still has a few leaves at the end of May… nowhere in the literature is a red-leaved plane that grows so strongly recorded…

24 Heading back towards Freddy's Dam

Now we double back to capture the view across the dam…

25 View from the bridge

And eventually I capture the piece de resistance from the bridge, whilst the thirsty dogs create ripples on the water… to see the view from The House that Jack built, go back to my post from two weeks ago.


autumn 1

Last Thursday we saw the sun. And on Friday it didn’t rain at all whilst the 18 ladies from the garden club were here. For the rest… well, we’ve measured 78mm (over 3 inches) on 6 of the last 9 days, much of it in slow, damp, misty drizzles. And the summer rain was supposed to peter out by the end of March.

autumn 5

Not that it is summery anymore. Lack of sun has lead to gradually lowering temperatures, but cloudy nights have kept the minimums high for late April. Autumn limps along, the colour that should by now be a blaze, is rather… well, watery. Still the garden club ladies, all from the sub-tropical area down the mountain, loved my garden, and all including two sprightly and elegant ladies in their late 70s or even 80s undertook the 600m/yard walk around the dams…

autumn 6

These photos I took on Thursday’s recci – which left me rather despondent. So their enthusiasm was  a great boost to me. The first photo I took just beyond “The House that Jack Built”. If one looks out the bay window and sharp right, you see these trees: Liquodambers forming a backdrop to Japanese maples, dogwoods and others, and a maple across the water. The second photo shows mainly a purple-leaved Japanese maple and a weepng flowering cherry, whilst the one above shows my pride and joy: a plane which colours red instead of yellow. None really wow-factor pics…

autumn 8

Here we look back across the dam from under the maple, with the jetty on the right and the entrance to the Rondel Garden beyond the meadow. As I said: all rather watery…

cornus florida 2

This close-up of a dogwood, Cornus florida, gives some idea of what autumn aught to look like by now… will it all be washed out? Or will the slow start mean  colder nights later in the season which, combined with our traditionally sunny warm days, will lead to a more beautiful late autumn?

down a damp path 3

Here the dogs lead the way down a damp path – Mateczka, the five month–old Rhodesian Ridgeback is now taller than the aging Taubie. She is a lovely dog – bright, beautiful and a personality. And Taubie remains my first love among the dogs…

Tupelo and grasses 4 

We were following the path to see how the Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) which I grew from seed was getting along. Its inner leaves were shining orange among the bright greens. Much promise there…

vitis vinifera 7

The Vitis vinifera growing into a tree looks the worse for wear by late summer, but I get great joy from its  dog-eared shabbiness; it has seen summer and is ready for a rest.

Flowering cherry 9

The flowering cherries, on the other hand, manage to look fresh and jewel-like, despite the lack of sun, their brightness a reminder of what autumn may still have in store…


early autumn from the big house

A sense of expectation. The far-off rush of water. A hush with a rush. Late summer creeps inextricably into autumn. Last night’s rain was a summer rain – heavy, thunderous, dramatic. Today hangs between the seasons, waiting. The summer flowers are all but spent, shattered by last night’s rain. Beware: a South African summer has staying power. Sometimes it doesn’t go away till May. Yet autumn can compromise; she can lie with summer, and she can live with winter. But hide her light under a bushel – that she can’t, or won’t, do…