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Monday, 26 August 2013

My garden, plain and simple

Well, my "new garden" has now become "my garden", a well-deserved accolade after almost 10 years. I dare say, after ten years, that I can now call it "established". Some of my trees are now a nice eight to nine meters tall and home to many birds and insects, which is the primary object of my garden. I get a thrill and a sense of well-being when I see wildlife in and around my home and garden. Because of how life happens, my lawn and garden beds tend to look a little more unkempt and a little less manicured than I’d like to, to the point where I expect to receive disapproving glares from neighbours. However, this lack of regular pruning, mowing, and trimming produces an unexpected bonus: more natural areas that are welcoming to wild creatures.

I've learnt what to plant and what to NOT plant, I've changed and moved plants around to more suitable locations and unfortunately also lost many plants and a tree or two.

My Umbrella Thorn only just starting to sport new green leaves almost at the end of summer in November 2006, already a sign that it is not doing too well.

One that succumbed to a particularly cold winter in 2009 was the Umbrella Thorn, Acacia tortilis, and even though I knew that it was frost-tender when I planted it in 2004, I hoped against hope that it would do well here. It provides excellent cover for birds against predators like hawks and kestrels and is favoured by many birds for nesting sites.

Acacia tortilis tends to grow in areas where temperatures vary from 0 to 50 degree Celsius and rainfall is anywhere from about 100–1,000 mm (3.9–39in) per year. We rarely get temps below 0°C, but some years we do get a heavy, severe frost, known as 'black frost', which I suspect is the culprit that killed it.

Black frost is a popular term that originally denoted any freeze not accompanied by white frost. According to the Weather Bureau, the term now generally signifies a "killing freeze" (the vegetation turning black) without the formation of the ordinary or white frost. Black frost, however, is not used officially by the Weather Bureau, which classifies freezes as light, heavy and killing. Basically it is a dry, invisible killing frost that turns vegetation black.

The Umbrella Thorn beautiful and lush in December 2007 - it seemed to have a sudden spurt of coming right 

It did seem to be doing OK for a couple of years, but after a very severe winter in 2008 it was dead but I only cut it down the following winter, just to make sure it wasn't still alive.. It was impossible getting to that part of the garden due to the masses of thorns now permanently exposed and let me tell you, getting stuck in them is no joke! They can inflict painful pricks which don't heal easily due to the fact that the point of a thorn often breaks off in your flesh, leaving the area swollen and infected.

Throughout Africa, these thorny branches are used to erect cages, pens and cattle kraals, even keeping predators like lions and leopards at bay. The thorns are also used by African women for sewing.

Some thorns collected from my Umbrella tree 

Finally, in May 2009, my Umbrella Thorn was officially declared dead and cut down.

And so one lives and learns. I have many favourite plants that just do not cut it in our climate and I've had to harden my heart and avoid planting them again.

A quick catch-up on the past year - February 2013 and summer is slowly coming to an end...

In April I was forced to cut down the Karee that had died, even though I knew how much the birds like to sit in it, catching the morning sun. But it was leaning dangerously close to the roof and I must say, it was quite a business cutting it down. Solly climbed to the top and cut piece by piece until we could do the bottom bit. Hopefully never again...

May brought beautiful Autumn colours but the weather was so beautiful, it utterly confused my 20-year old Peach Tree, who was already sporting some new buds! This could be disastrous if some real cold hits us...

The pond area

 Torti's hide-out - she's in there somewhere!

July brought a fair bit of cold weather, and the lawn slowly started disappearing. The pond area where Torti, my Leopard tortoise, lives, was devoid of any vegetation and we had to supply her with lots of grass where she was cuddled up in one of her hide-outs for winter.

 Torti catching up on a bit of sunshine

Torti having breakfast

Leopard Tortoises don't do the full hibernation thing in winter. Weather permitting, she often surfaces to have a snack and catch up on baking in the sun, warming her body temperature in readiness for the cold night ahead.

The best part of winter - when the Aloes are flowering! Not only do they give a beautiful splash of colour to the garden, but they attract Sunbirds, bees and other insects, providing a great source of nutrition in the cold months.

This 2013 winter proved to be exceptionally mild and my peach tree has managed to hold onto her buds, with tiny pink spots now appearing. another bounty of fruit awaits us this season!


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