watching the last light s

Every few years a tropical cyclone – sometimes downgraded to a tropical storm – affects our weather for a few days, bringing incessant but unstormy warm rain. We’ve just had one, which brought a total of 254mm over 3 days.

Makoudam overflow

Going out on Thursday  – top photo – as the sun broke through just before sundown (the west being very much drier than we are), we could hear the stream in stereo, the various cascades thundering away. Here is the overflow of the Makou Dam, the two pipes carrying ten times the volume they normally do.

makoudam after the rains

This is the emergency overflow of the Makou Dam, constructed after the 2000 cyclone somehow didn’t manage to destroy every dam in our valley, although each one of them overflowed over the main wall, causing some damage  to the foundations of the walls as the water gathered momentum. This overflow only came into use, to the best of my knowledge, in January 2011 when we measured over 200mm overnight. (Obviously overflowing rain-meters made the figure a bit of a guess. But if I compare the level of the river in flood after my carefully monitored 90mm + 159mm over 2 days, then that figure makes sense. Or it might even have been more – some people claimed over 300mm fell that night. I slept through it and found a full gauge!) Be it as it may: the emergency overflow again came into use this week as the level of the dam rose by a good 20cm.

Freddie's Dam overflow

This week’s storm dropped about 240mm during its most intense 36 hours. (That is 9.5 inches)  In 2000, following on what was already obviously going to be a 70-year record rainfall, we measured 625mm (25 in.) in 36 hours. I remember saying to my father as we watched the rain falling in sheets and the water lapping the top of the dam wall: “I always feared loosing the farm to fire. I never expected it would be water.” Luckily my fears were unfounded…

Somewhere in the above photo is the spot where ‘Cascade Rose’ germinated and from where I removed it a few weeks before last year’s heavy rains – read more about it here.

Blue hydrangeascut through the poplars at the end of the Beech Borders axis

Photos are stolen during a week like the past one – and the perfect  shot I’d love to take of the blue hydrangeas in the cutting through the poplars that mark the furthest part of the Beech Borders axis, is yet to be taken. But I will share nevertheless.

Blue hydrangeas at the end of the Beech Borders axis

Their blue is as glorious as the agapanthus I wrote off in my previous post – work and the weather has precluded a return to that stand, but below are my own examples along Alfred’s Arches, photographed on Saturday in lovely full sun.

Agapanthus inapertus at Alfred's Arches

And today – Sunday – I discovered two growing wild in – wait for it – a boggy area. Which I guess goes to answer the question raised by my previous post: yes, this agapanthus does like to have wettish feet! Here they are against a backdrop of Swamp Cypresses, photographed with my cell phone which as usual appears to have had a well-pawed lens Sad smile

Agapanthus near swamp cypresses

The hydrangeas benefitted from the sun on Saturday afternoon’s walk – here are two more shots, taken in The Avenue in the Arboretum:

Hydrangeas in the Avenue

Avenue hydrangea close-up

The water again featured heavily on that walk, and as I was about to take this shot, Abigail came dashing across. I rather like her hasty exit stage left…

Abigail crossing the stream

Rather lovely I think. But the last two shots for today I took up the hill at my neighbour’s house- way beyond the highest point you can see on the first photo, but the gum tree plantation belongs to her. Her meadow is rich with flowers at present.

Biebuyck's meadow

And on the other side of the house she has a stupendous view across to the Iron Crown, the highest point in Limpopo. A wonderful place for sundowners… Slightly to the right of the peak and just to the right of the tree jutting out in the middle horizon, you can see our lovely village of Haenertsburg nestling in its pristine grasslands. But the Haenertsburg Grasslands deserve a post of their own!

Biebuyck's view


After a rather dull festive season, the New Year dawned bright and  I gathered a few photographs in case it all clouded over again. However, today – the day many people return home to start the new year – is again perfect. There are many grumpy people on the road, I guess!

Big lawn in sun

Summer is going fortissimo, with the rudbeckias and local agapanthus (A. inapertus) beginning to bloom along Alfred’s Arches and the red pineapple lilies expanding in the Upper Rosemary Border.

Upper Rosemary Terrace with long lens

In the good light I even decided to haul out my disappointing long lens to try a detail-from-a-distance shot of the Upper Rosemary Border, but the pineapple lilies I chose were shot through the foliage of Alfred’s Arches with the standard lens.

Upper Rosemary terrace from Alfred's Arches

The two hydrangeas (H. ‘Blue Wave’ and H. quercifolia) that grow beneath the Golden Rain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata) – which is also in flower – are looking lovely.

Hydrangeas on lower drive

Here they are again, with a detail of ‘Blue Wave’:

Hydrangeas on lower drive close-up

Hydrangeas on lower drive detail

As they day warmed up yesterday and we sat with friends on the stoep, the migrating butterflies became more and more active, until it was as though we had  snow gently falling across the landscape as the myriads of fluttering butterflies made their way across from left to right.

Butterfly on zinnia

These butterflies were the subject of a biggish post in November last year 2010 which you can see here. And so our version of snow brings my festive season to a close. Have a great year!



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!


Hydrangea and buddleja through bathroom window

In Afrikaans Hydrangeas are called ‘Christmas Roses’. After many weeks of promise they now swell into maturity. I could have kept this subject for the Christmas week, but that is also the week for wild flowers, and so my Christmas post will feature wild flowers in the garden instead. You can rest assured though – this week’s hydrangea flower will still be there by Christmas… in fact it might even still be there, burnished and patinaed, by Easter…

HYdrangeas tradescantia and old roses The top photo is the sight that currently greets me outside my bathroom window – a mauve Hydrangea macrophylla backed by a purple Buddleja davidii . Many of our hydrangeas are magnificent shades of blue because of our acid soil – pink hydrangeas take extra effort! The photo above is of Hydrangea serrata in the Rondel Garden, surrounded by Tradescantia in various shades of blue, mauve and white. It is a combination I intend repeating in the shade in the Long Border near the new visitors’ parking area.

Beech Border hydrangeas Possibly my most successful use of hydrangeas is in the cutting through the poplars at the end of the Beech Border axis. One comes upon them suddenly when walking along the road on the opposite side of the valley, and look across them up to the seat under the beech. I wrote about that part of the garden here, and last summer I wrote extensively on hydrangeas here and here.

Detail Beech Border hydrangeas



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.


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



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.


11 pink hydrangea

From the previous post it is easy to get the impression that all my hydrangeas are blue – and that would not be far wrong! Many hydrangeas swing from pink in alkaline soil to blue in acidic, but as many will not change colour dramatically as a result of soil ph. I DO have pink hydrangeas, and in the Beech Borders I plan to plant some more, as there the flowers are almost all pink.

12 pink lacecap hydrangea

In this post I wish to concentrate on some of the many species and  varieties of hydrangeas, as people don’t always realise how much they differ. Most obvious is the difference between the mopheads or hortensias with their fewer, hidden fertile flowers (first picture) and the lacecaps (above) where the infertile ray florets usually surround the small, fertile flowers in the centre.

13 YouMe series double hydrangea

Recently a new range of double-flowered hydrangeas, the YouMe Hydrangea series, was launched with dramatic and unusual double flowers; I bought a few last summer and photographed this on a still very young bush recently.

14 My double hydrangea

Much to my surprise I discovered this double growing along Oak Avenue recently; it was planted at least five years ago and was almost certainly grown from a cutting – but where then is the parent plant??? I had actually stood closer to investigate its lovely white centre when I realised it was double – but as you can see, not all florets are double.

Blue lacecap hydrangea 1 Blue lacecap hydrangea 2
Blue lacecap hydrangea 3 Blue lacecap hydrangea 4
Blue lacecap hydrangea 5 Blue lacecap hydrangea 6


Colour is mostly not a reliable identification tool, merely a help. But the shape and number of the bracts of the ray florets and their distribution around the plant, the relative size and proportion of the blooms and the way they change after fertilisation and during the later part of the season all help in identifying the many cultivars that at first glance might appear very similar.

16 Brightest blue which fades to inky blue

In our climate, where they are so happy, most years brings a gradual change of colour over many months as the flowers age; these bright blues become the colour of old-fashioned bottled ink.

17 Powder blue fading to chartreuse

And these start of a soft but saturated powder blue and fade to chartreuse – a wonderful combination!

18 Jewel colours

Sometimes the young flowers also show change and variation. These jewel-like purples indicate that this plant might be a dark pink or even red in alkaline soil.

19 Yellow variegated hydrangea

Sometimes you find variegated leaves. This plant with yellow variegation is particularly striking. When I set off to photograph my more common white variegated plant, I found it had disappeared… I must do a proper search and see if it is overgrown and overpowered or completely lost. Coming to think of it – how many years since I last saw it, anyway…


Whilst on leaves: Hydrangea quercifolia, the oak-leaf hydrangea has a very different leaf and wonderful autumn foliage, much better than the mopheads and lacecaps in the H. macrophylla family where there is a vague yellowing only. Its conical flower-heads are always white, fading quickly through russets to brown before bleaching to straw by autumn; their dainty filigreed nature causes them to catch the frost most beautifully later in the year.

20 Hydrangea quercifolia

20b Hydrangea quercifolia, Prunus sargentii and Camellia sasanqua 'Blanchette'

Here you can see a large grouping of them on the edge of the arboretum in autumn, framed by Prunus sargentii and with Camellia sasanqua ‘Blanchette’ in the centre.

21 hydrangea serrata

H. serrata is superficially very similar to a small-leaved, delicate lacecap H. macrophylla, but as you get to know the plant, you realise that they are quite different. H. serrata ‘Preziosa’ with its richer, redder pigmentation is the loveliest, but I have yet to find it in South Africa. It is one of my all-time favourite plants.

22 From powder blue to patinaed

This picture shows the remarkable range of colours a single plant can show. Taken in autumn, before the first frosts put pay to the display, there is a young flower, a faded flower from earlier in the season and one that has turned brown after being scorched by the heat very early in the season. However often the scorched flowers, which having been damaged tend to bleach to pale brown rather than show metallic colour, retain their shape. Besides – the garden is simply too large for regular deadheading!

23 Jaded hydrangeas and inflamed maples

In a good year flowers change colour slowly and are never scorched or parched, so that their show continuous right up until the autumn leaves turn.

24 Singing the blues

Because of our long summers, secondary growth often provides an autumn flush of flowers. The way they combine with autumn leaves adds a whole new dimension to the beauty of hydrangeas at Sequoia!

25 Patina on autumn hydrangeas

As a good season progresses, the flowers that developed in shade become richer and richer, and their original flat colouring is forgotten in the opalescent mix of their maturity.

26 Hydrangea close-up1

Whilst searching through my files I came across this series of particularly lovely close-ups… Don’t believe anyone who says that hydrangeas are not subtle!

27 Hydrangea close-up 2

Look at the way the shadow falls across this petal…

28 Hydrangea close-up 3

And just look at the little spider sitting on an anther, less than 2mm across I would guess, and below her what seems like an aphid (eek!). I only noticed them when I developed this ultra-close-up photo!

29 Powder blue

More detailed than the spider I can’t get, so let us end our walk with the big impact of a gorgeous powder blue hydrangea in its prime around Christmas time.


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!



Same process as last week, even same scene, although you’d be hard-pressed to believe it. No, I didn’t tire of the cannas and rip them all out and replace them with hydrangeas in full bloom! Rather the two massed plantings live side-by-side, incongruously rather than unhappily. But such is the power of photography that we can edit out that which we don’t wish to include – and I’m NOT talking photoshop here!

I remember these hydrangeas -we call them wild mopheads- growing in the shade  on the other side of the old barn from before I was three. Here they stand in full sun on a western slope and they flower their hearts out, although the blooms don’t last as long as they do in less relentless heat. But they are vast and plentiful, and that makes up for their rather aneamic colouring. As with the cannas, my next post will be on my many hydrangeas in all their gorgeous richness. But these daddies first showed us that this really is hydrangea country!