I am in Johannesburg, busy with a marketing expo for Warriors, but I hear the garden is again wet and cold. An ideal build-up to the spring fair, especially as we planted up pots and annuals during the week, and sowed over 150m2 (150 sq. yards) of scatterpack – the annual meadow mix flowers which were spectacularly successful several years ago, but which I’ve not repeated since.

After all the close-ups over the last two posts, lets take a look at the bigger picture. The arboretum is often now a closed view down a path, suddenly opening up to bigger views and even distant views, and from some spots a panorama down onto the main formal gardens in front of the big house. The thousands of azaleas planted here are starting to flower…

Along the top edge of the arboretum there is an avenue of crab-apples, looking magnificent en masse.

And even more magnificent in detail…

This is Malus floribunda – and abundantly it flowers! Malus purpurea might not be purple, but as is so often the case with plants, ‘purpurea’ indicates a darkness of leaf and flower. I love these dusky shades!

Near the top end of Freddie’s Dam there is a viburnum which has a short magnificent flowering season when its scent spreads far and wide. I’m certain I know what it is called, but I don’t have my resources with me to check… beyond it against the water is the purple new-leaved maple I referred to in my previous post.

Here is a close-up of the flowers – both beautiful and scented. For the rest of the year it is, like so many viburnums, a very non-descript shrub.

And here it is again because – well, why not?

Nearby are some dogwood trees – Cornus florida. Their ‘flowers’ are in fact bracts which start expanding in August and last through to October –much longer than the fragile blossoms!

In the close-up you can see the tiny flowers which are surrounded by the bracts.

I also have a red version of which I am extraordinarily proud.

Another shrub or small tree which does well with  us, and of which I am proud, is Magnolia, considered to be one of the most primitive flowering plants.  This one is M. x soulangiana. It has a fist-sized fleshy flower, heavily scented of… soap. That is merely because I got to know the scented soap before the flower. It only slightly dulls my pleasure in it!

So where does that leave us? With more blossoms to explore, in particular the various pyrus (pears) and prunus (cherries, almonds etc.); here is a taste. I’ll need to get home and get my camera out for more.

One last indulgence. Wisteria. In particular the wisteria and japonica together in the Anniversary Garden.


wisteria and japonica

One last one… in the bed up against the house the first diaramas shoot from nothingness to ther mauve flowers in only a week or two. They combine rather dramatically with the last of the orange aloes…


‘Tis a while since I posted twice in a day! But important things have happened this weekend, and there is a decision I wish to record…

The House that Jack Built First – here is The House that Jack Built, fast getting ready for the spring season. There is still a lot to be done to the garden so that it says more than ‘end of a long winter’ when visitors arrive – but we are getting there! And then there is The Big House…

The Big House in earliest spring Last night I slept in the main bedroom for the first time – a week short of a year, Saturday to Saturday, since I first slept there when the vigil with my mother started. The Big House is becoming mine. And with it I feel myself unfurling like a spring magnolia. There is space to fill… It is a luxury I have not known since I sold my house in Johannesburg. But I love cosy, and did not miss space much, except that I also collect clutter. Then I moved into Trailertrash Cottage in January. Half the size of my cottage, and with a limited view, I soon felt claustrophobic, hemmed in by my endless generation of paper, living in my own detritus. I – and six dogs. And a winter which didn’t seem to end. Possibly Prunus cerasus  'Rhexii'

Can you see why this afternoon’s walk did so much to lift my spirits? I write this in short sleeves in front of the open window at night, and I revel in my blossoms and my magnolias. Above is a double white purple-leaved plum – perhaps Prunus cerasus ‘Rhexii’, below is the common but beautiful crabapple, Malus floribunda, and below that one of my many bushes  – of various sizes, colours and flowering habit – of Magnolia x soulangiana. All photographed this afternoon.

Malus floribunda Malus floribunda 2

magnolia x soulangeana I said there is a decision to record. It was one of those flash insights that make you wonder why it took you so long to find. I’ve been planning guest parking for day visitors – expensive and inconvenient. I suddenly realised how to solve it, simply, with the minimum of levelling, with easier entry and departure and with more space, hidden away from the main garden… and then I realised that the entrance to the garden would then naturally be along the axis of the Rosemary Terrace – my most formal vista. Bring them in to the formal and the manicured, and then let them explore the natural. Aha! Excitement builds. And the grooming of the garden looks more and more like an adventure and everless like a chore!

Rosemary Borders in 2006 A photostitched photo from 2006 – two pots flank the entrance from the front door axis on either side of me, and there is a high viburnum hedge behind me. At the far end of the lawn is the Italian pot surrounded by four abelia cubes. An ‘arch’ will be cut through the maples beyond it and a pergola will mark the new entrance from the car park which lies beyond the maples. This is the Rosemary Terrace, flanked by the Upper and Lower Rosemary Borders: the heart of my formal gardens.


First green

End August – and despite a (final?) cold spell during the week, spring moves in relentlessly. The poplars are silvery green with new leaf in the stand across the valley. The cutting, which continues the Beech Borders axis, is blue with hydrangeas in summer. I love the simplicity of this composition in all seasons.


Of all the many blossoms, Prunus nigra  is both one of the earliest and of the most beautiful. This particular strain is white with a touch of burgundy about the base of the petal to match the young leaves and calyxes. Spring seems to literally be shining forth from the darkness of winter here…

Spring shines through


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.