REMOVING THE LAST CYPRESS

It was such a sad spectacle to witness that it has taken me six years to record it in a blog post: the removal of the last of the row of six cypress trees that separated the back garden from the front. They were already mature trees when we came to live here: their thick foliage and wide columnar growth gave the impression of tall green pyramids. These hardy trees with their needle-like, evergreen foliage and acorn-like seed cones did well for they clearly didn’t mind either the clay soil or the periods of drought. I suspect they were Leyland Cypress (Cupressocyparis leylandii). One died, then another; one began leaning in a precarious fashion … each space thus created allowed the remaining trees to spread their branches ever wider, until there was a single tree left. It was the one growing the closest to our house.

There it grew for many more years until we experienced a drought so severe that there was a real danger of fire. We had already experienced a raging fire over the road and seen trees ignite and flare up as the flames licked at their feet. We witnessed sheets of flames carried across the open and start a new ring of fire where they landed. It was time to take stock: we cleared the garden of dried leaves and heaps of garden refuse; the indigenous trees were not a problem – the cypress was. Not only was there the danger of the branches ripping tiles off the roof during the strong Berg winds, but should the tree catch fire, so would our house. It had to go. I apologised to it profusely throughout its ordeal – which began when the tree fellers brought their weapons of destruction.

They carefully assessed their approach to its removal.

First to go were the branches growing over the roof of the house.

The lower limbs were removed next.

Until only the top was left.

The whole tree was chipped and I like to think its nutrients have lived on in our garden.

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YESTERDAY-TODAY-AND-TOMORROW

I wish I could convey to you the wonderfully sweet fragrance emanating from the Yesterday-Today-and-Tomorrow shrubs growing in my garden – especially now as the day cools down towards evening after a day peaking at 30°C. Their fragrance seems so much better after a hot day. In Afrikaans it is known as Verbleikblom (bleaching flower) and you might know it better by its scientific designation of Brunsfelsia pauciflora.

These evergreen to deciduous shrubs have been popular in South African gardens ever since I can remember. Originally from Brazil, they thrive best is warm, humid conditions and prefer semi-shade. The first one I planted many years ago in semi-shade has grown tall in its search for light as the trees around it have left it in deep shade: I very seldom see it in bloom. The other two receive bright sunshine in the morning and in the afternoon respectively and are filled with blossoms, especially after rain during spring and summer.

Why the lengthy common name? The flowers are a deep violet to purple colour on opening and fade daily to a pale lavender and then to white.

The leaves are elliptical and leathery with a waxy sheen.

It is a real joy to walk around the garden in the dying light of the day with the wonderful fragrance from these trees wafting in the warm air.

 

MYSTERY OF MYSTERIOUS PLANT UNVEILED

Hooray for knowledgeable fellow bloggers and how wonderful to begin the new year with a mystery solved. My previous post included “a mystery plant that at first looked and (the leaves) smelled akin to a carrot. Within days it had shot up and produced a variety of blooms”.

Alittlebitoutoffocus helpfully not only identified it as a Wild Carrot (Daucus carrota), but included a video that takes one through the identification process.

This plant is also known as Queen Anne’s Lace, a reference to its resemblance to lace made by Queen Anne. The flowers are clustered in flat, dense umbels, with the red flower in the centre apparently representing a blood droplet where she pricked herself with a needle while making the lace. The function of this tiny red flower, coloured by anthocyanin, is to attract pollinating insects.

Queen Anne’s lace is a biennial plant that is native to Europe and southwest Asia, so how did one end up in my flower pot? I was unaware that it is a popular garden plant in South Africa – particularly for using in mixed floral displays – so it may have come from a seed blown in from one of the neighbouring gardens.

It is a hardy annual that, apart from creamy white flowers, also apparently produces flowers in a range of sizes and colours, from blush to dark purple. Mine started off looking white but soon developed a purplish tinge. Some sources say the flowers change colour with age. Eliza suggests that my plant may be a cultivar known as Daucus carrota ‘Dara’.

That it likes full sun comes as no surprise for the pot it chose to grow in receives full sun from early in the morning until about two o’clock in the afternoon.

Not that I plan to do pull it up – just yet anyway – I understand that the taproot is whitish and both looks and smells like a carrot. The leaves certainly look and smell like a carrot. This is not surprising, given that it is the mother of all carrots!

The stiff, solid stem is hairy.

As the seeds develop, the umbel curls up at the edges, becomes more congested, and develops a concave surface.

 

ROUNDING OFF 2022 IN THE GARDEN

A quick walk around the garden on this very hot last-day-of-the-year revealed that the forest pink hibiscus (Hibiscus pendunculatus) is providing some delicate colour in the deep shade:

Growing in a pot is a mystery plant that at first looked and (the leaves) smelled akin to a carrot. Within days it had shot up and produced a variety of blooms:

The red salvia (Salvia splendens) planted last summer are still doing well, having bloomed almost continuously since then:

Adding some colour near our front door are these nasturtiums:

Also lasting well are these pansies:

In another pot are some very stunted – yet pretty – snapdragons:

These little patches of colour bring joy and with them come my wishes for a good year ahead for all of you.

A DAMP DECEMBER MORNING

We woke to thick mist casting a white mantle over the garden – not surprising, for last night we enjoyed the rare treat of rolls of thunder and flashes of lightning that turned the sky purple. Such joy it is then to find almost 20mm rain in the gauge – an amount worthy of photographing!

The excessive heat along with the lack of water has put paid to most flowers in the garden. I was thus surprised to see these poppies providing a brave show of colour.

They are among the few successes I have had with growing plants from seeds so far. The marigolds all shrivelled and died once they had put out their first proper leaves – the rain came too late for them, but I shall try again. Meanwhile, the Pompon trees – many of which are self-seeded – have put on a magnificent show this summer, filling our garden with pink delight. They have passed their peak now, yet there are still patches of new blossoms to enjoy.

The other great delight was the later than usual return of the Lesser-striped Swallows. They have deliberated long and hard about the best site for their mud nest. The rains have come at the right time for them and they have made good progress this week at the site of the original nests that have been built here for the past twenty-odd years. They need to complete the cup and then build the tunnel.

I had to negotiate the damp garden path with care in order to photograph the carpet of yellow Tipuana flowers from the tree in our neighbour’s garden. They became very slippery when wet!

While I was walking around our delightfully damp garden, I heard the clopping of hooves of a small group of the Urban Herd walking along the road next to our front fence.

You might just make out some of the lilac Jacaranda tree blossoms that are strewn across the road.