At this time of the year the brilliant scarlet flowers of the coral trees are giving way to the bright green of new leaves. Soon black pods will form that will, in time, pop open to reveal the hard scarlet seeds. The trees in our garden are all Erythrina caffra, which has a fairly limited distribution along the coastal regions of the Eastern Cape and Kwa Zulu Natal – which is why it is sometimes called the Coast Coral Tree. Their vermillion flowers are the most common variety, which you can see in combination with the new leaves in our back garden.

Some trees bear flowers that are more orange and others cream-coloured flowers, such as this specimen photographed in Port Elizabeth.

The tree I grew up with in Mpumalanga, is the widely distributed Erythrina lysistemon. Because it grows over much of the country, it is known as the Common Coral Tree. It is a particularly spectacular tree as the flowers are usually a bright scarlet. They produce abundant nectar that attracts many birds and insects.

Several of these trees have been blooming in and around Grahamstown.




I have seen the small greyish leaves of the Brown Sage (Salvia Africana-lutea) in passing, but this is the first time I have photographed the golden-brown flowers. The unusual colour is intriguing and rather beautiful when seen on the plant as opposed to an illustration in a field guide. It is a plant that flourishes along the South African coast, from Namaqualand to the Eastern Cape.

The flowers contain a lot of nectar and so are attractive to bees, moths and sunbirds. This hardy plant is fairly drought-resistant and worthy of finding a place in coastal gardens. This specimen was photographed on the campus of Rhodes University.


The Botanical Gardens in Grahamstown are situated on land granted to the Albany Botanical Gardens by the Governor of the Cape Colony, Sir George Cathcart, with the transfer of Erf 3282 being passed on 19th October 1853. More land was allocated to the project a year later and the gardens have expanded since then.

An avenue of oak trees runs through the centre of the gardens – clearly these are replacements of the original trees. This was the oldest plantation of oaks in or near Grahamstown at the time. This avenue historically formed an important carriageway from Lucas Avenue to Mountain Drive.

The gardens, affectionately known as ‘Bots’, but now officially called Makana Botanical Gardens, are adjacent to the beautiful campus of Rhodes University. Owing to the neglect of the gardens over a number of years, a rehabilitation and redevelopment programme was initiated by SANBI between 2004 and 2006. The Makana District (formerly Albany) granted Rhodes University a 99 year lease on the understanding that the gardens would be maintained by that institution during that time.

For some time afterwards the gardens were a joy to walk through with a variety of indigenous flowers blooming at different times of the year and an interesting array of paved paths winding up towards the top of Gunfire Hill. The paths are still there but an air of genteel neglect is pervasive.

Given the prolonged drought, it is perhaps understandable that the lily ponds have been drained. One of these lily ponds was created to commemorate Captain Fordyce (who died in the Amatolas in 1851 in the War of Mlanjeni). Only the hardiest of flowers are blooming in the overgrown and neglected garden beds. One being Felicia aethiopica.

The other is a Sour Fig.

A number of mature trees have survived both drought and neglect – there is a lovely grove of Erythrina caffra.

The very tall Bunya Pine Tree (Araucaria bidwillii) near the entrance has a sign warning visitors to be careful of falling pine cones. Read the sign and you will understand why!

This and other exotic trees hark back to an era when the gardens showcased plants from all over the world.

A military cemetery, dating from 1819 to 1822, lies within the grounds of the botanical gardens – overgrown with grass and weeds. A seedling white ironwood is growing right next to one of the head stones.

Apart from one, the remaining headstones can no longer be read because of weathering and the growth of lichen on them. The earliest grave is that of Captain R. Gethin, who died in the Battle of Grahamstown in 1819.

These botanical gardens, once part of the Drostdy Estate, are the second oldest in South Africa and bear the status of a Provincial Heritage Site. They were officially proclaimed a National Monument in July 1984.

Interesting background reading about the history of this area can be found at:



I recently planted six marigold seedlings in the back of the bed. Although they were meant to grow tall, they were very root bound when I got them from the nursery and so I adjusted the height expectations accordingly. It was only a week or two before they flowered, providing a dash of yellow – albeit still low to the ground.

Upon surveying my garden two days ago, I noticed the marigolds seem to have disappeared! This morning I saw the culprit!

If ever a snail would show its tummy, I am sure this one’s would be bulging. Either it, or a friend, walked at some speed across the garden path about an hour later.

Goodbye Marigolds!


I am no fundi on lichens, yet I am fascinated by the diversity of them in our garden alone.

It is akin to looking into a completely different forested or carpeted world from the one we are used to.

Some lichens look like small shrubs while others are leafy, some are shaped like tubes, and others grow flat against rocks or trees.


Come for a walk around our garden that is coming alive after the first spring rain. Firstly, there is the plum blossom on an offshoot of the already very old plum tree when we arrived thirty years ago. It eventually collapsed, became overgrown and we forgot about it until off shoots like these began poking through the ‘jungle’ a couple of years ago. If we are lucky, we may get a handful of plums that the birds have not devoured first!

The indigenous Cape Honeysuckle grows unchecked all over the garden. This plant is partially covering the homemade canoe we used for a trip to the Okavango Delta in Botswana long before our children were born!

A previous occupant planted this clambering rose on the bottom terrace of the garden. It was tiny and completely overgrown so that I only discovered it about two years after our arrival. During the intervening years of drought I was sure it had died – until it began clambering all over the Dais cotinifolia last year, covering it with white blossoms.

Having cut back a section of the encroaching jungle during winter, I purchased two varieties of Osteospermum to provide some colour in the bare spot.

Two plants with a long family history are blooming now too. Both originally come from slips taken from my mother’s garden on our family farm in Mpumalanga to be planted in our fledgling garden in Mafikeng in the North West Province and were replanted here in the Eastern Cape! The first is the indigenous Van Stadens River Daisy.

The second is a Marguerite Daisy.

Last summer I scattered a packet of mixed flower seeds in my sunniest spot – not much came up – but since our first spring rain two self-sown varieties delight my soul. One are the Californian Poppies, which are robust and seem to have multiplied.

The other is a single Cosmos plant – the flower of which I do not recall seeing before. Last summer the flowers were all pink!

Encouraged by all this brightness, I purchased these scarlet petunias from the nursery.


Bryan, the angulate tortoise, that has made our garden his home for a number of years, has emerged from his winter hiding place to strut about the garden once more.

We have seen him eating grass and other plants in the garden, nibbling with intent before walking surprisingly fast to seek shelter from the sun. We cannot always find him for he hides so well, but it is comforting to know that he has survived the cold weather and has continued to grow.