Today has been darkly overcast and dull with a very light shower clearing the air a short while ago. Having already looked at various hues of green on St. Patrick’s Day (interestingly the dead snake elicited the most responses!), as I walked around my garden this afternoon I was reminded of the various shapes of leaves we get in nature. First up is the Spekboom (Portulacaria afra) which grows outside the side door leading to our swimming pool. The colour of the stalkless, succulent leaves tend to vary from bright green to pale grey. I planted this small tree as a broken off twig several years ago and it has already reached a height of nearly 4m. I prune it periodically and plant the cuttings elsewhere in the garden.

This Aloe ferox growing near our front door is well over thirty years old – well suited to this dry part of the Eastern Cape. Its beautiful flowers will appear sometime in May and continue through to the end of August. These broad leaves are showings signs of age yet still look attractive to me.

This Ziziphus mucronata, commonly known as buffalo thorn or blinkblaar-wag-‘n-bietjie, seeded itself outside our lounge window. I enjoy the glossy green leaves, although remain wary of the thorns – one hooked and the other straight – that are difficult to extract oneself from. Despite the thorns, trees growing in the wild are browsed by both game and stock animals.

Gardens are all the sadder, I think, without nasturtiums growing somewhere. Not only do they produce blooms in a variety of colours, but their blossoms, leaves and immature green seed pods are edible.

According to the Agricultural Research Council “Sword fern is a category 1b declared invader in Limpopo, Mupumalanga, Kwazulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and Western Cape, and a category 3 invader in Gauteng, Free State, North-West, and Northern Cape. It must be controlled or eradicated where possible, and may not be sold or distributed through commercial outlets.” Try as I might, I simply cannot get rid of these plants which grow faster than I can attack them!

Another exotic is the Cape gooseberry (Physalis edulis) which originates in South America. All the plants (the number of them wax or wane according to the weather) growing in my garden have seeded themselves – probably courtesy of the birds which adore the golden berries as much as I do. I generally leave them to grow wherever they please, unless they are really in the way.



Autumn is a lovely time of the year when the days still tend to be warm and sunny, while a chill begins to creep in at night. The garden is still green and although most birds have already raised their families, I still find the odd eggshell below trees. They might be older than I think and blown there by the wind. This mottled one blends in well with its background:

While walking around the garden with my eyes on the ground, I came across this hole in a drier part of the lawn. It looks as though it has a tower of finely chewed grass surrounding it:

This is the time of the year when I come across fungi in unexpected places:

Snails also abound – I mostly find them on walls or steps. This one seems colour-coded with its background:

Lastly, because so many readers have commented on not having seen aloes in flower, here is an example of the first to bloom in my garden:


One winter, several years ago, my husband and I decided to spend the night in a tiny Free State town. We booked into a country-style hotel – the only accommodation available – and settled into our rondavel-type accommodation. We then inquired about supper for this was not the kind of town to support the usual array of fast food franchises. The only restaurant we had come across during our late afternoon walk through the town displayed a discreet notice on the door that announced it was only open on Friday and Saturday evenings. We happened to be there on a Wednesday.

We walked to the main hotel building where one of the hotel staff pointed us to the large, well-appointed dining room. The tables were bedecked with thick white table cloths and a dark maroon overlay. The silver cutlery shone in the soft light and the tall wine glasses each held a starched white cloth serviette. I was the only one in the room. “Ask for a menu while I see if I can rustle up a drink”, my husband said cheerfully as he headed for the bar.

No menu was offered. No-one even peered into the dining room. There was only me and my reflection in a dusty mirror above a highly polished sideboard. The room was eerily silent except for some muffled laughter somewhere in a distant part of the building.

After what seemed an age, my husband appeared grinning broadly. “They don’t use the dining room. We have to eat in the pub.” He led the way through a labyrinth of polished passages to a narrow room filled with men and women drinking and laughing – it took only a second to realise that we were the only English-speakers there. The patrons were seated around the only two tables and some were perched on the arms of the motley collection of low chairs. Others stood quite comfortably whilst quaffing their drinks of choice.

Our only option was to sit on the high stools shoved against a very high bar counter. We ordered our drinks and perused the tiny, rather sticky, plastic-coated menu: fried chicken and chips; beef burgers and chips; or steak and chips. The barman was busy. The other patrons were very thirsty and loud. We sipped our drinks and surveyed the scene from our lofty perches. After a while, I waved the menu to attract the attention of the barman. He took our order and disappeared.

It was clearly a busy night and we were in no hurry. The barman dispensed drinks and disappeared; dispensed more drinks and disappeared; added his comments to the general conversation and eventually brought our supper. It turned out he was both the barman and cook!

Believe me, it is not easy eating a meal placed on a counter that is level with your nose. I looked around for a cushion, but there were none to be had. My husband and I were sitting slightly apart to allow for some elbow room in that confined space. I was finishing the last of the chips that had been liberally doused in tomato sauce by the barman when the door behind me opened, letting in a chilly breeze.

The two men who entered were welcomed enthusiastically by the seated crowd. Everyone obviously knew each other well in this pub. Both ordered a drink and exchanged pleasantries with the barman. One squeezed into a space between his mates while the other man ordered four take-away hamburgers and chips. He turned to the assembly. “Ons neem warm kos vir ons koue vrouens.” [We’re taking warm food to our cold wives].

With that, he pulled out a bar stool and sat between me and my husband. “Tickie,” he introduced himself and chatted about the work he did in the area, about the difficulties of sheep farming, the drought and about some of the local characters. He ordered more drinks for the three of us, moving his stool closer to the counter whilst turning his back slightly on my husband.

At one stage Tickie asked the barman to “maak gou” [hurry up] with their food, teasing him about having to catch a cow and slaughter it before he could make the hamburgers. Everyone laughed at that one. It was obviously a well-worn joke.

By the time Tickie had ordered another round of drinks for him and his companion and was telling me about hunting springhares by the lights of his vehicle, he had turned his back on my husband completely so that he was focused solely on me.

The barman indicated the polystyrene take-away containers he had placed on the counter. The ordered food was ready. Neither Tickie nor his friend were in a hurry to leave. By now all the patrons were contributing their hunting stories, their laughter and gestures graciously including the two strangers in their midst.

A considerable time had lapsed before the barman reminded Tickie about the food he had ordered. A sense of urgency must have trickled through his brain while he drained his glass for he called to his friend and pointed to his wristwatch in an exaggerated fashion. “Kom Frikkie, ons moet nou huis toe gaan.” [Come Frikkie, we must go home now.] The two men laughingly gathered their containers and staggered to the door. After bidding everyone farewell, Tickie announced “Nou neem ons koue kos vir warm vrouens.” [Now we’re taking cold food to warm wives]. Then the two of them slipped out into the wintry night to face the wrath of their wives at home.


There was a time in this country when families grew up close enough to each other to visit regularly and to gather for important family celebrations as well as for Easter, Christmas and New Year. Later, the younger generations began to spread their wings: some to university and others to seek jobs in nearby towns. Such moves meant missing out on some of the family celebrations except, perhaps, for Easter, Christmas or New Year – traditional family gathering times.

With a greater variety of jobs on offer, wings stretched further and families have become more scattered across the country. It has become less easy to ‘pop home’ for significant family birthdays, for example, and a greater effort is required to attend important weddings. Some family members might have to fly in from major cities and even to hire a vehicle …

‘The world is your oyster’ gets bandied about in motivational talks along with ‘the future is in your hands’. As South Africa’s future becomes darker, drier, more rickety and potholed; and as the future standard of education becomes increasingly uncertain, young men and women are looking to the rest of that ‘oyster world’ to find a haven where they can compete for jobs on an equal basis; where they can feel safe; and where the education of their children is secure. Most of them probably leave with heavy hearts: South Africa is not easy to turn one’s back on.

No hearts are heavier than those of the parents left behind in the sunshine, the drought, the wild beauty, and the plethora of flora and fauna. Families maintain contact through electronic means, yet what we parents miss is the physical hug, spontaneous laughter and being able to watch our grandchildren grow up.

Our children moving to other countries can wrought unexpected changes within families. So it is that there are some who find that circumstances beyond their control have led to their in-laws and grandchildren speaking a different language from those we are used to.

I was struck by this when I was sitting on a bench near a waterhole in the Kruger National Park, cradling my camera on my lap, when a young couple walked slowly towards me. Hand-in-hand, they were armed with a camera and binoculars respectively and smiled shyly as they passed me. In their wake trailed a grey-haired woman who caught my eye as we greeted each other.

She immediately started telling me about her holiday with her son and daughter-in-law. “We have based ourselves at Hazyview,” she told me for it was cheaper than staying in one of the chalets in the Kruger National Park. “We come in every day. My son grew up with Kruger in his blood – we used to visit here every year until he went away.” At this point her voice trembled and her moist eyes followed the young couple as they looked up into the trees, binoculars and cameras at the ready. “My son misses Kruger,” she finished wistfully.

Although she spoke fluent English, I could discern that Afrikaans was her home language. I was about to do her the courtesy of switching languages when she moved towards the young couple returning along the stone-clad path.

“Did you see anything interesting?” she asked the young woman in English. Then she turned to her son with “Dis nou so droog ‘n mens kan niks sien nie.” [It’s so dry now that we can see nothing]. As they walked away I couldn’t help facing the nagging truth of yet another South African family stretching across the delicate balance of distance, language and differing lifestyles.


It is St. Patrick’s Day after all, so what about a song from The New Christy Minstrels?

Green, green, it’s green they say

On the far side of the hill

Green, green, I’m goin’ away

To where the grass is greener still …

We will stick with green, even though autumn is waiting in the wings, and begin  with the counting out rhyme

A little green snake

Ate too much cake,

And now he’s got

A belly-ache!

This green snake, found on the lawn at Royal Natal National Park, didn’t get a belly-ache but had its head neatly chopped off – probably by one of the gardeners.

Several streets of the town I live in are lined with oak trees. Here are new leaves shining in the sunlight.

While prickly pears are not indigenous to this country, they have spread everywhere.

Known abroad as the jade plant for some reason, the Crassula ovata is indigenous here and we have several of them growing in our garden. This one is almost ready to show off its lovely flowers.

Spekboom is also indigenous to the Eastern Cape and grows very easily in my garden.

Lastly, these pods of the Weeping Boerbean (Schotia brachypetala) caught my eye.