10 October traditionally marks the start of the rainy season. Anything before that is both a bonus and a bad omen. Joining as it did other bad omens, I had mixed feelings about the wonderful early September rain…

Aristea in the rain

But this past week has grown progressively wetter, mist turning to rain and quite decent rain forecast for today to follow on the 10mm we measured over the last three days. Only one problem: tomorrow my cousin gets married and photos are scheduled in the garden… But there is a chance of some sunshine at appropriate times tomorrow.

wet view from the guest room

The sharp-eyed will notice both the trailer and the bakkie (ute, truck) parked on the lower road. We had carted compost from the plantations, a wonderful source of good free nourishment for the newly developed straight edge to the top bed after 25 years under lawn. Most of the new area has been seeded with ‘easy flowers’ – although some packs passed there sell-by date in 2005 *blush* so we shall see what’s forthcoming… Be it as it may: the weather is ideal!

Reshaping the upper edge of the big lawn

Here are some rather careless wet-lens snapshots of recent developments, with resultant flare. Under the Japanese Maple – rounded and GREEN and lovely in the rain, growing as you look at it – we have planted a hedge of Abelia ‘Francis Mason’ to match the one visible across the lawn at the Ellensgate Garden. The blue flower in the top pic, by the way, is our local Aristea, a wonderful little bulb which has ‘flowering days’ and ‘non-flowering days’. It always reminds me of stories I’ve heard over the years from my lady colleagues about life in the girls’ boarding house at school…

Across Mothers' Garden

Here you can see the Mothers’ Garden all hedged and ready for the roses which will be planted here; another area which will respond thankfully to the rain!

Water spout

By special request from my friend Diana of Elephant’s Eye here is a progress report (imperfect) on The Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe; first a view across the water spout incorrectly aligning the axis with the view through to the other side. This was one of the many imperfections I had to consider here, and the eventual decision was to plug this (totally accidental) extension of the axis 5 degrees off centre with a shrub or two on the far end. It is yet to happen. Beyond the spout and at a lower level you can see, if you know what to look for, the logs that form the spiral in this garden. Below you CAN see them. As well as the softening that has happened from the rather casual introduction of some flowers here. The big project is the construction of the water spiral, fed by the overflow from the house-water fountain, which will come up through a central ‘celestial trumpet’ before flowing down a homemade spiral shute , around and out from the stepping logs. But in the imperfect world we celebrate in this garden, none of that has been constructed although most material is on site, and we are 18 months from conception. Bit of an elephant, although hopefully neither pink nor white.

The Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe spiral


View from the front door

Am I a little obsessed with The Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe? You bet!  Am I excessively fond of autumn? You bet! So please, just accept this photo, a sort of season-of-mists-and-mellow-fruitfulness photo, which looks down the axis towards where it is all happening. Imagine a jet of water marking the centre of the axis. And imagine it falling down, not into a random collection of rocks and stones as it was going to do, but into a model of the perfect universe; or perhaps more correctly, a maquette of the imperfect one. The plan is that the spiral design will be repeated in the placement of the rocks, with a simple copper pipe spiral representing the chute of the fountain below. I’m sure that, even if you have been following all my plans, you are a little confused,. Bear with me, please! In time all will hopefully become clear.

On auction at bidorbuy I have acquired this bugle for R300 – that is about US$45 – which is to form the ‘Celestial Trumpet’ from which the water in the chute first appears. Meanwhile the concept has grown; a sort of African symbolism has been added: a brazier of red  ‘coals’ will add the element of fire to the source… bugle 1

What is more I have bought a small brass abacus, a trinket really, but somehow it will make its way into the design as a symbol of Eastern mathematics and the wide foundation our understanding of the universe has. And meanwhile the wattle wall has been completed.

Monty studies autumn

After a long day followed by a walk through the garden, I was sitting late this afternoon, looking out across the lawn towards the big gum  and the autumn shades. I had been in charge this morning of the hosting by our  Rotary Club of the final round of a substantial regional public speaking competition for eleventh graders, where the prize is a six week short term Rotary Exchange overseas. Always it is a humbling experience, for the young are so articulate, so passionate and so optimistic. There is an additional element which non-South Africans will understand only with difficulty. Ten years ago we were amazed at how well black students were doing, how well they spoke English, how obviously they were of a new dispensation. Now we take it for granted. And instead my thoughts today were of the many hundreds of thousands of children, still locked into rural poverty and bleakness, who could also achieve at the level these children were achieving.

4 Woolly necked stork 3

It was growing dark. Suddenly five birds flew into view, circled and settled into the huge gum tree for the night. I knew they were Woolly-necked Storks, for during this last summer we have gone from seeing them occasionally to having a resident family from a nest on my neighbours’ farm. But I had never seen them coming in to roost before, nor so many – and they had chosen my tree! So moved was I that for the first time in over thirty years I attempted poetry. I hope that in the cold light of day I do not regret sharing it with you…

See more about them at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woolly-necked_Stork 

woolly necked storks 2 Woolly necked storks 1

                         Four pictures of Woolly-Necked Storks off the web


Could I capture the grace –

Or the size (how can such a small bird

Be so big?) Or the silence

As in darkening dusk

They swooped in, squabbled

About roosts, took off,

Returned, always graceful,

Turning on outspread wings,

Silently observing, choosing a spot, silently landing –

Could I really still see their movement

As the dusk darkened, hear

Their silence as the fluting

Of reed frogs , even the sound

Of the grass growing, the neatly

Trimmed lawn in the foreground, was

That wind in the gums behind them, yes,

There was movement in the uppermost

Leaves of the towering gum

They were roosting in, dark now

Against the darkness, roosting

In my tree, would they return, had they

Been here before, they had come

So unexpectedly in the gathering

Dusk, five at first, perhaps two more

Later, swooping in, silently, arching wings and backs,

Dropping long legs, braking, circling, perching,

Disappearing in the dark, all but their

White necks


In the dark

Would they come again?

Had they been before?

These silent graceful creatures

In a silent graceful dusk

Unexpected symbols

Of silence, perfection, grace

On a perfect eve

As summer


Into autumn.

           Jack Holloway 16/4/2011


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!


side view onto project

My story starts with a moment I didn’t capture on film, but which 16 years later still enraptures me. I had taken a photo of the stream at Bodnant Gardens in Wales, tall old trees on the banks, streamside ribbons of green, a few red flowers (what? perhaps they were yellow ligularia…) As I dropped my camera there tiptoed out onto the rocks across the stream a little girl of  perhaps seven or eight, dressed in red and pink, her arms out to balance her. Before I could lift my camera again, she had crossed. As I remember, I asked her to go back and do it again, smiling apologetically at her parents, but the spontaneity was lost and the final photo disappointing.

Element one of The Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe: children must play in it, lost in a fantasy world.

fibonaccispiral fibonac_8

Element two, and the one I knew I could never make work convincingly on my budget – I am fascinated by the Golden Rectangle and its relation to the Fibonacci spiral and Fibonacci numbers  (see  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_spiral  and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fibonacci_sequence   Or just  do a Google Image search for “fibonacci sequence in nature”as I did for these illustrations. The pictures will give you a pretty good idea of what this is all about… and why the gardener/ designer/ spiritualist/ philosopher in me is fascinated by the subject.)


IMG_1227 IMG_1226
IMG_1222 IMG_1225

I wanted to try to make Fibonacci work for me; last year I met an American girl who was going to be studying Landscape Design and who wanted some hands-on experience whilst she was here. I gave her a pack of references, showed her the site and asked her what she could come up with. She went off days later, leaving me with a few charming and evocative sketches, but I think she thought me  a little touched.

Photographed in my own garden last week, no thought of Fibonacci on my mind!
Element three: near where Croft Cottage is today there were two massive  Eucalyptus  trees of an unusual species. They had the nasty habit of dropping huge branches from up high, each  the size of a decent tree. I once watched one fall… those trees had to go; but their going was slow. Two contractors abandoned the job, the second leaving one  tree leaning perilously into another. A third contractor managed to drop the trees successfully, but absconded before cutting the huge trunks, over a meter in diameter and many meters long. Last year a man who walked barefoot and drank a bottle of brandy neat on the job every day cut the trunks into ‘manageable’ discs. Well most of the trunks. panorama 2

  I decided to use these discs like stepping stones in the garden at the end of the front door axis, One would step along them and look down on a sea of plants one would normally look across at in a border. And the child with the outstretched arms was there in my mind.

Main axis

Now let us take a look at the site. The main axis of the garden runs from the front door down past the Ellensgate Garden and through Alfred’s Arches before forming a stage at the head of the Rosemary Terrace. There, at the moment, it stops.

Looking down the axis Looking back up the axis
    Looking first down and then up the axis. The photos were taken on my return to the farm on 5 April,
a wet afternoon, and the dogs are eager for their first walk of the month. I am not being obliging…

Main axis side view

Side view of the axis; the hedge at the top end of the Rosemary Borders is only just protruding beyond Alfred’s Arches, the Salic cuprea arbour over the path.  The Ellensgate Garden is mainly hidden behind the two junipers that frame the start of the path. The pillars at the head of the steps are matched by two pillars either side of the front door – they feature in this photograph.

bottom of axis

The end of the axis is marked by a black rubber dustbin, let into the ground some 9 years ago to be the reservoir for a simple spout fountain that would sparkle in the view from the front door. Recently we laid on electricity to this point and the project can now be completed. But how to continue from here? There have been many ideas over the years. What ever happened next, the path would need to take a turn around the spout. Few of us are sufficiently in touch with our inner child to walk across an enema.

Stand at this point. Ahead is an off-centre semi-circle, dense to the right, fronted by the wonderful pale trunks of Pride of India (Lagerstroemeria indica) Straight ahead an ancient apple and a purple crab have clearable scrub beneath them. To the left there is lawn and  the view opens up towards the Makou Dam, but there are three Liquodambers kept coppiced to give an impression, along with some bedraggled spiraea, of finishing off the semi-circle. Take a look again at the picture above the axis shots to see this. Planning steps at spoutToo formal- one of the main reasons this area has taken 8 years to develop further.

Recently I stood astride the sunk dustbin, the silliest thing anyone can have in their garden, and wondered  how (the hell) I was going to make it all work. Whatever happened at this point would be of forced symmetry, at best vaguely semi-circular, yet this was where I was contemplating enforcing the perfection of Fibonacci on the terrain. No wonder my American thought me daft and apologetically came up with something very interesting, but only slightly like I had asked for… Since her suggestions  I had decided on the stepping stones, and pictured, vaguely, a curving set of steps going off to the left from the axis and flowing round into a sort of spiral within the semi-circle.

As I stood contemplating, a very lovely sunset developed, and it happened to reflect in the Makou Dam, and I happened to think that it would be very lovely if there was a sheet or two of water between me and the dam to bring the reflection closer.

4338595313_a895cf4fc7 I know it IS the 1st of April as I write this, but I promise you, I’m not having you on. Really not. I looked down the length of this lowest of the terraces and I thought about water and reflections and a picture of a very beautiful garden came into my mind and I thought ‘not like that, but rather like that’ and so I went inside (much to the dogs’ disgust) and searched through my many linear meters of books for the picture of it I knew I had. I searched and searched. I did not find the picture immediately.

But I found enough to realise that it was the garden at Shute House, designed by Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe . More importantly, I discovered that there actually was an entire book devoted to the garden, and that it was available from the USA at $1.45, second-hand. So in due course the book arrived. I spent an agonising hour prizing apart the water-damaged pages (only very minor losses as they on the whole parted company cleanly) and then I could read all about Shute House in great detail. But that, I guess, really is a subject for another post. What is important here is that water had entered into the equation – and that I could almost certainly get it on site by pipe from Freddy’s Dam, there already being a pipe feeding the Waterlily Pond, which could be extended.

Last week I arrived back on the farm just before lunch with assorted shopping and a trailer load of old tyres to go into the soak-pit which will complete Croft Cottage’s sewerage system. At which point the Bell Loader arrived and parked behind me. He’d been working in the pine plantations, moving the cut logs and loading them onto the trucks. My staff had negotiated with him to come and help move the huge eucalyptus discs. They knew what a task it would be without the Bell… Well to cut a long story short, little over an hour later all the biggest and many of the smaller discs had been moved, several put on site in their final position, the Bell operator using his massively strong and incredibly manoeuvrable vehicle in such a way that one thought of an elephant using its trunk.

bell loader at work loading
unloading near the site dropped off discs

He was swinging those huge slabs to just where I wanted them, then putting them down facing as I requested. And so I found myself looking down on the semi-circle again on Wednesday evening, contemplating the newly installed curve of ‘stepping stones’.

I walked along them, exploring not only the inner child, but checking how aging gardeners would manage the ungainly hop. I wondered about a seat, for suddenly the area had a magic I had not noticed before. And I wondered about integrating the water into the spiral. And then I went home and prepared for payday, and coming to Johannesburg.

And thus we find ourselves on Thursday afternoon en route, with time to think, So I put my mind to the water issue. And as I told you in my previous post, things then happened fast… I thought of children, and I thought of the strange flattened-out spiral of  vaguely circular tree stumps and I thought of contrasting a counter-spiral of water, and I thought of the perfection of a Fibonacci arrangement, and how “sort-of” everything about the topography was, and the name came to me in a flash, and with it the whole solution… The Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe. quick planI stopped the car and drew a quick schematic drawing, to make certain it could all work: middle left the end of the axis where the spout is, with the steps above; circles of ‘stepping stones’, and the line of the chute.

Sequoia garden map

 Perhaps a map will be of value at this stage! The front door axis is shown in red, with the half moon representing The Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe. The broken line shows the edge of the property. The new visitors’ parking is indicated – come and see the garden for yourself!

A The Big House N The Old Barn (Die Ou Skuur)
B Ellensgate Garden O Croft Cottage (still under construction here)
C White Garden P The Long Border
D Anniversary Garden Q Makou Dam
E Big Lawn R The Arboretum
F Alfred;s Arches (willow arbour over path) S Park Lane
G Upper Rosemary Border T (marked Y Sad smile) The Avenue
H Rosemary Terrace – the most obviously formal part of the garden, especially when seen from the visitors’ entrance ‘L’. U The Circle Route – a comfortable walk on a drivable road,on a gentle contour around the two dams. About 800m long.
I Lower Rosemary Border – with a rosemary hedge along its entire length. V Freddy’s Dam. The Bridge is at the V.  The House that Jack Built looks onto  this dam.
J Site of the planned new reflective pools on the lowest terrace. W The Waterlily Pond. Could also have been marked U as the Circle Route  passes here.
K The Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe X Beech Borders axis With a bit of imagination the line between here and ‘U’ can be seen.
L New visitor’ entrance  ; from here you can easily explore the formal gardens or take the Circle Route ‘U’ to explore the wilder parts of the garden or the arboretum (R to T). Y Site of the planned Mothers’ Garden and Old Rose Garden (to be moved here from the Rondel Garden – off pic to the right.) The Mothers’ Garden, commemorating my and Louis’ moms, is due to be started soon.
M Vegetable Garden Z The Sequoia Avenue


Start of the Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe

A very large yellow flower in my garden!

Welcome to April Fool’s Day!

No. This really is my current obsession, and I’m preparing a post on it. But I’m away from home and my picture archives, so it will have to wait a few days. Let me just tease you by saying that yesterday en route months – even years – of playing with ideas fell into outrageous place and in an instant the design for The Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe was there; I spent the next 300km refining it. Outrageous but executable, with the potential to become my most iconic garden space…

And the Bell Loader, on loan from where it was working in the Pine plantations, helped hugely on Wednesday to start the whole process. And if you find this all a little rough – think crystal chandeliers as well. Smile