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Sunday, 29 September 2013

A shelf in my garden shed

Gardening is about enjoying the smell of things growing in the soil, getting dirty without feeling guilty, and generally taking the time to soak up a little peace and serenity. 
- Lindley Karstens 

A shelf in my garden shed where I keep my collection of Terracotta pots and watering cans, seedling trays, egg shells to plant seedlings, tools, hats and all else a gardener needs to make her life easy! 
 (W & N Watercolours on Bockingford 300gsm)

I think the true gardener is a lover of his flowers, not a critic of them. I think the true gardener is the reverent servant of Nature, not her truculent, wife-beating master. I think the true gardener, the older she grows, should more and more develop a humble, grateful and uncertain spirit.

One of the most delightful things about a garden is the anticipation it provides and my green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while learning to see things from the plant's point of view! When one of my plants dies, I die a little inside, too. On every stem, on every leaf, and at the root of everything that grew, was a professional specialist in the shape of a grub, caterpillar, aphid, or other expert, whose business it was to devour that particular part. 

Despite any gardener's best intentions, Nature will improvise. It takes a while to grasp that not all failures are self-imposed, the result of ignorance, carelessness or inexperience. It takes a while to grasp that a garden isn't a testing ground for character and to stop asking, what did I do wrong? 

Maybe nothing.


Thursday, 26 September 2013

A wildlife pond and Winter Bullrushes

“Never cut a tree down in the winter time. Never make a negative decision in the low time. Never make your most important decisions when you are in your worst moods. Wait. Be patient. The storm will pass. The spring will come.” 
- Robert H. Schuller 

 A watercolour sketch of the Bullrushes at my pond a couple of winters ago.

I absolutely LOVE Bullrushes (Typha typhaceae) and used to have them growing at my pond until I discovered how quickly they take over an area, killing everything in their path. I also used to cut the velvety flowering spikes to arrange in a vase, absolutely gorgeous!, also only until I discovered that, when they're ripe and ready to disperse their seeds, the velvety spike would burst open, covering the house with bundles of dense, cottony fluff! Only the female flower does this, the male withers and dies once it has dispersed its pollen. (Some interesting information : the dense cottony fluff was used for stuffing Futons in Japan before the advent of cotton.)

My wildlife pond is looking extremely dull after this winter, even though it was very mild. All the water lilies are gone, the Pontederia has died down and all the Red Hot Pokers have finished flowering. The Buddleia salvifolia (butterfly bushes) at the back of the pond are sparse and leafless and the only green around is the Kei Apple, which has also finished fruiting.

The Wild Olive (Olea africana) behind the waterfall provides some greenery throughout winter

 My Red Hot Pokers (Kniphofia) with their last flowers. I transplanted these from a shady corner last summer and because they get enough water when the pond over-flows, they have grown extremely well.

The fountain at my pond 

The waterfall in the back-ground 

Having a pond in your garden has quite a few benefits. It attracts lots of wildlife and many water-loving birds are nesting in the trees surrounding my pond - Red-headed Finches, Wydah's, Weavers and Bronze Mannekins are but a few. When I built the pond, I created quite a few shallow bathing areas for the birds, which is constantly in use. And there is nothing more soothing than the sound of running water and frogs croaking at night! 

Bronze Mannekins will make use of any available water!I have these little fellas nesting in the Butterfly bushes and in the Wild Olive (Olea Africana) behind my pond and what a racket they can make! Music to my ears! Unfortunately I don't have my own photograph of them as they are busy, busy, busy little bodies and much too fast for my photographic skills!

The Redheaded Finches, on the other hand, are a different matter. They will calmly sit and watch me as I take photographs or do some sketches. This is a Journal sketch I did when the Red-headed Finches started moving into the pond area in 2009.


Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Gardening with "living fossils"

Long before mankind started gardening, Mother Nature was already growing gardens of her own.

By growing these ancient plants, even today we can create a garden reminiscent of a time when dinosaurs ruled the animal kingdom and the dominant plant types ruling the plant kingdom were cycads and ferns.

My Cycad - Cycas Revoluta (Sago Palm) July 2013 

The Sago Palm is native to the Far East and the cold hardy Sago Palm has been used as a choice container and landscape plant for centuries. The growth habit of Cycas revoluta displays an upright trunk with a diameter of typically about 20 cm (7.9 in) in diameter, sometimes wider, depending on age, topped with stiff feather-like leaves growing in a circular pattern.

Regardless of age or size, the Sago palms (Cycas revoluta) are one of the easiest plants to grow and care for, indoors or out, by beginner or expert. Sago Palm plants adapt to a wide range of temperatures from 15 to 110 degrees F (-11 to 42 degrees C), Sagos accepts full sun or bright interior light, thrive with proper care and maintenance, and tolerates neglect. In addition, Cycads are extremely long-lived.
My Cycad when planted in 2007

Cycads are often referred to as “living fossils” because they date back to the age of dinosaurs of which only fossils remain today. Some scientists believe cycads date back as far as 250 million years, but reached dominance about 150 million years ago - widely known as the age of dinosaurs. During this period they were a prominent component of the earth’s vegetation and a very important part of most herbivores’ diets.

Cycads are arranged into numerous families and genera. Most southern African cycads belong to the genus Encephalartos in the family Zamiaceae. This is said to be the second largest genus of cycads and consists, to date, of about 63 living species. They are all endemic to the continent of Africa.

 My Cycad almost two years later in 2009

Cycads are slow growers and therefore need time and patience to grow. They can prove difficult in some instances and may require a little more effort to grow successfully, but they are well worth the time and effort spent on them.

Cycads do best in areas with a moderate climate. Certain species however prefer tropical to subtropical areas and there are a few that are able to survive in cold, dry areas. Extreme climates with prolonged periods of intense heat or cold are not suitable, unless the cycads are in greenhouses where the conditions are controlled.

My Cycad in 2010

The basic requirements to grow cycads are: unimpeded soil drainage, good soil, warmth and plenty of water. Your pH should be neutral to slightly alkaline, not acidic. I know that my soil is slightly alkaline, as most of my nearby hydrangeas are pink, the colour of which is caused by alkalinity in the soil. They are sun loving, although some forest species requires some shade.

My Cycad in 2012

The Sago Palm growth rate is extremely slow and are extremely long lived and old specimens can grow in curious ways. Many Sago have multi-trunks and multiple branches.

Uses and cultural aspects
In the past, the pith from the stem of cycads was removed, then enclosed in an animal skin, fermented and ground into a meal which was used to make bread. Hence the Afrikaans name of broodboom. Cycads develop into attractive feature plants and E. transvenosus is a particularly attractive species provided it has sufficient space and ideal growing conditions.

UPDATE : My Cycad below in March 2015



Saturday, 21 September 2013

Here's what's blooming in my garden in September 2013

"Winter ends, and Spring comes, 
and he who would have it otherwise 
would have high tide always 
and a full moon every night."

September has brought many surprises - virtually no Spring to speak of, no usual early Spring rains and boiling hot weather. I've virtually had to have my sprinklers running every day, early morning, so as not to scorch the plants in the mid-day heat, with the ground being bone dry again the next morning. 

The area where I live is blessed with good, deep top soil with no rocks or stones but contains no clay, with the result that water quickly disappears down to a level that the plants can't reach. That again has the advantage that our water table is quickly replenished and Tarlton is renowned for its strong boreholes. But it is still worrying having to pump water to fill the tanks everyday when I water the garden so much. 

The borehole is the lifeline of a smallholding. The Spring rains are always eagerly awaited. Having a borehole dry up on you means great expense to either deepen the hole or drill a new one. It also means no water for the garden, no drinking water for the animals, no water to bath or wash dishes, flush toilets or even for washing hands. So roll on Spring rains, we eagerly await you!

Most of my Spring chores have been done - all dead growth has been removed now that the fear of any more cold or frost is gone and the whole garden has received a good sprinkling of compost. I've divided my geranium and managed to get three more plants to put in pots. One of them is even flowering already. When they are stronger, they will go into the chicken run where I'm slowly building up a little garden area for the chooks.

The Zebra Grass was cut down and received a good sprinkling of compost. Zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’) also known as Chinese silver grass, Eulalia grass, maiden grass, zebra grass, Susuki grass, porcupine grass and which gets about 1.5m tall, has emerald-green foliage which develops golden stripes in mid-summer, and silvery plumes appear in autumn and last through the winter, after which the plant turns dry and yellow, needing to be cut down after winter. It is native to eastern Asia throughout most of China, Japan, Taiwan, and Korea and one of the few non-indigenous plants in my garden. It makes a great screening plant if planted close together (they spread quite profusely, I've already removed and transplanted clumps a couple of times) and it's also quite impenetrable. During summer my chooks love to hide under them from the hot sun.

Plumes of the Zebra grass

The Arums lasted well through the winter but unless they get enough water in this hot weather, they will soon be dying down.


Bulbinella flower

The herb garden looks rather bare minus the Marigolds and Spring Onions, but hopefully these have seeded well and will be appearing soon.

My four Clivias are still going strong and are in full flower now.

Erigeron daisies - what a joy to have in the garden! Erigeron karvinskianus (Mexican daisy) has Grey-green foliage with masses of white to pink small daisy-like flowers most of the year. Evergreen, hardy, drought resistant, realiable. They self-seed and also have a spreading habit, making for a lovely ground-cover. They are also a lovely hanging basket specimen. This wildflower is orginally native to much of South America but has naturalised in Africa and has a maximum height of 15cm and prefer full sun.

Geranium flower

Monkey-tail cactus and my transplanted Geraniums on a pallet on the patio.

My Phormiums seemed to have doubled in size during winter. Phormiums are endemic to New Zealand and also known as New Zealdn flax. The tough, sword-shaped leaves grow up to three metres long and up to 125 mm wide. They are usually darkish green but sometimes have coloured edges and central ribs. This Phormium tenax was one of the first plants I planted in my garden before deciding to go indigenous.

Never have my Black Karee's (Rhus lancea) been so full of seeds as this year. This is a small to medium-sized evergreen tree indigenous to South Africa with somewhat drooping branches. They grow to between 6m to 17m tall and mine are now about 7m. They are a wonderful tree to have in the garden as they attract fruit-eating birds such as bulbuls, guinea fowl and francolins. Bees and other insects are attracted by the flowers and baboons absolutely love these berries. At our previous smallholding we often had troops of baboons visiting in Spring to feast on these seeds, not to my delight at all. The dogs would go into a frenzy and we had to keep them locked up all the while the baboons were there - a large male baboon is NOT something you want your dog to tangle with!

The Sympervivums have weathered winter well and have made quite a few pups.

The Echeverias I transplanted from the garden into this old wooden wheelbarrow have taken nicely and are starting to look great once more.

My Cycad - Cycas Revoluta (Sago Palm) - is also looking great. It is a palm-like cycad in the family  Cycadaceae, native to southern Japan.

I planted this one in 2007 and I am so blessed that it has just gone from strength to strength.


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