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Monday, 30 June 2014

Winter and a few great garden ideas

It's a severe winter, I've only got one Aloe ferox that has managed to flower, the other two have succumbed to the frost.

So, if like me you're staying indoors but still have the gardening creative urge, here are a few ideas I picked up on the web to keep busy with until the warmer weather greets us again.

If you have any spare shopping bags lying around, fill one with soil and plant something, maybe like tomatoes, and hang in a sunny, protected spot on your porch or patio. How wonderful to pick some beautiful red tomatoes just outside your kitchen door!

A perfect indoors project for the cold weather is to paint some pots and stencil on your house number. They can then be placed next to your gate or front door. Visitors will be enthralled!

If you are anything like me, a compulsive hoarder, you might have an old chandelier-type light fitting stuck away somewhere in a store room. This one with the cup-holders is perfect for filling with bird seed and hanging it from a hook or from a tree in the garden. The birds will be ever-thankful!

Start a pineapple farm! You remember when we planted avocado pips this way as kids? It works the same for pineapple tops. And not only does 3 or four of them on a shelf look great, but soon you can plant your own pineapple tree if you happen to live in a temperate zone.

Save some of your more frost-tender plants by taking cuttings or pups and planting them in some imaginative holders. This way you will have a beautiful display as well as having some plants to transplant as soon as it warms up.

For a couple of days, save all your toilet roll insides, fill with soil and sow some seeds. The warm indoors is perfect conditions for propagation and, come spring, they will be ready to transplant.

Have some lovely, creative winter days!


Thursday, 26 June 2014

Acacia karroo (Vachellia karroo)

Pronunciation : vak-ELL-ee-uh kuh-roo

This is one of South Africa's most beautiful and useful trees. It is integrally part of our country's history having been used for everything from raft-making to sewing needles and fencing for the houses of the royal Zulu women. The thorns were even used by early naturalists to pin the insects they collected! It is very widespread throughout southern Africa and there are different forms in some places, which can be confusing. Acacia karroo may be found from the Western Cape through to Zambia and Angola. In tropical Africa it is replaced by Acacia seyal. The name Acacia is derived from Greek "akis" a point or barb. Karroo is one of the old spellings of karoo which cannot be corrected because of the laws governing botanical nomenclature (giving of names).

The sweet thorn makes a beautiful garden specimen. The bright yellow flowers, which appear in spring, look very striking against the dark green foliage. The rough, dark brown bark is also most attractive. The flowers are sweetly scented and are renowned for attracting insects which are essential to any bird garden. Birds also like to make nests in thorn trees as the thorns offer them some protection from predators. Caterpillars of 10 species of butterflies are dependant on the tree for survival. These include, the club-tailed charaxes (Charaxes zoolina zoolina) and the topaz-spotted blue (Azanus jesous). In cold and dry areas like where I live, the tree is deciduous.

Vachellia karroo has a life span of 30–40 years and is an adaptable pioneer, able to establishing itself without shade, shelter or protection from grass fires. Once over a year old, seedlings can resprout after fire. Several fungi are associated with this tree and the crown of mature trees may be parasitized by various mistletoes, leading to the tree's decline. This tree has a long taproot which enables it to use water and nutrients from deep underground, this and its ability to fix nitrogen, lead to grasses and other plants thriving in its shade.

Regions where the Acacia Karroo can be found - I can be found approx. where the red dot is at the bottom of Southern Africa.

This tree is especially useful as forage and fodder for domestic and wild animals. Apparently, there is no risk of poisoning from it. Goats seem to like A. karoo better than cattle. The flowers appear in early summer in a mass of yellow pompons and make a very good source of forage for honey bees; honey from it has a pleasant taste.

An edible gum seeps from cracks in the tree's bark. The gum can be used to manufacture candy and it used to have economic importance as "Cape Gum". In dry areas, the tree's presence is a sign of water, both above and underground.

It is a tree of open woodland and wooded grassland. It 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 Karroo 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. In the tropics it shows little variation but at the southern end of its range it becomes more variable in appearance.

This species of thorn grows easily from seed, which should be soaked in hot water and left overnight. You will see if this has been effective as the seed will swell up. Sow the following morning. Seedling trays with seedling mix can be used, or the seeds could be sown directly into a pot. Cover lightly with sand and do not allow to dry out. Germination usually takes 3 - 12 days. The seedling will transplant well in spite of the long tap root. Wait until they unfurl their second leaves before transplanting. This little one of mine is almost ready to go into the garden, I just have to find a LARGE empty, sunny spot for it.

Ripe pods split open to reveal the seeds. Image credit

Acacia karroo is regarded as a weed inAustralia

MIMOSACEAE (Thorn tree family)  

Common names in various languages include Karoo Thorn, Doringboom, Cape Gum, Cassie, Piquants Blancs, Cassie Piquants Blancs, Cockspur Thorn, Deo-Babool, Doorn Boom, Kaludai, Kikar, Mormati, Pahari Kikar, and Udai Vel

The thorns on my Acacia karroo brought to mind the thought that we could take a lesson from nature and use the ‘thorns’ to our advantage, like this tree does. These thorns provide safety from browsing animals for the tree. and they are a pretty adornment as well. By looking at the thorns in our lives as a lesson and something pretty, learning from the experience so that we can handle a similar situation better, we can also have protection against the thorny side of life.


Sunday, 22 June 2014

Ice and sunshine

O sweet spontaneous
earth how often have
          fingers of
purient philosophers pinched
has the naughty thumb
of science prodded
often have religions taken
thee upon their scraggy knees
squeezing and
buffeting thee that thou mightest conceive
to the incomparable
couch of death thy
          thou answerest
them only with
e.e. cummings

The beautiful sharp contrast of ice and sunshine – an early-morning shot of an icy winter’s morning in my garden.

This Aloe ferox just keeps on delivering delight after delight every winter, providing much-needed sustenance of her sweet nectar to Sunbirds and insects and also making splashes of bright colour in an otherwise drab landscape.

This hardy succulent is indigenous to South Africa.


Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Echinopsis cactus

Family: Cactaceae
Subfamily: Cactoideae
Tribe: Trichocereeae
Genus: Echinopsis

Echinopsis grows pretty much anywhere. Here in South Africa they can tolerate summer temperatures of 30°C or greater, which is hot enough to spur growth of both Echinopsis pups and their amazing flowers. They also tolerate cold temperatures well during winter months. However, I bring my potted ones inside during hard freezes or their water-filled bodies will freeze as well.

Compared to most cacti, Echinopsis bloom fast and furious. They typically begin blooming in spring. Most blooms only last one or two days and they frequently open at night. But it’s common to have several buds on one plant developing at different rates; so a single plant can be in bloom for several weeks.

As a general rule, the smaller the diameter of the blooms a Echinopsis species produces, the more blooms the plant produces. Species that produce monster blooms (some over 6” in diameter) tend to have fewer blooms as so much plant energy goes into producing each one.

Echinopsis generally begin to produce flowers when they are two or three years old.

Echinopsis is a large genus of cacti native to South America, sometimes known as hedgehog cactus, sea-urchin cactus or Easter lily cactus. One small species, E. chamaecereus, is known as the peanut cactus. The 128 species range from large and treelike types to small globose cacti.

Echinopsis are greatly hybridised, but the species I have in my garden do well throughout summer and winter, always bearing huge, beautiful pink blooms in spring.

 Echinopsis flowering next to my Golden Barrel cactus


Sunday, 15 June 2014

A melt-down and a broken heart

I've had a melt-down. And I've got a broken heart. And so have my girls.

First, the melt-down. My girls have absolutely ruined my garden! In about two years they've reduced it to a barren landscape with all but a few of the hardiest plants gone. GONE! My prized Echeverias, which I started with just a few plants given to me by my dad shortly before he passed away in 1990, and which had grown into beautiful specimens which I had in various parts of the garden, are all but annihilated.

The same area as above before the girls arrived.

I've managed to rescue a few of my Echeverias and planted them in a basket and placed them in my bathroom court-yard garden. Hopefully they will recover to their previous glory.

Where there used to be a thick carpet of ground covers, now there's only dead leaves and a big mess. Not that Missy minds, she's quite happy to relax there with Artemis close-by, blissfully unaware of my melt-down.

Kiep takes time out on the rock just behind Missy.

Now for the broken heart part. I'm broken-hearted because I've banned the girls from the garden. Locked up in the chicken run. No more chickens happily doing what chickens do, scratching and foraging in the garden. Having gorgeous sand baths, chasing after grasshoppers and other bugs. One thing I must say, my garden is totally bug-free - no cut-worm, no fruit beetles, no plant lice. In fact, no anything. But I'm not so sure that's entirely a good thing either. I haven't seen a lady bug or a praying mantis for absolute ages. My lizard and frog population has also suffered tremendously. NOTHING is safe from these bug-devouring lovelies!

"Why, oh WHY can't we come out?!" In stead of scouring the grass for insects, the girls would spend hours at the gait, waiting for me to open up.

ChiChi and Snookums, who grew up in my studio, are totally puzzled with this new development. They've never been locked up and cannot understand what's going on.

A couple of months ago, I did start some landscaping inside the run and I presume that, shortly, there will also be nothing left of this.

Now, as I see the matter, I have three or four choices. One is that the girls stay locked up in the run forever. FOREVER! Or I can reduce the population and only keep three or four (that's not likely to happen!). Another option is that I adapt the garden to suit the girls - no beautiful, colourful borders, no tender Echeverias and give up my love for insects and all the other garden visitors.

Hmmmmmm... Decisions, decisions....


Friday, 6 June 2014

Weeping Anthericum (Chlorophytum saundersiae)

Afrikaans : Watergras

Wow! We've experienced the first REAL cold of the season, last night temperatures dropped to 3℃ and this morning the lawn was absolutely white, covered in frost. I feel like covering my garden in one huge frost cover to save the plants!

But here's the thing. Have you ever planted Weeping Anthericum (Chlorophytum saundersiae)? This lovely, but unpretentious, plant flowers as it gets colder and colder. The Weeping Anthirucum is a graceful grass-like plant with mases of starry white flowers on slender stalks above arching green leaves. The flowers are very recognisable as belonging to the Hen & Chicken family although without the little 'chickens' this genus is so famous for. It is native to the Eastern Cape of South Africa, occurring naturally on forest floors and grasslands. Very easily grown, coping with both sun and shade, dry and damp conditions and is also frost-hardy. this versatility has made it very popular as both garden plant and for mass landscapings.

This plant grows about 40cm high with a spread of 25cm and is a very well-behaved plant, needing little in the way of maintenance. It tends to look a bit untidy towards the end of winter so cut it back and it will soon sprout new green leaves. It seeds itself very easily and the bright green leaves of newly-seeded plants will often be found all over the garden. that's not a problem, simply lift and re-plant where you want them, or bag them and give them to friends! It also grows very easily from seed you can harvest and will flower within a year of being planted.

The Nasturtiums are also still flowering, so even in these coldest of days there's some beauty in the garden and something to be thankful for!


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