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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!"

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