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Thursday, 27 February 2014


I’m absolutely crazy about cacti and succulents and never miss a chance to lay my hands on a new specimen not yet in my collection. This is Haworthia minima and I am thrilled that it's now making a pup!

Haworthias are small succulent plants native to South Africa. They are closely related to Aloe, Gasteria, Kniphofia, Poellnitzia and Astroloba.

Haworthias in the wild grow in Southern Africa. They are relatively small (pot sized) plants that are classified as succulent – which means that they can cope with relatively harsh waterless hot environments. Their leaves are swollen to store water and may be green or attractively coloured. They are however not frost hardy, which means that for cultivation they need either a sunny windowsill or preferably a greenhouse.

Haworthias are grown for their shape and markings. There are many different types (or species). Some collectors also grow hybrids, which are crosses between two or more plants and are selected for their attractiveness. In many cases they multiply by producing “pups” or offsets and may also be grown from seed.
Info from the Haworthia Society

Another Haworthia in my collection

At the moment my Haworthias are outside but every winter I bring them in as the frost here in Tarlton can get quite severe.

I have just added two new Haworthias to my collection (below), given to me by a dear friend, Elizabeth Kendall, who also lives in Gauteng (South Africa). We exchange plants by post and these two survived a nightmare trip of almost 4weeks. The postal service was on strike and the parcel, posted on the 1st February, only arrived yesterday, 26th February. But, after lovingly planting them into a pot and giving them some water, they seem none the worse for the wear. Brave little plants!



Sunday, 23 February 2014

Companion planting in the garden

“Some people change their ways when they see the light; others when they feel the heat” 
- Caroline Schoeder 

This year is ending in a BIG bang of a heat wave - we've been suffering temperatures way up in the 30℃'s and heat like this just changes me completely. I end up feeling totally listless and can't get round to doing anything. My brain seems to shrivel and I don't seem to have any clear thoughts. I enjoy temps in the early 20℃'s, then I'm at my happiest.

Even the chickens have been walking around gasping with open mouths and trying to find some solace having sand baths in the cool ground that I've wet for them. Normally I like standing with the hosepipe in my hand, day-dreaming while I give the garden a good wash, but lately I've been putting the sprinkler on and dashing inside to the cool of the aircon.

But on the positive side, we've had lots of rain in the afternoons which helped cool things a bit and my garden is smiling! And nobody shows gratitude like Marigolds do! My kind-hearted gardener, Chrissie, once strew a couple of seeds somewhere in the garden and since then I’ve had them come up in the most unexpected places!

If you grow a vegetable garden, plant Marigolds amongst the vegetables. Marigolds are easy to grow and they help keep away aphids. The relationship between plants and insects is known as ‘companion planting’ and it’s by far the safest, natural way to garden organically. By using companion planting, many gardeners find that they can discourage harmful pests without losing the beneficial allies. There are many varieties of herbs, flowers, etc. that can be used for companion plants. Be open to experimenting and find what works for you.

Some suggestions are AMARANTH which is host to predatory ground beetles which eat the young leaves in salads. ANISE deters pests from brassicas by camouflaging their odor. BASIL: Plant with tomatoes to improve growth and flavour. Basil also does well with peppers, oregano, asparagus and petunias. Basil can be helpful in repelling thrips. It is said to repel flies and mosquitoes. BORAGE deters tomato hornworms and cabbage worms. CHERVIL keeps aphids off lettuce and is said to deter slugs. And COMFREY is a good trap crop for slugs.

Annual Marigolds can be used anywhere to deter bean beetles, squash bugs, thrips, tomato hornworms, and whiteflies. They are also known to repel harmful root knot nematodes (soil dwelling microscopic white worms) that attack tomatoes, potatoes, roses, and strawberries. The root of the Marigold produces a chemical that kills nematodes as they enter the soil. If a whole area is infested, at the end of the season, turn the Marigolds under so the roots will decay in the soil. You can safely plant there again the following spring.

Another great use of Marigolds is for freshening up the chicken coop. I mix them with nasturtiums, lavender, rosemary and sage, cut them up and sprinkle on the coop bedding. The lovely smells are released as the chickens trample on the 'coop potpourri', keeping the coop sweet smelling.

Nasturtium is another annual, in this case a trailing vine, that keeps away potato bugs, squash bugs, and whiteflies. There is nothing not to like about nasturtiums. The petals are bright, vibrant shades of red, yellow and orange. They grow no matter how sandy the soil and the more sun the better. Shade greatly reduces the amount of blooms each plant will produce. Nasturtiums are common companion plants, so plant them with vegetables. They can be used to trap aphids, but mostly they repel insects, particularly squash bugs. When planted in proximity, nasturtiums are also said to make cucumbers taste better!

The colourful blossoms are edible themselves. Nasturtiums make an appealing salad topping for both their look and taste. As a variation of flavoured butter, try mixing together butter, lemon juice and chopped nasturtium blossoms for a mildly, peppery butter, which enhances chicken fish and dips. For a great starter, the blossoms can be stuffed with a mixture of cream cheese or ricotta cheese, chives and pesto. Guacamole also works well as a filling for the blossoms. The blossoms are fairly fragile, so gently pipe the filling down the throat of the blossom.

Nasturtium vinegars can be made using the blossoms. Place a variety of different coloured blossoms in a bottle (the more you add, the more ‘peppery’ the vinegar will be), add a clove of garlic and cover with white wine vinegar (make sure the blossoms are totally submerged). Leave to infuse for 4 weeks or so and the vinegar is then ready to use in salads or sauces. As the blossoms lose their colour after a while, remove and replace with fresh blossoms.

While I'm on the subject of companion planting, I'd also like to mention Sunflowers. They are great companions and beautiful throughout the garden. Plant with Cucumbers, beans, and vining plants to provide a trellis. They are hardy and a great trap crop for aphids and other pests. They typically produce plenty of their own seeds to use next year and I usually harvest the dry heads for my Cockatoo, who just loves to pick out the seeds himself.

Sunflowers grow best in locations with full sun. They are remarkably tough and will grow in any kind of soil as long as it is not waterlogged. They do fine in soils that are slightly acidic to somewhat alkaline (pH 6.0 to 7.5). Once sunflowers get started, they can tolerate drought as befits plants whose ancestors grew happily in dry prairie regions. They are so easy to grow that they often plant themselves, springing up unbidden beneath a bird feeder. Sunflower seed, leaves and stems emit substances that inhibit the growth of certain other plants. They should be separated from potatoes and pole beans. Where sunflower seeds are regularly used as bird feed, toxins from the accumulated seed hulls eventually kill the grass below. Harmless to animals or people, the toxins eventually biodegrade in the soil.

Sunflower seeds are rich in vitamins, proteins, and minerals, as well as linoleic acid which helps the body metabolize fats properly. They contain about 24 to 27 percent protein, only slightly less than an equal weight of ground beef. Furthermore, sunflower seeds contain about twice the iron and potassium and about 4 times the phosphorus of beef. Raw sunflower seeds also contain vitamins B and E, and a dash of vitamin A. Sprouted, they also contain vitamin C. Use the seeds for snacks, alone or mixed with raisins, dried fruit chips, and nuts. Add hulled sunflower seeds to salads and use them in fruit or vegetable recipes. Substitute sunflower seeds for nuts in baking. And once those seeds ripen, you'll have a plethora of birds visiting to snack on them! 

A cool summer snack - Apple and Sunflower Seed Salad

4 to 6 servings 

2 green apples - washed, cored and cubed
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1 head lettuce of your choice - rinsed, dried, and chopped
2 dill pickles,
diced 2 tomatoes,
diced 1/2 cup ranch-style salad dressing

I hope you enjoy companion planting as much as I do, especially the eating part!
(This recipe from '')


Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The beauty of weeds

They know, they just know where to grow, how to dupe you, and how to camouflage themselves among the perfectly respectable plants, they just know, and therefore, I’ve concluded weeds must have brains.
~Dianne Benson, Dirt, 1994

Wikipedia says, “Weed is a term used commonly to describe unwanted plants in human-controlled settings, such as farm fields, gardens, lawns, and parks — and carries no botanical classification value, since a plant that is a weed in one context is not a weed when growing where it is wanted”.

There are many weeds equally as beautiful as any wanted flower planted in a garden. There are some that I welcome in my garden, like the Dandelion, the Pom-pom weed and this beauty, which looks like nothing until it’s insignificant little flowers burst into gorgeous fluff balls.

Which of my photographs is my favourite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.
-Imogen Cunningham

Khaki bush seeds (Tagetes munuta)

I absolutely LOVE Khaki bush (also known as Black Jacks), but I also have this love-hate relationship with it. It has these tenaciously sticky seeds that come off from the seed heads at the slightest touch and embed themselves in any form of clothing.

After walking through a field of these you can end up looking like you are covered in black spiky fur. During my walks on our smallholding, I always try and dodge them but inevitably I end up spending hours plucking them from my pants and socks. The solution? Wear shorts…

The leaves and flowers are a good insect repellent and are often seen hanging from native huts to deter swarms of flies and mosquitoes. I pull out the complete plant, strip off the leaves, releasing the strong perfume and throw it amongst the bedding of my chickens in the chicken coop. In a 5% dilution, tagetes oil has been used to kill maggots in open wounds, while the roots and seeds have been found to help rid the body of poisons. After the Boer war in South Africa, Australian troops brought plants to their native land where it grew profusely. It is an ingredient of many foot treatment preparations and is also used in some perfumes.

With the grass turning yellow and a nip in the morning air, it’s plain that we’re heading for Autumn already. One of our March/April jobs on the smallholding is to cut the grass and make fire-breaks. We started early this year as Nature is clearly indicating she has plans for an early Winter!

Pompom weed (Campuloclinium macrocephalum)

Following the tractor around, I also get a chance to ‘rescue’ small wildlife and flowers, giving the driver strict instructions to ‘go around’ it. This Pompom weed was blowing around briskly in the breeze and I had to hold it still to get a shot. These wildflowers have been blooming on our smallholding the whole summer, making bright pink splashes against the blue-green grass all along our fence.

 Pom-pom weed

 Pom-pom weed

The Pompom weed (Campuloclinium macrocephalum) is an ornamental South American herb belonging to the daisy family, Asteraceae. It is rapidly becoming the most serious threat to the conservation of grasslands in South Africa. Infestations become conspicuous when the plants are in flower between December and March, transforming the veld from green to pink. The plant initially establishes itself in disturbed sites such as roadsides, but then invades natural grasslands, open savanna and wetlands. This weed displaces native species, reducing both the biological diversity and carrying capacity of vleis and veld.

John Steinbeck once wrote, ‘Change comes like a little wind that ruffles the curtains at dawn, and it comes like a stealthy perfume of wildflowers hidden in the grass.’

An absolute favourite of mine is Dandelions - the tiny little yellow flowers are absolutely gorgeous when viewed close-up and the seeds are a wonder of nature. Dandelion Taraxacum is a large genus of flowering plants in the family Asteraceae. They are native to Eurasia and North and South America, and two species, T. officinale and T. erythrospermum, are found as weeds worldwide. Both species are edible in their entirety.

 Dandelions taking off in the breeze

While many people think of the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) as a pesky weed, it's chock full of vitamins A, B, C, and D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc. Dandelion leaves are used to add flavor to salads, sandwiches, and teas. The roots are used in some coffee substitutes, and the flowers are used to make wines.

An area of my lawn covered in Dandelions - they provide such a beautiful splash of colour


Walking around the area of my wildlife pond, I saw what looked like a GIANT DANDELION, but upon closer inspection, I could see that, besides it’s size, there was something different. So off to Google I went and found that it was Salsify, and I’m absolutely thrilled that I have this lovely herb in my garden!

This is a plant with a root and not actually a weed at all, but a vegetable, much like a carrot, that can be eaten. But it certainly looks and acts like a weed! Salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius) looks like a giant dandelion, and in a similar fashion, the bright yellow flower turns into a dainty, but large, puffball, dispersing hundreds of seeds into the wind.

Salsify is also known as Goat’s Beard or Vegetable Oyster as their mild and sweet flavour is often compared to that of oysters. Some say they have a slight asparagus or artichoke taste, with an after-taste of coconut. The leaves of the salsify plant are edible; this root vegetable is not often seen in supermarkets in South Africa, but is as easy to grow as carrots or parsnips.


The Salsify pom-pom before opening

So next time, before you just pull out all the weeds in your garden, leave them for a while to see what flower it produces, you might just be pleasantly surprised!


Friday, 14 February 2014

This is my garden - a week in pictures

It has been weeks and weeks of rain but finally (I wasn't complaining!) the sun has appeared, bringing with it hot and humid temperatures. My chooks have been suffering the heat, hiding in any cool spot they can find and mosquitoes have become a real problem. Despite all my efforts of emptying anything that could possibly contain some water where they could breed, the garden is so damp that they are sheltering in any thick vegetation they can find.

Chi-Chi cooling off amongst the Leopard lilies

The bonus of all the rain is that everything is green, strong and flowering like mad and I also haven't needed to bring out the hosepipe. Isn't it just amazing that, no matter HOW much you water the garden, just a few millimeters of rain and everything doubles in size?

Echeveria glauca in a wheel barrow and Aloe ferox

Nasturtiums long and leggy from all the rain

 Cape Reed Grass in a pot

Pachyveria in a pot

 Tree Fuchsia (Halleria lucida) next to Aloe ferox


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