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Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Happy New Year 2015!

The CAPE GLOSSY STARLING (Lamprotornis nitens) had a wonderful festive season with his friend Tweetie in my garden!

Here's wishing you a wonderful 2015 filled with LOVE, JOY and INSPIRATION!


Thursday, 25 December 2014

Christmas morning in the garden 2014

Christmas day dawned with lots of sunshine and not a cloud in sight, the first time in many years that we've had no rain on Christmas Day. I was drawn out early by the bird songs and bright sunshine, and my garden seemed to agree that it was a glorious day!

An early-morning visit from the Indian Ringneck Parrot that has been visiting my garden for the past week. With the peach tree full of fruit and the bird feeders that I supplement with apples and other fruit, I think he might just decide to stay!

May you have a wonderful festive season and the force of gardening be with you!


Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Angel wing

Angel wing 
you inspire 

You faded away... 

A few years ago I was heavily into Begonias and a favourite was the "Angel Wing", a beautiful plant with exquisitely coloured leaves and beautiful pink flowers. I also had a couple of the more usual Begonia cultivars, but seeing as there are more that 1,500 species, I rarely even knew the names of those I bought. (Information from some nurseries regarding the plants they sell is sometimes pitiful, leaving you up to your own devices of trying to identify something.)

Begonia "Angel Wing" (Begonia aconitifolia × B. coccinea) is a hybrid Begonia which resulted from a cross between Begonia aconitifolia and B. coccinea. The hybridization was made by California plant breeder Eva Kenworthy Gray in 1926.

The plant gets its name from the shape and colors of its leaves. Usually, 'Angel Wing' grow upward on one stem. They flower and produce blooms that range in colors from red to white. The leaves grow with a wide range of colors also. The top of the leaf is often a dark green with metallic silver specks. The underside is a deep red.

Often, these plants are used as year-round houseplants. They are fairly easy to grow for a gardener that understands begonias. Since they are native to the tropics, the ideal growing conditions include high humidity, good circulation of the air around the plant, a lot of water, and a lot of light. The more light, the more brilliant the color of the leaves.

Angel Wing Begonias will grow well under shade cloth, lattice or in early morning/late afternoon sun. They will burn if grown in direct mid-day sun. The flowers are edible, with a sweet tart taste. 

Sadly I gave my Begonias away when we moved and maybe, just maybe (because I found they take a LOT of care!) I might consider getting another one.


Thursday, 20 November 2014

Lost in summer

Summer is the season of simple and timeless joys. She frolics like a happy child between innocent spring and melancholy autumn waiting for us to embrace her unbridled delight with life. It's a time to engage in the simplest of tasks: weeding, watering, harvesting. And watching the garden dress herself in summer's glorious colours. The secret is in slowing down long enough to notice the simple miracles that surround us.

The Hydrangeas started blooming early this year and already the plants are full of large flower heads.
There are two flower arrangements in hydrangeas. Mophead flowers are large round flowerheads resembling pom-poms or, as the name implies, the head of a mop. In contrast, lacecap flowers bear round, flat flowerheads with a center core of subdued, fertile flowers surrounded by outer rings of showy, sterile flowers.
Hydrangea flowers are produced from early spring to late autumn; they grow in flowerheads (corymbs or panicles) at the ends of the stems. In many species, the flowerheads contain two types of flowers, small fertile flowers in the middle of the flowerhead, and large, sterile bract-like flowers in a ring around the edge of each flower-head.

 In this photo, the beautiful lilac, star-like, fertile little flowers are clearly seen in the centre of the flower. They start off as small three or 4-lobed little bubbles, opening up as the lovely little centre, star-shaped flowers.
Hydranges are native to southern and eastern Asia (China, Japan, Korea, the Himalayas, and Indonesia) and the Americas.

Last summer I was devastated when I noticed that just about all of my Agapanthus praecox Blue had succumbed to rot due to too much rain and being in too much shade. I took them all out, saved what I could and moved them to a sunny spot. My efforts have been rewarded and some of them have just started flowering and it’s early days yet, but soon this flower will be thick with these lovely, lily-like flower spikes.
Some species of Agapanthus are commonly known as lily of the Nile (or African lily in the UK), although they are not lilies at all. All of the species are native to Southern Africa (South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique) though some have become naturalized in scattered places around the world (Australia, Great Britain, Mexico, Ethiopia, Jamaica, etc.)

My first White Agapanthus ever! (Agapanthus africanus ‘Albus’)  It is bloomming where I only had blues last year. I doubt that there is a South African gardener alive that has not come across an agapanthus somewhere! They line our roads, and are in most gardens and parks, from the tall globular-headed ones to the ever-shrinking dwarf cultivars now available at garden centres. Most of the agapanthus that are grown are cultivars or hybrids of Agapanthus praecox.
This evergreen species is indigenous to South Africa and comes from the winter rainfall Western Cape and all-year rainfall Eastern Cape and shed a few of their old outer leaves every year and replace them with new leaves from the apex of the growing shoot.

Also known as “White Lily of the Nile” or “African Lily”, Agapanthus africanus ‘Albus’ are evergreen perennial with narrow, erect leaves and long-stemmed umbels of white, trumpet-shaped flowers in late summer. It makes a good container plant in colder areas or perennial color accent in outdoor beds where winters are more mild.
Agapanthus africanus (African lily) is a native of the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. A. africanus is more difficult to grow in gardens than A. praecox, as they should be protected from severe frost.

One of my Geraniums has started acting weirdly, like she wants to be a Bonsai, so I've decided to accommodate her. I pruned off all excess branches, leaving just the three above and transplanted her into a shallow dish. From here on I will keep pruning, keeping to this desired shape and then transplant her into a nice Bonsai dish. She has the most gorgeous flowers, as you can see from the close-up below.


Yesterday I spotted the first flowers of the Acacia karroo high up in the utmost top branches of the tree. Soon all my Acacias will be covered in these beautiful little yellow pom-poms.

 Acacia karroo or Vachellia karroo, also known as the Sweet Thorn, is a species of Vachellia, native to southern Africa from southern Angola east to Mozambique, and south to South Africa. This beautiful indigenous tree grows to its greatest size when rainfall of 800-900mm is received but can grow and even thrive in very dry conditions such as the Karoo region of western South Africa. The requirement here is for deep soils that allow its roots to spread. Everywhere in its range, however, the tree is easily recognised by its distinctive long white paired thorns and coffee coloured bark, both of which are very attractive.

Summer is finally here! Take a deep breath. Summer is a simple reminder not to allow your leisurely summer visions to turn into frenzied schedules with no time for family connection. Create open-ended free time in your summer schedule, for gardening, spending time with friends and family in the garden and reap the fruits of your long hours of (enjoyable!) time tending to your garden.


Friday, 7 November 2014

Miracles happen after the rain

After the first thunderstorm of the season - and an orb in the left-hand top corner of the photo?!
(Read more here about Orbs)

After an extremely cold and harsh winter, we seemed to skip spring and headed straight into above 30°C temperatures. My garden was absolutely devastated by the extreme frost we experienced and then suffered from heat exhaustion no matter how much I watered. Then, to top it, I sat without internet for ages, unable to get to my blogs except for some viewing via my phone or tablet.

But at last we've had our first rains of the season, my internet is back on, things are back to normal and my garden is smiling! So am I, with the rain came the relief of cooler temperatures and at last it's a joy to spend time in the garden.

After the first thunderstorm of just 15mm rain, just about all signs of the devastation of my lawn have disappeared. Just before winter I sprinkled a generous layer of LAN (a nitrogen rich fertilizer which encourages fast leaf growth, ideal for citrus trees and lawns) so hopefully I'll see the benefits this season. Already we have to mow the lawn twice a week in some places.

Just before the rain the hosepipe was Chrissie and I's constant companion! I don't have an automatic irrigation system for two reasons - I should have installed one BEFORE the garden  got established and, number two, I just love "washing" my garden by hand, it's the time when I relax and meditate and also see all sorts of things that have to be done in the garden.

My Phormiums tenax are thriving after all the rain. Phormium, also known as New Zealand flax or Flax lily but are not related to Flax, is a genus of two plant species in the Xanthorrhoeaceae family. One species is endemic to New Zealand and the other is native to New Zealand. The tough, sword-shaped leaves grow up to three metres long and up to 125 mm wide and the rigid flower stalks can be up to five metres long, projecting high above the foliage. Mine have never flowered in 10 years, probably due to the cold we experience here.

Artemis and the girls enjoying a late-afternoon snack of flying ants (termites on the wing!). I do have a problem with termites in my lawn. At the onset of winter and during winter they cause large, empty patches as they take the grass down to their nests to stock up for winter and I've given up trying to fight them. The only  way termites can be killed is with a contact poison so, unless you can actually get the poison right down into EVERY nest, it's a useless exercise. Using poison above ground (and I do not use any chemical poisons) is dangerous to wildlife and serves no purpose for eradicating termites.

Here's the difference between "flying ants" and "winged termites :

Winged termites have a straight waist and straight antennae. Their wings are equal in size and are shed soon after they emerge from their nest, or swarm. Winged termites usually swarm in the early spring when it is warm and rainy.

Flying ants have pinched waists and bent antennae and are often mistaken for swarming termites. They have two sets of wings, one larger than the other. Depending on their species, flying ants may swarm at different times of the year.

Despite the fact that these Echinopsis cacti are drought tolerant, mine seem to thrive with extra water and seemed to have doubled in size since the rain!

Protected from the frost every winter, my Echeveria glauca absolutely thrive on water in the summer, producing huge rosettes and the most beautiful flowers.

The Geraniums had just started budding, but after that first shower, they all burst into bloom simultaneously!

My Sword ferns (Polystichum munitum, I think!) were all frosted dead but after being cut down at the end of winter, the sprang back to life and will soon be filling this area gain.

While they are most commonly found growing in moist wooded areas, sword ferns are quickly becoming popular in the home garden as well. You’ll find the young fronds, or fiddleheads, appearing in early spring from their underground rhizomes with most plants eventually reaching four to six feet long. In addition to spreading through rhizomes, sword ferns will also reproduce via spores that are found along the backside of the fronds. These spores appear as brown spots, which are clustered together in groups. These ferns are native to western North America.

With quite a few early blooms for the season, it looks like my Hydrangeas will be doing well this summer.

After moving all my Kniphofia (Red Hot Pokers) from the shade to this sunny spot, I already have the first blooms of the season and soon my garden will be filled with the tjeeps and chirps, of the Amethyst Sunbird (Black Sunbird) and his wife, who are regular visitors during the summer. Last year I was lucky enough to catch a few shots of these little busy bodies that never sit still long enough for a photographic session! Here is one of the paintings I did of a female feeding on a Kniphofia flower :

While the male is metallic black with the most gorgeous iridescent amethyst throat, the female in contrast is a dull brown with spots under her throat and abdomen.

Kniphofia at my wildlife pond, thriving on lots of water from the over-flow area.

 Kniphofia at the pond and Aloe marlothii, which just survived the winter beautifully.

Planting Nasturtiums next to Kniphofia (both sun- and water-loving plants) provides a beautiful contrast of spiky and round.

Still a bit stark-looking after the winter, hopefully my pathway will soon be filled with Marigolds and Nasturtiums again. both seeded extremely well last summer, so I'm holding thumbs!

Aeoniums and some Echeverias thriving in the dappled sun next to a pathway.

Recently I managed to get hold of a piece of Vygie (Mesembryanthemum) and it's taken nicely here in its temporary home. As soon as it is well-established, I will make a little rock garden, something I've been wanting to do for years, and once again be the proud owner of some beautiful, flowering Mesembryanthemums!

"I hear the sound.  And as I look out the window I see it.
Falling wet and grey.
Nourishment for trees and plants that grow.
The watering of the Earth.
And I’m thankful!"

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Earthworm interests

Collectively earthworms build the soil This makes them essential to all soil types used by man and animals. Very simply—no earthworms, no living environment. In nature, they will be found wherever there is decaying organic matter and uncontaminated soil.

How can we ensure that these valuable invertebrates continue to flourish?

Providing conditions in which they will do well.
Constantly feed our soils with humus.
Practice mulching with organic materials which will break down and enrich the soil.
Create our own natural fertilisers by starting to practice vermiculture :

• Set up own wormeries
• Practice trenching with worms and vermicompost
• Stop digging over the beds—rather add compost or mulch
• Make use of organic waste rather than sending it to landfills
• Join organisation like the EIGSA, to learn and to teach vermiculture

Did you know that there is an Earthworm Interest group in South Africa?

EIGSA was founded in November 2004 by Carmen Nottingham, Ken Reid and Allison Barkhuizen. EIGSA’s aims are to promote interest, knowledge and research on earthworms both in South Africa and worldwide. It is a volunteer organization, and membership is free.


Friday, 17 October 2014

White Stinkwood (Celtis africana)

A perfect tree for suburban gardens. This tree is very popular in South Africa and it quickly and easily tolerates wind and drought. Unfortunately not evergreen, but with a graceful habit and neat crown – won’t get too big or untidy.
If you need a medium, fast growing shade tree you can't go wrong with this tree that will give shade in about four years. It naturally has a low branching habit but can be pruned into a single stemmed tree. The trunk of Celtis africana is easy to distinguish by its smooth, pale grey to white bark. It may be loosely peeling in old trees and sometimes has horizontal ridges.
A few Celtis africana sharing space with Acacia karroo in a forest-like setting at my pond in my garden
This beautiful deciduous tree grows up to 25m tall in a forest habitat, but in a garden it can be treated as a medium-sized tree, expected to reach a height of up to 12m.
In spring Celtis africana is very lovely, with its light green, tender, new leaves that contrast beautifully with the pale bark. The leaves are simple, alternate, triangular in shape with three distinct veins from the base, and the margin is toothed for the upper two-thirds. The new leaves are bright, fresh green and hairy, and they turn darker green and become smoother as they mature.
In autumn the leaves turn a lovely yellow. Celtis africana leaves are browsed by cattle and goats, and are food for the larvae of the long-nosed butterfly.

Tiny inconspicuous green flowers are borne in spring and summer. The flowers are followed by small yellow edible fruits that ripen to a reddish colour in autumn. Male and female flowers are borne on separate plants, and only the female plants bear fruit. 
It seems there's some disagreement on the internet as to whether or not C. africana's roots are invasive or not. It thrives if grown next to a water garden, dam or river but should not be planted near any buildings or swimming pools due to its size. It is an excellent shade tree for small gardens, and in larger gardens it looks lovely if planted in groups.
Because of its dense growth habit it makes a most effective windbreak or barrier for large properties.  The fruit is relished by many fruit eating birds, including ground birds like guinea fowl. The leaves serve as an important food source for game, especially in times of drought.

Info from PlantzAfrica


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