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Monday, 30 May 2016

Oh! For such a garden!

The Story of a Garden
by Mabel Osgood Wright (1859-1934)
There is a garden that is not like the other gardens round about. In many of these gardens the flowers are only prisoners, forced to weave carpets on the changeless turf, and when the eye is sated and the impression palls, they become to their owners, who have no part in them, merely purchased episodes.
This garden that I know has a bit of green, a space of flowers, and a stretch of wildness, as Bacon says a garden should always have. At its birth the twelve months each gave to it a gift, that it might always yield an offering to the year, and presently it grew so lovable that there came to it a soul.
The song-sparrow knows that this is so; the mottled owl that lives in the hollow sassafras has told it to the night-hawk. Catbirds and robins, routed from other gardens by fusillades, still their quick-throbbing hearts, feeling its protection. The coward crow alone knows its exclusion, for he was unhoused from the tall pines and banished for fratricide. The purling bluebird, claiming the pole-top house as an ancestral bequest, repeats the story every springtime. The oriole and swallow whisper of it in their southward course, and, returning, bring with them willing colonists.
The rock polypody creeps along in confidence, with no ruthless hand to strip it off, and the first hepatica opens its eyes in safety, for tongues of flame or the grub-axe have not crippled it during the winter. Once the petted garden beauties looked askance, from their smooth beds in the tilled corner, and drew their skirts away from the wildwood company, but now, each receiving according to its need, they live in perfect concord.
The wild rose in the chinky wall peeps shyly at her glowing sisters, and the goldenrod bows over it to gossip with the pentstemon. And this is how it came to be, for the garden was no haphazard accident. Nature began it, and, following her master-touch, the hand and brain of a man, impelled by a reverent purpose, evolved its shaping.
This man, even when a little boy, had felt the potency of Nature's touch to soothe the heartache. One day, led by an older mate, he trudged a weary way to see a robber hanged. The child, not realizing the scene he was to witness, was shocked to nervous frenzy, and a pitying bystander, thinking to divert his mind, gave him a shilling. Spying a bird pedlar in the crowd, he bought a goldfinch and a pint of seeds, and the horror of the hanging was quite forgotten and effaced by the little bird, his first possession. To it he gave his confidence and told all his small griefs and joys, and through the bird Nature laid her warm hand on his heart and gently drew it toward their mutual Master, and never after did he forget her consolation.
All this was more than seventy years ago. When the boy grew to manhood; following the student life, the spirit of the bird that had blotted out the scene of civil murder was still with him. Its song kept his thoughts single and led him toward green fields, that their breath might leaven lifeless things, strengthening the heart that felt a world-weariness, as all must feel at times when facing human limitations.
Love came, and home; then, following hand in hand, honour and disappointment; and again, with double purpose, he turned Natureward. Not to the goatish Pan, but to Nature's motherhood, to find a shrine upon her breast where he might keep his holiest thoughts, and watch them grow. A place apart, where the complete man might be at rest, and walking in the cool of day feel the peace of God.
At first the garden was a formless bit of waste, but Nature tangles things with a motive, and it was in the making that it came to win a soul, for the man's spirit grew so calm and strong that it gave its overplus to what it wrought.
The garden's growth was nowhere warped or stunted by tradition; there was no touch of custom's bondage to urge this or that. No rudeness had despoiled its primal wildness, and lovers, who had trodden paths under the trees, were its sole discoverers. It was rock-fenced and briar-guarded; the sharp shadows of the cedars dialled the hours, and the ground-pine felt its darkened way beneath them with groping fingers.
This happened before I was, but hearing of it often, sound has imparted its sense to sight, and it all seems visual. With my first consciousness, the days were fined with planting and with growth; the pines already hid the walls, and cattle tracks were widened into paths and wound among young maples, elms, and beeches. Then there grew in me a love that made the four garden walls seem like the boundaries of the world.
Nothing was troubled but to free it from the oppression of some other thing. The sparrow kept his bush, and between him and the hawkheadsman a hand was raised. The wood thrush, finding his haunts untouched, but that his enemies, the black snakes, might no longer boldly engulf his nestlings, raised his dear voice and sang "O Jubilate Deo!" The gardener who planted no longer watches the bird's flight, but the garden still tells its story. Will you come in? The gate is never dosed except to violence.
Eight acres of rolling ground, and in the centre a plainly cheerful house decides the point of view. The location of a house much affects the inmates; here sunshine penetrates every room and a free current of air sweeps all about, and there is a well of sparkling water close at hand. This well is rock-drilled, deep and cold, and the patron divinity of all good wells, the north star, watches over it, and nightly Ursa Major's dipper circles above, as if offering a cooling draught to all the constellations.
For a space about the house the grass is cropped, and some plump beds of geraniums, Fuchsias, heliotropes, serve to grade the eye from indoor precision, to rest the vision before the trees and moving birds compel it to investigation. However much natural wildness may soothe and satisfy, the home is wholly a thing of man's making, and he may gather about it the growing things that need his constant ministry. The sight of such an open space gives the birds more confidence, and the worm enemies that always follow cultivation offer them a change of food.
The old queen-apple tree that casts its petals every May against the window-panes, like snow blushing at its own boldness, held many nests last spring. A bluebird spied a knot-hole where decay had left him an easy task; a pair of yellow warblers, with cinnamon-streaked breasts, fastened their tiny cup between a forked branch above the range of sight. For several days I watched these birds, fluttering about the window corners where cobwebs cling and spiders weave, and thought they searched for food, until, following the yellow flash they made among the leaves, I saw that they were building; and when I secured the empty nest in August, it proved to be a dainty thing woven of dry grass, the down of dandelions, cocoons, and cobwebs.
A robin raised two broods, building a new nest for the second, as the first one was too near the path to suit his partner's nerves. He spent his days in prying earth-worms from the lawn, singing at dawn and twilight so deliciously that he furnished one more proof that bird voices, even of the same species, have individual powers of expression, like those of men.
The fourth bird to build, a red-eyed vireo, was quite shy at first, yet hung the nest over the path, so that when I passed to and fro her ruby eyes were on a level with me. After the eggs were laid, she allowed me to bend down the branch, and a few days later, to smooth her head gently with my finger. A chipping sparrow added his wee nest to the collection, watching the horses as they passed, timidly craving a hair from each, and finally securing a tuft from an old mattress, with which he lined his home to his complete content.
If you would keep the wild birds in your garden, you must exclude from it four things: English sparrows, the usual gardeners, cats, and firearms. These sparrows, even if not belligerent, are antagonistic to song birds, and brawl too much; a cat of course, being a cat, carries its own condemnation; a gun aimed even at a target brings terror into bird-land; and a gardener, of the type that mostly bear the name, is a sort of bogyman, as much to Nature-lovers as to the birds. The gardener wishes this, orders that, is rigid in point of rights and etiquette, and looks with scarcely veiled contempt at all wild things, flowers, birds, trees; would scrape away the soft pine needles from the footpaths and scatter stone dust in their place, or else rough, glaring pebbles. He would drive away the songsters with small shot, his one idea of a proper garden bird being a china peacock.
It is, of course, sadly true, that cherries, strawberries, grapes, and hungry birds cannot meet with safety to the fruit, but we should not therefore emulate the men of Killingworth. We may buy from a neighbouring farmer, for a little money, all the fruit we lack, but who for untold gold can fill the hedge with friendly birds, if once we grieve or frighten them away?
You may grow, however, tender peas in plenty, and all the vegetables that must go direct from earth to table to preserve their flavour; only remember when you plant the lettuce out, to dedicate every fourth head to the wild rabbits, who, even while you plant, are twitching their tawny ears under the bushes, and then you will suffer no disappointment. Once in a time a gardener-naturalist may drift to you, and your garden will then entertain a kindred spirit. Such a man came to this garden, a young Dane, full of northern legend and sentiment, recognizing through rough and varied work the motive of the place, --like drawing like; and with him, a blonde-haired, laughing wife, and a wee daughter called Zinnia, for the gay flowers, and he found time to steal among the trees in the June dawns to share in the bird's raptures, making his life in living.
It is a drowsy August afternoon; the birds are quiet, and the locusts express the heat by their intonation. The Japan lilies, in the border back of the house, are densely sweet, the geraniums mockingly red, and the lemon-verbena bushes are drooping. The smooth grass and trim edges stop before an arch that spans the path, and about it shrubs straggle, grouping around a tall ash. This ash, a veritable lodestone to the birds, is on the borderland of the wild and cultivated, and they regard it as the Mussulman does his minaret, repairing there to do homage. Before the leaves appear the wood thrush takes the topmost branch to sing his matins, as if, by doing so, he might, before his neighbours, give the sun greeting.
The robins light on it, en route, when they fear that their thefts in other gardens will find them out, and the polite cedar-birds, smoothing each other's feathers, sun themselves in it daily before the flocks break into pairs. Upon the other side, a hospitable dogwood spreads itself, a goodly thing from spring till frost, and from it spireas, Deutzias, weigelas, lilacs, the flowering quince, and strawberry shrub, follow the path that winds under the arch, past mats of ferns and laurel, to a tilled corner, a little inner garden, where plants are nursed and petted, and no shading tree or greedy root robs them of sun or nourishment.
Along the path between the pines, the black leaf mould of the woods has been strewn freely. The fern tribe is prolific in this neighbourhood, and a five-mile circuit encloses some twenty species, most of which may be transplanted, if you keep in mind their special needs. This spot is cool and shady, but the soil is dry from careful drainage. The aspidiums flourish well; A. acrostichoides, of two varieties, better known as the Christmas fern, with heavy varnished fronds, A. marginàle, with pinnate, dull-green fronds, A. cristatum, almost doubly pinnate and with them the fragrant Dicksonia punctilobula, whose straw-coloured lace carpets the autumn woods with sunlight, and the black-stemmed maidenhair grows larger every year, rearing its curving fronds two feet or more.
What endless possibilities creep into the garden with every barrow of wood earth! How many surprises cling about the roots of the plant you hope to transfer uninjured from its home! Bring a tuft of ferns, lo! There springs up a dozen unseen things - a pad of partridge vine, an umber of ginseng, a wind flower; in another year the round leaves of the pyrola may appear and promenade in pairs and trios quite at their ease, until the fern bed becomes a constant mystery. For many years some slow awaking seeds will germinate, the rarer violets, perhaps an orchid.
I brought a mat of club moss, with a good lump of earth, as was my habit, from the distant woods. Several years after, happening to stop to clear away some dead branches, I started in surprise, for enthroned in the centre of the moss, a very queen, was a dark pink cypripedium, the Indian moccasin. It is an orchid very shy of transposition, seldom living over the second season after its removal, seeming to grieve for its native home with the fatal Heimweh, so that the seed must have come with the moss and done its growing in the fern nook.
"TheStory of a Garden" first appeared in The Friendship of Nature: A New England Chronicle of Birds and Flowers, by Mabel Osgood Wright (Macmillan, 1894).

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Syzygium australe

Syzygium australe, with many common names that include brush cherry, scrub cherry, creek lilly-pilly, creek satinash, and watergum, is a rainforest tree native to eastern Australia. It can attain a height of up to 35m with a trunk diameter of 60cm. In cultivation, this species is usually a small to medium-sized tree with a maximum height of only 18m.

The leaves are opposite, simple, lanceolate from 4–8 cm long. Flowers are white and in clusters. The dark pink to red fruits are edible. Closely related to the Eugenias, I planted mine specifically because Grey Louries are purported to be fond of the fruit. Just a kilometer away from us there are Louries in abundance and yet they don’t visit my garden at all. It doesn’t seem to have helped, my Syzygium is 10 years old already and nary a Grey Lourie! But I do enjoy this tree’s shiny foliage and those lovely berries. Flowering time is early summer. In early autumn, red to purple roundish fruits are produced. They are about 15 mm in diameter and are tipped with a persistent calyx.

The genus Syzygium has many medicinal properties. Eugeniin extracted from the buds of almost all species of this genus has antiviral activity against the Herpes simplex virus. Bark infusions of this plant are said to ease pain and coughing.

Purported to be evergreen, mine frosts down every winter and every spring I anxiously await the new greenery, relieved when at last it makes its appearance.

One thing about planting a non-indigenous species of tree, is that no birds are interested in the fruit and don't even use it for nesting. The Mynahs are just about the only birds I ever even see visiting it. But it is a lovely ornamental tree for the garden.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Striped Grass Mouse

Besides beautiful flowers, gardening brings so many other pleasures! Visiting and resident birds, other wildlife like hedgehogs, tortoises, guinea fowl, partridges, bees and other insects, the odd snake and this lovely little Striped field mouse.

A Striped Field mouse Rhabdomys pumilio : Common name - Four-striped grass mouse. Streepmuis in Afrikaans) in my garden. He's quite tame as I often put out seeds for them, and here I was within a meter from him. He was actually very disgusted, drying himself off as I had accidentally gotten him wet while watering the garden with the hosepipe.

Very disgruntled at being wet!

I tolerate these lovely little creatures (unlike rats!) as they are totally harmless and very rarely venture into the house where, however, they can be quite destructive! I've only ever seen this pair in my garden and was actually hoping to see little ones scurrying about!

Rhabdomys is a largely Southern African genus of muroid rodents slightly larger than house mice. 

Here they are snacking on some sunflower seeds I put out for them in my garden. 

The Striped Mouse, so named because of the four longitudinal black stripes down its back, is an opportunistic omnivore, and has a varied diet. In certain areas they are mainly granivorous, while in others they may eat more plant material than seeds. They also enjoy a wide variety of other vegetable matter and insects.

The striped mouse helps to pollinate many Protea species, as pollen clings to its head while it is feeding. When the mouse moves off to feed on other neighbouring flowers of the same species, it carries the pollen with it, thus assisting in the fertilization of these flowers. They normally excavate a burrow at the base of a grass thicket, ensuring that the entrance is well hidden, and lining the chambers of their burrows with soft, leafy debris; alternatively, they construct a ground-level nest under cover of dense stands of tall grass.

Striped Mouse forage by day, particularly in the early morning and late afternoon, and are often seen among the tall grasses growing on the perimeter of cultivated land. In central Africa, where striped mice are also found, they breed throughout the year, but in the south the breeding season is usually confined to the summer months (September to May).

During the breeding season the adult females appear to be territorial, with limited home ranges which probably overlap the large home ranges of the males. There are from 2 - 9 young per litter.

Some Info from "EcoTravel"

Location : My garden in Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa
Camera : Fuji FinePix 2800Zoom 


Sunday, 22 May 2016

Praying Mantids in my garden

Camera : Fuji FinePix 2800Zoom 
Taken in my garden, Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa

Over the year the visitors to the garden vary according to the season, the weather, the heat, rain, food, shelter, breeding cycle and probably other conditions we can’t know or measure – we don’t know it all, that’s for sure.

This Praying Mantis (Mantidae Stagomantis) was so well camouflaged that I almost missed her. If it wasn’t for a slight movement of one of her front legs, I would never have seen her.

This gardener’s friend is a voracious little predator and feeds on harmful insects like aphids and fruit flies, with the adults graduating to flies, butterflies and crickets. Some species even eat small hummingbirds, frogs, lizards, and mice.

The “leaf” on her back is actually her wing! I photographed her in one
of our blue Gum trees (Eucalyptus) on our smallholding in Tarlton, South

By and large many people regard insects with horror as either pests or revolting creepy-crawly creatures to be avoided or worse still, squashed without mercy. Infamous as they may be, insects play such a vital role in the food chain and the global eco-system of the planet that without them, life as we know it, would cease to exist.

The Praying Mantis (Mantidae Stagomantis – Afrikaans “Hottentotsgod”, literally meaning the god of the Khoi) is named for its prominent front legs, which are bent and held together at an angle that suggests the position of prayer.

Generally, mantises are good for the garden. They’re part of a solution to a pest problem, but they eat beneficials, too. And if nothing else is available, they’ll eat each other! So if you plan having one as a pet, have separate housing for each praying mantis you intend to keep!

The praying mantis is the only insect capable of rotating its head by 180 degrees, and this, combined with very keen eyesight, is used to observe both predators and prey. Incredibly the mantis’ powerful vision extends over 50 feet. And as if this wasn’t enough they also have hearing abilities that exceed the upper limit of human hearing.

Organic gardeners who avoid pesticides may encourage mantises as a form of biological pest control. Did you know that tens of thousands of mantis egg cases are sold each year in some garden stores for this purpose! During autumn, praying mantis females deposit a sticky egg case on the underside of a leaf or on a twig. If the egg case survives winter, the offspring, called nymphs, emerge in late spring or early summer. The nymphs have voracious appetites and typically cannibalize each other if they don’t have an adequate supply of aphids and other small insects. Egg cases are commercially available for placement in landscaping.

She was following my every move as I
moved around the tree to get the best shot. Her little head turned with
every movement I made, seemingly staring me right in the eye all the
while, yet not making the slightest move in case she might give away her
position, perfectly camouflaged amongst the leaves. She chose a good
spot, as her wings looked exactly like the leaves of the Karee she was resting in.

I really am always thrilled when I find a Praying Mantis in my garden – these insects are real characters and are not intimidated easily! When I tried to move the leaves to get a better shot, my finger was summarily grabbed and I got a quick nip for my efforts. That didn’t hurt, but the front legs holding onto my finger certainly would have crushed and fatally injured any insect unlucky enough to venture close. I had quite a time convincing her to let go so I could carry on photographing!

Uittreksel uit Siel van Hottentotsgod

Haar koppie draai al in die rondte opsoek na iets sappigs om die honger pyne te stil. Def is ‘n hottentotsgod wat al ‘n paar winters oorleef het hier in die bos geweste. Sy verlang ook nou al baie na haar mannnetjie wat sy al lank terug opgeëet het. Hy sal mos ook nou al trots gewees het op die kleingoed van so by die hele ses. Met haar voorpoot veeg sy ‘n insek traan uit die oë wat altyd waaksaam moet bly. 



Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Just before winter, tightly packed

Take some Echeverias (E. imbricata), plant too many in one terracotta pot, have lots of rain and you have a scene of each plant doing its best to be the biggest!

I have found E. imbricata to be a fast grower, producing healthy plants and actually spreads like wild fire. Although succulents are renowned for the fact that they can grow in poor soils and are drought tolerant, this Echeveria thrives in a good, rich potting soil and lots of water, as long as it also gets lots of sun.

Unfortunately they are not very frost tolerant and every winter I bring those that are in pots into the house for winterizing. This is not ideal, as they tend to get leggy searching for more light and results in me cutting them down and replanting them every spring. Yep, I know that sounds a bit excessive, but the alternative is dead or frost-damaged plants that hardly ever recover before the next onslaught of winter.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

The dustbin chicks

One of Solly’s hens (one of only 4 left after a mysterious disease killed about 20 of his chickens) hatched out six little chicks, leaving another 11 eggs un-hatched when she left the nest at about 6am. About an hour later, I saw a tiny chick stumbling from the nest, still wet from emerging from the egg. Mommy and her crew of six had already disappeared somewhere into the garden, so once again I had a little chick to tend to.


I brought her inside and kept her warm in a basket of grass with a hot water bottle and a towel throughout the day and that night. Early the next morning I saw Mommy and her babies just outside my studio window and quickly rushed outside with Dottie (she has two little black dots on her head) and put her down in front of Mommy, who immediately clucked encouragingly and little Dottie quickly responded by running towards her and under her warm tummy.

Dottie (top right) with some of the other chicks 

Mommy and all seven babies enjoying the lawn

I kept watch for about an hour until I was satisfied that she was able to keep up with the rest of the clan, feeling relieved that it had all worked out well. Sometimes chicks imprint on me too quickly or the mother refuses to take it back, then it’s a case of looking after a little chick for many weeks before it is ready to join my girls in the garden. Over the past two days they've all grown in leaps and bounds and Mommy is an absolutely perfect mother, calling them to the food I put out and first letting them have their fill before she has anything herself.

Mommy calling the chicks for a tit-bit 

Now, here's the thing. On Tuesday afternoon we disposed of all the other eggs that were left over and threw them in the dustbin in the back yard. Two days later, as I passed the dustbin, I heard peeping! Looking inside, I saw that two chicks had hatched. I was gob-smacked! Upon closer inspection of the rest of the eggs, I noticed that one had a hole in it and heard peeping coming from within. I gathered up the two babies and the egg and rushed inside, immediately getting the two chicks onto a towel with a hot water battle. The egg was still peeping, so I carefully removed all the shell and found a perfectly formed little chick struggling to get out. I gently cleaned it and also put in on the hot water bottle with the other two chicks.

The two "dustbin chicks" with the one I took out of the egg warming up on the towel and hot water bottle

The three little "dustbin chicks" getting warmed up 

The chick in the centre (I named her Snoodles) is the one I took out of the egg

I constantly checked the temperature inside the towel to make sure it was not too hot also often stroking the third little chick and talking to it. After about half-an-hour it raised it's little head and opened its eyes! I was thrilled! It also struggled up to stand, stretching its little legs for a second or two before settling down between the other two chicks again.

After about four hours it was dry and quite alert, moving about and taking an interest in its surroundings, snuggling close to the other two.

I'm thinking that maybe, just maybe, Mommy will accept the two older little dustbin chicks but the one I took out of the egg still has a long way to go and I doubt that it will be able to keep up with the much older chicks, so it looks like I've got a few weeks ahead of me tending to this little one.

Hens lay eggs over a period of time and sometimes those laid first, hatch first. When she left the nest, some of the other eggs might have been on the point of hatching and I think the dustbin acted like an incubator, it was standing in the morning sun with the lid on and it was quite warm inside. If she had stayed on the eggs just a day later, probably some more would have hatched.

Well, I DID put the first two dustbin chicks back with their Mommy one morning and she accepted them immediately. Of course they were cold and she immediately called them under her warm feathers. I will keep an eye on them to make sure they keep up with the rest of the crowd. The third little chick which I took out of the egg is still a bit weak, so I doubt she will be joining the flock, ever.


Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Agapanthus beauty

This past summer my Agapanthus praecox put up a beautiful show and the more I stole the flowers for vases, the more they produced.

This species makes excellent cut flowers. Cut flowers, whether purchased from the florist or cut from your own garden, will last much longer in the vase if the vase been cleaned with hot soapy water to eliminate bacteria and fungi and then rinsed thoroughly. Normally one would remove lower leaves from the stem so there will be none in the vase water, but Agapanthus have beautiful long, leafless stalks, making it an ideal flower for the vase.

Flowers are living things, and like us they need food for proper growth and healthy colour, especially in a vase, so do se a commercial flower preservative. You can also add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice or bottled "Real Lemon," 1 tablespoon of sugar, and a 1/4 teaspoon of bleach in a quart of warm water. Add another 1/4 teaspoon of bleach to the vase every 4 days.

This evergreen indigenous species 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. The deciduous species comes 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.

Family: Agapanthaceae (Agapanthus family)
Common names: common agapanthus, blue lily (Eng.); bloulelie, agapant (Afr.); isicakathi (Xhosa); ubani (Zulu)

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Life's treasured moments

A treasured moment - my Rattail Cactus flowering on a window sill


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