Monday, November 17, 2014


While I come to grips with the death of this largest of cats, this blog will pause.

The swiftness of our kitty's decline still has me reeling.

He was the most gorgeous animal, with a big heart that failed him.

I could not have invented a better companion, or muse.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Hot flower

I noticed this striking plant (foreground, right) in several of the gardens that partcipated in Open Gardens Constantia. There is also one waiting to be planted, on my mom's patio.

Turns out Digiplexis "Illumination Flame" is a new and wildly popular hybrid, where Digitalis (foxglove) and a Canary Island native, Isoplexis, were bred to produce a plant that is statuesque, has several flowering spikes, and which produces more when when cut. It is a true perennial, rather than biennial.

Despite its popularity (popularity makes me itch) I liked it here, with this spectacular indigenous Leucaspermum tottum in the background (in Carol's garden, where the OGC tea was held).

Many South African gardeners still seem intimidated by the incredible array of  native plants available to them, frequently choosing invasive exotics over excellent local alternatives. and I hope Marijke's new seminal book, Indigenous Plant Palettes, will help to change their minds. My job at Open Gardens was to sell raffle tickets, and her book is first prize (raffle Abalimi and Soil for Life). I had lots of interesting conversations with people about why they choose what they do.

I will never be a fundamentalist, so have no issues with incorporating roses or other well behaved foreigners into planting schemes as long as the backbone of the garden is true to place. And when the place is South Africa, there is a dizzying list of choices.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Green and grey and white

...and quite a few of South African plants, too. At last! So simple to do, and yet I still find great resistance to the idea of indigenous plant choices, in Cape Town gardens. Julie's garden is refreshing.

The feathery and fragrant Coleonema responds well to clipping.

Texture and colour (and taste!) - Artemisa and Coleonema.

Julie travels a lot for work so does not have much time left to garden. But this garden reflects the presence of someone deeply engaged with its spirit.

I had to pinch myself to keep away from those strawberries. Mamma!

Open Gardens Constantia got a bit wet yesterday afternoon as a gale tore into town, but it is up and running today, and very much worth the outing

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Party, with Plant Palettes

The flowers in the big glass vases were cut from the garden. Not just any garden. Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. 

The packed party in Kirstenbosch's airy Conservatory was to celebrate the launch of my friend Marijke Honig's new and very impressive book Indigenous Plant Palettes (Quivertree)

The southernmost baobab above, and Adi Badenhorst's wines, below.

Beautiful food, with Agent Fynbos in attendance.

Wild-inspired snacks from our friend Loubie.

Heidi Bertish, garden editor of Cond√© Nast's House and Garden, chats with the author before the interview proper, which was very illuminating, as only the best interviews are.

I'll write more about it when I have  the time, but for now, buy the book. Is all I can say. It will become a botanical classic.

Open Gardens Constantia 2014

South Africa's democracy is 20 years old, and so is Open Gardens Constantia.

Come and celebrate by visiting five open gardens tomorrow and Saturday, enjoying tea and cake (being baked as we speak, several hundred of them) in one garden, an unusual plant sale in another, and local Cape Flats organic produce and beadwork in a third.

Buy a ticket for the raffle and you stand to win a copy of Marijke Honig's new Indigenous Plant Palettes (the book launch is tonight, at Kirstenbosch), a beautiful hanging basket planted with herbs, or 10 bags of Reliance organic compost.

Proceeds are donated to Abalimi Bezekhaya and Soil for Life.

Some useful links:

Open Gardens Constantia garden locations


Plant Sale

For more background and to enjoy some of the plants that will be sold at the unusual plant sale, visit the Open Gardens Constantia blog where I have been moonlighting for the last several months.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Back under the mountain

Fresh from flying down across the Atlantic, then down the length of South Africa, and breaking the sound barrier in an airport cab en route to No. 9,  under a sky where clouds roiled like breakers over the mountain, I stumbled about the windy garden, where the southwester was roaring too, and took some inadequate pictures. But they still give you a sense of it...

My mom has had less help than usual in the garden - everyone aging, things falling apart, but the centre still holds: the garden looks very beautiful.

The New Dawn, as prickly and prolific as ever.

Lichen. Clean air. 

And...The Corg.

I am watching my back.

(The next few days will be taken up with Open Gardens business, photos, cake-baking, shuttling, posting.  When I can, I shall post more gardens.)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Saturday supper

Before I left the house on Saturday afternoon, I asked the Frenchman whether he would mind laying the table for me. The good friends were coming to dinner and I would not have time. Yes, he said, he would.

When I got home from Brooklyn  a few hours later,  this is what I found: boat napkins!

I was thrilled.

My surprise source of pincushions has not yet dried up, outside a supermarket, all the way down Lenox Avenue, just above Central Park.

And my sumac vodka has not dried up, either - here it was shaken up with some brown sugar and cinnamon syrup.

Mimi had red currant gin with splash of cassis, we'll call it a Harlem Mule, and then we all ate a salad of Honey Crisp apple chunks with kimchi and pickled vegetables: carrot, celery, Japanese knotweed, and a dollop of labneh. Stolen from David Chang, and tweaked. A pork belly curry high with galangal and ginger, black soy, quick-pickled garlic and  fresh turmeric. Sticky rice, my first attempt, and nicely sticky. Let's just skip dessert. Smoke ensued...

I leave for Cape Town, tomorrow and within the matter of 24 hours my life will be transformed. Cold to warm, baring to blooming, small terrace to large garden, cat to dogs, concrete to mountain, noise to...silence. Owls in the night.

And a few more things, besides.

Say a prayer for the cat. I would like to see him when I get back.

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