June view across Freddy's Dam

There are plenty of pics for a wintery post awaiting writing, but I think this one will have to suffice for now: this afternoon’s walk and a view across Freddy’s Dam, the view that used to be my daily subject when I still lived in the stone cottage. Marking, and setting papers – in that order, so more marking will follow – are the order of the day…


Autumn is not getting it right this year. Could we please try again. Not next year – NOW!

No, Jack. YOU stop. Stop finding fault. Stop expecting perfection. Stop that irritating gardener thing of “You should have seen it last week”. Or last year, in this case. Or, in fact, the year before. Because THAT autumn was ravishing. Last year was good and this year… well, so you are disappointed… Get over it. Enjoy it whilst it lasts; it is still far from over.

Looking up the Beech borders

But yesterday this was the view. And today, when the garden club was visiting, I brought them along here… and the effect had lessened. It should not yet have peaked, but leaves were browning and falling.

freddy's dam panorama

Yesterday morning before I went to work (a little later than usual, so there was time for a quick walk), this was what I saw. But this afternoon all of that side of the valley was already in shadow, and they looked across at it with the sun in their eyes. Yes. For once the sun was shining –  and  I moan about it.

Morning mist from the stoep

I must NOT complain. This is the view that made me set off with my camera yesterday. Not many people start their day like this. And one and all in the garden club told me today how lovely my garden is, and how blessed I am. They are right. So I should not complain. But please: may I KNOW? Know that this autumn is not the greatest. Know that both nature and I can – have – done better. One compliment, though, stands out above all the other: a dear friend who visits the garden regularly, whose photos in fact adorn my cards that I use with gifts and to welcome visitors, told me she had never seen the gardens look so cared for. Not manicured, because like me she likes gardens a little dishevelled: cared for. That compliment I must carry over to my staff tomorrow. They are the ones who achieved it, and every walk I take, I feel it too, and that makes me eternally thankful to them. I have told them so, but when I report back to them tomorrow I will make it abundantly clear how much her comment says of the success of their task.

mothertjie 2

This month the theme for Gardening Gone Wild’s “Picture This” photo competition is: “Light – look closely”; all about light in close-up and macro photography. I’m doing just that. This is my first study – the last rose of summer, an unexpected blossom on ‘Mothertjie’ where she grows into a tree at the waterlily pond. Study is the wrong word. It was really a snapshot to record the event, which I then prepared as though it was a competition entry. We are not there yet. But ‘Mothertjie’ is rather lovely, none the less.


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 have been feeling disconnected from my farm and my garden of late, and I can’t help thinking it is the result of seven months away from the view out the huge 3m x 3m (10 x 10 ft) window of The house that Jack Built. I dream of one-day-when-I’ve-got-my-life-in-order going down there between guests and waking up to the view, lingering over morning coffee and … Taking a holiday at the bottom of my own garden, so to speak…

The  house in high autumn The longing has been reinforced of late by looking at many ‘best of 2006’  pics, and it is from there that I have selected these. To begin with, a photo which gives some idea of my vantage point for many of these photos: often they are taken leaning out through the big window or from just outside the house.

Winter%20reflections Mid- June here, and serendipitously this swamp cypress stays green long after all other trees have shed their leaves. The tracery of branches reflected in the water and the openness of the ground beneath the trees mark the clarity of the winter.

06Jan25%20Green%20reflection Six months separate these two shots; ‘shades of green’ is the name for the garden that flashes through my head at this season. But it really does sound pretentious… so last year I checked what it would be in Sepedi, the local African language: “Mebalabala ya Botala – Many colours of green.” Perhaps more romantic to some, but even more pretentious as a name!

Dawn%20on%20a%20frosty%20morn Leaning out of the window to the right on a frosty autumn morning. Cold nights and hot, sunny days are the perfect recipe for intense autumn colour, provided here mainly by Acer palmatum, Liquodamber styracifolia and flowering cherry.

Sunrise%20after%20first%20rains%2025%20Aug%2006 We are three weeks shy of four years since I took this photo, the caption tells me… I detect blossoms and a wiff of spring!

autumn%20perfection First light across the water was what I lived for – whether from my bed in the sleeping loft in summer or over coffee and in front of the heater in winter. Can you blame me for feeling a little lost?

2%20July%2005 Coffee, and a heater, anyone?

autumn%20rain%204 Or perhaps afternoon tea whilst we wait for the storm to pass?


 On the other hand – if you come in spring a glass of champagne might be more in keeping with the celebratory mood…



Between late afternoon and dusk I take a walk – and whereas on other days the drabness has depressed me, today its subtlety has filled me with joy. So I concentrate on capturing the colours of deepest winter in my photographs…

1 The last photo first – deep dusk on the stones of the path at the Cottage Garden

The Beech Borders first draw my attention to the photogenic nature of the theme…

2 Beech Borders The Beech Tree and seat, backed by a semi-circular hedge of witchazel and lime

Then the seat, and the textures in the composition keep me busy – meanwhile the dogs are ratting in the tall grass behind me, unconcerned that the walk is interrupted.

3 Beech Borders seat I could of course claim that the colour scheme is considered and deliberate…

How could I a few days ago have found this sight depressing?

4 Beech Borders seat and hedge A carpet of leaves, evenly strewn, and soft light – a glow…

And nestling in this season’s death lies next season’s birth.

5 Beech twig Beech buds seem to hold more promise than most other trees…

And the promise is reinforced by the spiraeas, sporting minute flowers even before all autumn leaves are shed.

6 Spiraea flowers in mid-winter Each flower no more than 3mm 1/8in across

Whereas the memory of summer’s flowers are… well… faded…

7 Verbena bonariensis in seed Verbena bonariensis’s tiny but intense purple flowers produce plentiful seed

…Some less so than others…

8 Everlasting in winter Everlastings never quite lose their colour, the remnants of summer’s gold hidden in winter’s amber.

A lone grass seedhead sways  over the last leaves of the water lilies.

  Survivor of mower and marauder, strimmer and scythe…

The light off the Makou Dam is cold as moonlight.

10 Makou Dam And earlier in the week we saw four otters play in the water

Browns seem to be plated in silver…

11 Bracken Bracken leaf near the Makou  Dam

 In the arboretum the hydrangeas which once marched up the hill in blues and whites under a canopy of tulip trees now wear neutral fatigues.

13 Hydrangeas under the tulip trees - winter  Though even now their colour contributes drama …

Witchazel is Old Gold in the gloom – highlight rather than colour.And  the leaves are the richest deep brown.


Texture is all…

15 Seeds 16 Branches

Seeds and branches 

…And Mateczka’s colouring fits in perfectly.

Mateczka among the swamp cyprusses Here she is among the Swamp Cypresses at the far fountain.

Bark detailing becomes prominent, and the thin layer of fallen leaves and twigs contrast with the water in the stream.

17 At the stream The darkest of the Japanese maples has quite a different winter charm.

Nearby the most dramatically wintery of our many tree ferns salute passersby.

18 Tree ferns Almost evergreen in a frost-free climate, ours are decidedly seasonal!

Below I played with a different format – do you know how much purple there is in these browns!

19 Quercus velutina
20 Bench under Quercus velutina 3
20 Bench under Quercus velutina

Have I mentioned texture before…

21 Bench 22 stump

Bench and stump in Quercus Corner; a good rest in the furthest corner of the garden.

 Heading back towards the House that Jack Built I photograph the hydrangeas along Oak Avenue.

23 Oak avenue Is this what I really saw, or is the camera becoming creative with the available light? Fact is, the hydrangeas under the verticals of the trees made for an impressive composition…

Finally – well, near finally, for from here we move back to my first photo – we see the view from The House that Jack Built…

24 The bridge and halfmoon meadow I have always called the bridge the icon of my garden – and for the first time in years the half-moon meadow is cleared and echoes the curve of the bridge.


mid-winter moon

Soon the solstice moon will be full. I shall be in Johannesburg, not here to see it. More’s the pity. Somehow the solstice and equinox full moons have always meant more to me than the events themselves… perhaps literally it is the turning of the tides, even though I sit at 1400m (4500ft) and 300km from the closest sea, and over 1000 miles away from the sea I know and love…

In the above photo, taken from the arboretum at 5.30 this afternoon in the growing dusk, you can see the Big House and to its left Trailertrash Cottage.

winter's traceries I love winter. (Mostly. Last night it depressed me.) I particularly love this view in winter, the view from The House that Jack Built’s big window. (More or less – this was taken from the terrace under the Water Oak.) The traceries of trees are reflected in the water, some late colour coming from a swamp cypress, and for the rest the palette is reduced to dark greens and neutrals. The angles of the earth, overlaid all summer, support the vertical trunks of trees. Light and frost will now play on these surfaces, and I will only tire of them at the end of August, when all starts to change anyway.

Steps from the bridge

This afternoon the dogs and I went on a walk, our first real walk in 12 days. We took along my new camera to test especially its low light potential. We were not disappointed. Whilst on Samaria one of the plates connecting the batteries on the old camera was irretrievably lost in the dust. It will take weeks in Johannesburg to repair. I thought a cheap and compact  point-and-shoot was the solution – one which could take low-light snapshots in a way my bulky 12x zoom (and rather ancient) Canon S2 can not. I bought the entry level Canon A490 and took it on its first real outing…

This photo, taken in the gloom of the steps up from the bridge – always a difficult place to get enough light – proves that it was a worthwhile choice. Besides having a much shorter lens which lets through more light, the camera  can go up to ISO 1600, 4x as much as the old S2. This I think was taken on ISO 800, but strangely it is not indicated in the properties of the photo.

The House that Jack Built -rear view Here is The House that Jack Built in its meadow, and beyond Freddie’s Dam with the bridge visible over the left side of the cottage… a stone cottage in a meadow on a dam in a valley on a mountain…



This photo of Mateczka – now seven months old and a lovely animal – is clearly shot at high ISOs, and there is no detail to her fur. But it is the kind of snapshot I would never have got in the poor light with the S2, and a rather lovely snapshot it makes. I look forward to less self-conscious photography with the new camera!



View from the bridge Here is The House that Jack Built as seen from the bridge. With a little imagination you can see the moon reflected in the right hand gap between the trees. I could see it clearly, but you will have to accept my word on that one!

Wisteria seedpods Magnolia bud

Silver-grey fur can be both a memory of glories past and a promise of beauty to come… wisteria seedpods and magnolia buds.

Salvia leucantha And purple-grey is a highly fashionable colour, although my mother lovingly and simply referred to these flowers as ‘Old-fashioneds’ – aged Salvia leucantha finds a new subtlety after the frost…

On a walk We spend a happy hour or more in the garden; Mateczka dashing through fallen leaves with all the joyful indulgence of the young when making a noise, Taubie and Stompie – our two old ladies – plodding along contentedly, and Monty (who believes himself the alpha-male of the valley despite his six-inch legs) dashing off to investigate before running back and jumping up against me adoringly. Winter sunset

And thus, as the chill becomes more and more noticeable,  we reach home and heat…


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.


1 I've got the Hydrangea Blues

I promised a walk around my hydrangeas, so let’s set off… Under the oaks on Oak Avenue, near my stone cottage, there are many mopheads in shades of blue.

2 Pick a shade

Because of my acid soil, blues are particularly good and I have shades from pale through powder to rich dark blue. A particular favourite is almost turquoise, an amazing colour in a plant. Those with a mauvish tinge would be pinker, even pure pink in alkaline soil.

3 Growing in shade 

After last week’s sunny hydrangeas, let me stress that these are planted under a dense but high canopy of pin oaks and gnarled Ouhout  trees, with little direct sun ever reaching them except in the early morning. 

4 White hydrangeas at the bridge

There are several areas in the garden where hydrangeas play an important role, and we will stop to look at a few of them. The white hydrangeas across Freddy’s Dam were picked to show right until the last light and to reflect in the water. It is time I clear a little under the flowering cherries and lift the canopy, for the depth of white in under the trees is all but lost. On the other hand I love the denseness when you cross the bridge and climb up the sheltered path where foliage meets overhead…

5 White hydrangeas and schizostylis coccinea

Here they are again, seen from the bridge today, the ripples caused by Taubie dog taking a swim in the heat. In the foreground are several shades of Schizostylis coccinea, which is usually scarlet as the name implies. The scarlet species form grows wild on the farm, but these were planted.

6 Shades of white

The white can be absolutely pure, but it is never so for long. The immature blooms are greenish, as they mature they often get a blue cast, and as they are splattered with rain and start to age, first pink and then wonderfully rich wine-red and blue metallic colourations (that’s the only word for them!) appear. The pinking has started on some of the older and more exposed blooms in the previous photograph, and the masthead shows you what they look like by late April, 3 months hence.

7 Hydrangea glade 1

One of the most satisfying gardening afternoons I’ve ever had was after a particularly frustrating day at school. I went home and instead of marking, threw two massive axes out into the garden. I had thought about it for long, but the sheer scale of the planning was exhilarating. The first follows the contour from below the Rosemary Borders and in the opposite direction towards the beech above the Beech Borders. The second runs perpendicular to it from the beech across the contour, through the Beech Borders, across the lily pond and then cuts through a stand of young poplars on the opposite slope, across a sweep of blue hydrangeas and onto an Acer saccharinum and beyond across the arboritum to the conifer planted by my mother at the official planting of the arboritum on my birthday in 1988. So many serendipitous placings came together on that day, some of which I had planned over years, others which were pure chance.

8 Hydrangea glade 2

It took several years after old Frans planted the hydrangeas for them to make a show, and there was plenty of weeding to be done in the early days, but he kept at it, and for the past two years these hydrangeas have been of my favourite incidents in the garden.

9 Hydrangea Glade 3

Here they are again, this time from the other side, where one comes upon them suddenly in their gap among the poplars…

10 Detail from vista 

Here they are again, for I couldn’t resist including this photograph, taken this afternoon. And now, although we are not yet halfway through the walk, I think it is time to take a rest, and to continue our explorations later…

PS: This is my first post written using Windows Live Writer – thanks to our great guru and friend from Blotanical,  Jean from Jean’s Garden. The only problem was loading what was a rather large file through my iffy internet, more than made up for by the slickness of composing without the irritation of uploading. And I love being able to chose my font, the borders and the watermark. Now it is only the narrowness of the blog which irritates me – but try looking at it at 125% magnification!



I’ve been looking at old photos of late for the posts I’m preparing on the Rosemary Borders. Along the way I found some of the Cottage Garden. Hmmm. It is very green this year. I like the look of it, but there are too few flowers in the mix. On the other hand it is never without flowers either!

In these views the  tall yellow verbascums and the Hydrangea  serrata dominate, but the eryngium (see detail below) and solidago also add colour. The dark Eucomis (Pineapple Lily) bottom left is starting to make a strong statement, but not many would say that it ‘adds colour’ and of course the zebra grass has tremendous presence.  The gauras are slow off the mark this year and the salvias are getting going…

Near the front door a pink Gaura and Sedum ‘Herbstfreude’ compliment each other beautifully. This is the first year of their co-habitation – and I have not the slightest idea if the combination is deliberate or not, so I shall claim that it is yet another sign of my gardening genius!

I’ve moved down onto the road below the house now, where the way the trees around the dam form a wall of green these days can clearly be seen.  Much of what is now super-green becomes super-bright by autumn. But I’ll keep you waiting till early April before I start that show 🙂 !

The above photograph illustrates the rather over the top inspiration for the Tulip Tree Avenue; when we first conceived it my dad jokingly suggested calling it the Avenida da LiberdadeMarques de Pombal after this impressive (and impressively named) avenue in Lisbon – the Marques having been the man responsible for rebuilding much of Lisbon after an earthquake in 1755. Our Avenue has developed into a very beautiful feature. The linear layout now melds happily with the organic paths through the arboritum, and the concept which we feared might jar is, if I may again modestly say, rather good.  These pics are specially for Deborah from Green Theatre, who I know will enjoy our avenue!

For the view of the Tulip Tree Avenue in the two pics above,  I’ve moved across the dam and a little downstream. There are  ten Liriodendron tulipifera  (Tulip) trees on either side of the avenue, which is around 70m long and 10 meters wide, stem to stem.  A path runs up either side of the avenue and between the path and the trees there is a planting of hydrangeas in a mix of blues and whites. Between the paths is a solid mass of azaleas, photos of which have featured in a previous post  .  Like so many of our trees, they were grown from seed by my father. The hydrangeas on the left (upper) side can be seen in the first photo and those on the right in the second one.

This last photo is chosen rather randomly from the walk. But since this is a rather random post, it seemed suitable. The hydrangeas are crying out for a post of their own, but this chance combination with a self-sown native, Crinum macowanii , the River Crinum, really caught my eye!


My first sight as I woke this morning: the icon of my garden, the bridge, washed in the clean early sunlight of a summer morning after rain. Woken by the Piet-my-vrou cuckoo calling anxiously for his wife. “Peat may frow” – Pete my wife. Why his wife has a man’s name, and where she’s got to that he has to call for her so incessantly through the heat of summer has worried me since I was a little boy,  but I don’t think he trusts her in the balmy holiday weather of high summer…