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Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Incredibly appealing!

I've always found herb-strewn stone paths and terraces incredibly appealing. Herbs tucked amid the stones seem to give a path, no matter how new, a sense of history and romance. There are several plants that thrive in these restricted spaces, ignoring the trauma of being trod upon, and when the Slasto path was being laid, I asked the gardener to leave s space here and there where I could tuck in some creeping thyme.

I bought several different varieties at the local nursery, dug them in the small pockets that had been left, watered them well and waited. Before long, the path had lost its harsh, just-finished look, and tiny purple and white flowers covered the little clumps of thyme that grew here and there, releasing their fresh fragrance whenever anyone walked by. Soon other plants joined the thyme. A few springs of mint escaped from the culinary garden, chamomile seeded itself here and there and even savory, yarrow and fennel popped up between the cracks. I pulled out most of the trespassers, with the exception of the chamomile with its tiny white flowers.


Eventually, the thyme threatened to cover the entire path, so several times a year I must harden my heart and ruthlessly lift great mats of it off the stones and cut them back. For a day or two, the plants look ungainly, but shortly they begin to spread out again, the edges of the patches softening once more. Through it all, the bees continue to buzz joyously among the thyme flowers, relishing this herbal path as much as I do.



A new stepping stone path taking shape leading to the cottage at the bottom of the garden planted with Nasturtiums, Rosemary and Wild Garlic. This area was surprisingly free of harmful insects, probably due to the Wild Garlic planted at intervals.

I find that any spot that's doing poorly in the garden,  especially shady spots under trees, benefit from laying a couple of paving slabs or adding some crushed stone and with a garden ornament or two, can be turned into a really stunning area.

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Sunday, 27 September 2015

Food from trees - The Kei Apple


(Dovyalis caffra)


The Kei Apple produces a bountiful crop of roundish, velvety, bright yellow fruits with thick succulent flesh. It was there for the taking by the birds and, what they do not not eat, falls to the ground to ferment, attracting fruit flies and eventually rotting down, returning nutrients to the soil.

The tree, Kei-apple, Dovyalis caffra, is well known all over the eastern parts of South Africa, common in open bush and wooded grassland, and often near termite mounds. It belongs to a cosmopolitan family, the Flacourtiaceae, which are all good, fruit-bearing shrubs or trees, very often armed with vicious spines, and its name derives from the Kei River where it grows in abundance as a thick, shiny, spiny shrub up to three metres in height. The branches are armed with straight, robust spines up to 7 cm long.



Last year my trees, I have three planted at my wildlife pond, also bore an abundance of fruit for the first time ever and I ascribe this to the fact that we get heavy frost here in Tarlton (South Africa). It has taken almost seven years for my trees to reach just over three meters tall and I was absolutely thrilled to have the fruit. Of course I had to try them but they really are too acidic, with a slight hint of sweetness, to enjoy on a full-time basis. And I'm therefore also not surprised at all that Torti, my Leopard Tortoise, did not touch any that had fallen on the floor. But they look really beautiful displayed in a dish!

Some trees may grow to nine metres with a thick crown of green foliage; these large specimens are often less spiny as the tree has put its energy into its bulk, rather than into thorn production. The tree is known by a variety of other names: Dingaan’s apricot, wild apricot, wilde-appelkoos, appelkoosdoring, um-Qokolo (Xhosa and Zulu) amongst others. Although it is indigenous to warmer areas, it will survive mild frost, and long periods of drought. It grows well in poor soils. The Kei-apple makes a worthwhile addition to your garden as it serves a multitude of purposes, not least of which as a source of food for humans and animals alike.

Fresh, ripe fruits are rich in Vitamin C and pectin and, following the example of the Pedi people who squeeze the juice onto their pap, they would make an excellent addition to a fruit salad and to muesli and yoghurt. Nature seems to know best when to give us the right foods to boost our immune systems in preparation for the onslaught of winter colds and ‘flu.

In addition, Egyptian scientists have also reportedly identified 15 different amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) in the fruit. Monkeys and baboons, antelope and birds recognise their health-giving qualities and devour them voraciously in the wild! Most people, however, consider the fruit too acid for eating out-of-hand, even when fully ripe.

So, cut the fruits in half, remove the peel and two rings of hairy seeds. Sprinkle with sugar and leave them to sit for a few hours before serving as a dessert, or adding to a fruit salad. The fruits can be cooked, but take only a few minutes of cooking before they turn into a sauce. Thicken this with a little crème fraiche and serve it over ice cream. Kei apples are more usually made into delicious jams and jellies or, when unripe, into pickles.

Kei-apple Jam
Because of the apples high level of acidity, no lemon juice need be added to the jam.
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  • 450 g Kei apples, halved, peeled, de-seeded and thinly sliced
  • 450 g white sugar
  • Grated zest of one lemon (be careful not to include the bitter white pith)
  • 1 teaspoon ground (or 1 large stick) cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon raisins, a bay leaf, 2 cloves optional extras
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Pack the sliced fruit into a jar, stand it in a saucepan of boiling water and let the apples stew for about 15 minutes, or until they start to become tender. Put the apples into a clean, heavy-bottomed pot, add the sugar and the grated lemon zest. Do not add the cinnamon if using ground cinnamon, because it will tend to become viscous when boiled.

Hardiness: A subtropical shrub or tree, capable of surviving temperatures to 20F.

Growing Environment: Kei apple's are both drought- and salt-tolerant and are often used as coastal landscaping shrubs.


Propagation: Usually by seed.

Plants bear in 4-5 years from seed.

Uses: Fruits are often sprinkled with sugar and eaten fresh. They can also be used in a variety of desserts.

Native Range: Native to the Kei River region of South West Africa, the Kei Apple has adapted to subtropical regions throughout the world and is sometimes planted for ornamental purposes in Florida, California, and Southern Europe.

Walking past this tree one has to be careful of the very hardy spines it produces, they can deliver painful pricks

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Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Olea Africana – Wild Olive


My Wild Olive (Olienhout in Afrikaans), planted in 2006 in my pond area, has suprised me with the most gorgeous little "olives" this year. The branches were so heavy that they looked like they were going to buckle under the weight of all the fruit! For weeks on end, this side of the garden was alive with the chatter and whistle of all the birds that flocked here to enjoy this bounty.


I also had a go at the fruit, why not? What's good enough for the birds, is good enough for me, right? It was mostly quite sweet with a slight acidic (sour) flavour and a tiny pip inside. I wonder how many new little Olive trees will be growing everywhere from the birds dispersing the seeds?

Sprays of tiny, lightly scented white to greenish flowers (October to February) are followed (March to July) by small, spherical, thinly fleshy fruits (either sweet or sour) which ripen purple-black.

This berry fruit is a favorite for fruit-eating birds, so look out for the Grey Lourie, Speckled and Red-faced Mousebirds, Redwinged and Pied Starlings, Rameron, African Green Pigeon and the Blackeyed Bulbul. Leaves are browsed by game and stock. This tree is an asset on farms and game farms, especially in very dry areas because it is extremely hardy and is an excellent fodder tree.

Olive leaf and olive leaf extracts (OLE), have anti-aging, immunostimulator, and antibiotic properties. A tea can be made from the leaves and I'm still scouring the internet to see if I can find a recipe. 

 Planted in 2006 at my pond, my Wild Olive has grown to about 4m tall and 4m wide.

I also have one planted about the same time in my bathroom court-yard garden and it's a favourite with all the birds, entertaining me early-mornings with their antics as I sit in the bath. this one, however, has never fruited yet.
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This tree is found in a variety of habitats, mostly on the southern slopes of the Magaliesberg mountain range from the rocky areas exposed to all the weather elements, in the kloofs, right down to the river bank areas of the Magalies River but is widespread in Africa.

The Latin name for olive is olea; europaea = from Europe, and africana = from Africa. There are four species of Olea in South Africa. Olea europaea subsp. africana is a neatly shaped evergreen tree with a dense spreading crown (9 x 12m) of glossy grey-green to dark-green foliage. Leaves are grey-green to dark-green above and greyish below. The rough, grey bark sometimes peels off in strips. 

Propagate it from seed or from hardwood cuttings. Sow fresh seed in river sand. Treat cuttings with a rooting hormone. The slow-growing frost, drought and wind-resistant wild olive makes a good shade or screen plant in the home garden.

HOW TO PLANT 

- Dig a hole slightly wider and deeper than the roots. (The bigger the better). The extra space below and at the sides will be in-filled; but, having been loosened, will help the roots establish.

- Square holes are better than round ones as the roots can go round in circles if unable to break out of a round hole (yes, seriously!)

- As it has an aggressive root system don’t plant near your house, a pool or other buildings.

- Although this step is not essential, it will grow better if you mix some compost and bone meal with the soil taken out of the hole. Also it would be a good idea to fill the hole a little so that the plant will be exactly the same height in the ground as it was at the nursery.

- If it is am planted too deep, the stem may rot; too shallow and the roots above ground will die.

- Before planting, remove from the plastic bag! lol!

- Put the tree in the hole and replace the soil, compost and bone meal mixture, firming it down all around. The roots must be immobilized, so it’s essential that it is not loose in the ground.

- Use the heel of your boot to firm the soil as you back-fill, but do not compact the soil so that it is like concrete, as this prevents water and air circulation, causing roots to die.

- Water and cover the soil with a good heap of mulch.

CARING FOR YOUR WILD OLIVE

- After planting, it is important to water at least once a week.

- It is better to give one good watering once a week rather than a little bit every day.

- Monitor to see if your tree looks thirsty (sagging limp leaves) and water if needed.

- Once planted, you can apply a general fertilizer around the base. (Culterra 5:1:5 is a good option).

- As your tree grows, it will require staking and pruning. Stake it against a straight wooden stick or pole, taking the strongest shoot up and pruning the bottom branches off.

Relax and watch your beautiful Olive grow approximately 800mm each year!

 ི♥ྀ *˚*¨*•.¸¸♥¸¸.•*¨*• ི♥ྀ •*

Friday, 18 September 2015

Garden sheds and other stuff

I love keeping a Gardening Journal - mine contains anything from garden design to new planting tips, names of flowers and shrubs that I've planted with dates to leaves of something I'm looking for and sketches of plants and birds in my garden.

I also make notes when something has been killed by the frost to remind me not to plant that again! I hate losing a plant and cannot even kill those I don't particularly want in the garden. Keeping a Journal tells me a story when I look back over the years and sometimes I will pick up a forgotten idea I never implemented and fit it into an empty space that I was wondering what to do with.
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My gardening journal
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A page from one of my journals with pressed Nasturtiums
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I am also mad about garden sheds - whether it's a big shed with lots of space or a small little corner set up somewhere to keep all the gardening tools together, it's a joyful experience setting one up. Gathering all the tools, tables, terracotta pots, seedlings, chairs, wheelbarrows, shelving, birds' nests that have fallen out of the trees and boxes and crates together, scrounging for anything pretty, is a great past-time for me.

Setting up a garden shed can be as simple as just organising all your tools in one corner or it can be an elaborate affair - an old disused shed maybe, or an out-building or store room that's standing empty. Even a disused carport can serve as a garden shed by adding some sides to it for protection or enclosing it completely.
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I converted an old disused carport into a garden shed, complete with a table and chairs, a couple of shelving units, hooks for all the tools, sun hats and garden gloves and a little cabinet for pencils and watercolour paints. It was very low budget, as everything came from the store room or hand-me-downs from friends and family. I set up the old kitchen sink lying in the one corner on an old cabinet, laid on some water and a tap and had a wonderful space for rinsing flowers after picking or washing hands and dirty used tools.
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A corner in my garden shed

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Friday, 11 September 2015

Growing Clivias from seed


Clivia miniata
Family: Amaryllidaceae
Common names: Bush lily (English); Boslelie (Afrikaans)

My Clivias have grown so beautifully in the last couple of years that I've become interested in growing them from seed to try and expand my collection. From the original three plants, I now have ten. They've been clumping nicely and I will also try lifting some to transplant to another area in the garden.

The world's love affair with South Africa's Clivia began in the 1800's when specimens were sent back to England from Kwazulu-Natal. In Victorian times this beautiful plant was very popular for indoor use in England and Europe. The discovery of the yellow flowered Clivia miniata (C. miniata var. citrina) in the late 1800's fuelled an interest which still persists today.

Part of the fascination has been with the breeding of Clivia, both between the four species (C. nobilis, C. gardenii, C. caulescens, C. miniata ) and between forms and colours within the species. Breeders select for specific traits in each generation which produces pronounced qualities such as huge, broad petalled flowers, red, yellow or apricot coloration, broad leaves, fan shaped leaf arrangement, variegation, dwarfism and many others. Internationally, the most advanced breeding of Cliiva is happening in the Far East, most notably Japan.


Clivia miniata is a clump forming perennial with dark green, strap shaped leaves which arise from a fleshy underground stem. The flowering heads of brilliant orange (rarely yellow), trumpet shaped flowers appear mainly in spring (August to November) but also sporadically at other times of the year. The deep green shiny leaves are a perfect foil for the masses of orange flowers.


Clivias are endemic to Southern Africa, meaning that they do not occur naturally anywhere else in the world! The wild bush lily grows in the forests of Kwazulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and Swaziland. The habitat may vary from subtropical coastal forest to ravines in high altitude forest. The bush lily grows in dappled shade, often in large colonies. The soil is well drained and humus rich. Occasionally they may be found growing in the fork of a tree.

Sadly, in many areas, colonies of wild bush lilies have been destroyed by harvesting for traditional medicine and also by plant collectors. The rhizomes are reportedly extremely toxic but are used medicinally for various purposes.

I have at last picked my fruit, which now seemed ready for harvesting and extracted some seeds from the soft pulp inside

Harvesting Seed
Pick the fruit as soon as it starts to change colour or when it turns soft. Open it carefully and remove all the soft pulp as well as the loose fitting membranes that keep the Clivia seeds together. This is quite a messy job and one's fingers can get quite slippery, so keep a cloth at hand to often wipe your hands. Clean the seeds properly and wash the seeds with an anti-fungal solution or a weak solution of dishwashing liquid. I used the dishwashing liquid.

Germinating Seeds
If the Clivia seed have not yet sprouted, put a teaspoon full of damp compost in a sealed plastic bag with a few seeds. Place the bag in a warm place or on top of your fridge, near the back where the warm air rises, to speed up sprouting.


Alternatively, place clean damp (not wet) coarse sand (river sand is ideal) in a plastic container. I opted for this method, but I used some potting soil, no river sand at hand, as I cannot seem to see that the seeds will be OK in a plastic bag!, although I did take a few and put them in a bag with a bit of damp soil to see what happens. and I covered my container with some plastic as I did not have a lid for it.

Press seeds 50% into sand making sure that the eye (small dark round spot on seeds where germination will take place) are facing to the side. Don't plant the seed under the soil surface.

Close the lid and place in warm spot for 1 to 3 weeks until the seed has germinated. Do not water again.


When the seeds have sprouted
Take a pot or seed tray, about 15cm deep and put a layer of small stones or coarse bark chips in the bottom. Fill the container with a slightly acid growing medium, such as equal parts of coarse river sand and finely milled bark or a potting mix available at nurseries. (Clivias are not very fussy).

Firmly press down the mix and water well. Then make small holes, at least 2cm apart, to take the little taproots. Gently press each seed into the medium so that half the seed rests below the surface. Handle the seeds very gently.

Place the pot in a shaded position and keep moist by watering once or twice a week with a fine gentle spray.

Seedlings can be left in the pot for up to two years and at the beginning of the third year can be transplanted into permanent pots (especially the yellow ones) or into the garden. Alternatively they can be moved into well-drained individual black bags or pots after one year, in fresh growing medium adding a small quantity of bone meal. (Use one teaspoonful on each 15cm pot). Miniata, Gardenii, Robusta and Caulescens seedlings should flower at three to four years old with slightly longer for the yellow varieties. In pots Clivias prefer a well drained, slightly acidic potting mix such as composted pine bark. If grown in the garden they grow in virtually any soil type with varying degree of success, provided that they are not over watered.

How to identify the Yellow seedlings
When the first leaf of the seedlings is about 2cm tall, you will be able to identify the yellow seedlings by looking at the stem. The stems that are green and show no colouring will produce yellow flowers. Mark these seedlings at this stage. This also applies to genuine peach seedlings.

On the other hand, if the stem has a purplish colour, you know the plant will not produce yellow or peach seedlings, but will be pastel, orange or red flowers. This purplish colour disappears when the seedlings are about two to three years old.

Position
Remember that Clivia do not like direct sun, so they MUST be planted in full shade or dappled sunlight. They flower better in lighter shade. A little early morning sun is acceptable.
Keep your “collector’s quality” plants in pots, which will allow you to move them around easily, they could be brought indoors for display or to show off when in full flower or displayed at a show.


This is what I'd like to aim for eventually, a large bed of just Clivias!

GOOD LUCK AND ENJOY YOUR CLIVIA!!

(Some of the growing from seed information from CliviaPE)

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Saturday, 5 September 2015

It’s never too late to plant a tree

Celtis africana (White Stiinkwood) planted in my garden in 2005

It’s Spring. The trees herald the change of season by bursting forth with their new foliage, many preceding the soft greens with breathtaking shows of delicate blossoms that produce the fruits and seeds which will be welcomed by man and beast alike in the summer that lies ahead. It's time to plant a tree.

But how many will last long enough to provide homes for birds and animals in their lofty boughs, or provide us with much sought after protection from the elements all year round? How many will bear fruit?

Around the world, over thousands of years, man has impacted on the great forests by felling huge swathes for living space, fuel, building materials and cropland. Mankind is continuing ‘the old, old story’ of what happens when forests are cut down - rivers silt up, the land turns into desert or scrubland; civilisations succumb to environmental degradation.

Somebody once said “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.” So how can we do our bit? Here are a few creative, low-cost ideas on how to get tree planting going :

• Plant a tree on your birthday.
• Plant one over the festive season, instead of spending your time and money in shopping malls.
• Give trees as gifts to show how much you care.
• Teach other people how to plant and take care of them.
• Save seeds; take cuttings. It will reduce the cost of planting trees. It may take a bit longer, but your patience will be rewarded.
• Plant a tree from a truncheon (small branch) taken from another tree. It takes a shorter time to grow a tree.

by Pat Featherstone, Soil for Life

You can find some info on how to plant a tree here.

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