The story of late autumn colour continues. Liquidambar formosana does not colour nearly as dramatically as the more common L. styraciflua. But it turns very late in the season, slowly and impressively, and suddenly this last week I’ve become aware of the trees planted along Park Lane in the arboretum and at the entrance to the farm, behind Croft Cottage. Coming to think of it – these ‘lesser’ trees have been given very important places, and they rise to the occasion more successfully with every passing year! So here they are; surrounded by wintery trees and even more wintery perennials, shining in the winter sunlight.
I have reported several times on the exciting little rose I discovered growing IN fast flowing water and IN the shade, three tiny pink blooms drawing my attention to it. The last time, with links to older posts, was here. As I learn more about ‘Cascade’ – as I christened it after its place of birth – I become more and more convinced that I’m onto a winner.
Do you remember the post in which I told of the orchid which had been trashed by baboons? I cut up the flowering stems and planted them. Not unexpectedly the six rootless ones did not take, but the one which had a small piece of root attached remains as green as when I planted it, and I am confident that it will survive. Note the growing medium. I found old decayed pine logs that I could break with my fingers, and their spongy chunks form the basis of what looks to this amateur like rather professional orchid growing medium.
So much for plants – what else in this progress report?
I started 2011 with a new foreman; I was rather pleased when eventually my previous foreman and I parted company, and I had already identified his replacement. Partially the previous foreman was responsible for four of my staff not being with us anymore and in November five temps started to work with the team. We were fortunate. They proved so willing and capable that I decided at the end of February to employ all five, rather than three as I had intended. In the process I decided not to replace my ‘estate lawnmower’ but rather to continue using the two strimmers for the purpose of cutting meadows and lawns. Such is the reality of rural Africa that the purchase price of an industrial lawnmower is not much less than the annual salary of one man. In the process I keep mechanical costs down, leave a smaller carbon footprint, and put food on the table of one more family. With rural unemployment at over 30%, you will realise the importance of a single job to an extended family. But why the pic? The fence at the entrance, and the work on it, was their idea. Made of invader wattle lathes and finished at the joints with wattle bark, it has already lifted the approach to Sequoia Gardens in a way I love – it is clear but unassuming. And it is a symbol of a new beginning in the way things get done at Sequoia Gardens. This was a casual photo taken the day I came home from teaching to find the fence half built. I will in due course feature it more fully.
Croft Cottage is also nearing completion. In fact all that needs to be done is the last furniture to be bought. Oh – and now that my trailer has been reconditioned – a process that took longer than it aught – I can fetch old tires to line the soak-pit beyond the septic tank, thus completing the plumbing and making the cottage habitable. The original stone structure was built sometime in the early 20th century. I broke out the side wall and doubled it in size, put on a new roof and added a shower-room towards the back and a stone-pillared veranda in front. Because for many years the stone-walled room was used as a store or inhabited by farm workers, I decided to call it Croft Cottage; a crofter being, in the north of the UK, a tenant farmer. It has been a slow process, for we owner-built it all, but I am very happy with the end product.
And so, here I am, at the end of a hectic period; this morning I completed my first-term reports. Yesterday our Rotary Club hosted the Ebenezer Mile Swim, our major fund-raiser for the year. On 1 March, the beginning of the financial year, I officially bought the crop of pine trees from my father, and all income from and responsibility for the farm is now mine. (It is a lifestyle farm: 40% of my salary plus the income from the farm is needed to sustain it, one of the reasons I’m developing tourist accommodation.)
By Friday I will be on leave. We are making progress in all sorts of ways. There are plans afoot. I am happy.
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!
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.
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.
The whole set in a garden of equal richness, a cottagy mix of colours and plants that I love.
And the garden in its turn is set in flat farmland plains, with beautiful mountains in the near distance.
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.
Other plants can after all contrast dramatically as well as tone in with 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.
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.
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!
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!