Thursday, February 20, 2020

Hiking in Cape Town: Silvermine


Gladiolus, somewhere between G. undulatus and G. monticola. 

[This post was first published on March 29th, 2009. After Googling a hike-time for Silvermine I landed up on my own blog. This post. Funny. Everything seen and documented ten years ago is true now, so I re-posted it.]

"The entire Cape Floristic Region averages 94 species per 1000 square km, making it much more diverse than any other part of the world. California and Southwestern Australia, two other Mediterranean regions, have respective average diversities of 14 and just under 12 species per 1,000 square km...Within the Cape Floristic Region, fynbos alone may contain between 150 and 170 species per 1,000 square km, an astonishing two or three times that measured for tropical rainforests..."

John Manning, Field Guide to Fynbos, 2007

Vince and I, two corgis and one black lab, set off from the eastern section of Silvermine, easily defined as lying on the eastern side of Ou Kaapse Weg, one afternoon after lunch at home. There are several possible routes one can follow from the car park, but we wanted a shortish walk of about three hours, and headed off towards the Amphitheatre*. I was relying on memory and an old map from Jose Berman's out-of-roint hiking book (circa 1976), but we should have had the up-to-date Slingsby's Silvermine Map.

* Confusingly, there are two Amphitheatres at Silvermine: One above Boyes Drive on the Kalk Bay (eastern) side, and the Amphitheatre Path around the reservoir (western side).

Slingsby's are excellent maps and I would encourage visitors to the Cape to purchase several (Table Mountain, Hout Bay, Cape Point) , and then use them. Very few tourists consider hiking proper (i.e. with backpacks, proper shoes and a MAP) when they come to the Cape Peninsula, and this omission deprives them of an unforgettably rich lifetime experience.

Table Mountain might look flat (or in our accent, flet) from the front, but it contains mountains within the mountain. The Table Mountain National Park itself extends right to the tip of the Cape Peninsula, with hundreds of hiking trails crisscrossing it, with plants and views unique to each.


Ah, Romulea, But you are not in Mr Manning's book. Growing almost flat on the sandy soil leading steeply up to the Amphitheatre, and as dense as gentians. Known as African bluebells.


For better ID'ing I have ordered Wild Flowers of Table Mountain, from England. Amazon had never heard of it. However Amazon did have Cape Peninsula: No. 3: South African Wild Flower Guide" by M.M. Kidd. A whopping $55. But I still have credit on my Christmas gift card. Thanks, Boss. Sold. So hopefully I will be saying "I think..." a little less often when it comes to plant names.


Pelargonium cucullatum, and the first and easiest I ever learned to recognize, as a twelve-year-old newly moved to the Cape from the grasslands of the Free State.


On a hill overlooking Ou Kaapse Weg, this Protea speciosa grew right next to the path.


I have seen these pelargoniums two years in a row now, in relative abundance beside these paths, growing out of dry sand banks, with leaves frizzled to nothing. I think they are P. pinnatum. What I love about these walks is that you see one flower for a few metres, and then another, and then more of the second, and so on, so that always there are localized pockets of something new. And this was a midsummer hike, not exactly the most floriferous time of year.

"At every step a different plant appeared; and it is not an exaggerated description, if it should be compared to a botanic garden...so great was the variety everywhere to be met with."

William Burchell, journal entry for the last week of November 1810.


Flax - Heliophila, no idea which species. And blooming late...it seemed to be a late year in general.


Thereianthus, and again not sure which one - the last time I walked here I saw them showing only their tantalizing drying stalks. With petals they are lovely!


This stunning, shrubby erica, dripping with waxy white and green blooms, grew on the path down into the Amphitheatre, just after False Bay had come into view. Sunbirds darted about, drinking their nectar. No luck ID'ing, as it does not seem to match the white ericas in my book.


Poor, short-legged corgis. I had told them the walk would be gentle. I had completely forgotten a steep, boulder-climbing section. Not having a collapsable water dish, we poured their water into one of the honeycombed sandstone boulders on the way. Here is Ted, slurping it up.

They said a lot in Welsh, and from the tone none of it apparently noy especially flattering to my person.


Lobelia, of course. L. coronopifolia.


Lachnaea grandiflora - mountain carnation, or bergangelier. They can also be pink. 


Polygala - butterfly bush.


Protea nitida, I think. For some reason I never paid much attention in the past to the proteas, most famous of the fynbos flowers. This one grew low down on a shrub about 8 feet high.


Back on the home stretch, Ben flopped into the pool above the waterfall.


And in the thicker, grassy vegetation behind the pool I found several more of these gladioli. The colouring looks like G. monticola but the form and habitat resembles more G. undulatus. Help.


Coming full circle. And home (10-minute drive) before dark. Obviating the necessity for a posse led by my father, which is what I found in the driveway the last time I returned, with Marijke, well after sunset, from this circuit.

Some hiking tips for visitors (and the first one I need to um, obey too. I hate hats):

1. Wear a hat or sunscreen. Our sun will burn a hole in you.
2. Take a sweater and a light waterpoof jacket no matter what the weather looks like. Up there is not like down here.
3. Take water and a snack
4. Tell someone exactly where you are going. Write it down.
5. Do not hike alone.

Mountain rescue: 021-937-0300 (updated February 2020)
More Mountain Rescue info


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February 2020: What happens in ten years? 

My father (23 November 2018), and Ben (9 March 2012) and Teddy (22 January 2020), are no more. 

I no longer have a boss to give me Christmas gift cards, and am my own. I also have far less time for ID'ing South African flowers. 

The Frenchman's generous vacations have shrunk as the flexible start-up he worked for become a publicly traded corporation. This year he spent six days in Cape Town, rather than weeks. He still works his tail off and I never forget it.

In ten years we moved three times, I made three gardens (aside from those designed for others, of course), and wrote two books. In November of that year I went for my first official forage walk, and now I lead my own.

Some things don't change. My hiking companion is still the love of life. And that life is good.

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Friday, February 14, 2020

Grenadilla Mousse


Grenadillas are dropping off the vine at my mother's house, and in Cape Town supermarkets they are abundant and cheap. Time to make mousse!

Head over to 66 Square Feet (the Food) for my grenadilla mousse recipe.

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Thursday, February 6, 2020

Suddenly, it is summer


And just like that (snaps fingers), you are in another hemisphere. Another season. Another climate.

The dark afternoons become long, light evenings. Fog-shrouded and brown winter trees become rich green summer canopies, roaring like rivers in the wind. Brooklyn to Constantia, home to home, but neither, and never.

To anyone closely tuned to plants and to the minutely unfolding sequence of the changing seasons (botanist, farmer, forager, gardener, grower, seasonal eater) this sudden contrast - happening within 24 hours -  is as unnerving as it is miraculous.

I will be back in New York by very early spring, but for the southern summer month of February I am in changeable Cape Town. I landed in stifling heat, but as I type on this evening patio (where we ate by candlelight last night) in the lee of a cloud-shrouded mountain, it is now sweater-cold. On the other side of the mountain, facing the Atlantic, they are probably basking in the evening's golden sunlight.

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Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Daylight Savings Walk - Jamaica Bay

Snow geese at Jamaica Bay. Photo: Vincent Mounier

The Good, the Bad, and the Berry (2 tickets left)
Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge
8 March 2020
12pm - 2.30pm
Tickets: $52

Today the clocks are set an hour forward. Come and celebrate the end of dark afternoons with a brisk plant identification walk followed by a picnic featuring the flavors we have seen.

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is where New York's contradictions of populated skyline and free range nature meet in a fascinating intersection of estuary, wetland, beach, field uplands and woods.


Late winter and early spring show us undressed shrubs where tempting drupes and berries persist. Some of them are delicious.


Some of them are not. What are they? Friend, or foe? 


Learn to tell the difference between native and Asian bittersweet.


Edible and poisonous fruits. Which is which?


The refuge has a wild and exposed western side. Waterfowl like snow geese like to overwinter here, and if we are lucky we will spot them.


A viewing platform allows access to the wetland's edge.


The quieter eastern side of the refuge is where woodland and swamp meet. 


On our walk we will meet a range of Northeastern native shoreline plants, like pine and juniper, and in our post-walk hot toddy we will taste them.


Fragrant male eastern red cedars will be bursting with pollen.


And spring's luscious shoots will be disguised in winter's skeleton forms. 


This is the time to identify common edible plants for future forages.


Our wild-inspired picnic will feature a hot and fragrant toddy as well snacks checking the invasivore and native flavor boxes. (Yes, in a wild food world, such boxes exist.)

Despite the date, March can be the snowiest month in the city, so be ready with boots, mittens, and ear warmers, in case.

The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is reached by car (lots of parking), bus, or by the A train (to broad Channel - a 15 minute walk away). Thanks to the National Parks Service (and our tax dollars) there is a very civilized bathroom on site.

(To learn more about my walks, or to join my mailing list for future outings, please visit the Forage Walks and Events page.)



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More Spring Walks
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