FESTIVE THOUGHTS

I am too late already for readers in Australia and New Zealand – our Christmas Eve is reaching its end: how strange it has felt not to have the usual cheerful conversations, and busyness that young children spread around along with their anticipatory joy. Instead, it has been a quiet evening of contemplation and reflection of Christmases past. My wish for all of my readers is that this festive period is as joyful as it can be under the circumstances; that you will at least have communications with your loved ones; that your Christmas Day is special in some way; and that the year ahead will bring you peace, good health, happiness, and a lot to be thankful for.

THE FINER DETAILS

From the magnificence of the trees around us to a closer look in the garden. Cosmos flowers have been delighting us for months. They keep re-seeding themselves and so the bed has been a mass of pink, white and a combination of these colours. The flowers are so prolific that one actually has to look closely to see the seed heads.

The Pompon trees were among the first to put out leaves at the start of spring and it has been delightful to watch their skeletal branches getting lost in the thick foliage, leaving only the dried reminders of the flowers from last season.

Recent rain has encouraged the buds to swell, to allow glimpses of pink to show, and now these trees are covered with beautiful pink blossoms that will need to be showcased on their own. Pink is cheerful – and we are enjoying a lot of it at the moment. Pale blue is also welcome and so are the plumbago flowers that are starting to make their presence felt next to our pool and along the garden path.

ANOTHER BEAUTIFUL TREE

This one grows on the pavement outside our garden, so we have been able to enjoy the beautiful purple-mauve blossoms of the Jacaranda – a colour that is very difficult to capture accurately on film.

Jacarandas were brought to South Africa from Argentina in about 1880 for ornamental purposes – particularly for public spaces, such as streets. Those planted along our street look their best when they are in full bloom at this time of the year and carpet the ground underneath them with their lovely blossoms.

Here is a better view of them – the ones on the left-hand side of the street are Brazilian Pepper trees.

The carpet of flowers look very pretty early in the morning, before vehicles have driven over and squished them.

Jacarandas have been planted as street trees in town too. The dark shapes you can see in these trees are seed pods that have already formed.

 

BLUE

Blue, blue, my world is blue
Blue is my world since I’m without you …

So sang Marty Robins, associating blue with the feeling of sadness, as in ‘I am feeling blue’. Among the symbolic meanings ascribed to the colour blue is a feeling of calm and serenity; a sense of social distancing (in the sense before the arrival of the pandemic); and cold in terms of emotions. Then too, we talk about something happening ‘once in a blue moon’, or describe the bad start of a week as experiencing a ‘blue Monday’. Whatever your interpretation of blue might be, it is a natural colour only clouds and the cover of night can hide from us. A blue sky is a part of our world – how fortunate we are that it is not bright red!

Blue flowers include a morning glory:

Plumbago:

The flowers of rosemary are also blue:

This flower arrangement has elements of blue:

I will leave you with this interesting image of a church tower that has been painted blue:

 

SPANISH BROOM

The first house we moved into on arrival in Mmabatho, Bophuthatswana, had been plonked onto the semi-desert sand. All the houses there were newly constructed from bricks and the garden areas had been surrounded by a wire fence. The winds howled, and dust storms regularly swept through the area, whipping up the sand loosened by the many construction projects that were involved in the process of starting a new town in the veld. We tried growing a patch of lawn, carefully watering it and marvelling as the kikuyu grass began to spread over the hot, dry sand. Then we watched in awe as the entire ‘lawn’ was carried away by harvester ants! A row of tall, sturdy marigolds was eaten by goats. Gardening there was obviously going to be a challenge.

A group of us decided to tackle our respective ‘gardens’ in earnest and drove to the nearest nursery in Lichtenburg. A neighbour strongly advocated purchasing rosemary on the grounds that “it is hardy and I have grown it everywhere we have settled.” She and her husband had indeed lived in India and various parts of Africa in the course of his work, and so rosemary made its way into my garden too – and I have always grown rosemary wherever we have moved to.

This is not about rosemary though, but the Spanish Broom (Spartium junceum) which – given the harsh conditions we were faced with – the helpful people at the nursery recommended to us. All four of us purchased more than one of these plants and duly planted them in our respective gardens. They proved to be tough and their fragrant bright yellow flowers delighted us from about August onwards. In the Eastern Cape they are still in full bloom during December.

The Spanish Broom, as its name implies, is a native of the Mediterranean region of Europe, was imported here both for ornamental purposes and, interestingly enough, for the control of erosion: fast-growing, tough and pretty – all qualities gardeners look for when starting a garden from scratch, particularly in an inhospitable environment. What we didn’t realise at the time is that this would become an unwelcome invasive species that has proved to be particularly problematic in the Eastern and Western Cape, Gauteng, and Mpumalanga.

As attractive as they are when in bloom, the Spanish Broom is now listed among the most problematic weeds in South Africa. Given that it is estimated they can produce up to 12 000 seeds per plant, it is not surprising to learn that they tend to block light and use up water required by the indigenous plant species. The plants are unpalatable to both domestic and wild animals and the large stands of them obviously reduces available forage. These are not thoughts that cross one’s mind when starting a garden and – at the time – were certainly not expressed by the enthusiastic sales people at the nursery!

The Spanish Broom has been declared a Category 1 plant, which means they may no longer be grown anywhere in South Africa. Gardeners are expected to remove them and nurseries may no longer sell them. So much for laws: unless they are vigorously implemented the march of the Spanish Broom will continue unabated – here is only a small patch of the swathes that have established themselves along the disused railway line cutting through the bottom end of our suburb.