In my garden there is a large place for sentiment. My garden of flowers is also my garden of thoughts and dreams. The thoughts grow as freely as the flowers, and the dreams are as beautiful. If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Cleaning the wildlife pond

Every Autumn and Spring is pond cleaning time. As soon as the frogs have stopped singing at night and just before the water gets too cold, we empty it out, scrub and re-arrange and fill up again. Same procedure in Spring, just before the frogs surface again from their hibernation.

With all the rain we've had, accompanied by hot temperatures, the pond is a haven for algae and mosquito larvae, which I'm sure the frogs enjoy!

The first thing to do is to pump out all the water (my garden thrills at that!) as low as possible. The suction pipe is at the lowest point of the pond and when it starts sucking thick sludge, it's time to remove all the thick sludge by hand with buckets.

Solly emptying the sludge while Chrissie sweeps the sides clean

Much of the wildlife in the pond flees to the bottom of the sludge and lands up on the lawn as the pond is emptied. I stand by to save any tadpoles, water beetles, water scorpions and anything else I might find in the sludge, with the chickens revelling in anything I might have missed! I used to try and squirt the sludge away with a hose pipe, but Chrissie "instructed" me to let it dry and then it's easy for her to rake up. You live and learn every day!

With the job almost finished, Solly poses for the camera.

Time to fill the pond with lovely fresh water. I also return all the insects I rescued from the sludge (and had in a bucket of water) to the pond to settle down before I switch on the pump again.

At the same time, the plants at the edge of the pond are trimmed and cleaned up

The finished product. Now, should I get some ducks...?


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Tree Fuchsia (Halleria Lucida)

Not only is Halleria lucida an attractive indigenous tree and an asset to any garden, it is also one of the best bird attracting trees, being favoured by the Amethyst Sunbird for its abundance of nectar. It is an evergreen tree or large shrub, often multi-stemmed, with a spreading crown and attractive glossy bright green foliage on arching and drooping branches.

The flowers are tubular, orange to brick-red, or yellow, very rich in nectar and are produced in clusters in the axils of leaves and on short shoots on the old wood, even on the main trunk. When in full flower in autumn to summer (May to December/January) it can be very showy, although the flowers are somewhat hidden amongst the leaves and inside the canopy.

Halleria lucida is found in coastal and karroid scrub, deep evergreen forest, forest margins, forested ravines, rocky mountain slopes, near rivers and on stream banks from the Cape peninsula in the south in a strip up the eastern coast of South Africa, through the Eastern Cape to Lesotho, the eastern Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and Swaziland where it turns inland and roughly follows the escarpment into Mpumalanga, Gauteng and the Northern and North West Province. It also occurs in isolated pockets in Zimbabwe. In the more exposed situations it is generally a stocky or shrubby tree that reaches a height of 2-5m but in well watered, protected situations it can reach up to 12m, and in forests, it can grow up to 20m in height.

My Tree Fuchsia after one very severe winter

My research revealed that it is relatively hardy to frost (minimum -7 °C/ 20 °F) but requires protection when young. However, even though mine is quite big already, some winters it suffers severe frost damage but luckily has thus far sprung back to life every spring.

 My Tree Fuchsia at the end of a mild winter

Halleria lucida is easily propagated by seed, and cuttings. It can also be propagated by truncheon cuttings or layering and transplants readily. Young plants may flower for the first time in their second year.Seed is best sown in spring to mid-summer (September to December) or in autumn (March to
May), in a standard well-drained seedling mix and covered lightly with coarse sand or milled bark.

 My Tree Fuchsia in full flower during summer

The Zulu nation has a strong belief in traditional medicine and they use Halleria lucida for skin and ear complaints. Dry leaves are soaked in water and squeezed into the ear to relieve earache. This tree is also considered to be a charm against evil. The twigs are burnt when offering sacrifices to the ancestral spirits. The plants are set alight each year, the ashes mixed with crocodile fat and this mixture is smeared onto cuttings of Rhamnus prinoides which are then driven into the ground around the village to protect the community from wizardry and lightning. The wood can also be used to start a fire by friction. Halleria lucida timber is light coloured tinged with yellow, hard, heavy and strong, well suited to carpentry, but is not much used because the pieces are small. It was once valued for wagon poles, tools and spear shafts.

Family: Scrophulariaceae (Snapdragon Family)
Common Names: Tree Fuchsia (Eng), Notsung; Ouhout; Septee; Witolyf (Afr), umBinza (Xhosa)


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Building a Wildlife pond

Having water in a garden is one of the most soothing aspects of owning a garden. The sound of a fountain or water gushing gently over a waterfall is one of the most calming sounds to the senses.

Water in the garden is a great attraction for birds, insects and other wildlife. I can't think of anything better than the sound of frogs croaking me to sleep at night!

Placing the pond

1.   Place the pond near a tree or fairly dense shrub where the birds can seek refuge. If you will be planting some shrubs or a tree, try and choose something evergreen, as falling leaves and seeds can play havoc with a pond.
2.   Position it so that you can relax and watch the comings and goings of the wildlife
3.   Check in which direction the water would naturally flow and place the pond accordingly so that it looks as natural as possible.
4.   Check for tree roots or other underground obstacles such as water pipes and electricity cables before using a pick.
5.   If you have children make sure you will be able to secure the pond.
6.   To attract wildlife place the pond in a quiet corner of the garden.
7.   Make sure the pond has at least some strong direct sunlight.
8.   Small ponds and water features need some form of circulation and filtration. You would therefore need an electrical point for your system.  

Digging the pond

Mark out your pond – this can be done with flour or a hosepipe.

Remember the bare hole looks a lot bigger than when the pond is finished so add about 25% to the size of the hole

Make sure that about one third of the edge is very shallow and gently slopes in towards the middle of pond.  This is vitally important as it is the area the birds and insects will use and feel safe. They will not use a pond with steeply sloping sides as they will not feel safe.

If you are creating a little waterfall (recommended as this helps aerate the water) make a ledge, I built mine up by about 1m, which will be covered by the liner or cement and onto which you can place the base rocks of the waterfall.

If you are using a plastic liner, place a thin layer (about 5cm) of river sand on the bottom of the pond, the ledges and edges.  This gives you a little leeway to seat the rock properly.

You could use a plastic liner like Firestone Pondgard EPDM Liner. Not only is it flexible and easy to lay and fold but is also 100% safe for aquatic life.

Remember to measure the hole accurately and allow ample liner to go over the edges. If you buy only just enough liner to cover the hole, even the slightest movement could cause leaking over the edge.

Take particular note of the waterfall or “pot” area as these are the areas where the liner may move or the cement might get worn out as the water cascades over the rocks. The water could leak behind the liner or under the rocks placed in the cement. This is very difficult to see and would mean breaking down the whole waterfall to fix it.

I, however, opted to cement out my pond and when that was completely dry, we sealed it with a pond cement sealer, which you can see here as black in colour. I also planted a thatch umbrella for a seating area from which to survey the surrounds.

While cementing out the pond, we also cemented in big rocks around the edge and in strategic places in the shallow parts. After about a week the sealer was dry and we could fill the pond.

On the shallow edges, place gravel to a level that some of the stones actually go over the edge and stick out of the water a little. This will make it easy for insects and other small wildlife to use the water.

If you wish to have a clean healthy pond, it is important both to keep the water moving and to possibly have a bio-filter. This need not be an expensive exercise although I do recommend that you buy the best quality pump you can afford. 

Because my pond is fairly large, I bought a ,75kW swimming pool pump to circulate the water over the waterfall and through a pipe to the fountain. The inlet or suction pipe, right at the bottom and deepest end of the pond, was built in before cementing out the pond, coming out on top of the ground where the pump was to be situated. On the outlet side I have a pipe, slightly under-ground, leading to over the waterfall, with a T-piece taking some of the water to a pipe into the pond for the fountain.

The grass soon started growing in the dug over area and within a couple of weeks the water lilies started flowering.

It's also wise to install a pipe from a nearby tap for filling the pond. Before I installed mine (which can be seen on the left at the back of the pond) I was using a hosepipe, which can take absolute hours!

A couple of ducks and geese enjoying their new home.

Some Egyptian Geese soon discovered the pond!

 Housing for the ducks

Winter at the pond - Next on the list was planting shrubs and trees in the pond area. I chose some indigenous Acacias and Celtis africana.

  Some new shrubs at the back of the pond (Butterfly bush, Buddleia salvifolia - a bit messy for this area...)

 Within 2 or 3 seasons, the trees were becoming really well-established.

Many insects soon started moving in, amongst others this water scorpion. He has a long "tail" which is actually his breathing pipe. I often see him hanging just under the surface of the water with his little pipe just touching the surface.

  The Water scorpion snacking on an insect in the pond

The grass has grown well and the shrubs are also coming along nicely. I'm thrilled that frogs have found their way into the pond area, as have dragonflies, water beetles, pond skaters and even a few harmless snakes, like the Mole Snake and Brown House Snake. They are indeed welcome as rats can be quite a problem with chicken and duck food around. I can honestly say that I will never, ever again be without water in my garden, not matter where I might find myself!

 I started my pond in 2004 and this is what it looks like now 10 years later.

 A Wild Olive in the corner and the Butterfly bushes behind the pond. In the foreground are some Kniphofias (Red Hot Pokers) that just love water and benefit from the pond's over-flow.

Frogs and insects benefits from some plants on the edge of the pond and a log for safety.

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