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Thursday, 31 December 2015

The last day of the year 2015

The last day of a year that has flown by much too fast. I intended doing so much and can't believe that 365 days weren't enough for me to do what I wanted to do! Amongst others, I wanted to build a rockery for all of my succulents and also on my list was removing some lawn and putting down a brick-pave drive-way (lawn too thirsty), tile the front patio (the wooden decking was rotten and I had to remove it), dig up and transplant a big Aloe ferox that is now in too much shade, plus some Aloes that came up randomly all over the garden in the most unwanted places, empty the wildlife pond and completely re-seal it, it is losing water at an alarming rate, chop down two big trees that died (why.....?), but I know what the procrastination on that was - the birds absolutely love the dead branches to catch some early morning sun, especially in the winter. And the Fiscal Shrike finds it a great vantage point from which to hunt. I also wanted to extend the garden in the chicken run and plant a tree so that the girls can have some shade in the heat of summer. I very rarely let them out of the run these days as they have annihilated my garden, as well as the insect population. I haven't seen a moth or a beetle for months!

But I did get around to buying some Water lilies for my pond - I got two, which were supposed to be pink, and lo and behold! - a yellow flower! But I'm thankful that they took well and that I've got some flowers.

Another thing on my list was to plant lots and lots of Erigeron (E. karvinskianus) - the profusion of small white flowers looks absolutely gorgeous cascading over rocks, they are lovely for softening steps or paths and they absolutely thrive in full sun. A single plant, once established, will form the capital of a huge empire, spreading itself to any nook or cranny where its preference for sun and good drainage can be satisfied. The one above was a small, single little plant just a couple of months ago. A word of warning - I was told that, because of its spreading habit, you can just pull out a few by the roots and plant them, but this way failed miserably for me. I have found that a few fluffy seed-heads, once sown into some loose, damp soil, takes easily and it's not long before the new seedlings appear.

But looking back at the year, I also did manage to accomplish at least half of the tasks on my list - with chickens in the garden, just keeping the garden neat and tidy on a weekly basis is a task in itself.

I hope you have wonderful memories of this past gardening year and that there will be many more in the new year!


Monday, 28 December 2015

Coquettish maids

Coquettish maids
Peeking painted faces
Coyly from under tilted green
Sun shades.
- Imogene Wagner (1948)
Taken in my garden -
Camera : Canon EOS 550D

Thursday, 24 December 2015

A Merry gardening Christmas 2015!

There can be no other occupation like gardening in which, if you were to creep up behind someone at their work, you would find them smiling! Hope you have a wonderful gardening Christmas this 2015! And remember, don't wear perfume in the garden — unless you want to be pollinated by bees!

Saturday, 19 December 2015

It's Agapanthus time!

Every summer I look forward to the few Agapanthus (A. praecox) that I have, flowering. I say “few”, because I struggle to grow these beauties in my garden (Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa) – too much shade. I have found that they prefer full sun and not too much water.

The evergreen species is indigenous to 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. The deciduous species come from the summer rainfall Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Swaziland, Free State, Lesotho, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Mozambique, and grow rapidly in spring with the onset of the rains, and then lose their leaves completely and lie dormant during winter.

Agapanthus species are easily able to hybridize with each other, particularly when grown in close proximity and as a result, a bewildering array of garden hybrids have arisen.

Insects just absolutely love Agapanthus and the Agapanthus is undoubtedly one of our indigenous botanical treasures. It has been exported to all corners of the earth, but occurs naturally only in Southern Africa, where it grows in the wild in all our provinces except the Northern Cape, as well as in Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique.

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. This one above is the smaller praecox minimus species I have in my bathroom court-yard garden.

Here's to another bloomin' blue summer!


Thursday, 26 November 2015

I don’t remember planting this

I don’t remember planting this. One day when I looked, there it was. And I had no idea what it was, but it was beautiful, so I decided to investigate.

And another one here

It turned out to be Silky Thread Grass - Nassella (Stipa) tenuissima. Silky thread Grass brings gossamer grace to any spot where it's planted. It blooms from late spring into late summer with plumes of silky flowers that sway back and forth in the slightest breeze. Grows readily in most any soil with full to partial sun. Re-seeds itself readily.

Native to the Western US, it is supposed to be drought-tolerant, but as the hot summers wore on, and no matter how much I watered it, slowly over two or three seasons it died. Maybe I over-watered it....

Being non-indigenous to South Africa, it doesn't actually belong in my garden, but it is such a beautiful plant I could consider trying to find another one.


Saturday, 21 November 2015

Hen-and-Chickens - Chlorophytum comosum

Chlorophytum comosum, often called the spider plant, airplane plant or hen-and-chickens, is a flowering perennial herb. It is native to tropical and Southern Africa, but has become naturalised in other parts of the world, including western Australia. Chlorophytum comosum is easy to grow as a house-plant; variegated forms are the most popular.

Chlorophytum comosum grows to about 60 centimetres (24in) high. It has fleshy, tuberous roots, about 5–10 centimetres (2–4in) long. The long narrow leaves reach a length of 20–45 centimetres (8–18in) and are around 6–25 millimetres (0.2–1.0in) wide.

Flowers are produced in a long branched inflorescence, which can reach a length of up to 75 centimetres (30in) and eventually bends downwards. Flowers initially occur in clusters of 1–6 at intervals along the stem (scape) of the inflorescence. Each cluster is at the base of a bract, which ranges from 2–8 centimetres (0.8–3.1in) in length, becoming smaller towards the end of the inflorescence. Most of the flowers which are produced initially die off, so that the inflorescences are relatively sparsely flowered.

Individual flowers are greenish-white, borne on stalks (pedicels) some 4–8 millimetres (0.2–0.3in) long. Each flower has six three-veined tepals which are 6–9 millimetres (0.2–0.4in) long, slightly hooded or boat-shaped at their tips. The stamens consist of a pollen-producing anther about 3.5 millimetres (0.1in) long with a filament about the same length or slightly longer. The central style is 3–8 millimetres (0.1–0.3in) long. Seeds are produced in a capsule 3–8 millimetres (0.1–0.3in) long on stalks (pedicels) which lengthen to up to 12 millimetres (0.5in).

The inflorescences carry plant-lets at the tips of their branches, which eventually droop and touch the soil, developing adventitious roots. The stems (scapes) of the inflorescence are called "stolons" in some sources, but this term is more correctly used for stems which do not bear flowers, and have roots at the nodes.

Hen-and-chickens are easy to grow, being able to thrive in a wide range of conditions. They will tolerate temperatures down to 35°F (2°C), but grow best at temperatures between 65°F (18°C) and 90°F (32°C). I have found that they prefer a LOT of water in summer, less in winter. They are susceptible to frost but planting them under a tree where they are a bit protected helps a lot. They also do well in shade to semi-shade.

When in full sun they tend to be more yellow

A draw-back in my garden is that my chickens absolutely love them! When there's no green grass in winter for them to graze, the hen & chicks is high on their menu and these plants do not recover from clipping or being cut down, I've lost many a plant to my girls!


Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Succulents in hanging baskets

If you are someone who has always been partial to hanging baskets, yet you like cacti and succulent plants, you might be wondering, “What are my choices?” There are plenty of succulent plants that hang down that are perfect for hanging baskets.
Last spring I planted a few succulents in a hanging basket that used to contain Plectranthus verticilatus, which unfortunately died during winter. The story goes that, as long as your 'money plant' (Plectranthus)  grows well, you'll never be short of money, and I had my plant for years. When it died last winter, I must say I started getting very worried! he he!
I used a few Echeveria imbricata, Echeveria elegans, some Gasteria and a few sprigs of Crassula imperialis. They have all survived the winter and really filled the basket nicely! Hanging from a wooden beam on the patio, they get morning sun and late afternoon sun and very little water.
More succulents you can use :
Burro’s tail (Sedum morganianum)
Ragwort vine (Othonna capensis)  – This is one of the creeping hanging succulent plants. A member of the daisy family, this is not as common as some succulents. But, it has much to offer. Native to South Africa, this creeping plant features slender, trailing stems. These can eventually reach several feet in length. The shiny, green leaves are usually in clusters. Spindle-shaped, these look as if they are suspended on the stems. The yellow blooms, which look like daisies, need sun to open.

String of hearts (Ceropegia woodii) - being a succulent it is very forgiving to being under-watered.

String of pearls (Senecio rowleyanus)
String of nickels (Dischidia nummularia) - This trailing succulent plant has interesting foliage that screams for attention. It consists of round grey-green leaves which are flat and reminiscent of little coins (about nickel size) hanging  from a string.

The Rattail cactus is another succulent that actually prefers a hanging basket, as the trailing stems can get several feet long.

Vygies is another creeping succulent that does well in a hanging basket. I've got mine in a little basket on a plant stand on my patio and is already starting to hang down. I'd like to plant him in a hanging basket, but would just have to find the perfect sunny spot in the garden to hang him.

I'm sure there are many more species that can be used in your basket, so just use your imagination and give them a try, you might be pleasantly surprised!


Thursday, 5 November 2015

Earth's little gems - Gasteria glomerata

My newly-acquired Gasteria glomerata on the left sharing a pot with Huernia longituba

I acquired my Gasteria in February this year (2015) by way of an on-line auction on FaceBook and after winterizing inside my house for two months, I was thrilled to discover a small! flower soon after I put it outside at the beginning of spring. I just can't wait to see it fully open!

Gasteria glomerata is a stemless, compact succulent plant with an unspotted but slightly roughened grey-green leaf surface. Leaves grow in a single line (distichous), but the plant clumps up freely to make a mat. Already I see a baby peeping through on the left! It is native to the Eastern Cape of South Africa.

G. glomerata is a rare endemic confined to the lower Kouga River, now part of the Kouga Dam. Although it is rare, its status is not threatened at all due to its cliff face habitat and it is protected within a reserve. The seed is also dispersed world-wide and the plant is commonly grown in many collections. Its ease of propagation ensures that it is not necessary to collect plants from the wild.

The terrain of Gasteria glomerata is rugged, inhospitable and the plants occur on sheer, vertical, shady, south-facing rocky ledges (altitude 500-700 m), in minerally poor, slightly acid quartzitic sandstone soils. Gasteria glomerata is pollinated by sunbirds. Its fruiting capsule, opens from the top to release the flattish seeds. The fleshy leaves store water and are therefore drought tolerant, making this an ideal water-wise garden plant. Even though its habitat on the cliffs is very exposed, and is bone dry at times, the plants receive enough water from seepage for survival.

It is popular due to its horticultural value, and can be grown in small containers or in succulent plant gardens and is easily propagated from leaf cuttings or seed. It is a slow growing, but long-lived species. Leaf cuttings should first be allowed to dry and heal by placing them on a cool windowsill for at least three weeks. The basal part should preferably be treated with a fungicide. Plant the leaves in an erect position or lying on their side in sandy soil. Rooting is rapid and young plants can be harvested the following season.


Monday, 2 November 2015

Winter is dead

She turned to the sunlight and shook her yellow head... and whispered to her neighbour, "Winter is dead”.

- A A Milne


Friday, 30 October 2015

What a garden requires

A garden requires patient labour and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfil good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them.
~ Liberty Hyde Bailey

Setting out food for feathered friends near your garden encourages them to stick around and do some insect control.

There's something pleasing about a bunch of carrots with tops on. Maybe it's the thought of pulling them out of the ground!


Wednesday, 28 October 2015

The first 3mm of rain

It's amazing what even the tiniest amount of rain does! The very next day after we had only about 3mm of rain, many of my succulents burst into bloom, as if saying "thank you!" The ground under the trees wasn't even wet, but I think these thankful little plants will bloom even just at the smell of rain!

For the first time ever since I acquired my one Aloe aristata (Guineafowl aloe or Lace aloe), which has just been clumping and producing more babies, has flowered. One single stem with lovely coral bells on the end.

Aloe aristata flower

My Bunny Ears cactus (Opuntia microdasys) has been dormant for ages and is also now rewarding me with lovely new green pads.

I've been waiting and waiting for this, and at last it looks like my Mammillaria cactus is going to produce some flowers! The flowers form circles around the crown and I'm hoping mine will too.

The Epiphyllum crenatum (Litroos in Afrikaans) has produced lovely flowers this season, even though it's still very small, Given to me by a dear friend, it first died off and I thought I'd lost it, but within a couple of weeks it sprouted and now, 18 months later, I have flowers! Amazing!

 Peanut cactus in flower

All the Peanut cacti started flowering at the same time. I have four small pots of this lovely little cactus, which looks great in a hanging basket as they tend to grow long tendrils that hang over the pot.

Rattail cactus in flower

Both my Rattail cacti (Aporocactus flagelliformis) have been flowering since the beginning of spring but now, after the first drops of rain, they finished off over-night. Lots of seeds to be gotten here - they are at the base of the flower where it joins the long 'rattail' - and when laid on top of some soil, they soon take root and form tendrils.

So here's to the next bout of rain, VERY late this year, and the lawn and garden desperately needs it.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Even when it's winter...

Even when it's winter and I'm not out in the garden much, I still think of my garden! Here are a few things I planned last winter : to sketch and plan new little corners for the garden, to move pot plants around, to rearrange all the succulents on the plant stands, to trim low-hanging branches of the trees to allow in more sunlight, start a compost heap again and maybe start a new rock garden. I just have to find a large, sunny spot.

Thunder rumbled its way into the distance, and then the rain came, dropping words to the ground all around me.

Step outside after the first storm after a dry spell and it invariably hits you: the sweet, fresh, powerfully evocative smell of fresh rain! If you’ve ever noticed this mysterious scent and wondered what’s responsible for it, you’re not alone. It's called “petrichor.” It’s the name of an oil that’s released from Earth into the air before rain begins to fall. This heady smell of oncoming wet weather is something most people are familiar with – in fact, some scientists now suggest that humans inherited an affection for the smell from ancestors who relied on rainy weather for their survival.


Saturday, 10 October 2015

What now?

It's the beginning of summer and everything in the garden is running smoothly - we've had a couple of weeks of a heatwave, but Chrissie and I managed to stay on top of most of the chores - the lawn has had it's first mowing, edges are neat, leaves have been dug in to serve as compost, excess growth has been trimmed, trees have been neatened up and the pond is clean.

Mulched and composted, the Hydrangeas are just starting to recover from the winter

So what is there to do now while the rake and spade are enjoying a well-deserved rest?

Redheaded Finch (Amadina erythrocephala) - watercolour in Moleskine - Maree

It's obvious - watch the birds! They're enjoying everything the garden has to offer - seeds and fruit, bird baths and shelter for nesting. My binoculars, camera and sketch-books have been working overtime - the Redheaded Finches (pictured above) flocked to the Butterfly bush at the pond and for weeks on end there has been constant chattering and fighting over the best vantage and nesting points. Some Bronze Mannikins (Spermestes cucullata) joined them, but the two groups occupied two different bushes, putting up a big show of territorial behaviour should anybody stray from one to the other.

"Red Bishop" - sketch in an old soft-cover book - Maree

The Red Bishops are a beautiful sight, their red flashing from tree to tree and their presence at the bird table is always a joy - they're very tolerant of everybody else, yet don't hesitate to defend their territory if necessary.

I was cleaning up earlier on and came upon some old books, so I carried them to the patio with a cup of tea and was busy going through them to decided which ones to throw out, when the Bishop in all his glory caught my eye. The male's buzzing song alerting the female to the nest he's building for her is always the first to alert me of their return. I was so excited to see them that I grabbed one of the books, opened it and started sketching him sitting on the fence post. I then rushed to get some paints and got his colours while he was flitting around, showing off to the female. So now none of the books are being thrown out - I've found a new use for them!

The Fiscal Shrike is rearing four babies this season and here one of them contentedly takes a nap after feeding.

One of the Fiscal Shrike parents keeping a watchful eye as I move around the garden

 My Cape Robin-chat (Robbie) watching me as I'm watching him!

Once your garden is up-to-date and you are scrounging around for chores to do, take a moment and enjoy the fruits of your labour! Take a seat on a garden bench and let your eyes roam over all your hard work, noticing the beautiful flowers, the insects pollinating and ensuring future generations of blooms and the birds enjoying your gifts to them. That is what makes it all worth-while!

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