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!

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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



IMG_5765 Immediately behind this point a rustic set of steps goes down to where the overflow pipe for the Makou dam empties into a pool and then gurgles down a furrow against the ridge before spilling over a waterfall and down into the bottom of the valley. It is a shaded spot, always with the sound of running water; one of the special spots in the garden, and one which we too seldom visit, and could do more with. Mateczka definitely thinks so! She stormed up and down on the crackling leaves, leapt in and out of the water and let the other dogs understand: this is FUN!

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And I too found it fun to take my camera down there in mid afternoon, knowing that the walk might continue till sunset… I love the way the dogs at times are only blurs in these slow-shutter photos, taken with a tripod. And as you can see, Stompie tottered along gamely, but stood still to enjoy the ambience… she stayed with us for most of the walk, but eventually came home on her own to lie down on a soft blanket and await our return.

Autumn azalea This autumn’s clocks are out of line; some things are late, even very late, others are early. There are trees not turning because they think it is still summer, and flowers blooming because they think it is already spring… This azalea flowering against the russet leaves of a Prunus sargentii is a case in point.

Yellow deciduous azalea And this poor deciduous azalea thinks it is both autumn and spring! I can’t remember this ever happening before – but how lovely, even if the flowers are rather feeble.

Berkheya setifera Berkheya setifera is listed as flowering  Sep-Feb, and yet today I chanced across this colony growing wild in the arboretum, and looking even happier than I’ve ever seen this cheerful flower look before!

Berkheya setifera 2 The autumn of the azaleas

Here you can see its robust, hairy leaves as well; and then I couldn’t resist yet another shot of the autumn of the azaleas.

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Frustrated attempts at photographing a VERY tiny flower… mainly because a certain puppy kept thinking that it was a great opportunity to lick my ears whilst I was down on my knees…

IMG_5792 …in the process all but sitting on the flowers… but after some harsh words…

Lobelia erinus …success!!! In fact, brilliant success, two of the best macros I’ve ever taken…

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And so here in all its minute glory I present to you…the wild form of the garden lobelia – Lobelia erinus! And although the walk is far from over, it is after one in the morning now – and so I think the post must end and the walk continue tomorrow!


May week4

No cheating this week, please take note! I knew the aloes would feature. In fact I’m preparing a whole post on them. But I wanted the right shot for today, which I found when looking up from where I was kneeling, dealing with the complications that go with four dogs gently but insistently wanting affection at the same time. So out came the camera. And it is surprising how much is in this shot.

The aloe is Aloe arborescens, one of the smallest of the ‘tree’ or multi-stemmed aloes. Some years ago there was so much damage from the cold that we cut back the rosettes and the result is a very dense version – so dense that flowering is not as plentiful as it could be. In a good year each rosette or branch will produce at least one flower spike. It seems as if I need to put on my thickest and longest gloves and prune out some rosettes at the end of winter. They grow on very quickly into new plants when stuck into a sandy mix after being allowed to dry for a few days and form a callus. All the same, the spiky medusa heads are green all your and contrast beautifully with the soft mounds of Rose Geranium that grown next to them.

Immediately behind the aloe is the gaunt shape of a bottlebrush, Callistemon citrinus, whose hard textures are so typically Australian, although the warty seed pods start life as fluffy red flowers which give the shrub its common name. The sunbirds  -our version of hummingbirds – love them and in summer one can watch them come and go for hours. In winter they turn to the aloes, one of the  reasons for growing them so close to the house. The elaborate bird bath – about which I blow hot and cold – was recently moved here, and the birds love its new position. A fruit feeder also hangs in the bottlebrush.

Further down a Japanese Maple is in full autumn splendour. We are having a strange autumn, with many trees being quite late to turn. Although we have missed out on the intensity of a ‘normal’ autumn, we are in for a long one it seems! It was the combination of hot colours that drew my attention to this composition.

Below that  and behind the birdbath is my yew (Taxus baccata). It took years to decide to stay with us, produced several hundred cuttings a few years back which I gleefully planted as hedges – and lost. It seems yew hedges are not to grace Sequoia Gardens after all… This yew will form the centrepiece of the Mothers’ Garden which I’m planning to edge the Big Lawn and which will commemorate my and my partner’s late mothers. Sometime.

And then right down on the Makou Dam’s wall the fan shape of one of the 40-odd young tree ferns that have germinated for us of their own accord  over the past 20 years can be made out.


Mauve semi-deciduous azalea

I have a theory about azaleas: they come prepared. We have had years when we thought we had lost all buds in a late frost, only to have an enthusiastic flush of blooms a few weeks later. And when those reserve buds aren’t needed, they surprise us with an autumn flush. We have had several textbook years of late, and each autumn a greater number of azaleas produce not just a few blooms in autumn, but a decent show. But even in a bad year what we call the semi-deciduous mauve azalea (not being good with azalea names at all) gives a decent autumn show. What is more, the soft mauves contrast magnificently with the yellow and russet shades of autumn, and we have planted several specifically to be seen with autumn shades – below with a maple which I suspect is Acer  rubrum. To me it is the most important flower of late autumn, even if azaleas are famous for their spring show.

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Tree dahlia

As I drove in to Sequoia this afternoon after four days at the Rotary District Conference, I immediately knew two things: that autumn had finally arrived in my absence, and that this week’s photo would be of the Tree Dahlia, or Dahlia imperialis. The imperial dahlia – how evocative a name! This herbaceous perennial grows from the ground each year, then carries its flowers on huge stems, more like reeds, that can be over 6 meters (20 foot) high! What is more, no flower is so perfect for looking at from below, its delicate mauve petals backlit and seen against blue sky or green – or better still, butter yellow (autumn) – foliage. And I’ve not cheated. The second pic is merely a detail from the first. Without a doubt, no flower represents the last weeks before the frost more perfectly or dramatically than the large cups of the tree dahlia.

Tree dahlia close up