PREPARING FOR MAGNIFICENCE

Shades of orange are traditionally associated with autumn and as I was walking around my garden to check on the progress of the aloes dotted about, my eye was caught by these bright spots:

This fungi has appeared on an aloe stem and looks rather attractive when looked at more closely:

Back to the aloes though. I am heartened by the appearance of many tightly closed buds, such as this one:

The tall Aloe ferox in the front garden has been pushing up its swelling spikes unseen until now:

Soon these rather insignificant looking spikes will grow tall – you can see a discarded dry stem from last season still hooked onto the leaves – and unfurl into a magnificent display of colour. Watch this space!

A TASTE OF THINGS TO COME

This beautiful aloe – the first I have seen blooming here – is a taste of the autumnal treat that we look forward to.

These beautifully rich, warm colours will delight us – as well as birds and insects – throughout winter. The aloes in my garden are pushing up their closed spikes, but this one, growing in the full sun next to the road leading into town, is magnificent.

These flowers fill my heart with joy as I anticipate more to flower all over the country!

GIANT CANDELABRA LILY II

I called a halt as soon as I spotted these pink funnel-shaped flowers peeping through the grass not far from the edge of the road. These Giant Candelabra Lilies (Brunsvigia grandiflora) are usually seen during March, so it was a lovely surprise to find this one blooming in April!

When looked at from above, the long wavy grey-green leaves are visible at the base.

Here is a closer look at them.

There is a darkish pink stripe down the centre of each petal.

The buds look darker than the open flowers. This one is still unfurling.

These flowers occur naturally in the grasslands of the Eastern Cape, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga.

UNWELCOME SMOKE

There was an acrid smell in the air and the usually clear blue sky had turned a pale grey. The sweetish notes suggested a grass fire, although no smoke was visible from our garden.  That was until we drove to the top of the hill.

A veil of thin grey smoke rising into the air was clearly visible against the blue sky that had been hidden from view further down the hill. Judging from the direction the strong Berg wind was blowing, it was easy to tell why. Once on the N2, we could see the thick smoke billowing on the slope of the Rietberge that overlook town.

The extent of the veld fire was more evident from the 1820 Settler’s Monument.

As the sky darkened, the flames racing through the dry grassland were clearly visible – the choking smoke had now been blown right across town, filling the valley and moving way beyond the town.

It was apparent that the flames had taken hold and were blackening the mountain in a fury; their hungry journey hastened by the strong wind and the dry conditions of the veld.

The fire burned late into the night. We woke to a black mountain that now looms around us as a stark reminder of fires in the past and of how careful we must all be as the veld is tinder dry right now.

I VALUE MY GARDEN

I am in awe of beautiful gardens with carefully landscaped paths leading through various ‘rooms’, some of which may have a water feature or a focus on flowers in a particular palette of colours. In these water-wise days there are also gardens featuring aloes, cacti and a wide variety of succulents. I read about gardeners bringing in truckloads of soil, or even hiring earth-moving equipment to reshape the landscape; of bringing in – or removing – large rocks; and of installing elaborate irrigation systems. I see diagrams of gardening plans to be followed throughout the year. Gardens like these featured in magazines always look beautiful.  In my garden a mixture of indigenous flower seeds – such as these African daisies and cosmos – scattered in a bed bring me joy.

While most visitors enthuse over my ‘wild’ garden, others openly declare it to be ‘messy’ and ‘overgrown’. Some express an itch to cut down the trees – many of which we planted decades ago – and to prune the hedges. This is understandable for my garden tends to be ‘wildly creative’ rather than ordered into shape. For example, I let the canary creeper grow and flower where it pleases before trimming it back so that the weight of it won’t break other plants.

There are many practical reasons for this: the garden is too large for me to manage in an orderly fashion on my own; we are – and have several times before – experiencing a prolonged drought and so there is no water with which to maintain lush flower beds and a prolifically productive vegetable garden; and, until I retired a few years ago, I was seldom home for long enough to mow the lawn, never mind prune, weed, dig and plant. This is a section of what I call the ‘secret garden’, where nature takes it course.

I have always valued my garden for what it is: a place for solitude and relaxation if I need it, and a haven for birds – such as the Village Weaver below – as well as insects and any other creatures that require a home within our suburb. Over the years I have recorded 107 different species of birds seen either in or from our garden; have come across several snakes, a variety of butterflies, spiders and moths; observed bats, beetles, praying mantids, lizards and geckos; there have been swarms of bees, several frogs and toads, mole rats, a mongoose and even a couple of tortoises. We once even found a terrapin in our swimming pool – and still don’t know how it got there.

It is easy to tell why I value my garden for its tranquillity and its diversity. Never has this been truer than since the arrival of COVID-19 and the hard lock-down that came in its wake. For over three decades I have watched the garden evolve from a gravel and cactus ‘desert’ to a forest of trees and shrubs; from a hot and shade less place to a haven of shade and dappled sunlight’; from a habitat birds would rather fly over to one where many have chosen to nest and to seek food for their offspring.

Thanks to all of these visitors, I value my garden for the bird song that begins before sunrise to the haunting sounds of the Fiery-necked Nightjars late at night. I have enjoyed seeing an Olive Thrush pulling up a long earthworm from a crack in the old kitchen steps; watching a Fork-tailed Drongo swooping down to catch a caterpillar unearthed while I am weeding; observing a flock of Cape White-eyes splashing about in the bird bath; and have thrilled to the light touch of a Common Fiscal as it perches on my hand or foot to receive a tiny offering of food.

I garden for peace. I garden for the therapeutic quality of my hands connecting with the soil. I garden for the excitement of watching bright yellow flowers taking on the form of a butternut or a gem squash; for the joy of transplanting seedlings that have sprouted in the compost; and for the pleasure of finding self-seeded flowers or herbs growing in a place of their own choosing.

My sentiments about gardening echo those of the essayist and poet, Joseph Addison (1672-1719), who has been quoted as saying I value my garden more for being full of blackbirds than of cherries, and very frankly give them fruit for their songs.