DROUGHT FLOWERS

Happily, despite the drought, our indigenous garden shows pops of colour now and then. The predominant colour that has brightened the garden over the past few weeks is the light blue of the Plumbago.

Plumbago

The biggest surprise though has been the pale pink blossoms showing on our Spekboom for the first time ever, even though this particular plant has been growing in the garden for about seven years or even longer.

Spekboom

So, those of you with ‘bloomless’ Spekboom in your gardens … there is hope after all!

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BLOOMING SPEKBOOM

Drive through the semi-arid sections of the Eastern Cape at this time of the year and, despite the drought, you might be puzzled at first by the pinky-mauve blush of colour to be seen on the bush-covered hillsides. A closer look will reveal the very pretty flowers of the Spekboom (Portulacaria afra).

These tiny star-shaped flowers look particularly beautiful when appearing en masse.

The Spekboom tolerates poor soil and is a drought survivor, making it an ideal garden plant. Although I have had Spekboom growing (from slips) in my garden for some years now, they have yet to blossom. Perhaps it takes the plant a while to ‘settle in’, but I am looking forward to the day when they sprout some pink!

PRETTY PELARGONIUMS

Around 219 species of Pelargonium are found in South Africa, many of them with a long flowering season. The genus name is derived from the Greek word pelargos which means ‘stork’ and refers to the beak-like fruit of these plants. Here are some of these pretty blossoms seen recently in the Addo Elephant National Park.

This is possibly Pelargonium inquinans which is a soft, woody shrub that grows to a height of up to 2m. Several of these shrubs were growing in between the Spekboom hedges in the camping area, although a few scarlet flowers could be seen elsewhere in the park.

I think this beautiful flower might be Pelargonium exstipulatum. They can be seen all over the park and especially at Jack’s Picnic Site.

One really needs time (and a good guide!) to study these flowers in detail. I am guessing this is a Pelargonium botulinum, although they are more closely associated with coastal dunes in the southwestern and southern Cape.

Even if the names are wrong, the flowers remain attractive spots of colour in the veld.

COMMON CORAL TREE

At this time of the year the brilliant scarlet flowers of the coral trees are giving way to the bright green of new leaves. Soon black pods will form that will, in time, pop open to reveal the hard scarlet seeds. The trees in our garden are all Erythrina caffra, which has a fairly limited distribution along the coastal regions of the Eastern Cape and Kwa Zulu Natal – which is why it is sometimes called the Coast Coral Tree. Their vermillion flowers are the most common variety, which you can see in combination with the new leaves in our back garden.

Some trees bear flowers that are more orange and others cream-coloured flowers, such as this specimen photographed in Port Elizabeth.

The tree I grew up with in Mpumalanga, is the widely distributed Erythrina lysistemon. Because it grows over much of the country, it is known as the Common Coral Tree. It is a particularly spectacular tree as the flowers are usually a bright scarlet. They produce abundant nectar that attracts many birds and insects.

Several of these trees have been blooming in and around Grahamstown.

 

BROWN SAGE

I have seen the small greyish leaves of the Brown Sage (Salvia Africana-lutea) in passing, but this is the first time I have photographed the golden-brown flowers. The unusual colour is intriguing and rather beautiful when seen on the plant as opposed to an illustration in a field guide. It is a plant that flourishes along the South African coast, from Namaqualand to the Eastern Cape.

The flowers contain a lot of nectar and so are attractive to bees, moths and sunbirds. This hardy plant is fairly drought-resistant and worthy of finding a place in coastal gardens. This specimen was photographed on the campus of Rhodes University.

HERITAGE SITES IN GRAHAMSTOWN: BOTANICAL GARDENS

The Botanical Gardens in Grahamstown are situated on land granted to the Albany Botanical Gardens by the Governor of the Cape Colony, Sir George Cathcart, with the transfer of Erf 3282 being passed on 19th October 1853. More land was allocated to the project a year later and the gardens have expanded since then.

An avenue of oak trees runs through the centre of the gardens – clearly these are replacements of the original trees. This was the oldest plantation of oaks in or near Grahamstown at the time. This avenue historically formed an important carriageway from Lucas Avenue to Mountain Drive.

The gardens, affectionately known as ‘Bots’, but now officially called Makana Botanical Gardens, are adjacent to the beautiful campus of Rhodes University. Owing to the neglect of the gardens over a number of years, a rehabilitation and redevelopment programme was initiated by SANBI between 2004 and 2006. The Makana District (formerly Albany) granted Rhodes University a 99 year lease on the understanding that the gardens would be maintained by that institution during that time.

For some time afterwards the gardens were a joy to walk through with a variety of indigenous flowers blooming at different times of the year and an interesting array of paved paths winding up towards the top of Gunfire Hill. The paths are still there but an air of genteel neglect is pervasive.

Given the prolonged drought, it is perhaps understandable that the lily ponds have been drained. One of these lily ponds was created to commemorate Captain Fordyce (who died in the Amatolas in 1851 in the War of Mlanjeni). Only the hardiest of flowers are blooming in the overgrown and neglected garden beds. One being Felicia aethiopica.

The other is a Sour Fig.

A number of mature trees have survived both drought and neglect – there is a lovely grove of Erythrina caffra.

The very tall Bunya Pine Tree (Araucaria bidwillii) near the entrance has a sign warning visitors to be careful of falling pine cones. Read the sign and you will understand why!

This and other exotic trees hark back to an era when the gardens showcased plants from all over the world.

A military cemetery, dating from 1819 to 1822, lies within the grounds of the botanical gardens – overgrown with grass and weeds. A seedling white ironwood is growing right next to one of the head stones.

Apart from one, the remaining headstones can no longer be read because of weathering and the growth of lichen on them. The earliest grave is that of Captain R. Gethin, who died in the Battle of Grahamstown in 1819.

These botanical gardens, once part of the Drostdy Estate, are the second oldest in South Africa and bear the status of a Provincial Heritage Site. They were officially proclaimed a National Monument in July 1984.

Interesting background reading about the history of this area can be found at:

https://www.sahra.org.za/sahris/sites/default/files/remoteserver/sahrisdepot/scannedfiles/Part%202%20Vol3%20%209-2-003-2.pdf