MY GARDEN THEN AND NOW

Google Photos reminded me of flowers I had photographed with my cell phone on this day last year. Given the drought, changes in temperature, some unexpected rain, and the general wear and tear of my garden that does not have the luxury of being watered, I thought it would be interesting to compare the 2021 images with those taken exactly a year later. The first is one of the many Osteospermum spp. commonly known as an African daisy. Last year this was newly planted:

Over the past year this daisy bush has come close to dying from heat and a serious lack of water. I have poured buckets of water over it to revive it and it has held on bravely. It has grown in size, but is regularly flattened by the doves – and especially the speckled pigeons – that trample over it in their quest for seeds that fall on the ground from the hanging feeders.

Last year the indigenous Crassula multicava, widely known as fairy crassula, added both beauty and much-needed ground cover during even the driest months.

Some light rain over the past month has given this hardy plant a boost and it is growing thickly all over the garden. This photograph is of the same bank of flowers as the previous one.

The clivias growing along our front garden path came into bloom, providing bright spots of colour in an otherwise shady part of the garden.

This year the flowers have opened more fully earlier – also there are many more buds in various stages of opening than we had in 2021.

FLOWER PATTERNS

Have you ever considered that petals are actually modified leaves? They surround the reproductive parts of flowers and are mostly brightly coloured in order to attract pollinators. Of course many of us plant a variety of flowers in our gardens because they look attractive to our eyes – others prefer to plant flowers that might be more beneficial to pollinators such as bees and butterflies. The scent of the flower can also prove attractive to both pollinators and humans.

All but the last of the flowers shown below are indigenous to South Africa. They illustrate the variety of shapes and patterns flowers come in.

Wild Scabious (Scabiosa columbaria)

Crane flower (Strelitzia reginae)

Cadaba aphylla

Bitter aloe (Aloe ferox)

Clivia (Clivia miniata)

Not indigenous, but who can resist this beauty?

Sunflower

 

CLIVIAS BLOOMING

The clumps of dark green, strap-shaped leaves are visible throughout the year. The base of the Natal fig is hidden by them, while other clumps grow in the dappled shade of what I call my ‘secret garden’.

A smaller clump grows along our front path, where the shade is deeper. Their bright red round fruits peep out attractively between the green leaves.

They become scarred with time and eventually fall off their stalks to start new plants.

The real excitement though is once the flowers begin to form – a tangible sign of the arrival of spring! One has to look carefully for the well-sheathed buds to appear and be patient as the stems grow taller. Then comes the day that they burst free of their papery protective layer.

They develop a pinkish blush.

Then the buds start to spread out and their colour deepens.

At last the beautiful funnel-shaped flowers with their flaring petals brighten up the shady areas.

There is no doubt that – whatever the weather – spring has arrived!

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.

CLIVIAS SIGNAL SPRING

I first ‘met’ clivias whilst rock climbing in KwaZulu-Natal when I was a student. The bright blooms nodding from ledges on the cliffs and peeping out from shady spots in the natural forest areas we walked through were always a pleasure to see. It was to be decades later, however, that I truly began to appreciate these beautiful indigenous lilies. This was when we moved to our home in the Eastern Cape and I discovered a bounty: the base of the Cape Fig is surrounded by clivia plants!

These glossy green strap-like leaves didn’t mean much to me at first – until they bloomed and I was enchanted by the vivid orange flowers that brightened what I call my ‘secret garden’. This is an area I have deliberately left undisturbed so it has a thick layer of mulch from the trees – ideal for clivias – which birds such as thrushes and robins like turning over to find insects. To see the buds appear is a sure sign that the travails of winter are about to be left behind.

Although these plants originate riverine forests and shady woodland areas on the eastern side of South Africa – from the Eastern Cape through to Mpumalanga –  they are such popular plants that they occur in private and public gardens all over the country. They prefer growing in shady conditions, which makes them a boon in terms of brightening up shaded areas in a garden where not much else will grow – and they are remarkably resistant to local weather conditions. That they continue to thrive in our current drought conditions is a testament to their toughness!

I enjoy their dark green leaves, their pretty flowers and – in autumn – the dark green berry-like seeds turn bright red, providing another splash of colour.

Under ideal conditions (which includes more or less leaving them alone if they are happy) clivias multiply and need to be thinned out every couple of years. I moved some plants to grace our garden path, which has become a more shaded area as the various trees we planted have matured.

Once the clivias bloom, we can be certain that spring has arrived!