Sunday, January 6, 2013

Small gardens

My mother's garden in Cape Town is large and well-established, but it continues to evolve. Gardens are never finished, and real gardeners never stop gardening. They dream and think and engineer the lay of their land.

In a corner near the house, flanked by two high walls, where the herb garden used to be, a small brick patio was built, where a semi-shady, semi-sunny, container garden thrives. The shade is low, the sun is high. I have not measured the area, but I think it is about 12 x 144 Square Feet. And yes, I think it could have its own blog. 

Within the patio area are a built-in terra cotta tile-topped counter for her bonsai collection (above and below), shelves that go straight up those high walls, holding pots of ferns and streptocarpus in the shade, succulents and vertical herbs in the sun, and a bench, a small pond and several resident frogs.

The original herb garden grew more and more shaded as nearby shrubs grew taller and taller, and the tree tomato (Solanum betaceum) higher and higher. The herbs needed for the kitchen grow happily in pots against a sunny wall, as well as  in various flower beds - rosemary here, thyme there...

These gorgeous dwarf amaryllis bloomed in a pot below the bonsais. No space is wasted, here. As they finish flowering my mom moves them back to the narrow alley area outside the kitchen, where they wait out the rest of their year, forming big green strappy leaves, to feed the bulb beneath the soil.

Lotus vine (Lotus bertholotii) and wire owl. A sunny wall. 

Potted lilies and a begonia.


 Streptocarpus (a South African native), ferns, fuchsias and heuchera. 

In small spaces texture and pattern are better appreciated.

And some edibles have been allowed to stay; leaves like a little shade and here arugula (rocket, in South Africa) grows in a narrow trough. 

I picked some flowers from this small garden when we were in Cape Town early last month, and put them in our bathroom. That night I nearly stepped on a small brown leaf on the bathmat and bent down to pick it up. It hopped away. It was the smallest, cutest little frog I have ever seen, about the size of my thumbnail, legs and all. It must have traveled in on the lilies or peppermint pelargonium now in a vase beside the bath. I carried him carefully back out into the night, and hope he ribbits, here, still.


  1. Those photos......stunning. You should do a book just about your mother's beautiful gardens.

  2. This moving and rearranging is, I think, part of what draws us to gardens. Plus ca change...
    I'd love another lotus vine! Had one, further south, but think it may be too humid here and anyway, I have not seen any.(And now I've added a wire owl to to my beady sheep list of wants!)

  3. This garden is straight out of the pages of a magazine! Beautiful photos. Very inspiring, just what I needed on this cold January day!

  4. I can see where you get your greenfingers from - a beautiful small garden.

  5. Oh I love this garden. Much more on my scale. To have the time and talent of your mother would be a wonderous thing.

    And I'm in love with the lotus vine. Can we grow them as an annual?

    xo jane

  6. Is that a maidenhair fern I see? Isn't it too arid in SA to grow them? The green is showing on your double helix.

    1. Yes'm, maiden hair fern. SA actually has very diverse climates, ranging from semi-desert to subtropical forest to grassland and fynbos. In the Western Cape the climate is technically Mediterranean, meaning a high winter rainfall with dry summers. In winter the Cape is green-green-green. Like my double helix :-) Within Cape Town rainfall varies dramatically. On the east side of Table Mountain, where my parents live, there is a much higher rainfall than on the west's very interesting and helps make the flora especially compelling.

  7. That garden makes me feel lazy - so much left to do, so little time. May have to move my retirement plan ahead so i can get going!

  8. Absolutely beautiful. I love the pomegranate bonsai.

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