Monday, August 31, 2015


Little and big.

Violets and clivias are in bloom in my mother's Constantia garden.


Sunday, August 30, 2015


Lily and I drove out of Cape Town, taking the N7 north towards Malmesbury, unofficial capital of the wheat-producing Swartland region, and then we branched off onto the R45 to Hopefield (but not before driving through a suburban part of the big town where the streets were named for cow and sheep breeds).

On a whim, I had decided to visit the Hopefield Fynbos Show - an annual wildflower show that a friend had mentioned on Facebook. Hopefield is a small town surrounded by farmlands, and some remnants of fynbos (one of the biomes of the Cape Floristic Region - which is one of six floristic regions on the planet), and I had never been.

As it turned out, the carpark was the richest area for botanizing. Lachenalia pallida - images above and below - had crowded the verge of the N7 on our drive up (oddly, verges are one of the last bastions of indigenous plants; here they escape both the plough and possible glyphosate apllication in the cultivated fields just on the other side of fences).

Still working on this ID, below - I am rusty, and I need a new field guide.

Growing beside the sandy mounds of molehills. [Thanks to Rupert and Don - Tetragonia fruticosa.]

If the Koringberg boys had not arrived we might have missed the hall with the wildflower displays. Somehow we had both just ignored the dark door beside the the lunch hall.

I could have stayed a lot longer at the far end of the hall.

Dozens of individual flowers were labeled.

There was a lot to learn, and someone had gone to a lot of trouble.

Lily and I wolfed some pancakes - a country staple - from the friendly pancake ladies.

The pancakes were silky and sang with cinnamon, They reminded me of rainy nights in Bloemfontein.

And then we bought R20 tickets for a tractor ride to see "die blommetjies." Everyone along this coast refers to flowers in the diminutive. Not the flowers, but thelittleflowers. The sun had come out, and so we were told that thelittleflowers were now open, and we could go, so we did. When in Rome.

Our tour guide, holding the white plastic cash box above, top right, pointed out the NG church to us. Inside, the Koringberg boys were listening to an organ recital.

The tractor dragged us through some fallow ground on the edge of town, and not, as I had imagined, through a farmer's wildflower lands. The daises were out and we saw some Lachenalias, too. A few piles of trash lay amongst the petals. I saw a black cat washing its back leg. It stuck its tongue out at me as we drove by. In houses' doorways and from the schoolyard's recess where boys tackled each other in rugby play, adults and children waved at us as we drove by. We waved back.

Lily and I ate a boerekos lunch - lamb shin pie, waterblommetjie bredie and two starches: boiled white rice and sweet orange pumpkin - as is correct. And later we all drove to Koringberg, where an olive orchard and nettle patch lay in wait.

The fields were green all the way.


                           Book an Autumn Walk 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Cape Town forage

Alerted by a drive-by sighting of the flowers I grew up calling The Aliens, I took a basket and went for a stroll up the greenbelt, in the company of The Corg, to inspect the plants more closely.

The Aliens are in fact aliens - Allium triquetrum is an invasive wild onion known in Europe as a three-cornered leek, for its stem shape. It escaped from its native Mediterranean and has naturalized in this winter-wet climate at the foot of Africa. I collected it for the first time in July 2014It was good - strong when raw, very mild when cooked.

I pulled some bulbs, which are pure white and firm. The stems are very fleshy, unlike those of ramps and field garlic (Allium tricoccum and Allium vineale). Garlic filled the air. The Corg sniffed and chewed some grass appreciatively.

After washing and peeling at home, the bulbs went into a pot of braising oxtail stew - chilly weather food, there are fires every night - with the addition of red wine, fresh bay leaves from the garden, fennel and tiny cubes of carrot.

Those are their flowers in the blue enamel jug, with folded up Oxalis pes-caprae. The others are from the garden.  Spot the Lachenalias on the left, with gorgeous, green-dipped tips.

Today I have a date with some stinging nettles in the Swartland, which Johan and Peter say are still flourishing in their olive orchard, after a  visit with Lily to a country wild flower show, in Hopefield (it runs till Sunday if you can make it) - there, I am hoping to find a good plate of boerekos, with waterblommetjies (the seasonally aquatic Aponogeton distachyos).

It is a good, green time of year if you like things that grow. And I do.


                           Book an Autumn Walk 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Continental whiplash

Morning at last. Jetlag wakes you at 3.15am, so you read three Oscar Wilde stories, as well as re-read the introduction to the anthology (published in 1948) decrying his "sordid past," and when that becomes too much, catch up on two back issues of the Botanical Society's Veld and Flora. You beat the birds to breakfast by an hour, in the still-dark, and by 7.34am would like to go back to sleep.

The flowers are from the garden - Lachenalias, Cape Town's answer to daffodils, and so much nicer, in this, their native context.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Planting forward

Call me hasty.

Hello, Hasty!

On the eve of my departure for another hemisphere, another continent, another season, I dug and pulled and lifted and fertilized and sowed.

I have little doubt that my fledgling fall crops (arugula, mache, mustard and a squash wild card - the fava beans and peas must wait till I return) will be overwhelmed with invigorated weed seeds by the time I return in mid September. But it had to be done.  Our house is still half-boxes, and the garden is just an idea, but I can't let weeks pass without some investment in the soil.

After a week and a day in residence we feel suddenly at peace after almost two years on eggshells. I had not expected such a sudden dialing down of tension. The nervous energy and uncertainty of our Harlem building have gone. Our new building is quiet. These streets are quiet. It is days between sirens. Our landlord is responsive and low key and a good man.

Thank you to everyone who has sent us messages of support during the upheaval of our move. The last few weeks have not been easy, but we are beginning to see the shape of things to come.

                           Book an Autumn Walk

Friday, August 21, 2015

Neighborhood watch

There is a small black cat that lounges often outside a house on the next block. Yesterday, when it saw me coming, it got up to come and meet me. The collar gives the kitty's address - one door down from the lounging spot - and name: Petro.

These are happy streets.


Book a Wild Foods Walk

Thursday, August 20, 2015

In the weeds

I worked front of house in restaurants for years. If you were in the weeds, you were in trouble. Like the time a man came to ask where his espresso was and I lost it, because five other people needed espresso, too, and I had to deliver checks to tables, and the owner chilling on the patio needed his pink Cosmo, and an order needed to be fired and the fucking salad that we tossed ourselves was not tossed and there was a table of people needing menus glaring at me. So I told him where to put his espresso.

It wasn't until I was two hours into weeding in our 1st Place plot yesterday, wet with August sweat, that I appreciated the trouble with weeds.

It has been a long, long time since I have had to weed, seriously.

I never want to see another morning glory. Take your quickweed and shove it. And mulberry weed is a den of mosquitoes. For the first time - ever - the vision of a quirt bottle of Round Up danced across the screen of my mind whispering, Sprayyyyyy them.

I went on weeding.

                    Book an Autumn Walk (we'll see some weeds!)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Foraging walks - October

Hawthorn, Crataegus species

I have two foraging walks scheduled for October. Attendance is limited to 15 walkers. I am sometimes able to lead private walks, too, so if you have another park in mind for October-November,  or want to walk through your own neighborhood, get in touch using the Find/Follow link for availability and rates. 

Central Park's North Woods
3 October 2015, 12pm - 2pm

Join me on an edible botanical ramble through Central Park's North Woods. We'll spot and discuss weedy edible greens, from prolific pseudo-grains like lamb's quarters, to easy-to-recognise pokeweed, burdock and Japanese knotweed.  

Chicken of the woods - Laetiporus sulphureus

We'll see greenbriar, sumac and spicebush, and talk about what to do with them. There will be fruit and nut-bearing trees, the plant that killed Mrs Lincoln, and a few others, inbetween. If we are lucky, there may be a mushroom or two. We will pause on the way to enjoy a wild-inspired snack from my backpack.  Don't panic,  it won't contain strange mushrooms. 

An edible puffball

It is migration season for the birds that use the Atlantic Flyway, and we are likely to encounter songbirds and their friends en route south, which is a nice, feathery bonus.

October in the North Woods

We meet at 12pm at the SW corner of Central Park North and Lenox Avenue. Confirmation emails will be sent to confirmed walkers the week before the walk.


Aronia - chokeberry

Prospect Park
17 October 2015, 12pm - 2pm

Crossing from east to west through Prospect Park's diverse midriff  we will spot a wide range of wild edible (and poisonous) plants, from lawn denizens such as plantain, dandelions and chicory to indigenous forest plants, and invasive weeds like Japanese knotweed and burdock.

Poisonous white snakeroot - Ageratina altissima

If we are lucky, we may spot a maitake mushroom. October is their month.

We meet at the park entrance at the corner of Prospect Park West and Prospect Park Southwest. The closest subways are the F and G to Prospect Park.

Confirmation emails and additional details will be sent to confirmed walkers the week before the walk.


Hen of the woods, Grifola frondosa

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The 5 Stages of Moving

We are not quite circling the drain but at times it feels like it. Our move has coincided with the hottest and muggiest week of the weather year, with just one rainstorm for relief. Working in the weed-besieged garden - inbetween unpacking boxes and trying to create order - amidst  a swarm of daytime striped-leg mosquitoes, holds little appeal.

I know from experience that this is the stage of Resentment (it followed Disbelief, and Relief). It will give way, over time, to Inspiration. But for now we're treading water while we wait for Acceptance to rescue us.

In the meantime, we eat outside, rub ourselves down with our Thai-made mosquito wipes, meet new neighbors through fences, and spend a lot of time looking up at our wider sky.


                           Book an Autumn Walk

Sunday, August 16, 2015


We left Manhattan, bound from Harlem for Brooklyn.  

This trip was repeated several times, in vehicles ranging from Zipvans to U-Haul trucks to a proper moving truck with three strong men, then a Zipcar and another Zipvan.

If there is a Medal of Honor for moving, the Frenchman gets it. 

He is Le Tired.

Not pictured: the blood, the sweat, the tears. We had all three. Smaller amounts of blood and tears balanced by copious sweat. 

Our hearts could not help singing a little, as the BQE brought us into Brooklyn.

Passing Dumbo, and its condominiumed factories.

Seeing rooftop trees against large amounts of sky. 

And Vince thought about running again near the water, and across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Brooklyn Bridge Park appeared.

And Atlantic Avenue. See, Brooklyn has trash, too (note to self).

And at last, our block, in Carroll Gardens.

The boxes and the furniture and plants have been offloaded. Unpacking has begun. Things are in limbo, as they will be for a while, before we find our domestic and horticultural feet. But we have the essentials for ground floor living: mosquito wipes, red wine, and pizza.

I will be in South Africa in a week, to see my parents. My father was diagnosed with vascular dementia, and things are changing fast. He is still himself, but he suffers from intense short term memory loss.

Vince will fly out for his annual two weeks of vacation (seriously, when will Americans wise up to the ridiculousness of this?) and for a few days we will head up the West Coast to see flowers, stars, and to be alone with the road.

And in this week that is left we will learn the language of our new home. Find domestic landmarks, carve out new patterns, mark the moon and plot our nightwalks from bedroom to kitchen, without lights.

The landscape is altered.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


10 August 2015

Just before the July 4th weekend Vince greeted me at the terrace door (bottom right of both images, if you are curious). I was on the terrace, gardening.

He looked at me. I have bad news, he said. He meant it. I was very quiet. There was some silence. Then he said, Graham is not renewing our lease. I looked at him some more. You're joking, I said. 

But he wasn't.

It was a bad time.

That seems a lifetime away. Then, it was flat out panic. But we are now six weeks out, and four days from decampment.

Everyone currently in the building is moving out.

Half our belongings are sitting in an empty apartment in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Beyond its kitchen door a wide open, empty backyard waits for us. A quiet, tree-filled street is at the front, singing with cicadas. 

The Harlem terrace is being taken apart, piece by piece. Compare top and bottom. The wooden planters have been emptied of plants. The tall jewelweed thickets have been cut down and pulled out. The herbs have been transplanted and carted to Brooklyn. In the next few days the birch pole screen will be dismantled and the beans removed.

14 July 2015

Don't tell me that change is good. Change is just change. Don't tell me that things are meant to be. Nothing is meant to be. Things just are. Because of things that came before, because of decisions that people make. Consequences.

We will make the best of it because that is what one does. And the package of what is to come is a good package, all things considered. A beautiful neighborhood, a peaceful street, no construction in the building, no drummers. (But there is a principal ballet dancer on the top floor - does he jeté across the room in the late mornings?)

We are glad to be leaving the noise and tension of this apartment. We are glad to leave the fights on this street, the screaming motorcycle gangs, the worry about the random gunshot. I will miss the friendly neighbors on the stoops, saying, Hi, how you doing? I will miss the easy compliments and banter of the neighborhood men, who manage never to be creepy. I will miss the Tuesday night gospel choir practises and the rocking Sunday services. 

I will miss the cheap quails eggs at the supermarket on Lenox Avenue (I think they will miss me too - I bought all of them!), and the friendly wine shop staff at the new store on 125th. I will miss the proximity to Central Park's North Woods  in every season, and the Conservatory Garden, and I will miss the quick subway ride to Inwood Hill park. I will not miss the summer squallor of Marcus Garvey Park's hill, its propositioning lurkers, the flasher, the gunshots and the drugs. I will not miss the casual racism on the street. I will not miss the weekend hatemongering preachers on the corner of 125th and Lenox. I will not miss the terrible sign above the church of ATLAH.

I will miss the diversity and the effortless courtesy of doors opening, and opened. I will miss being called honey by women I do not know and I will miss the song of hm, hm, hm. 

I will miss the high ceilings and tall windows of our apartment. I will not miss hysterically high electrical heating bills and the frigid winters.

I learned to bake sourdough here, to make cheese, and to blend vermouth and fizzy wild flower ferments. I last saw my cat here.  

I will not miss the terrible stove. 

I will miss the terrace and its weather. I will miss the lady yelling at me from her apartment across the way that my barbecue smells good. I will miss the cool-season, open-window belly-laughter of the Hyena Man who watches TV on a giant screen, and I will miss the virtuoso tunes of the Whistling Man, who lives nearby.

I will miss the doves, the red house finches, the single cormorant flying east every evening. I will miss the robin's song which lulled me to sleep on noisy nights.

Knowing a place takes time. Plotting the sun, reading the light, learning the birds, recognizing the voices. I like to walk a regular path. To see a shrub in all its seasons.

I have become attached, and have always resented letting go.

Close the book.

[Curiously - predictably - there is another Limbo post: October 2013, the month we moved to Harlem.]

Sunday, August 9, 2015

It begins

Today the small plants and furniture and boxes move to Brooklyn. Next week the movers will shift the big stuff.

The Alpine strawberries are ready.