It is essential to provide a ready supply of water if one wishes to attract birds to one’s garden. Bird baths do not have to be ornate or expensive – our most popular one in fact is the upturned top of an old garden lamp!

A Laughing Dove and a Redwinged Starling contemplating a drink.

This pedestal bird bath is a favourite place for bathing and here we can peep at an Olive Thrush doing just that:

Shall I dive in?

This feels good.

What big splashes I make!

Clean all over.



Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a low-maintenance herb that thrives on a reasonable amount of neglect. It was the first herb I planted in our brand new garden in Mmabatho, after a Welsh friend informed me that “no garden should be without it”. I have ensured since then that I always have a bush or two growing in the garden. With the onset of spring – and in the hope of rain in the offing – I have planted out several rooted ‘sticks’ of rosemary in different parts of the garden. Not only are their flowers beautiful, I use the aromatic leaves in my cooking almost on a daily basis.

Apart from its culinary uses – those in the know claim that drinking tea made from a small section of rosemary will help to lift one’s spirits, while others recommend making Glühwein by adding rosemary, cinnamon and cloves to warmed red wine for a healthy option in the winter – rosemary is regarded as a traditional symbol of friendship, loyalty and remembrance. Some brides include a sprig or two of rosemary in their wedding bouquets for that reason. I have also been told in all seriousness that growing a bush of rosemary at your front door will discourage evil forces from entering your home. As this plant – originally from the Mediterranean regions – does best in full sun, I cannot oblige on that score.


The drought continues. Not only that, but spring is generally slow about making its appearance in this part of the country – no 1st September here, it is more likely to slumber on at least until the equinox. Nonetheless, apart from the birds, which are clearly in a spring mood, and especially the arrival of the Lesser-striped Swallows, there are some signs of spring in the garden.

The most striking display of spring comes from our ancient plum tree. This tree was already old when we arrived here nearly thirty years ago. Over time we thought it had died and allowed it to be taken over by the creepers and self-sown trees. Over the past two years, however, there have been signs of life from what must be its off-spring – and even a few plums we have managed to get before the birds do.

The next plant that welcomes spring are the showy flowers of the Mesembryanthemum acinaciforme (also known locally as the Sour Fig). These plants survive in my garden mainly because they are resistant to harsh climatic conditions – they have certainly been put to the test of late!

The Chinese Jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum) cacades over other plants and nestles in heaps of pretty flowers that exude a powerful frangrance, a sweet, heady perfume that spreads over the garden – especially in the late afternoon and early evenings.

I often mention the vigorous growth of the Tecoma capensis (Cape Honeysuckle) that invades various sections of our garden and needs to be cut back severely from time to time. Birds – especially sunbirds – feast on their flowers and the dense growth harbours good nesting places for Olive Thrushes, Cape White-eyes and Fork-tailed Drongos.

Lastly, I am delighted to report that the Clivia minniata are coming into bloom. Some of these plants had to be hastily transplanted only a few weeks ago as they were in the way of a tree that had to be removed. They have taken to their new abode and will soon be brightening up the shady garden path with their wonderful blooms.


August has been a wonderful month for watching birds in our garden. As the season gradually turns towards spring, the birds have responded by donning their breeding plumage and getting down to the serious business of courting. These are Cape Weavers sporting their breeding plumage.

A Blackbacked Puffback made a fleeting visit last week and, having bemoaned the absence of Malachite Sunbirds last month, I have seen several of them feeding on the Erythrina caffra – much too high up for a decent photograph of them though. I was fortunate to be sitting outdoors when a Cardinal Woodpecker visited a nearby tree and remained there for some minutes before finding one further on that was more likely to have food tucked under the loose bark. It is said that one swallow doesn’t make summer – nothing has been said about swifts, although I was taken aback to see a pair of Whiterumped Swifts flying overhead. I thought I must be mistaken, but they have appeared on more than one occasion since then. The joy of keeping records is that I could look up my bird list for last August and see that the swifts indeed arrived ahead of the much-awaited Lesser-striped Swallows – they will be the harbingers of summer.

The Black (Cape) Crow is not an easy subject to photograph – either absorbing all the light to become a dark blob or reflecting so much light that its features are lost. This time I have nabbed one in reasonable light, so include it here.

At this time of the year we get a regular mix of Cape Weavers and Village Weavers, with a handful of Southern Masked Weavers thrown in. One has to observe them very carefully to distinguish between the latter two. Every now and then a Spectacled Weaver joins the fray at the feeding tray or visits the ‘pub’.  With the drought still plaguing us, the bird baths are very popular. Here are some Cape White-eyes enjoying a bathe.

My August bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Blackbacked Puffback
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Harrier
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Brimstone Canary
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Crowned Hornbill
Fierynecked Nightjar
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Malachite Sunbird
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift


No laundry today, instead the wash line is catching raindrops.

Raindrops are falling from the roof of the shed onto the last remaining strawberry plants below – drip irrigation.

Raindrops are decorating the aloe leaves.

They are dripping from the lemon tree.

Raindrops are clinging to an elm tree waiting to burst into leaf.

This might be the coldest day we have experienced for a long time, but it is the happiest. Some rain has arrived at last, a gift for us all.


Modern materials especially manufactured for terracing mean that one does not see much in the way of stone terracing anymore. This one was photographed at Scotts Barracks in Grahamstown shortly before the building and garden were refurbished for a more modern purpose. I like the nooks and crannies that provide hideyholes for lizards, beetles and other insects as well as purchase for small plants that take root. Even the bare patches of stone are more pleasing to the eye than concrete blocks!


Despite the paucity of flowers during this very dry time of the year, the shadier parts of the garden are brightened up by the scarlet seeds on the clivia plants.

Clivias are South African bush lilies and I look forward to showcasing them once they are in bloom again. Meanwhile, it is interesting to learn that the plant is named after the Duchess of Northumberland, Lady Charlotte Clive, who died in 1866.

The ones growing in my garden are the Clivia miniata that grow in partial shade in forests and along the coast of eastern South Africa. They multiply over time and so, what started as a clump beneath the fig tree when we arrived, have now been planted in various other spots in our garden, in the gardens of neighbours and have even been successfully transplanted to a Gauteng garden. Sharing plants must be one of a gardener’s greatest pleasures.