IT HAS RAINED

Yesterday and today have been by far the coldest of the winter so far – uncomfortably cold. The best part about this icy weather is that it has been accompanied by some very light rain: 4mm one evening, 4mm the next, and today we measured a ‘whopping’ 12mm! The garden is rejoicing. Look at this flower on the ginger bush:

Even the dry grass in the background has greened up over the past two damp days! It is wonderful to see damp soil in the patch of garden around the bird feeders instead of dust.

This is not a quality picture at all, but the very sharp-eyed among you might just recognise the shape of a Knysna Turaco in the leafless tree. I counted five of them in the garden yesterday! The strong Berg Wind that brought the cold front in its wake shook the trees and sent leaves cascading all over the garden. Instead of the usual crunch underfoot, I could delight in seeing wet leaves on the path.

Already Cape White-eyes and other birds having been making use of the pools of water that have collected in the aloe leaves.

These are snaps taken with my cell phone – not brilliant, but enough to share with you the joy of hearing the soft pattering of raindrops during the night; of breathing in the delicously damp aromas of wet soil, wet dry grass, and the unparalleled freshness of rain-washed air. They are good enough to convey the feeling that there is hope and that – despite the cold – even that little rain has revived me just as it has perked up the flowers in my tiny patch of garden and brought a new ‘growth-energy’ to the almost dead lemon tree in the back garden.

In the words of Langston Hughes:

Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby

YELLOW GRASS

The bleached yellow or straw-coloured grass is a striking feature of the Mountain Zebra National Park during the winter – along with icy temperatures. The Springbok in the foreground is lying down to seek respite from the latter.

So are these Red Hartebeest, with a single Springbok to keep them company.

This almost colourless grass covers the valleys and spreads up the hillsides onto the plateau. A Mountain Zebra appears to be standing guard over a small herd of Red Hartebeest.

Despite its desiccated appearance, the grass is still nutritious for grazers, as this zebra demonstrates.

As do these herds of mixed antelope on the plateau.

The early morning and late afternoon light turns the grass into spun gold.

LEAVES IN MY GARDEN

While there is not much in the way of flowers in our wintry garden – and the temperature seems to drop by the day – there are a variety of interesting leaves. The first of these are the remnants of the Sword Ferns (Nephrolepsis exaltata), which I try to keep under control so that they do not overrun the garden. Here they are caught in the dappled afternoon light:

Next are the beautifully shaped leaves of the Delicious Monster (known in some quarters as the Swiss cheese plant), which outgrew its pot years ago and now has the freedom to expand in the shadiest part of the garden:

There are not many leaves left on the Frangipani (Plumeria) tree, as most of them have fallen off and lie wrinkled and brown on what should be a lawn beneath it:

Having looked at the exotic plants, let us turn to some of the many indigenous trees and shrubs. The first of these is the Ginger Bush (Tetradenia riparia), which is in bloom now while putting out a new lot of leaves, which is why they are still so small:

Almost leafless is the Blinkblaar-wag-‘n-bietjie (Ziziphus mucronata) growing near the front door:

The beautiful shape of the leaves of a Cussonia (Cabbage) tree is silhouetted when I sit in its shade:

Lastly, these are the rather thin-looking, slightly shrivelled leaves of the Spekboom (Portulacaria afra) that will flesh out once the rains come:

WHITE ALOE SCALE

There is an aloe growing next to a street I walk along regularly that has rapidly become covered in what is known as White Aloe Scale (Duplachionaspis exalbidais) which is a species of armoured scale insect.

White Scale insects are immobile once they lock themselves into place to pierce the plant and begin feeding on sap for their nourishment. They do this by sucking the sap through a fine, thin feeding-tubes. From a distance it looks as if the leaves covered in what appears to be white fluff.

As you can tell from the first photograph above, if the infected plant is left untreated, all its leaves become covered with millions of scale.

What is interesting is that these creatures actually space themselves equidistant from one another on the leaf surface  to  ensure  they  have  sufficient  space  to  develop  fully  without  being  crowded  out – although I think the earlier photographs suggest that their idea of crowding is very different from ours!

Click to access Biological%20control%20of%20the%20common%20aloe%20scale.pdf

JUNE GARDEN 2021

All is not doom and gloom in our drought-stricken garden for we have been blessed with several aloes blooming, of which this is one:

Then there are the lovely blooms of the Crassula ovata or, as many overseas readers know it, the Jade plant:

Both of these indigenous plants provide important sustenance for bees, butterflies, ants and other insects. I also have a minute patch of ground close to where I sit in the mornings in which I nurture petunias and pansies. These cannot be watered very often so are doing their best under trying circumstances to provide daily cheer:

They too attract an insect or two: