1 Mothers' Garden hedges planted

The hedges are planted! After more than a year in which the rectangle of barren earth needed constant explanation, the Mothers’ Garden is laid out, the hedges planted and the central yew trimmed dramatically in preparation for training as a pyramid. I hummed and hahed before realising the obvious… The pillars of the lower steps must be visible and the yew must not obscure the dam. But it is surprising how long it took me to realise that a pyramid would be the ideal shape. Since the newly laid grass path has a topdressing of compost similar to the beds, it rather disappears at the moment. And in the harsh light the irrigation pipes are the dominant line. But I promise you: when you sit on the bench looking across this view, with the curves of the New Old Rose Garden to your left, the big lawn and the blobby rhythm of the Upper Rosemary Border to your right, and an assortment of trees framing the view and protecting your back… it is, I believe, potentially the most beautiful spot in the garden. You can read about the planning of the garden here. We have revisited the choice of roses and made some changes. Hopefully when we go to Johannesburg at the end of the month we will collect the 26 roses due to go in here. Although quite frankly at this stage I’d be happy for the hedges to settle down first.

2 Ellensgate to new Mothers' Garden

Here is the view from across the big lawn. To the left you can see where we dug up the grass for the paths and are still digging for other lawn work. In the process the upper border is being squared off and enlarged. This will give a new area for annuals and other flowers. I want to start collecting dahlias, as there are a great many old varieties around Haenertsburg. There is a whole new development waiting here! In the process the lawn is now finally surrounded by straight lines – the wavy top border, its shape never really planned, was more and more of an anomaly.

3 Alfred's Arches

When I turned my head from taking the last picture, this is what I saw. With a bit of imagination you can see the water-spout beyond Alfred’s Arches. Last year I decided the Arches, of pussy-willow, had to be cut down and grow out again; then I relented, but in the winter decided that the Arches really were looking tatty. Now I look at them as they start to fill out with young green, and I find the rustic rhythm totally enchanting. What to do? I guess there is so much else that needs doing that this is far from a priority!

4 arboretum reflected

The dogs and I make our way down the Arches, past the Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe (much more of a priority!) and down to the Makou Dam. Where we stop to enjoy the reflections and the thousands of backlit plants in the arboretum.

5 Scilla natelensis on Makou Dam

Along the edge there is a self-sown clump of the beautiful local lily, Scilla natelensis. Usually they choose stony well-drained slopes, but these, perched on the edge 30cm above the water, are blissfully happy. Which makes me so too.

6 Siberian Iries on the makou Dam

Around the corner on the dam wall grow the clump of Siberian irises we first planted there 20 odd years ago, and which we thought had disappeared. As you can see – they are back in force! Then we stop to collect stones for a rosemary bonsai I am preparing as a birthday present for Felicity, my dad’s care-giver and my adopted sister.

Rosemary bonsai

Here it is, settling in in the greenhouse. I know nothing about bonsai and have never attempted it before. I’m sure my rocks overhanging the container break every rule, but I’m quite pleased with the way I managed to arrange the gnarled plant as though it had grown out from amongst the stones, just like the ones I found growing in the garrigue when I was in the south of France… But onward and upward (to quote my blogging friend Frances…)

7 View of formal gardens from arboretum

I stopped to photograph the pink flowering cherry, but it was the view of the garden that intrigued me. Look how neat the hedges are on the left, and how good the Upper Rosemary Border is looking with its regular shrubby rhythm. To the right of the red azaleas (which are looking great against the long blue line of the rosemary hedge) there is over 100m2 of recently planted scatterpack. It is germinating nicely and a green haze lies across the ground there. I’m hoping for a fortissimo display by December. And in the bed below that the cannas are beginning to make an impression.

8 Dogs at the mollis and copper beech 

This is the area I particularly came to see:  the mollis azaleas in shades of yellow and orange near the darkest of our three copper beeches. Let’s take a closer look.

9 Copper beech and orange mo;;is

Difficult to capture the luminous darkness of the beech without the orange of the azalea looking washed out by the strong sunlight.

10 Dark orange mollis

So we need to take a look at the azalea on its own – and even then the light is far from ideal…

11 Yellow Mollis

The yellow one, in the shade, is easier to capture. But what I can’t share is the heavenly scent of these azaleas.

12 Orange mollis

For richness of colour, delicacy and perfume these azaleas are a match for the best roses can offer – what a pity that they flower for only a week or two!

13 Dark yellow Mollis close-up

I spend some time here, treasuring the moment, enjoying the scented shade.

14 Taubie among the azaleas

Taubie agrees and joins me; Mateczka and Abigail snuffle around happily, chase down paths, then come back to check all is OK with us. Monty is away patrolling his territory, probably entertaining visitors at the Cheerio tea-garden, relishing his role as the alpha male (human and otherwise) of the valley…

15 Mollis and Copper beech in arboretum

All in all it is a good place to be… especially at this time of year.

16 The Avenue


New seating area

I promised a view of the completed seating area; like most newly completed garden features, it makes an unsatisfactory subject: not even I can see the Coralbark Maples planted in the three pots to the right; the foreground is decidedly raw and the various stumps beyond the seats make no visual sense. Not to mention the fact that the very utilitarian garden tap, deliberately included in the design, rather dominates the foreground despite the presence of Abigail. But last Sunday I came upon two ladies enjoying their picnic lunch here, even before the garden was completed. Mission accomplished.

The season would not be complete without a few sweeping views of the azaleas in flower. So here goes. All these photos were taken up in the arboretum, specifically along the bank of azaleas that rises all the way up the slope between the tulip trees which form The Avenue.

Azaleas at a junction 

Azaleas en masse

Azaleas in popping colours

Azaleas in toning colours

azaleas up the avenue

Lastly some views at the Lilypond, where the wisteria has spectacular long trusses and the Mothertjie rose has now grown to flower throughout the indigenous  Rhamnus prinoides tree which hosts it known as a Blinkblaar (Bright Leaf) or, more confusingly considering our dramatically flowering American versions, as a Dogwood.


lilypond 2

lilypond panorama 1


I am in Johannesburg, busy with a marketing expo for Warriors, but I hear the garden is again wet and cold. An ideal build-up to the spring fair, especially as we planted up pots and annuals during the week, and sowed over 150m2 (150 sq. yards) of scatterpack – the annual meadow mix flowers which were spectacularly successful several years ago, but which I’ve not repeated since.

After all the close-ups over the last two posts, lets take a look at the bigger picture. The arboretum is often now a closed view down a path, suddenly opening up to bigger views and even distant views, and from some spots a panorama down onto the main formal gardens in front of the big house. The thousands of azaleas planted here are starting to flower…

Along the top edge of the arboretum there is an avenue of crab-apples, looking magnificent en masse.

And even more magnificent in detail…

This is Malus floribunda – and abundantly it flowers! Malus purpurea might not be purple, but as is so often the case with plants, ‘purpurea’ indicates a darkness of leaf and flower. I love these dusky shades!

Near the top end of Freddie’s Dam there is a viburnum which has a short magnificent flowering season when its scent spreads far and wide. I’m certain I know what it is called, but I don’t have my resources with me to check… beyond it against the water is the purple new-leaved maple I referred to in my previous post.

Here is a close-up of the flowers – both beautiful and scented. For the rest of the year it is, like so many viburnums, a very non-descript shrub.

And here it is again because – well, why not?

Nearby are some dogwood trees – Cornus florida. Their ‘flowers’ are in fact bracts which start expanding in August and last through to October –much longer than the fragile blossoms!

In the close-up you can see the tiny flowers which are surrounded by the bracts.

I also have a red version of which I am extraordinarily proud.

Another shrub or small tree which does well with  us, and of which I am proud, is Magnolia, considered to be one of the most primitive flowering plants.  This one is M. x soulangiana. It has a fist-sized fleshy flower, heavily scented of… soap. That is merely because I got to know the scented soap before the flower. It only slightly dulls my pleasure in it!

So where does that leave us? With more blossoms to explore, in particular the various pyrus (pears) and prunus (cherries, almonds etc.); here is a taste. I’ll need to get home and get my camera out for more.

One last indulgence. Wisteria. In particular the wisteria and japonica together in the Anniversary Garden.


wisteria and japonica

One last one… in the bed up against the house the first diaramas shoot from nothingness to ther mauve flowers in only a week or two. They combine rather dramatically with the last of the orange aloes…


MountainGetaways spring cover

On Monday we collect the next edition of MountainGetaways from the printers, in good time for the Spring Festival. Louis designed the front page with the spring theme taking up the whole of the upper half of the cover, instead of just the masthead. As I sit here in short sleeves, spring is suddenly alarmingly close, even though everything is still quite grey’nbeige and I thought it time to wet your appetite – and that of the growing number of potential visitors to Sequoia Gardens who visit my blog – with a few spring pictures from the past. All of them were taken at Sequoia Gardens…

Arboritum & its creator

Here my father poses proudly in the arboretum (‘collection of trees’) which was his great project through the 90s and which is now looking very impressive.

The Avenue

Marching up between two rows of widely spaced Tulip Trees is an avenue of azaleas. Later in the year the dense canopy of large leaves shield blue and white hydrangeas; still later the autumn leaves are a bright and cheerful yellow.

azaleas in arboretum

Another part of the arboretum; evergreens and deciduous trees of all kinds abound.

Arboritum 3

The deciduous azaleas, usually in shades of yellow and flame, are often beautifully scented as well.

Crabapples and azaleas and more and more green

Blossoms, azaleas, and the freshness of the first greens – these are what spring is about on the mountain.

Wisteria & Iris

However Sequoia Gardens offers much else besides… here we have Wisteria and Bearded Iris…

wisteria and japonica 2

…and Wisteria and Japonica.


In fact Wisteria features all over Sequoia Gardens, sometimes in formal settings, sometimes scrambling through trees, or even self-supported.

Pond and wisteria

First roses in the Anniversary Garden 2

Wisteria with long racemes

Here are a few more photos, taken during late September and early October at Sequoia Gardens.

Japanese maples- young leaves

The delicacy of the early leaves of some Japanese maples have to be seen to be believed!

Purple Japanese maple coming into leaf

To begin with there is very little green, but gradually the leaves on the trees change the whole density of the views, and in a gentle year the soft greens of the young growth are one of the overriding impressions of spring.

early spring

05Oct8 spring from big house


Spring splendour

I do think I prefer the delicate signs of spring to the in-your-face brightness of massed azaleas…

Spring Bride

…but that doesn’t stop me from getting as carried away as everyone else when I have a camera in hand! Winking smile

azalea colour

colour 15

colour 6

Why don’t you pay us a visit and come see for yourself?!


“Die Rooi Gevaar”: Afrikaans for ‘The Red Danger’, the threat of communism taking over our beloved country, the refrain I grew up with. In fact, it was really ‘Die Swart Gevaar’ – the black danger – that they had in mind, but they cleverly turned the fight against dark-hued South Africans into the fight against Soviet and Chinese imperialism.

Red azalea 

Cynical as I was about the apartheid government’s real motives, I was still deeply indoctrinated against the evil of communism. I will never forget my horror when in London at the age of eighteen – and a sophisticated eighteen by anyone’s standards at that – I discovered that Great Britain actually allowed a Soviet embassy in their country. I crossed to the opposite pavement when passing it.

Glorious red azalea

This no-no is possibly why the flirtation of many a Thirties intellectual with communism has  fascinated me ever since. The youngsters who lived through the Great Depression were looking for a system which was fair and which made sense. Communism seemed to be the answer.

Red rose 2

One such was the poet Cecil Day-Lewis, who was a member of the British Communist Party from 1935-1938. He wrote this poem in 1935, obviously deeply under the impression of the irony of how far-fetched Marlowe’s rural idyll had become.

Come, live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
Of peace and plenty, bed and board,
That chance employment may afford.

I’ll handle dainties on the docks
And thou shalt read of summer frocks:
At evening by the sour canals
We’ll hope to hear some madrigals.

Care on thy maiden brow shall put
A wreath of wrinkles, and thy foot
Be shod with pain: not silken dress
But toil shall tire thy loveliness.

Hunger shall make thy modest zone
And cheat fond death of all but bone –
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love

Hose-in-hose red

Thankfully the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 signalled the end of Soviet  power and the (red) corner the South African Government had painted itself into. By February 1990 the ANC had been unbanned and the intricate journey to the first multi-racial elections in 1994 could begin.

Rosa moyesii 'Geranium'

There is a parallel story. After decades of apologies for capitalism, Margaret Thatcher, ‘the best man for the job’, burst upon the scene in the late Seventies, followed soon after by Bill Gates (how’s that for simplification Winking smile?) and the world embarked on forty years of unprecedented economic growth.

Small-flowered red azalea

Capitalism was not only celebrated, but communism was trounced, and soon billion-dollar decisions were being taken by people who never knew anything other than prosperity. The glory of the system was taken for granted, and like (we now know) the universe would continue to expand, not only in our lifetimes, but for millions of years to come, so would economies continue to grow and the world would become more and more prosperous.

Berberis thunbergii atropurperea nana detail

With precious little understanding of economics, I was one of the sceptics who felt that something would sooner or later prick the bubble, and the whole late-twentieth-century economic edifice would come tumbling down.  It seems, I am sad to say, to be happening.

Photinia Red Robin

And as philosophers debate, and protestors protest the graspingness of it all, I sense that we return to the fundamental questions that led a century and a half ago to the various economic theories our modern world was based on, and amid the confusion humanity tries to rebuild its  systems.

General Gallieni

So far we have been relatively lucky in South Africa. A third world economy where mining, agriculture and basic production, rather than services and sophisticated consumer demands are the order, we have not felt the extremes of the meltdown. Yet.

Red Lettuce

But I am beginning to wonder if the science-fiction possibility I have considered often in the past – of the world becoming an inhospitable and unmanageable place – is  not perhaps becoming true. If being on this farm, in this climate, with these people, is not perhaps going to make it possible to survive on the chickens we keep and the vegetables we grow.

Vegetable Garden

Then I laugh and shrug it off. No. I shrug and laugh it off, and think ‘Why, yes, it might be ten percent true in the years to come, or even twenty. The world economy is going to have to become simpler, and self-sufficiency more desirable, and every man and woman on this planet is going to have to adapt to the changes in some way. And whatever those changes are, I’d rather face them here than anywhere else in the world. With him who is going to live with me and be my love.”

Prunus cerasifera nigra


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

azalea view

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

azalea with a face detail

Cheerful, hey! Smile

Prunus Kanzan

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

Prunus Kanzan 2



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

Fluffy Prunus 2

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

Fluffy Prunus 3

Everywhere there are azaleas…

Clematis in pinoak, azaleas showing through

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

appleblossom azalea

Large mauve azalea

Pale pink azalea

Pink azalea

Pink rosebud azalea

Pinky-mauve azalea

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

pink-tinted white azalea

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

small white azalea

White azalea 2

White azalea 3

White azalea

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

White garden

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

Ellensgate and White Gardens

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

Ellensgate fountain refurbished

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

Pink deciduous azalea

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

Salmon deciduous azalea

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

Pale deciduous azalea

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

Dark pink decideous azalea

Pale pink deciduous azalea no 2

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

Pink deciduous azalea detail 2

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

Yellow deciduous azalea in arboretum

Curry deciduous azalea in arboretum

Decideous orange azalea

Yellow deciduous azalea

Yellow deciduous azalea no 2 detail

Pink deciduous azalea detail

Pale deciduous azalea

Yellow-Pink deciduous azalea

Enough? Smile One more?

Yellow-Pink deciduous azalea 2

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

dogs 2

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

The House that Jack Built




With those words a radio program from my youth called ‘Open House’ started week after week. I remember nothing of it, I guess there was a visitor who then shared stories and favourite music. Anyway – we’ve had open house at Sequoia!

1 New visitors entrance

The week-long Haenertsburg Spring Festival started on Saturday. We were ready – for the first time we were officially open to day visitors and we had three cottages to let. The signage went up last week, and all three cottages were fully booked for the weekend.

2 Visitors entance and notice board

The post box next to the information board is made of thick solid copper plate. When Louis bought his house ten years ago and threw it out, painted with peeling black and white paint, I claimed it. It has finally been put to (more or less) the use I envisaged for it: I don’t charge an entrance fee, but the pictures top left on the board are of our Rotary Club’s projects, and I request that a donation to the club be put in the box. Count after two days: just on 200 rand, which is only about half of what I would have got if I’d charged an entrance fee… Come on people – give! On the information board there also are maps and information sheets, and a pouch with business cards.

3 Boiling pot - final form

The ‘Boiling Pot’ in its final incarnation. The pots I bought for the four arms of the cross looked hopelessly small and out of scale. So we constructed the bench you see in the above photos for them and the four corners became merely textural changes, contained by painted galvanised plate. As so often happens, simplicity was the answer!

4 Visitors to the garden - incl DG

On Saturday the dogs and I got to take a proper walk for the first time in days. I HAD to photograph visitors to the garden… moments later I discovered that the couple behind this lady were good friends from Johannesburg – last year’s Rotary District Governor (like the annual regional president) and his wife. What a lovely surprise!

But it is spring, and I guess I owe you a few wow pictures of spring on the mountain – so here goes!

5 Mateczka among the azaleas

Up in the arboretum some azaleas demonstrate why we are most famous, despite all the other joys we offer throughout the year, for our spring display of azaleas and blossoms. Mateczka’s joy was entirely related to our walk, and had little to do with aesthetic appreciation  (I think…)

6 Mateczka among the azaleas2

More subtle, but infinitely more precious are moments like this…

7 Mateczka at the changing maple

This Japanese maple by the water’s edge has the most delicate of red leaves in spring. Within less than a month they are green like those of its neighbour. But for now, fleetingly, the delicacy of their colour is the most beautiful sight on Sequoia!

8 Changing Maple - detail

Let us return to the arboretum, where the view over the garden includes the wisteria in the Anniversary Garden, going fortissimo now, and an ever expanding number of trees whose  leaves are showing their first sparkling green.

9 House from arboretum

Postscript; This was written on Monday evening. By now it is Wednesday evening. I have completely lost the ability to get onto the internet on the computer on which my blog-writer is installed Sad smile So I had to come in to school where I can connect it to the school’s network in order to post. And Tuesday and Wednesday just sped past… My new life will include new internet at whatever price. I better start investigating!


White azaleas from cottage

How to begin to share a mid-October walk in the garden with you… especially as I’ve not had too much opportunity this last week to enjoy it, so there were endless unexpected surprises this Saturday afternoon: roses coming on, irises in bloom, late azaleas – and leaves leaves leaves. But the winning shot was obvious. This set-piece view from The House that Jack Built was originally designed to be seen for as long as possible in the fading light on my few visits to the cottage when I still lived in Johannesburg. It was rather nice to chance upon it suddenly, rather than watch it come slowly to fruition as I did for several years whilst living permanently in the cottage. And last year I think it passed me by entirely: this was the last week of the seven week vigil by my mother’s side.


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

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

Dad among the azaleasAzaleas 3Azaleas 2 Azaleas 4Azaleas 5

Azaleas 10 Azaleas 6Azaleas 7Azaleas 9

Azaleas 3

Azaleas 8