ALOE TIME

I often mention the beauty of aloes at this time of the year when their bright flowers stand out in the winter drabness of the veld. This was so evident along the road to Port Alfred on Tuesday. The Aloe arborescens (Krantz Aloe) are looking particularly attractive. We have some growing in the garden.

aloe

They grow taller by the year and are particularly lovely when the sun shines on the tubular, reddish flowers.

aloe

The Aloe ferox is also coming into bloom.

aloe

As are other aloes growing around the swimming pool. At the moment they look like this:

aloe

And will look like this within a few weeks:

SONY DSC

ALOE TENUIOR

This Aloe tenuior (also known as a Fence Aloe) is the first of the aloes in my garden to come into full bloom. The name ‘tenuior‘ means ‘very thin’ and refers to their thin rambling stems.

Aloe tenuior

It is an aloe which occurs naturally in the Eastern Cape and forms large clumps topped with masses of delicate yellow or red flowers. The sprawling yellow ones spilling over the rocky terrace have still to bloom, but this one is blooming almost at ground level from a length of stem that broke off the original plant sometime during last summer. I simply stuck it into the ground and hoped for the best.

A DOZEN INDIGENOUS FLOWERING PLANTS IN MY GARDEN

When we arrived in the Eastern Cape, our garden contained the remnants of a considerable collection of exotic cacti, roses on their last legs, and a number of other exotic shrubs which did not survive the subsequent years of drought and severe water restrictions. How fortunate we were to meet someone who actually wanted to swop the cacti for several aloe species she had growing aplenty on her nearby farm!

Those early drought years drummed home the value of planting indigenous trees and shrubs. Not only have these reduced the traffic noise from the main road into town, they provide glorious deep shade during our hot summers and are a haven for a variety of bird species. The wondrous aspect of indigenous plants is that they survive drought and high winds, are low maintenance and provide the right kind of sustenance for birds and insects in the garden.

These are some of the indigenous bounty that brighten our garden at different times of the year:

Aloes

I have read that these are the perfect plants for our sunburnt country. They are marvellous the way they provide bright splashes of colour in the veld during the otherwise drab-looking winter months. Several species grow in our garden and they all attract bees, wasps, beetles, sunbirds, Blackheaded Orioles, weavers, Blackeyed Bulbuls. Mousebirds, Streakyheaded Canaries and Redwinged Starlings.

Buddleia salviifolia

buddleia

The heavy clusters of purple flowers exude a lovely lilac-like fragrance and attract a variety of butterflies – hence it is also known as the Butterfly Bush – as well as bees, Cape White-eyes, Blackeyed Bulbuls, Cape Robins and the Barthroated Apalis. The shrub has attractive grey-green leaves reminiscent of the culinary sage. This plant is named after the Rev. Adam Buddle (1660 – 1715), an English amateur botanist and vicar of Farnham in Essex.

Canary creeper (Senecio tamoides)

canary creeper

The masses of golden yellow flowers with deeply fringed petals make this climber a very popular garden plant. When we were living in both Pietermaritzburg and Mmabatho we actually paid what seemed like a fortune for plants from the nursery. It is indigenous to the Eastern Cape, however, and so – once the flowering season is over – I end up pulling it off trees and tossing bundles of it on the compost heap! The flowers have an aromatic scent that also attracts bees, butterflies, weavers, Cape White-eyes, mousebirds and the Barthroated Apalis.

Cape Chestnut (Calodendrum capense)

cape chestnut

[kalos means beautiful, and dendron tree in Greek, capense is Latin for from the Cape]

This sub-tropical tree is truly beautiful to look at even when it is not in flower – the shape of the tree is marvellous. They take several years to establish themselves before producing their characteristic curly, pink-spotted-lavender flowers from November to January. The blooms are especially attractive to butterflies.

Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis)

cape honeysuckle

This vigorous growing scrambling shrub is another that we used to buy from nurseries until we found ourselves inundated with it in our Eastern Cape garden – turn your back on it and it can take over! It is popular as a hedge plant in this town. I am not into such fine and regular pruning but have to cut back masses of it throughout the year. Its bright tubular red-orange flowers appear erratically and are attractive to bees, butterflies, sunbirds, weavers, Streakyheaded Canaries, Blackheaded Orioles, Blackeyed Bulbuls, Redwinged Starlings as well as mousebirds.

Clivia

clivia

These beautiful flowers are a genus of monocot flowering plants from the Amaryllidacae flowers. They occur naturally in forested areas and so prefer to grow in shade or semi-shade. I have grown some from seed but also transplant the seedlings that cluster around the large clumps. Clivias were named after Lady Charlotte Florentina Clive, Duchess of Northumberland, who was the granddaughter of Robert Clive, better known as Clive of India.

Crossberry (Grewia occidentalis)

crossberry

I wrote about Crossberries in a recent blog (see 15 November). Suffice it to say they are coming into bloom now and are looking beautiful in the garden.

Dais cotonifolia

Dais cotonifolia

The clusters of starry pink flowers have given this tree the common name of Pom-pom tree. They lose their leaves briefly at the end of winter, but are wonderful to have in the garden when covered in blossoms. These trees are special to me for their first blooms used to herald the arrival of my late mother for her annual visit over the Christmas period. Be warned: turn your back on the seedlings and you will have a forest of them on your hands – I have!

Erythrina caffra

Erythrina caffra

This is one of several Coral trees that grow in this country. I often mention the Erythrina trees in my blog as we have three enormous ones growing in our back garden which have housed the nests of Hadeda Ibises, Olive Thrushes, Laughing Doves and Greater Double-collared Sunbirds over the years. These trees are alive with birds throughout the year and provide a sunny perch for African Green Pigeons too. Not only are the scarlet flowers beautiful to look at, but so are the scarlet seeds that fall to the ground and burst from the black pods.

Mesembryanthenum

mesembryanthenum

There are a number of these fleshy plants bearing bright flowers – all self-sown. Here they are commonly known by their Afrikaans name, vygies, probably because it is less of a mouthful.

Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata)

plumbago

These beautiful blue flowers are very attractive to butterflies. The plant needs regular pruning to keep it in check. It is another wonderful indigenous plant that requires little attention and rewards one with masses of flowers in season.

Spekboom (Portulacaria afra)

spekboom

This bush is native to the Eastern Cape and forms an important part of the diet of elephants in the Addo Elephant National Park, for example. We have seen swathes of it being replanted in the Great Fish Rover Reserve and elsewhere because of its ability to capture carbon and to restore natural ecosystems. Its capacity to offset harmful carbon emissions is comparable to that of moist, subtropical forests. It is drought-resistant and produces delicate pink flowers.

TEN THINGS I LOVE ABOUT SOUTH AFRICA

How can one reduce the wonders of South Africa to a mere ten? I thought I would choose five, then it stretched to eight and then I knew I would have to stop at ten – even then I have had to be ruthless. So here they are in alphabetical order to save me from ranking them.

Aloes: These beautiful flowers stand out in the veld during the otherwise dry winter months and attract myriads of insects and birds at a time when food is not as plentiful as in other seasons. There are over 500 species of them – enough to warrant whole books to themselves.

Aloes

Black-backed Jackal: I am well aware that small stock farmers curse these beautiful, wily creatures at times, but having watched them closely in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, the Kruger National Park and in the Addo Elephant National Park I regard them as one of the ‘must see’ animals on any visit.

black-backed jackal

Dirt roads: Venture onto a dirt road in this country and you know you are headed for an adventure. Kilometres of them criss-cross the land away from the main highways.

dirtroad

Elephants: We are so fortunate to live within easy visiting distance of the Addo Elephant National Park for we never tire of seeing these wondrous animals either on their own or in family groups. One can spend hours observing them at a water hole – meeting, greeting, drinking, mock charging, wallowing in the mud, blowing bubbles … they are endlessly fascinating.

elephants

Erythrinas: The scarlet blossoms of these trees, also known as coral trees, are also a feature of late winter and attract a wide variety of birds and insects. The red ‘lucky beans’ that fall to the ground are also beautiful.

erythrinas

Grass: It may sound odd to some, but I love the tawny coloured grass growing tall in the veld.

grass

Giraffe: Not only are giraffe very photogenic, they are elegant and peaceful as they move between trees or bend down to drink.

giraffe

Thorns: The long spines of the thorns of the Acacia trees have always fascinated me.

thorns

Windmills: Sadly these hardy icons of rural South Africa are becoming rarer with the more widespread use of solar-powered pumps. The clanking sound of the windmill as it turns in the wind is unforgettable.

windmill

Zebra: I cannot leave the zebra off my list – always sleek, beautiful, photogenic and very watchable creatures they are.

zebra

I wonder what your favourite things are.

MAY 2015 GARDEN BIRDS

MAY 2015 GARDEN BIRDS

This has been a short month for bird watching, thanks to my sojourn in the Kruger National Park as well as the onset of the chilly weather that has seen me busying myself indoors a lot more than usual.

The change of season has wrought changes in the garden and its visitors too: the lawn remains shadowed (and often damp with dew) for much longer in the mornings, hence the seed lies untouched until the sun brightens and dries the area; there is a magnificent display of aloes and wild dagga blooms – and a single Cape Chestnut flower (usually only expected in November-December); Bryan the tortoise has retreated to the pool pump house area and occasionally basks on the warm bricks there; and the fig tree and other indigenous berry-bearing trees both in my garden and in others nearby attract very large flocks of Redwinged Starlings as well as African Green Pigeons. There seem to be very few weavers about, leaving doves as the main visitors enjoying the seed I provide.

aloes

By the way, the mystery of where the Sacred Ibises go at the end of each day has been solved: they roost in a tall tree in the CBD with Cattle Egrets in a neighbouring one only a few metres away in the same street.

The month began well with my first-ever sighting of a Collared Sunbird in my garden and the welcome annual return of a pair of Olive Sunbirds.

On two occasions this morning I was drawn away from watching the Comrades Marathon on television by bird activity in the garden. The first was by the loud chorus of a flock of Red-billed Woodhoopoes flitting in and out of the fig tree and working their way through the Pompon trees near the swimming pool. The second time was to watch a Red-eyed Dove vigorously chasing a Grey-headed Bush Shrike all over the garden!

My May list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Collared Sunbird
Common Starling
Crowned Plover
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Village Weaver

crowned plover

DECEMBER GARDEN ROUND-UP

It was shortly before seven this morning when my coffee and bird-watching stint was disturbed by a loud crack followed by a heavy thud: two branches of the Tipuana tree in our neighbours’ garden had split from the main trunk and fallen across their hedge facing the street. No harm done, although it will be an arduous task getting those heavy branches down.
The very old Tipuana tree in the other neighbour’s garden sheds small branches and twigs after every wind. This goes to show that indigenous trees are better for our gardens – even if they do tend to grow more slowly.
I set out to investigate the rest of our garden:
Self-sown gooseberries, bursting with flavour, are ripening wherever plants have taken root. I will need to send M and C round with a small basket soon to see what they can harvest.

gooseberries
Scenecio pterophurus brightens up a corner of the vegetable garden. [John Manning’s Field Guide to Wild Flowers of South Africa has proved to be very useful in identifying some of nature’s bounty that pops up in the garden]. Apart from looking cheerful and pretty, they attract myriad butterflies during the course of their long flowering period.

scenecio
The scarlet Aloe ciliaris has been showing off its blooms for some time now.

aloeciliaris
The yellow Aloe tenuiour grows just around the corner.

aloetenuiour
Blue Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata) is rampant in the garden and needs to be cut back regularly. The first blooms are out and we are looking forward to a beautiful show of them as the month progresses.

plumbago
While the Van Stadens River Daisies (Dimorphotheca ecklonis) are not looking their best at the moment – the centre of this one is being chomped by a caterpillar – these particular plants are very special to me. They are the descendants of the ones my late mother grew on the farm and so remind me of her and of my youth whenever they flower.

vanstadensdaisy
Other flowers that remind me of my mother are the Pompon trees (Dais cotinifolia) as they were always in full bloom when she came for her annual visit over the Christmas period. I have been watching the buds appear as pinpricks and gradually fatten out. This morning I noticed that some are beginning to burst open, so it won’t be very long now before the trees are completely covered with pink blossoms.

burstingpompon
The Cape Chestnut trees also look beautiful when they are in full bloom. Our tree is a late developer, it seems, for the ones in town have been covered with blossoms for several weeks already. Nonetheless, it is just beginning to show what will be on offer.

peepingchestnut
I love the shape of the chestnut tree and couldn’t resist photographing the early morning sunlight shining through its leaves.

chestnutsunlight
A quick walk through the forested area of the garden rewarded me with the different scents of leaves as I brushed past them, the musty smell of the leaf litter underfoot, and glimpses of Cape Robins and Paradise Flycatchers flitting between the trees.

forest
I emerged from the forest to find a Pin-tailed Whydah seeking fine seeds on the lawn.

ptwhydahclose
Many would have been dropped by the Village Weavers tucking into the seed from the feeder suspended from the acacia tree.

villageweaversfeeding
Two Rock (Speckled) Pigeons kept watch from the roof.

roofguards
A young Olive Thrush seemed surprised to see me so close.

youngolivethrush
Bryan the tortoise was caught snoozing.

Bryansnoozing
And both the Lesser-striped Swallows are making good progress with their new nest.

progress
All is well.