WINTER 2021

The bite of winter cold has arrived, especially in the early mornings. Gusty winds swirl around the garden bringing chilly air with them that seeps under doors and finger their way through windows. Trees that have until now been holding onto their yellowing leaves let go, allowing eddies of leaves to dance their dervish dances before nestling down to blanket the swimming pool, the lawn and to collect along the garden path.

There are very few clusters of the bright yellow canary creeper flowers that trailed over bushes and twined up tree trunks. These large heads of yellow have turned into small puffballs of seeds highlighted by the low sun, ready to burst forth in the wind to find a suitable spot in which to start another river of yellow blossom next autumn.

A variety of the leaves that swirl around in the wind collect in banks against the garden wall and in small drifts in hollows – anything that will halt their constant movement causes a damming up of leaves that are scarcely worth sweeping away for the next wind will scatter them liberally about.

So, having begun with the winter view of our garden path, I leave you with a winter view of a country road.

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.

EARTH DAY 2021

The veld has been tinder dry for weeks as the relentless drought continues. A grass fire, fanned by hot wind, raced through the mountains around our town at the weekend, engulfing us in a blanket of smoke and ash. Today the Mountain Drive area looks bleak and black. Yet, Earth Day is one that encourages us to look at our environment more closely; to get to know it better; to consider what we can do to protect and nurture it better; as well as being thankful for what we have.

How extremely thankful I am for the 4mm of soft rain that we were blessed with during the night!

This has encouraged the canary creeper buds to open – these are the first of what should become a waterfall of bright blooms.

The Crassula ovata is also covered with buds waiting to open.

Meanwhile, the Cape honeysuckle flowers are already providing swathes of bright colour and a useful source of nectar.

The Virginia creeper is showing off its autumn colours.

In keeping with these autumnal colours, it is fortuitous that an Olive Thrush was the first bird to greet me this morning.

Happy Earth Day!

YELLOW FLOWERS

During these drab, drought-stricken times we need some cheer in the form of a bright colour. I have looked through my files for examples of cheerful yellow.

How the various varieties of gazanias survive in the dry conditions of the veld – especially during this long period of drought – never ceases to amaze me.

The buds of the canary creeper are already beginning to swell so that I will soon be able to show updated photographs of these delightful yellow flowers that bloom at this time of the year.

The sweet-smelling flowers of the Vachellia (Acacia) karoo are always worth the wait.

Not indigenous, yet fun to have in the garden, are sunflowers.

A SHORT AUTUMNAL TREAT

Every autumn I look forward to the rivers of gold that hang from the trees and threaten to weigh down the shrubbery. The magnificent annual display of Canary Creeper (Senecio tamoides) blossoms has to be seen to be believed for the masses of yellow flowers, especially when highlighted by the sun, are a treat.

The prolonged drought must have finally taken its toll of what has been a real stalwart in the garden. I was delighted when the first clusters of blossoms opened and looked forward to weeks of more, along with the bees, butterflies and birds that they attract. Alas, this was not to be.

That ‘river’ of gold remained dry and after only two weeks the blossoms were gone, never having made much of a show at all. The flowering period usually lasts from late March until July. I have missed their delightfully aromatic scent and am left with their fluffy creamy white seeds. Now I might find one or two clusters peeping out in isolated spots, but no more. While the creepers should recover in spring and will hopefully drip with colour next autumn, this year’s autumnal treat was very short!