Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A quiet orchid

I told my mother that she had an orchid in bloom in her shady corner. Really? she said.

Not all orchids are loud and tropical.

The flower stem is no longer than eight inches, the flowers are tiny. The leaves are spotted. It is gorgeous, growing in a low pot in permanent shade. We had no idea what it might be. A forgotten plant.

To the rescue, the Internet. After several false starts I typed in "autumn orchid spotted leaves south africa," and PlantzAfrica popped up at the head of the list: Stenoglottis fimbriata

Fimbriata means fringed in Latin - beautiful word.

It is indigenous to the forests and dense bush of eastern parts of South and southern Africa - summer rainfall areas - but seems to have adapted well to this southern winter rainfall garden, with summer irrigation, just like its compatriot the paintbrush lily, Scadoxus. Its potted companions include indigenous impatiens, streptocarpus, peppermint pelargonium and foreign upstart begonias.


Monday, March 30, 2015

Setting the scene

Last Saturday the botanist and the ecologist wed, and it was picture perfect.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The wedding weekend

There will be a party at No. 9 on Sunday: 60 years of marriage - my parents. My mother has called it, and the menus read: The Last Party.*

Parties require flowers. Many come from the garden. (zinnias, plectranthus, salvia, plumbago). But for back-up I went to the Sillery Farm, and bought a gazillion dahlias, in their late summer prime.

And today Don and Rosie will be married in their fynbos garden in Noordhoek; their family, friends and Herbert Baker henhouse chickens will be witnesses. In the flurry of flower activity here I sneak away for a couple of hours to join them.

It is a wedding-y weekend. Beginnings and endings. Hope and endurance.

Wish them all well.

* Correction: My mother read this post and corrected me: It is NOT the last party, she said. It is the last LUNCH. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Lunch for One, please

I visited the lovely Babylonstoren this week. In the shop were quinces, now ripening in South Africa at the end of a long and very hot, dry summer. 

After a morning in the gardens I sat beneath a passion fruit arbour and ordered a quick lunch for one in the Green House, the more casual of the two restaurants on the farm. My mom and I have a date at Babel, soon. 

The salad-in-a-jar was topped with a slice of persimmon, also beginning to ripen nearby.

 You build your own sandwich, and I chose biltong. Of course. 

Salad and coffee are my two standards for restaurants. If they are done badly, flee.  If they are good, everything inbetween will be excellent, too.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Creatures of Constantia

I searched  and searched the wild peach trees, but in the end I found just one Cape dwarf chameleon. If the chameleon whisperer had been with me, I am sure they would have shown themselves. I swear I heard breathy laughter from the branches.

In the muddy late summer stream pigs corgis waded.

And six legged beasts walked up the bridle path, exercising the March dust.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Bloom first, ask questions later

A walk up the burned mountain started with an unexpected stand of March lilies - Amaryllis belladonna - seen by most Capetonians growing in parched freeway medians at this time of year, or after fire on mountain slopes. (They are not hard to cultivate - my mother has many in bloom in her garden right now; they respond to being ignored and unwatered all summer, when the flowers appear out of nowhere, before leaves, a phenomenon known as hysteranthy.)

Within a minute or two we were in the earliest part of the burn that began on March 1st.

Without its usual green camouflage [click the link to see the same spot, unburned], the sandy nature of the fynbos growing medium was exposed to a lunar degree.

Bracken had begun to appear.

And grass blades.

And green daggers - possibly a watsonia.

The path up, stepped steeply in Table Mountain sandstone, led us from a hot afternoon into the cloud, helped by a roaring and cold wind. Ears began to hurt, and heads were wrapped in sundry borrowed scarves. I hauled out a hooded rain jacket.  One walker headed down to warmer climes. (Remember to pack for this mountain, whose weather moods turn on a dime).

(The path down - same path - was...mad. I followed, kind of, the botanist and birder who charged down like klipspringers on energy drinks. I am now deeply aware of my quadriceps.)

Marijke spotted this bowl - the sandstone up here is beautifully and often weirdly sculpted.

And, at last, spied on an ashy slope:

The fire lilies we had hoped to find. 

So red.

Callan in the mist.

The wind and flying grit made photography a challenge, but the experience was exceptional.

Cyrtanthus ventricosus only blooms after fire. 

It will not be seen again unless it burns again. They were last observed here 15 years ago.

And then we turned back, and began that goat-like descent.

Finding the world below - almost - as we had left it.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The delightful swee!

Swee waxbills (Coccopygia melanotis) - birds designed to soften a hard heart. 

When I heard their distinctive Swee! calls in the shrubs near my mother's tiny fountain, I went to fetch the camera: they were summoning up courage to gather and bathe.

(In the background is an indigenous peppermint pelargonium, wonderful for shady places, with velvet leaves and a piercing scent.)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Late summer lunch

For a Sunday lunch for three, under the tree, I made two salads to accompany my mom's pizzas. Fig and spinach leaf, above (EV olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper)...

...and a salad inspired by Gabrielle Langholtz's The New Greenmarket Cookbook, which I brought to Cape Town to give to my mom (the recipes are motivating and I love the essays about the farmers).

I have always loved savoury fruit salads, and the recipe here also called for purslane, a favourite of mine - and there is plenty in the garden. Peaches were specified but I subbed perfectly ripe nectarines. The onions are quick pickled, and the combination of flavours and textures was divine.

The bubbly did not hurt, either.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Spring in Harlem

A phone snap sent to me by the Frenchman. Happy spring, Northeast, and sorry.

The bamboo corral on the right is a mobile experiment. Inside are two room air conditioners, very well wrapped in plastic and very unsightly. Till now, they have lived first in a back corner of the terrace, then beside our terrace door (a section that receives sun in spring and summer, hence valuable for plants).

Their original spot was recently invaded by The Beast, the Jora composter, so they were ousted. We never used an air conditioner last year (one advantage of the freezing winter house is that summer is bearable), and are not sure what to do with them. I don't like the bamboo (it was the fence we used to prevent Estorbo from throwing himself at Pebbles, his love interest one floor below).

Apart from getting rid of them altogether, one option is to find a tabletop to rest on them - weathered wood, stone - I can always use a prep area for dinners or gardening, and to wrap the bottom in something less eye catching than the strident bamboo poles.

Ideas welcome.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Indigenous impatiens

A beautiful volunteer specimen of Impatiens hochstetteri. It was growing between some shaded stones at The Greenhouse at Montebello, in the cool green suburb of Newlands, which receives an alleged 6 feet of rain a year - beneath Table Mountains towering Fern Buttress. Clearly, it is happy with wet feet. In the garden at No. 9 it volunteers in shady, damp spots. I love its small graceful flowers and the way it fills difficult, shallow-soiled places.

This little impatiens is indigenous to the eastern parts of South Africa, all summer rainfall areas (unlike the Western Cape) and is also found north of South Africa, though I don't know the extent of its range. The Greenhouse sells it, and I hope more nurseries follow suit, as it is not easy to find.

And yes, you can buy the rabbit, too.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

My favourite (fruit) things

Late summer fruit in Cape Town.

Julie Andrews can keep her bright copper kettles (I suppose if she'd liked figs then pigs would have come into it...).

I love figs. And pigs, too, actually. The figs come from Prince Albert, on the edge of the Karoo.

And I adore hanepoot. It's not every year I taste these. Muscat d'Alexandrie, harvested from Buitenverwachting wine estate and sold beside the road in Tokai. Grapes with character. The browner the better.

Nothing favourite rhymes with hanepoot.

Fewer for the song. More for me.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Bright bulbs for shade

In the Cape Town garden of No. 9 the paintbrush lilies are in bloom. Scadoxus membranaceus is indigenous to South Africa's Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, and spectacular in bloom.

These bulbs all grow very happily in pots, in full, high shade. 

One potful is beyond bloom and beautiful in seed, each enclosed in a fruit that will later turn red. I've read that birds and monkeys eat the ripe fruit, which makes me think that people may like and be able to eat them, too (the monkey part; never rely on birds as indicators of edibility). The bulbs are very poisonous (high in alkaloids, and potentially lethal), and used in traditional medicine. Other African Scadoxus species were used to poison arrow heads and to make fishing poison (PlantzAfrica).

Thinks: if your fish was poisoned, and you ate the fish...?

Let the propagating begin. I count over 100.

Maybe my mom can sell the babies at the next Open Gardens Constantia plant sale...

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


Somewhere over Namibia, or maybe Botswana, the cabin attendants let us raise the window sashes on our SAA Airbus A340. Light streamed in. I looked out and saw African clouds.  I had had a restful night, stretched flattish (with angles for knees) on my three empty seats in the back. The flight was not full, and those back seats fill up last, for some reason. Twelve hours behind us, we had another two to go before touching down in Johannesburg,

After collecting my luggage and passing through customs at Oliver Tambo International, I boarded another giant, packed-to-capacity Airbus and we took off, headed for Cape Town. I like this part. Illogically, over Africa, I feel safe. Not so much over the Atlantic. But as I was seated over a wing (stupid me), I could take no pictures unless we were banking, as we did shortly after take off.

I still find flying pretty miraculous.

And then we were over the Western Cape, an hour and a half after take off. Late March is not the green season. 

Soon we dipped under some low cloud to land, and my fellow passenger, an elderly black man silent till now in his crisp suit, and buried in his New Age newspaper, welcomed me home. I suppose I had that look. The pale brown man in the seat ahead of me - we had flown all the way from JFK together -  turned back to me and said, Jis,  I'm glad to be home. Ek is moeg. And I agreed. I was moeg, too.

I slept last night the sleep of the dead. No thumping woke me at 3am, no household noises from below our paper floor in Harlem, just deep dark sleep, accompanied by the vivid dreams of the drugged.

High on silence.