A thought: I have always been irritated by puns and alliteration in headings to articles, especially in garden magazines. Why am I so intent  then on perpetrating this aberration? Perhaps because ‘Autumn gathers momentum’ is a little lame…? But to illustrate my theme, here are four near identical compositions taken on the 7th, 14th, 18th and 20th of this month.

Tulip trees in The Avenue

Autumn from the guest room

panorama on autumn

Lucas collecting seed

In the last photo Lucas Letsoalo, my foreman, is wondering through the garden at midday, collecting seed. Although right here I think he is proudly admiring a somewhat belated summer feature. We sowed a packet of striped zinnia seed I wanted to experiment with, together with eight or so bedraggled dahlia tubers  found in the back of a cupboard, and due to have been planted in October. This was in late January or even February…

Zinnias & dahlias 1

Three of the dahlias survived and are in flower. After feeling iffy about the zinnias when they started blooming, they have now grown on me. It must be six or eight years since we bought in zinnia seed, and our crop has gradually stood up less well to inspection; one of the reasons I bought the striped seeds. Meanwhile I have been marking local dahlias, most the descendants of ones planted 50 years ago in the village, for begging, stealing and propagating from next year. I want a dahlia wow. One of my staff brought me three plants last month of a wine-red pom-pom grown by the thousands in the local rural townships, all possibly descended from one plant. Talk about cottage gardening in the true sense of the word!  I had commented on how lovely they were when I took them home on a Friday afternoon. Besides – I remember peering over a garden wall on tip-toe (the wall must have been all of 80cm -2 1/2 feet – high) and standing enthralled before just such a pompom… I digress.

Zinnias & dahlias 2

In search of a late summer splash, I am looking at combining the dahlias and zinnias. This is what this little experiment is about. Jewel colours…

Zinnias & dahlias 3

Zinnias, of all flowers, have always to me had the most beautiful colours. Is it an aberration to stripe them?… I have yet to decide.

Zinnia 1

Rather lovely, this one…

Zinnia 3

Hmmm…. perhaps a bit busy?

Zinnia 6

Ho-hum… or no: I think I like it!

Zinnia 5

Oh come on. Nothing is quite as grey as a white zinnia. And you call those STRIPES!?!

Zinnia 4

Now that’s rather lovely! But hey – we’re talking stripes.Where are they? Or is that picotee? Wait a moment. This is an autumn post. Not a planning-late-summer-one…

Maples from the arboretum

On a walk through the arboretum the maples are magnificent; the red in the foreground is Acer palmatum, the yellow is A. saccharinum – Japanese and Silver maples. Below is A. rubrum – the Red maple, against a Japanese maple.

Acer Rubrum & palmatum

Under the pin-oaks in Oak Avenue, against a backdrop of hydrangeas and at this stage still towering over a young indigenous tree-fern (Cyathea gregii) stands a super-elegant Japanese maple. I’m pretty certain that composition is unique in the world!

Maple under Oak Ave

 And talking hydrangeas – take a look at these beautifully bleached blue ones, from the mass at the end of the Beech axis, seen against the Silver Maples we saw in an earlier photo.

Hydrangeas against Silver Maples

Beautiful, no?

Hydrangeas against Silver Maples2

And very good with red – Cornus florida in this case…

Cornus florida

Well, I could carry on – falling (as it were) into an ever more colourful autumn adulation. Perhaps it is time to stop and head for bed Winking smile


Cornus florida BY FLASH

If the third week of April means it is now really autumn, let there be red, I say. In fact we seem to be a touch slow this year, but only an extensive comparison of year-on-year photo records can prove anything. And usually it proves how consistent nature really is. Anyway, most autumnal at the moment is the Cornus florida at the Embarkment, more so when photographed by flash in the fading light, which further accentuates the lighter, somewhat silver shades on the back of the elegantly curved leaves. Action plan for Sunday: spend time in the garden with the camera!


Playing with light 1

Gardening Gone Wild’s theme for the April photo contest is light. I consciously set out to play with it today, but I was too late – the sun disappeared after my first shot, although the later light was still lovely. Interestingly, I preferred this shot with its flare to the one I took with the lens protected – but it still far from a competition entry.

Cornus florida in autumn

Next up, playing with the camera. I had the tripod with me,  so depth of field and slow shots were possible, and I  had a lot of fun with subjects I might not otherwise have attempted. This is a Cornus florida, well on its way to autumn.

Jade hydrangea

Especially where they are well shaded, the hydrangeas still have lovely colour. A darker blue has taken on a jade green patina, whereas paler blues are a soft lime green now.

Green hydrangea

With a thin layer of pink clouds providing indirect and filtered light, it was the sculpted quality of the leaves that I really enjoyed. What other plant has such perfect leaves so late in the summer? And how beautifully the subtle shades of green in the flowers compliment the leaves.

Pinoak - a little manipulated

The Pin Oak at the bottom end of Quercus Corner was looking lovely in this light, but I had a bit of fun in photoshop, exploring the drama posterization can add to a pic.

Purple Japanese maple and Weeping Cherry

The way the stream flows below the darkest of our purple Japanese maples and the weeping cherry is always lovely, even if it is difficult to capture on camera.

Looking across the work in progress - universe garden

That was light then, and camera; time for the action. We have not been idle in The Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe. (If you are lost, I wrote about this new project last week; you will find it here.)  After some contemplating  of the site I decided that the change in levels had to be accentuated. (Note: the valley was tilled using a mule-drawn single plough until the late fifties and seed potatoes were planted. The steep terrain was vaguely terraced into narrow, less steep areas, and these lines still run across my garden. The Rosemary Terrace is one of those terraces, and the Imperfect Universe lies on the next terrace down.) We did some digging and removed a pick-up plus trailer load of soil – about 1 1/2 tons. Then we went and cut some invader wattles down  on my cousin’s boundary line. They will be used to create a woven retaining wall, so that the flowers are looked down on from the upper level as well as from the ‘stepping stones’. The wall is being prepared and pictures will follow. The remaining smaller rounds from the eucalyptus trunks have been brought on site.

Progress report - the Universe garden

I  have also been planning the details of constructing the fountain. Instead of copper plate (horrendously expensive), I will use galvanised sheeting painted with copper-coloured hammertone paint. Lovely, but hellishly expensive too. I have bought a meter length of eighty mm galvanised irrigation pipe (also not cheap) and the necessary fittings to mount it on two standpipes. This will be the jig on which the chute is shaped. And I have been onto bidorbuy looking for the decrepit remains of a brass musical instrument for the water to well up through at the centre of the garden. The Celestial Trumpet, so to speak…

Oh, and looking at the photos – we have started cutting back the hedge which must form the perfect backdrop to the Rosemary Border. It is amazing how much it has outgrown its space: the pillar from which I took  picture as well as its mate with the pot on it just before the ‘ dustbin’, were completely  grown over. Next year we will cut back the opposite side of the hedge. And next week we will run a horizontal line along the top to see if we can get away with not having any steps along both this elevation and the bottom end of the Anniversary Garden. I can not tell you how much that simple line will mark the divide between the old order and the new in my gardening life!


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