Saturday, November 29, 2014

Summer gardening

In the summer garden I have been toting that bag around, deadheading, snipping, weeding. Then it gets dragged down to the compost bins. Where today, inbetween editing photos and writing a story, I must chop some large branchy bits into smaller, digestible pieces.

The Harlem terrace,  a world reversed, seems impossible. I am not sure what it will mean when I am back. Catless. He followed me from pot to pot hoping for a stray piece of grass, germinated from fallen bird seed. And Estorbo's wheat grass had only just been sown when I left. I even left a pot to germinate inside for him. Who knew he would be gone, when I returned?

I guess there is a cut off time for when one must stop writing about the loss of a cat. And just howl in bathrooms. On random floors. Behind closed doors. Yell at the air that you want him undead.

Death is so unacceptable.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Pink and green

Ubiquitous bougainvillea used to be invisible to me, but after living in a cold winter climate for so long, now it pops. This one makes me long for the Jacques Torres strawberry and basil sorbet in a cone that I loved so much in Dumbo, two summers ago.

This beautiful courtyard planting is at The Cellars-Hohenhort, a Relais en Châteaux hotel around the corner from m parents' house in Constantia. Today I'll be walking and talking in the gardens. Nice day at the office...

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Black sparrow hawk attack

Happy Thanksgiving, Americans, and may your dinner tables be free of dive-bombing raptors.

One minute you're peacefully eating your cheddar cheese, and the next minute BAM!

WTF, Charlie?!

(...and yes, it was way, way faster than I could photograph).

Soon thereafter:



Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Return to Babel

We had a female family lunch at Babylonstoren last week. 

I had exactly ten minutes before lunch to capture some pictures of these incomparable gardens. For the first five I stayed near the ponds and swiveled, snapping in all directions.

It was a warm day and an inversion layer of lavender air hung thickly at five feet above the beds.

The massive thyme garden near Babel, the restaurant, invited feet.

Edible waterblommetjies shared pool space with the water lilies.

In my remaining five minutes I dashed down the vegetable and fruit garden, leaving dust devils in my wake.

Above - someone is thinking of making Poire Williams, the hot clear schnapps that surrounds a ripe, bottled pear. Until these are ready, buy some when next you travel through Switzerland.

Quinces on their espaliered hedges are beginning to fuzz.

And a geometrical maze of tuteurs waits for tomatoes to rise up between them.

In the shop, artichoke flowers advertized the measuring flasks for sale (used as wine carafes in the restaurant).

And at lunch. The table gifts that arrive before the ordered courses are sometimes the best part.

The garden salad of the day.

Super-crunchy roast potatoes accompany the main courses. My salt-cured lamb ribs with buchu-infused apricots were inedibly salty, unfortunately, so no picture (I've been told they have been removed from the menu). But everyone else loved their chops with ripe, roasted plums (my mouth waters as I type this).

And for dessert I begged for some ice cream that was part of a salad dish: pineapple and chile. It was divine, perhaps made with buttermilk. The chile was barely there; personally I would have turned up the heat, but the creamy texture and the pineappleyness were memorably good.

If you can, go, and make sure to book far in advance. And give yourself a couple of hours for the garden.

A side note: Babylonstoren is what can be done by an individual with a lot of money, a vision, very good taste, and the ability to hire the right people. I wish more media moguls would leave this kind of stamp on the planet.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Tiny shade garden

I've written about this part of my mother's garden before, but in case you missed it:

In an increasingly shaded corner of her garden my mother submitted to the inevitable and embraced the coolness that the rising and spreading trees nearby were bringing to what had been a hot pocket where herbs grew. She made a small, raised brick patio with a small pool and fountain at its centre, installed a lattice roof, shelves on two tall walls, and a bench. It is tiny, the size of a big-city urban garden (if you're lucky) and is packed with plants.

Many of them are indigenous South African shade lovers, like the Streptocarpus above and below.

...and velvety peppermint Pelargonium, below.

Yesterday I spotted my favourite little Cape Town birds, the !swee waxbills, standing in the water rising gently from the fountain, (the exclamation point is my own: their call sounds like their name: !Swee!).

They are adorable and unafraid, hopping about on their own or in pairs. Here they drank, and seemed to find interesting things in the moss.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Driving: Wynberg Main Road

Sometimes, it is the ordinary that I miss, when searching blogs for South African stories and flavour. So here is the ordinary.

I drove home from the Department of Home Affairs, housed in a mall on Wynberg Main Road.

The Main Road, changing its name as it clocks off suburbs en route, used to be the only way you could travel from Cape Town's city heart, between Table Bay and Table Mountain, to the False Bay coast by way of the eastern route, to Muizenberg, Simonstown.

Now, you take instead the freeway, greening smoothly and fast (not at rush hour) along the edge of the mountain's eastern heights, through the suburbs and and towards the sea.

The Main Road is not smooth. It is matted and clogged with many stop start lights and jay walking pedestrians and working taxis and life on the street.

It is where, in America, the strip mall would reign. 

The surviving colonial buildings, turned utilitarian,  have lines I could live in: cool walls, high ceilings, removed by  three feet from the working street where hungover bergies hunch on the curbs and car guards hawk their services to every pausing vehicle.

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 Condé 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.)