A NEW BEGINNING

Our garden was dramatically transformed by the light rain received during December. One of the delights has been the prolific blooming of the Dais cotinifolia or Pompon trees, many of which are self-seeded. They are fast-growing indigenous trees that adorn not only our garden but many others in town. They have also been planted as street trees and are easily discernible in the wild, where the profusion of pink flowers stand out.

The blossoming of these trees will forever be associated with the annual visit to us by my late mother over the Christmas period – what a beautiful reminder they are of a truly beautiful woman whose visits we looked forward to enormously! Seeing them now, it is difficult to believe they were bare and skeletal looking the previous December.

The first sign of their recovery is the appearance of their smooth, simple leaves with their veins forming very clear patterns.

In the photograph of Klaas’s Cuckoo I featured recently you could see the round heads of the flower buds on the Dais cotinifolia.

In some you might just see the pink of the flowers in tight bunches inside. These heads pop open to reveal the beauty within.

The flowers attract butterflies, bees, as well as Cape White-eyes. The appearance of these pretty blossoms always signal a new beginning for me. They last for about three weeks and so are still looking pretty on this first morning of a new year.

THE FINER DETAILS

From the magnificence of the trees around us to a closer look in the garden. Cosmos flowers have been delighting us for months. They keep re-seeding themselves and so the bed has been a mass of pink, white and a combination of these colours. The flowers are so prolific that one actually has to look closely to see the seed heads.

The Pompon trees were among the first to put out leaves at the start of spring and it has been delightful to watch their skeletal branches getting lost in the thick foliage, leaving only the dried reminders of the flowers from last season.

Recent rain has encouraged the buds to swell, to allow glimpses of pink to show, and now these trees are covered with beautiful pink blossoms that will need to be showcased on their own. Pink is cheerful – and we are enjoying a lot of it at the moment. Pale blue is also welcome and so are the plumbago flowers that are starting to make their presence felt next to our pool and along the garden path.

HOW GREEN IS MY … GARDEN

I keep harping on about the drought, and with good reason for both Howieson’s Poort and Settler’s Dam have run out of water – leaving our town in dire straits. The very light (and little) rain that has fallen has not been enough to provide the much-needed runoff that will make its way to these vital storage dams. Nonetheless, the rain has made a noticeable difference to the vegetation and has been captured in hollows, such as this aloe leaf in my garden

The aloes now have a beautifully green backdrop that provides shelter for the birds.

Our forested garden is becoming rejuvenated: the Natal Fig is heavy with fruit that attracts African Green Pigeons, Red-winged Starlings, Speckled Mousebirds, Cape White-eyes, Olive Thrushes, and many other birds. The pompon trees are filled with swelling buds that will soon provide a beautiful display of pink flowers – and the Cape Chestnut is already blooming!

Fine droplets of welcome rain cling to the leaves of a canary creeper.

It is a pleasure to sit in the shade outdoors and to enjoy all of this green – last December our garden looked apocalyptically brown and skeletal!

A SEA OF PINK

Over the past few weeks we have been spoiled with incredible swathes of pink flowers all over the garden, thanks to the blooming of the Dias cotinifolia trees. These pictures all show the same tree for comparison.

It is amazing to think that they looked dead only two months ago, with nary a sign of leaves, let alone flower buds.

The first sign of hope this summer came in the form of delicate leaves.

We were delighted when the first buds opened to reveal their pretty pink petals. These have been attracting a variety of birds, butterflies and bees, as well as insects such as ants.

Looking at the same tree now (one of several in my garden), you can hardly see the leaves for the flowers. From the shape of the flowers it is easy to see why they are commonly known as Pompom trees.

These trees grow prolifically and have self-seeded themselves all over the garden. Some Europeans may be familiar with them as they have apparently, given their hardy nature, been cultivated there for the last few centuries.

A VERY LATE SPRING

Having waited months for rain and watched the dams dry up, the grass shrivel and die, leaves fall off trees to expose bare branches, and to live under relentless blue skies so beautiful it hurt to look up in the intense heat day after day, after day … it rained. Not enough to ease our water situation – our town still has no running water available several days in the week – but enough for nature to take the gap and do what it should have been able to do in the spring. To quote from Keats, we had to ask Where are the songs of Spring? / Ay, where are they? Now, as summer barrels towards autumn, we are experiencing a spring-like growth in the garden. Not only are the trees that were so bare a matter of weeks ago able to cast deep shade, but the Pompon trees (Dais cotinifolia) are sporting tiny flower buds.

Cosmos seeds planted with enthusiasm at the end of winter have blossomed at last.

The Van Staden’s River Daisy (Dimorphotheca ecklonis) is putting out a few blossoms that are attracting insects.

Crossberry (Grewia occidentalis) flowers are out.

So are the Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata).

Soon the garden will be brightened when the Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) comes out in full bloom.

Don’t for a moment think my garden is awash with flowers. These are the few, very few, that have made it through a scorching summer. The important thing is that they have survived and are doing their best to ensure the survival of their species.