FEBRUARY 2021 GARDEN

The drought continues. In fact, yesterday morning we woke to not a single drop of water in our taps! So far the rain forecast either comes to nothing or it might yield 5mm – that does little more than settle the dust for a little while. This is the second summer in a row that I have not been able to grow vegetables or much in the way of flowers. Yet, there continues to be some colour and things of interest in our garden. The ever faithful frangipani (also known as Plumeria) is blooming beautifully and exudes the most delightful scent once the sun sets and the garden settles down for the night.

No matter how hot and dry it gets, we can always rely on the Plumbago to provide colour – and such pleasing colour too.

The hibiscus shrubs were already mature when we moved here three decades ago. Their long-lasting blooms too never disappoint.

I am very pleased that the variety of petunias I planted in containers in December continue to provide happy splashes of colour.

Then there are insects, such as this bee foraging on the tiny flowers of a tall weed.

I come across a spider-hunting wasp (Pompilidae) outside the kitchen door.

It is under the lip of an outside windowsill that I see a potential danger lurking in the form of two South African Paper Wasps in the throes of building their intricate nest.

End note: The water supply is trickling back in our pipes.

THE MEANING OF ALOES FOR ME

Think of the South African landscape in winter and the fiery colours of aloes are bound to spring to mind: they grow all over the country and appear in a variety of forms and shades of colour. So ubiquitous are they in the Lowveld region where I grew up that we tended to take their spiky appearance and winter beauty for granted – as we do now in the Eastern Cape.

Aloes have come to mean a lot more to me over the years: our garden at Sheba Gold Mine consisted of various rocky terraces. The one above the driveway had so little soil between the rocks that my mother created a beautiful display of aloes. Most she had collected during our various drives through the countryside, while others my father brought home from places he had visited on the mine. The majority of these were Aloe ferox, which provided a feast for birds and bees during winter.

Even as a little girl, I loved playing between these aloes which – at the time – towered above me, and observing the skinks and spiders that inhabited the stems covered with dried leaves.

Aloes are imprinted on me. Should I ever have to leave this country, I think aloes are high on the list of what I would miss. To me they symbolise hardiness, tenacity, patience, abundance, and resilience. They can survive on their own, and mostly do. In a way, aloes represent independence. While I would never be counted amongst the bravest of people, I have often astounded myself with what I have achieved over the years. Some of these achievements have helped to nurture the quality I value highly in myself: independence.

The seed of independence is as hardy as the aloe plant and has driven me to:

  • Attend a university far from home where I knew not a soul. I left there after four years ready to begin my teaching career and having made a lifelong friend who was to become my husband.
  • Learn to rock climb – probably the scariest of all my solo undertakings, yet a good way to conquer fear and to learn how to trust others. That activity, along with mountaineering, put me in touch with a group of the most wonderful people I have ever met.

I am akin to an aloe in some ways for I am:

  • Steadfast and loyal to the point of stubbornness.
  • Prickly at times yet protective of those whom I love and who mean a lot to me.
  • Nurturing is in my soul – providing shelter, sustenance, a hug, a shoulder to cry on when the need arises, as well as a listening ear.
  • Having moved several times, I am happy to put down my roots wherever my heart is and to make the best of what we have.

As the aloes provide shelter for smaller creatures and their bright blooms attract birds, bees and other insects to share their bounty, so I glow best when surrounded by my growing family. That is when I know that despite the hardships and unexpected hoops I have had to jump through, life has been good to me: I am loved and have plenty of love to offer.

MY JANUARY GARDEN 2021

The heat of summer is scorchingly upon us – along with the absence of much-needed rain. Bird baths require filling more than once a day and current restrictions prevent the garden from receiving the watering it needs to flourish, yet most plants are surviving. I have already shown the beautiful blossoms of the Cape Chestnut and the Pompon trees, so will look much lower.

Field Bindweed – so difficult to eradicate owing to their long underground runners – twists its way between the lavender bushes and climbs up the Spekboom. It has a beauty of its own.

The small clump of Gladiolus dalenii has increased over the years and is now providing beautiful colour outside the kitchen.

Numerous butterflies are flitting about – most are too high for me to photograph. Many of them are (I think) Acara Acraea.

All over the garden self-sown Crossberries are blooming.

As are scented pelargoniums.

Lastly, the Plumbago blossoms are looking particularly beautiful right now.

FOUR TREES

Apart from the several flowering trees that are brightening our landscape, here are four interesting trees I have taken note of over the past week. The first one is a very old tree showing the scars of its long life.

This sturdy old tree grows next to a country road I frequent. It is covered with lichen and has produced several tangled branches during its lifetime. Like many large trees, it seems to represent solidity and a determination to face all obstacles.

Then there is a rather pre-historic looking tree that grows on the hills around Grahamstown, the Oldenbergia grandi.

I have featured the flowers of the Burchellia bubalina before. This is a young bush – one of many blooming at this time of the year: along the road, next to rocky outcrops, and on the local hills.

Lastly, here is a windswept tree growing on the edge of the Rietberg that forms one of the hilly borders of our town.

A NEW BEGINNING

Our garden was dramatically transformed by the light rain received during December. One of the delights has been the prolific blooming of the Dais cotinifolia or Pompon trees, many of which are self-seeded. They are fast-growing indigenous trees that adorn not only our garden but many others in town. They have also been planted as street trees and are easily discernible in the wild, where the profusion of pink flowers stand out.

The blossoming of these trees will forever be associated with the annual visit to us by my late mother over the Christmas period – what a beautiful reminder they are of a truly beautiful woman whose visits we looked forward to enormously! Seeing them now, it is difficult to believe they were bare and skeletal looking the previous December.

The first sign of their recovery is the appearance of their smooth, simple leaves with their veins forming very clear patterns.

In the photograph of Klaas’s Cuckoo I featured recently you could see the round heads of the flower buds on the Dais cotinifolia.

In some you might just see the pink of the flowers in tight bunches inside. These heads pop open to reveal the beauty within.

The flowers attract butterflies, bees, as well as Cape White-eyes. The appearance of these pretty blossoms always signal a new beginning for me. They last for about three weeks and so are still looking pretty on this first morning of a new year.