During my walk through the grasslands of the Drakensberg I came across the beautiful Thunbergia atriplicifolia (also known as the Natal Primrose). The creamy yellow flowers made me pause a while and admire both it and the view of the mountains stretching away into the distance.

Natal Primrose

Once home, I freshly admired the patch of Black-eyed Susan (Thunbergia alata) that seeded itself near our swimming pool some years ago. These tubular yellow flowers put on an attractive show at this time of the year. The vine is self-seeding and seems to look after itself – probably because it is found growing in gardens and along forest margins throughout the Eastern Cape.

Blackeyed Susan

Even these lovely flowers are currently outshone by the spectacular display of the masses of golden yellow flowers of the Canary Creeper (Senecio tamoides). This creeper is also indigenous to the Eastern Cape. It grows along forest margins and has no problem establishing a dominant presence in our garden – in fact, during its non-flowering period, I pull masses of it off the trees and prune it back quite severely.

canary creeper

It is looking beautiful at the moment though and seems to glow brightly in the autumn sunlight, attracting bees, butterflies, Sombre Bulbuls, Village Weavers, Cape Weavers, Greater Double-collared Sunbirds, Black Sunbirds, and Cape White-eyes.

canary creeper



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:


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


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.



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)


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.



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)


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)


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.



Two years ago my brother asked me for the recipe my mother used to bake Rock Cakes – known as Klip Cookies in our family in deference to my father’s limited fluency in Afrikaans.

The request brought with it a rush of memories: the mouth-watering aroma of baking filling every corner of my childhood home; my father’s open appreciation of his favourite teatime treat; and of a particular square tin filled to the brim with these tasty fruit-studded cookies.

I recall the tin had a brown background which made the picture of golden shower blossoms decorating the lid stand out most attractively. My mother would line the tin with waxed paper before adding the cooled cookies. To my childish hands there was gastronomic magic within the tin that felt heavy on its first outing, keeping the cookies fresh until the last crumb was eaten.

When we first moved into our current home, a golden shower creeper clambering up the giant Erythrina trees in the back garden happily reminded me of growing up in the then Eastern Transvaal. Now its tendrils poke through the aloes growing next to the pool and it vies with the canary creeper in forming a dense canopy over the ancient plum tree that gave up fruiting years ago. The first buds are already forming and soon we will be treated to cascades of the orange tubular flowers that will brighten up the winter garden while attracting sunbirds, white-eyes, weavers and canaries as well as bees.

Seeing the buds reminded me of the afore-mentioned tin and the Klip Cookies it so often contained. My mouth watered as I paged through my first collection of recipes hand written in a tattered lined hard covered A4 book. Several of the pages have come adrift over the years and the book is now held together with brown parcel tape. Some pages are spattered with egg or butter splodges and now unidentifiable flecks of ingredients, while others bear scorched circles from hot pots or something of that ilk being placed on them. The best recipes look well-used – no pristine pages for them!

The recipe: Cream 250 grams butter with 1 cup sugar. Add 2 well-beaten eggs. Sift together 2 cups flour, 3 teaspoons baking powder, a pinch of salt and half a teaspoon grated nutmeg then add to egg mixture, stirring well. Add I cup seeded raisins and stir until evenly mixed. Drop teaspoonful’s of dough onto greased baking sheets and bake at 200°C for 10 minutes until golden brown.

I baked a batch and scraped the bowl with a teaspoon before placing it in the sink. Raw dough … yum! Warning: these cookies do not have a long shelf-life unless baked in secret while no-one else is at home. Do not be surprised if they start being eaten before they are ready to leave the cooling rack. Perhaps that is why my mother baked double batches and kept the lid of the tin firmly closed between tea times.

klip cookies