Spotted canna

In my previous post I promised some more summery pics to show that autumn was not all… Now as I read about England caught in yet more snow, I think it is time for a colour injection. These photos were taken on last weekend’s walk, and summer heat is still with us although some early mornings have called for a sleeve.

yellow and red cannas

These cannas grow below the old barn – the red is a species (or near species I grew from seed collected some 25 years ago and the yellow is a later acquisition. The spotted canna was only planted this summer, given to me by my father from a single plant he planted a few years back in Johannesburg, and which was recently divided and moved.

Cannas and patient dogs

The above photo from 5 years back when my lovely Border Collie was still with us shows this area as a whole – and here you will find a post from 3 years back on a canna garden I wish to revisit!

Local kniphofia

This Red Hot Poker grew wild on the farm and we moved into the Cottage Garden some years ago. Its season is short but dramatic.

Fallen cosmos

One last pic for now (most other flowers are white and can wait); this is a dark cosmos, blown over and seen against the weathered brick of the wall below it  – rather a nice way of seeing these dramatically simple daisies I think!


By the time I publish this I will have been home a week – but there hasn’t been much time for my blog, or even for photography. So this will be a rather random photo-essay, impressions after two weeks away. The continuation of my story about my dad and Sequoia will have to wait. It needs time to prepare. But since we ended with the arrival of The Plett, let us start off there today.

Plett today

There was a rather similar angle of The Plett as it arrived. Last year I added the 2nd roof and pergola and expanded on the gardening around The Plett. It is looking lovely, as the following photos (almost) show.

Plett Garden developing

Creepers are making their way up the pillars and the paved area is surrounded by lush shrubs and perennials.

Plett Garden

Privacy between The Plett and the big house improves every week and this garden area is fast becoming THE place to explore. This path is a reminder of the route The Plett followed to get here.

Detail from Plett Garden

In addition there is plenty of scope for cuttings of new perennials from here… I wander down to inspect other parts of the garden. The big lawn is looking neat and finished, although not one plant from the past-their-sell-by-date seed packs we planted in the straightened lower edge of the top bed germinated. Good. Room for perennials then!

Looking across big lawn

The pale orange dahlias that were planted too late last summer have recovered fully and make a strong statement. My plan is to document and collect from the vast variety of old dahlias around the village and neighbouring gardens that have survived since the heyday of the dahlia half a century ago…

Summer greens with dahlias in foreground

This one (bought new though) will start the collection. One thing I did learn – not that one doesn’t know this of dahlias: beware which colours you plant where!

Dahlias towards Plett

The magenta-purple dahlia on the right is all wrong! Luckily it is also of very short stature; it will be moved. This soft orange is ideal. We have pure yellow pompoms (although there is already rather too much pure yellow around) and clear reds of an orange rather than purple shade will work here; also the many russets growing around my cousin’s staff house, survivors from the terraced gardens next door… One thing I learnt late last summer: dahlias can be moved when not quite dormant and still survive, and that is what I plan to do later in the summer!

My purples

Before moving on I admire my favourite plant combination in the whole garden, seen in the background of the last dahlia pic. It gives me pleasure for at least ten months of the year! Then I turn to the Upper Rosemary Border.

Upper Rosemary Border

It is looking lush and richly textured. Not for the first time my mind wonders to the impossibility of achieving such richness in time for the Spring Festival when much in my garden has yet to awake…

Mozart Rose

This is Mozart, a Hybrid Musk rose much like Ballerina (and my own Cascade Rose)  but larger and more inclined to sprawl. Each year it has looked better, spilling over other plants in this border.

Cardinal Hume

And here, finally, is a good shot of the cardinal red of Cardinal Hume which grows close by in this border. Below – a more general shot again of the varied plants in the Upper Rosemary Border.

Upper Rosemary Border 2

And yes – if the plant dead centre looks suspiciously like a weed – it is! One of my favourite weeds. With great anticipation I turn to investigate the Lower Rosemary Border where the scatterpacks of annual seeds were just beginning to flower when last I was here…

Meadow planting

Mmm… at first glance, disappointment. A little selene which we already have, dominates, followed by gypsophila and a few yellow daisies. But there are signs of more to come, although I don’t think we can expect the exuberance of the last sowing, some 5 years ago. This morning I returned with my camera for a few close-ups…

Dominant selene Selene close-up

Here are the selenes. Like so many flowers, there is just too much of magenta and too little of pink about them. Below are a pair of blue flowers.

A tiny blue daisy Blue weed

On the left a blue daisy which could be one of any number of ‘blue daisies’; on the right something I know as a weed of sandy riverbeds, but a flower I’ve always admired. Rather like a morning glory in appearance, it is carried on a fleshy shrub-like plant with spiky leaves, and if I’m not mistaken forms a large spiky seed capsule. I shall have to identify it and check how weedy it will be in our climate; in fact I wonder how a lone plant ended up in my seed mix… 

Wine red cosmos Nemesias and gypsophilla

A wine-red cosmos hints at the rich colours to come, and a variety of nemesias and gypsophila show that all is not magenta…

Nemesia red and yellow Nemesia blue & white 

In fact, it is worth seeking out the nemesias and coming in close to see their delicious colours.

Colour contrast

Searching through the bed I start to find the startling clashes and serendipitous blends that so enchanted me during the last incarnation of this garden. I believe it will be a success after all…


Satiated, I turn to the next bed down – the groupings of cannas. And am enchanted by the sinuous lines that characterise this part of the garden.

canna bed

On I go, crossing the wall of the Makou Dam.

Makou Dam

Stopping to look back across the garden I think – I know not for the last time – ‘How I would love Dad to be standing beside me looking back at what we have achieved!’

Across Makou Dam

And on, up into the arboretum.

Mothers'  Garden

The Mothers’ Garden still awaits its roses, but over the next days I will clip its hedges. I took the big Toyota Condor seen in front of the garages – a 4×4 based on a Malaysian commercial vehicle, simple, cavernous and ideal for transporting both goods and people, and even for sleeping in when camping (and of course now off the market, leaving a gaping void waiting to be filled) – to Johannesburg in late November, intending to buy the roses. But life took over…

Double Rugosa Rose

In the arboretum I find the double  Rugosa flowering. I must propagate this intriguing rose. Grown from species seed, like all my Rosa rugosas, this one is double instead of single. Whether it is a mutation or in fact a cross I suppose I will never know. But I suspect it to be a mutation as the colour, growth and leaf is stock-standard.

Beech Border axis hydrangeas

Onwards I go, enjoying being on the farm again with my dogs, finding the new sights of the season, and listening to the rush of summer waters…

Freddie's Dam overflow


End of winter cannas

I had to document this – the canna bed below the old stone barn, in summer a potently green and colourful spot (see it here), as it looks after the winter frosts and august winds have got to it… a symbol now of winter. Last Sunday, on one of the coldest nights we’ve ever had (I measured –4 up at the house, possibly –8 down by the stream) the water pump iced up and cracked its cast iron housing. Damage: a new pump at R3300 or about US$400 Sad smile. Hopefully I can get a replacement part and keep it as a back-up pump.

Winter still has its charms

But the past week also brought 4.5mm of misty rain over two days, and suddenly spring did not seem an impossibility as the first leaves and blossoms popped. That is what I wish to show you, but at the end of a beautifully warm and restful Sunday afternoon with friends on the veranda, the light made me rush in to take one last truly wintery pic.

Prunus cerasifera 'Nigra'

The delicate blossoms of this Prunus cerasifera ‘Nigra’ always take us by surprise, but their arrival was doubly exciting, following as it did on the first rain in over 3 months.

Prunus padus

First of the trees to sprout fresh green leaves are the bird cherries, Prunus padus, and they too seemed to erupt from the unexpected rain! And thus, only days after the worst cold of the winter, I can report that spring is on its way… To finish off – that great bridge between winter and spring, the witch hazel, which flowers in its time, come frost or sun.



Winter on the Makou dam

I know choosing lifeless cannas, straw-like lawns and endless grey twigs is bound to invoke a rather cheerless picture of winter, but I’m not there yet. That happens in early August; the way Northerners feel in Feb. At this stage I am still revelling in the water which seems so green now that it is so cold, the monotones and the shutdown that happens after heavy frosts. Perhaps the next photo, of Leonitus ocymifolia  gives a cheerier impression. This is a self-planted wilding, and its winter baubles give me more joy than its furry orange salvia-like flowers do, sticking out of the balls in fours and fives in summer. It is so wintery, and yet so graphic. Now all I need do is get there early in the morning and catch the baubles frosted in the first sunlight. Deal!

Wildedagga Leonitus ocymifolia

I watched for the otters, but the water was still. A Woolly-necked Stork flew over, but either we disturbed it or it was on its way to nest elsewhere anyway. I think they have found the bluegum rather chilly of late. Two Black Ducks flew over at low altitude, complaining, and moved on to Freddy’s Dam. The dogs ratted amongst the cannas, and Mateczka took herself on a mad run, slicing through the cannas at times for the tearing-silk noise it made. God was around also.


pic Feb1

The 3rd evening of the month already, and still no post. But then, as I thought wryly last night as I arrived home after a 13 hour day away from home, I’ve not had too much time to think gardening of late, let alone do it… The afternoon of the 1st of Feb however provided a wonderful opportunity for a walk, the third sunny day in a row. I took many photos, but one grouping stood out as the unique event to record. Last year I moved my dramatically stripy cannas into the Lower Rosemary Border, and spread them wide so that they could multiply freely. I am treating it like a propagating bed. This summer an essentially weedy plant decided to move in with the cannas. It is of the lamiaceae or mint family, for sure, but which one none of my books could tell me. Perhaps it is exotic, a weed indeed, but I doubt it. Its flowers are a mere 6 or 8 mm across their widest parts, but delicately marked. It has filled the space between the cannas, and its airiness makes for an unusual contrast with the solidity of the cannas. They are backed by the rosemary hedge and the wall beyond the lawn supporting the Upper Rosemary Terrace, and joined by a few welcome rudbeckias. A charming and unplanned association.



Backlit Borders

“A weekly pic is just that,” I said sternly to myself, “ONE pic!” And so I decided to write a separate post on the various wild flowers currently in the garden, and stick to the weekly pic as a typical moment in the garden at a particular time of year…

What makes this charming but technically suspect picture typical? A walk is a late afternoon activity in February. It is hot and muggy; the rain has been slight these last two weeks, so things don’t cool down as often as one would wish. And so the enjoyment of the garden often includes slanting golden light. This is the canna bed below the Rosemary Borders, with the Makou Dam in the background. The foreground is in fact an embarrassing mess, further proof that both gardens and people are greatly improved by flattering lighting.

As for the wild flowers – watch this space! I have been very slow on the blog of late, and need to prioritise it again…


1 Cannas

This I have to share! On Friday our local Garden Club took a 90km trip to a beautiful lavender farm  and its energetic owner, a charming woman who creates beauty as far as she goes. There I met  her neighbour for the second time. We are distant relations; our grandmothers were cousins. Questions were asked about my garden and when I said that my cannas had been very good this year, she invited me to go across to see hers, as they were her pride and joy in a lovely garden. Off we went and luckily along went my camera!

d 2 Cannas c 1 Cannas
b 3 Cannas a 4 Cannas
f 5 cannas e 6 Cannas

I saw cannas in colours I’d never seen before: soft yellows and oranges, gorgeous peachy shades, something she called puce, which I always thought was grey-brown, but I see the dictionary defines as dark red or purple-brown; it is pictured top left, and I would describe it as a dusky red. Leaves in every shade of green, through brown or red-tinged to the dark leaves I have. And bicolours, spotted, striped and fringed, some overlaid, so that when you see a petal from below it is quite different to the view from above.

3 Cannas 

And all of them planted in a gorgeous muddle, so that the distinctions between the various shades created a rich texture, and even the pinks which I avoid with my many bright oranges, looked lovely in the mix.

4 Cannas 

The whole set in a garden of equal richness, a cottagy mix of colours and plants that I love.

5 Cannas

And the garden in its turn is set in flat farmland plains, with beautiful mountains in the near distance.

6 Cannas

Something really excited me – and that was the way the cannas were at times combined with roses. Usually their colours blended, but my mind started racing… There are many lovely roses that I have always thought too brash and not used. I have visions of combining them now with cannas.

7 Cannas

Other plants can after all contrast dramatically as well as tone in with cannas…

8 Cannas

I have the perfect place for this new planting: right at the entrance to the farm where I am fixing up the Croft Cottage to let out to holiday makers.

9 Cannas

There they can form a dramatic welcome to visitors and contribute to the Croft Cottage’s own immediate setting. Here it is, pictured below: on the far left the hydrangeas and cannas that have featured on my blog during the last ten days can just be seen and the barn is hidden by the tree separating the area in front of Croft Cottage from the massed cannas. To the right is an elm tree (Ulmus parvifolia) and a Pin Oak (Quercus palustris)  that form the lower end of a dense planting along the road. At the moment they are underplanted with azaleas, with the area on their sunny side (on their left) due for development as part of the Croft Cottage’s garden.

Croft Cottage taking shape

I shall replace the azaleas in the shade with a rich mix of blue hydrangeas, and, on a smaller scale than a little further on, plant the slope with a mix of my cousin’s cannas and  brightly coloured roses against a backdrop of climbing roses, clematis and honeysuckle on trellises. What a colour-burst to greet visitors over the Christmas season, the height of our summer holidays! Especially visitors from Europe and America, escaping the cold of a drab winter… I am so excited!

10 Cannas

And so a visit to the garden of a fellow canna enthusiast and distant relation, a beautiful garden of the type I most admire, an unexpected interlude in a lovely afternoon, inspired the perfect solution to a problem I am currently grappling with… I can’t wait for cousin Audrey to visit so that I can show her my garden and how she has helped me to find a solution!

11 Cannas

Thank you, Cousin Audrey!


Standing right in among the cannas – a new experience!

I promised a post on cannas – and this is for all of you facing dazzling, beautiful, overwhelming WHITE at the moment!

What could be sunnier?

Allthough in mid-summer the flowers are very impressive, they are not the main reason I grow cannas.

Flame effects that not even dahlias can match.

Although I bet right now you don’t believe me!

Flowers fortissimo!

No – I grow cannas for their leaves which give many months of joy.

Young canna leaves

Of these the most beautiful is known as  ‘Durban’  or  ‘Tropicanna’ or sometimes, incorrectly as someone tried to register it under this name, as  ‘Phasion’.

Durban is South Africa’s most tropical city; Tropicanna is a good name for this exquisite leaf! But the joys of cannas can also be much more subtle…

And not all flowers are brash.

In fact sometimes they can be as delicate as irises.

Most cannas today are hybrids and it seems species names are not readily attached, much like with roses. Sometimes they are incorrectly referred to as Canna x hybrida, or even more incorrectly as C. hybrida.

However we do have some species cannas. The small flowers belong to two sub-species of Canna indica. The lovely red one, with a red margin and tinge to the leaf and lovely dark seed-heads seems to me to be  C.i. var. warszewiczi.

 Then we have a thug, a boring, invasive plant which we try constantly to eradicate. It looks very similar, but is relentlessly green, with tiny yellow and red flowers. It seems to be called Canna indica var. maculata.

We have another and quite unusual species canna, Canna iridiflora, with elegant, hanging flowers in a lovely shade of pink.

You might have seen it before where it grows in the lower Rosemary Border.

You might also remember the massed cannas really showing off their lovely leaves in the third photograph over here.

Here are a few more cannas to brighten your day.

And lastly – the bright yellow canna, which we have unfairly neglected.


As summer heats up, so do the cannas.  I like to use them in huge swathes with their wonderful leaves as the main attraction and the flowers as a bonus – to begin with; later they become a liability when they become tatty seedheads.  Here they are against the old barn near the entrance to the farm.  I have cannas with bright green leaves, yellow and green stripes, deep purple-brown leaves and the wonderfully multi-coloured ‘Durban’, also known as ‘Tropicanna’.   Their flowers are mostly a rich burnt orange or bright red, but there are creamy yellows and bright yellows and red/yellow combos.  Then there is a rather insipid (for a canna) pink which must be kept miles away from other cannas.  One of my favourites is the  tiny but very elegant species canna with rich red flowers, beautifully coloured stems and deep purple-brown seedheads.  Actually, I think a follow-up post on my various cannas is called for!