MORE INLAND EASTERN CAPE SCENERY

Following our drive out to Post Retief last week, I want to share some of the magnificent scenery of the Eastern Cape – a part of the country that felt so alien to me when we moved here over three decades ago; this is where my maternal ancestors hail from; this is where my heart is; this is home.

Ravages of the drought can be seen in the foreground – the sturdy aloes have all been pollinated well and are bearing full-bodied seeds – a dirt road heading off into the distance, and the Winterberg almost floating on the horizon.

How can one ever tire of scenery like this? It is dry; it is hot; it is a big sky; it is the Eastern Cape.

A closer look at the vegetation that hugs the sheltered slopes – euphorbias and thorn trees making up the Valley Bushveld Thicket.

Much closer to home is the Jamieson Dam that once supplied our town with water. If you look at the base of the hill below the wind turbine on the left, you will see what looks like a flat green lawn. There is not a drop of water in it.

SPRING EQUINOX 2021

Apparently the exact timing of the Spring Equinox in the Southern Hemisphere was at 21:20 on 22nd September. Not willing to experience the changeover in the hours of darkness, we drove inland yesterday to experience some of the signs of spring in the Eastern Cape. What better way to start than with the bright new leaves and scarlet spikes of the indigenous Erythrina lysistemon as seen from the garage where we had our tyres checked.

At Baddaford Farm Stall, not far from Fort Beaufort, where we stopped to check on directions, the bougainvilleas were coming into bloom.

As we passed through the Mpofu (Eland) Nature Reserve in the Amatole district, we couldn’t help admiring the spring leaves of the various Vachellia (Acacia) trees that brighten the otherwise drab-looking grassland.

Near the exit gate of this reserve several peach trees are blooming – a wonderful sight to see in spring.

Despite the dry and dusty conditions, there were bright patches of yellow – as well as individual flowers peeking through the grass – Common Gazania (Gazania krebsiana) growing along the road verges.

I couldn’t resist the delightful aroma from the clusters of violet blooms covering the many wisteria plants in the garden of Waylands Country House in the Katberg.

There are also beautiful stands of lavender.

The white arum lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) look beautiful in still moist patches everywhere we travelled.

Lastly, here is another bright red flower – which looks like the Indigofera heterophylla in my flower guide – growing in the otherwise barren carpark outside the St John the Evangelist Church in the Winterberg. This church dates back to 1858 and is still used occasionally.

THE ALIEN MORNING GLORY

I photographed these very pretty Morning Glory flowers growing along the fence bordering the Botanical Garden six years ago. I particularly enjoyed the mix of blue and purple and seriously wondered if I should collect seeds to plant in my garden. There is no denying that these flowers are eye-catching. I was not alone thinking so, for during the 1950s plants such as these were actually promoted for covering walls and fences – particularly as it can also grow well in poor soil.

Alas, I found out that they are regarded as unwelcome alien invasive plants here in the Eastern Cape as well as in other parts of the country. Scientifically known as Ipomoea indica, this pretty creeper hails from the West Indies and is problematic because it tends to smother other vegetation. It spreads by seed and does not appear to have any natural predators – thus continuing its creeping, suffocating march through areas where the growing conditions are favourable. These plants are quick to invade riverbanks, woodland, and wasteland areas.

Local gardeners need not go without though for there are a number of indigenous morning glories to choose from. Among them is the Ipomoea cairica, or Coast Morning Glory.

Picture: [pza.sanbi.org]

It is indigenous throughout tropical Africa, as well as in the eastern Mediterranean and occurs naturally in the Eastern Cape. This plant was first collected in Cairo, hence the species name cairica.

Another which is endemic to southern Africa, is the Ipomoea oenotheroides, also known as the Christmas Flower. A positive aspect of this plant is that it grows well in the arid parts of the summer-rainfall region.

Picture: [pza.sanbi.org]

MAGICAL FAIRY CRASSULA

I have sung the praises of Fairy Crassula (Crassula multicava) as a magical plant before, mainly because it forms a deep groundcover even during these drought years. Over the past few weeks though, parts of our garden – both sunny and shady – have been swathed in a magical pink ‘fairy dust’. In the background are the much taller, robust Crassula ovata that provide a screen around part of our swimming pool. Their pretty flowers have browned to give way to the glorious show below.

The flat roundish leaves of this valuable ground cover look attractive throughout the year and take on a magical wonder once the flowers borne on slender, branching stems show above the leaves.

When seen en masse, these tiny flowers create an attractive haze of pink.

Here is a close look at their dainty star-shaped, pinkish-white blossoms.

Fairy crassula is a boon in a dry garden like mine for it spreads easily, both on rocky ground and in areas shaded by the many trees we planted so many years ago. The flowering period is long and attracts bees and butterflies to our garden – important now, when not much else is blooming. The other big plus is that – here anyway – it requires no watering!