Human beings are impatient creatures: we lack the patience to wait. There is an English proverb that reminds us that if you want to be happy for a year, plant a garden; if you want to be happy for life, plant a tree. ‘Happy for life’ is a long time – and one has to wait for several years before you can truly enjoy the beauty / the shade / the fruit of the saplings you have planted – and even longer if you started the process from seed. It has taken some trees thirty years to grow into the shade trees we imagined when this garden first became ours – we only planted indigenous trees, and they have taken their time. An African proverb informs us that the tree breaks that takes all the force of the wind, and that brings me to the Eucalypts and the lack of patience we practice.
Eucalypts – often called gum trees here – are fast growing and have been planted in this country since the 1800s. They proved to be a quick source of timber – particularly for the mining and paper industries – but have also been planted as shade trees. I imagine these ones, growing next to the ruins of a farm house in the Free State, may have performed that function.
Their usefulness extends to providing nectar and pollen for bees, as well as providing wind breaks on farms. You would be surprised to see the number of short straight lines of Eucalypts and pines growing on farms throughout South Africa –a windbreak is needed now so plant these imports and get one growing quickly! These trees are a remnant from a windbreak planted out in the country decades ago.
The trees in this photograph grow not far from our home and were possibly meant to form a windbreak for the first houses to be built on the side of this hill.
Another example of a possible windbreak are these gigantic trees growing along the edge of our botanical gardens.
As is the nature of trees, there are many escapees from the timber plantations and farms and the downside of this is that these trees consume more water than indigenous species do – not a good attribute in a country that is short of water even in the best of rainy seasons. We used to have a stand of Eucalypts growing on our farm. Once they had been removed, it was amazing to see how quickly the little dam filled up!
There is no denying that apart from being useful – and invasive – Eucalypts can be beautiful too. The bark of some of them peels away in papery slices to reveal a lighter under bark, creating an attractive contrast of colours.
Traffic was held up recently when a Eucalypt fell across a road on the outskirts of town during a particularly windy period – not my own photograph.
A similar row of trees used to line the entrance to our town on the way in from Bedford. These were removed many years ago and some indigenous trees planted in their wake (since either chomped by the Urban Herd or died through lack of water) and this is all that is left of what had been tall, stately trees that shielded drivers from the piercing sunlight in the late afternoons.