Makou Dam panorama

We’re five days into the second week of June, and I only post now. I did not even realise I was running late; besides end-of-term, I have also been replacing my car and a lot of time and energy has gone into that! We’ve had REAL weather, and I’ve been able to prove a theory I’ve held for some time: when there is bad weather out there, ours gets better. My night-time temps went up dramatically. We are sheltered from the wind in our valley, so we don’t feel the wind chill factor  much. Instead the air turbulence prevents the coldest of the air from drifting down our valley, getting ever colder. And so, where others experienced colder weather, ours was warmer, around 5 degrees C. However June has been cold enough for everything to be decidedly wintery, the tree fern fronds brown and broken, the grasses bleached.

Swamp cypress twig 

Those trees that still have autumn colour are therefor precious – and of these the cinnamon swamp cypresses are currently the most precious! So here is my official pic-of-the-week – a twig of swamp cypress, Taxodium  distichum. Several of them feature around the Makou Dam, pictured above. To left and right there  are three in full glory, but further to the right,  on the very edge of the dam, is one that has lost its leaves completely. There are four in the centre, of which one still wears a hood of leaves; the others are bare. Curious.

Swamp cypress twig detail


I set off this morning – a perfect sunny Saturday – with the intention of focusing on the close-up or macro picture I need for Gardening Gone Wild’s May ‘Picture This’ competition.

3 Cotoneaster horizontalis

The brief is to specifically look at the effect of effective lighting in close-ups and macros. I took 172 shots; I have processed 23 to share. Not all are for the competition; and some I took for the competition didn’t even make it to the shortlist. Above: Cotoneaster horizontalis. Verdict: not competition worthy.

a Makoudam with swamp cypresses

From about the same position as the cotoneaster, I took the above shot down the Long Border towards one of the Swamp Cypresses on the Makou Dam. They will feature in the following shots as well.

a Makoudam from under swamp cypresses

The Swamp Cypress or Taxodium distichum is a deciduous conifer from the eastern USA. Its leaves turn a lovely cinnamon colour. but none of my close-ups qualify…

a Makoudam and  swamp cypress

The interesting thing about them is that each tree marches to its own drum. Some turn early, some late. But year after year they are consistent.

a Makoudam with swamp cypress reflection

As we make our way around the Makou Dam, there is the opportunity to photograph the progress at the site of The Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe. Don’t know about it? Find out more here.

a Site of the new garden

The Bugle I bought on auction from which the water will spill – the Celestial Trumpet – has arrived, and I’ve discovered that the dogs’ water-bowl, a flat, rectangular copper vase that was demoted when I tired of having a plastic bowl in the middle of everything, has the proportions of the Golden Rectangle (1:1.618)… I do think that the trumpet should rise from it…(besides anything else, I like the progression: vase>water- bowl>symbol of perfection)

a Site of the new garden 2

But I set out to take close-ups…

b Liquidambar avenue

Here is The Avenue – the Tulip Trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) which make their way up through the Arboretum in a double avenue with azaleas between them and hydrangeas beneath them. (I took several hydrangea photos, but they don’t feature today.) The fallen leaves, in various stages of decay and catching the light, proved very photogenic.

b liquodambar detail

A detail from the previous photo, this does not quite qualify for the competition.

5 Dappled light on fallen leaves

But this one does…

6 Dappled light on fallen leaves

…As does this one.

d Mateczka

But this one doesn’t!

Autumn azaleas

Many azaleas are blooming. As always in autumn, the semi-deciduous mauve ones are putting on a spectacular show… perhaps there is a competition entry here…

1 azalea filaments

However I do anticipate my entry being an autumn shot…

d Off camera

This photo is exactly as it came off the camera. I’m not at all certain if it is an accident or was planned!

7 Japanese maple against the light

The Japanese Maples  are an obvious choice, though. This one and the next are Acer palmatum ‘Tricolor’ and the pink/cream/green variegation results in interesting autumn shades as well.

8 Japanese maple against the light

Hmmm – those two are more similar than I realised. The next is almost not recognizably a Japanese maple.

10 Mutated Japanese maple

I grew it from seed. It is a mutation, slow growing, actually rather messy in appearance, but fascinating. Instead of having hand-shaped leaves, they are reduced to just the central finger or, as in the leaf pointing upwards, separated into three leaves. In addition they are congested and appear at the end of twigs only, on a narrow, upright tree. It is now about 2.5m tall, and becoming more and more interesting. Although truth be told – it is more interesting in concept than in reality…

c View across freddy's Dam

This glimpse, stolen across Freddy’s Dam towards a Parrotia persica coming into its own, is rather romantic, I think. And forms a modulation between possible entries.

9 Red Plane

One of my proudest possessions is this plane tree. Instead of having yellow autumn leaves, they are red. What is more, they start turning in mid February and last till mid May. That is three months of spectacular autumn colour. I found it in a rural nursery in KwaZulu-Natal amongst yellowing plane saplings, and sneaked it away nonchalantly…This photo was taken up into the light, with some leaves showing their backs and others their upper surface, I liked this so much I cropped it closer:

9 Red Plane detail

I like this photo. It might be called an elegant composition. Sparse. Simple. To the point: this IS what the red plane is all about.

d Japanese Maple avenue

One last photo, of the Japanese Maple avenue on my way home, before – well, before the very first photo I took. The one I believe might well be my entry. And literally the first of the day. There were several more of this subject, but the first, impulsive and unconsidered, was the best. Interesting…

2 Elephant Ears

These Elephant Ears , or Alocasia, came to me from England, of all places. I bought the seeds, from Thompson & Morgan, as I recall, because they were said to repel moles. I doubt that they have done so, but in the process I obtained a wonderful foliage plant of a family that does not cope – usually – with our cold winters. These grow dramatically outside the staff’s house as one enters Sequoia Gardens – thus the pinkish background – and I intend introducing it into a few of my borders in spring. For simplicity and effectiveness of composition, for textural detail as a result of the lighting, I think this is the best of my attempts to date. Think of the theme: Lighting: look closer.


June week 1

I returned from Johannesburg last night and this morning found frost on the lawn for the first time. Typical of a sunny winter’s morn, there is the slightest mist rising off the water – and autumn is still a strong presence, with the swamp cypress in the right centre not yet at its peak and various maples, cherries, sweet chestnuts and dawn redwoods contributing. The green tree left of centre is a Liquidambar formosana. It has a three-fingered leaf rather than the five of the more common L. styraciflua. Less impressive than the five-fingered tree in autumn, its virtue is the lateness of its turning, carrying autumn through into July in a good year. In the foreground the zinnias have now really gone to seed – but are contributing very fashionable ‘winter interest’ as well as ‘winter food/cover/accommodation’!


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.

Spring green

Many of the oaks are a limy yellow and abuzz with billions of bees tending to the fleeting flowers; the willows and swamp cypresses glow against the light, a green so clean it can only be spring… (sorry; corny moment; it reminds of a poem I loved to teach about  trying to write a poem that doesn’t rhyme, but it keeps rhyming. Should find it and post it!

This afternoon from my parents’ veranda I took the following picture…

Backlit afternoon view from my parents' veranda

Backlit afternoon view from my parents' veranda

The driveway crosses just beyond a narrow strip of lawn. A little further the main lawn lies below a brick retaining wall. To the left of the picture a pair of box plants in pots mark the top of the staircase that divides the  Upper Rosemary Border into two. To their left a clipped Abelia ‘Francis Mason’ and beyond them a strip of clipped endemic Hypericum; beyond that the swamp cypresses on the water’s edge. To the right of the swamp cypresses is a witch-hazel in full flower. It stands alone on the lawn. The various plants to the right of it are part of the Upper Rosemary Border

View from the Makou Dam

A late winter view from the dam below my parents' house up the valley towards my dam; the skeleton trees in the distance on the left are the liquodambers on my dam beyond my house. Makou means Muscovy duck; i don't know if there were Muscovies on the dam back in the early 50s when my grandfather bought the farm. One of my earliest memories is the name of the dam, and asking what it meant. The two trees to the right are Swamp Cypresses (Taxodium); beyond the huge shadow of the bluegums - see views across the arboritum in 'A walk in my garden' - are two Pin Oaks (Quercus palustris). on the very right Alfred's Arches can be seen beyond the Upper Rosemary Border. It is difficult in the dead of winter to remember how lush and green the garden was!

A late winter view from the dam below my parents' house up the valley towards my dam; the skeleton trees in the distance on the left are the liquodambers on my dam beyond my house. Makou means Muscovy duck; I don't know if there were Muscovies on the dam back in the early '50s when my grandfather bought the farm. One of my earliest memories is the name of the dam, and asking what it meant. The two trees to the right are Swamp Cypresses (Taxodium); beyond the huge shadow of the bluegums - see views across the arboritum in 'A walk in my garden' - are two Pin Oaks (Quercus palustris). on the very right Alfred's Arches can be seen beyond the Upper Rosemary Border. It is difficult in the dead of winter to remember how lush and green the garden was!