09 March, 2012

Walk in my garden

As my garden muddles into autumn, in our mediterranean climate, without frost, we don’t expect fiery autumn colours. Nandina in Camps Bay barely managed a few red leaves. In Porterville we have a poster girl – For Autumn Colour in Your Garden!

Nandina for autumn colour
Nandina's fire against Plumbago's cool sky blue

Beth asks about lessons learnt in our garden. We chose this plot for the two 30 year old mountain ash trees. The Ungardener built me two concrete block planters, raised above the tree roots, away from the trunks. He is cross because he expected them to be filled with lush green, I’m disappointed because that was what I expected too. Big trees, plant for shade, right?

But it is dappled shade, OK for seedlings and cuttings to harden off. The hot afternoon breeze whips thru and char grills the leaves. I had planted lots of orange Clivia, brought from Camps Bay in happy pots. Discover much too late, that if the sun catches its leaves, they die. Somewhere in this garden I need serious shade for ferns and fragiles. The Streptocarpus is happy on the verandah.    

As my carefully chosen for shade plants murmur off into the sunset – it’s HOT in Porterville, I suddenly realised I’d have to admit defeat and plant succulents. Amazing that those huge waterfilled leaves, which get too hot to touch when the temperature is pushing 40C (104F) can survive. They must have the heat equivalent of anti-freeze! I have planted blocks and rows of South African Crassula ovata, Cotyledon orbiculata, Portulacaria afra, Plectranthus neochilus and Bulbinella. Plenty of flourishing mother plants to harvest cuttings from!

Ash planters
Ash planters with kei apples hardening off

Next lesson. Don’t wait almost five years, and whine that the Kniphofia doesn’t bloom. Then notice that the creeks are desperately overgrown. Should have been cut back each year. Now it is a LOT of hard work. First Plum Creek, which is smaller and easier. Did that in 2 days.

Plum Creek with Kniphofia and olifantsriet
Overgrown, then tidied up

Apple Creek and Elephant's Eye Light Railway is huge to work on. I feel like a mouse nibbling away at a piece of cheese. Or Alice in Wonderland – if seven maids with seven mops … do you suppose? Another week. Or two. The very fine green is kweek grass. Papyrus, Cyperus and bulrushes we planted. Then nature brought volunteer thugs. Water, the gang’s all here!

I remember geography lessons about the eutrophication of lakes. Silt and leaves. Reeds and grasses. Then the trees come and the standing open water is a memory. The shears snag on tree seedlings and the Gardener says tomorrow …

Apple Creek
Plumbago and tree seedlings
Overgrown and clipped 'lawn'

I cut back each bucketful and dump on the fig trees as mulch. There the bright green grass we battle is kikuyu. Long tough runners which keep coming back.

Fig trees mulched with grass and reed clippings

This is my foreign flowers slot, early for Bloom-Day-March. We have a smattering of roses, buds coming, but not an autumn flush. And none to pick for my mother yesterday, so I fall back on high summer roses – Aeonium from Morocco and Mexican Echeveria.

Tropical Sunset

Papa Meilland

Pictures and words by Diana of  Elephant's Eye 
- wildlife gardening in Porterville, near Cape Town in South Africa
(If you mouse over brown text, it turns shriek pink. Those are my links.) 


  1. It is always interesting to read what others learn in their gardens. And so much seems to depend on the weather and particular season and area. I am also a bit concerned about the future of Blotanical. I really enjoy having this community of gardeners in one spot. Although it is a bit buggy, I would not like to see it disappear.

  2. Sage Butterfly - I began my blog with Blotanical. Most of my circle of blogs I read, and bloggers who read me, and commenters are via Blotanical. Sad to see Blotanical fade.

  3. Looks lovely. Nandina is one of those plants you can't go wrong with and they add lots of color all year round in the garden. Your garden looks really healthy and happy:)

  4. Hi Diana. Your Nandina look beautiful with its fall leaves. Sounds like ti is still plenty hot in your area. Maybe you are longing for fall like I am for spring.
    I hope Stuart is able to figure out something for Blotanical. I think it got slow because it was growing so fast and was bogging down the system. It would be a big undertaking to keep it up. He has worked so hard to let it just go now. We well see. I am certain he could use some encouragement regardless.
    Have a wonderful weekend!

  5. Seems so strange that you need shade - we battle with it here, lots of plants cope but so many could do with a little more sun - as could I

  6. The Nandina looks spectacular and so do those Roses. What great colour. I've made the same mistake with 'dappled shade' and have had many plants singed badly because I didn't take enough notice of just how much sunshine was getting through the tree canopy during different parts of the day and during the different season. It sounds like your new planting choices will enjoy the space under those fantastic Ash Trees.

    Plum Creek is looking so much better for all your hard work. Apple Creek is obviously going to be a slightly harder job to clear out. We have the same problems with Kikuyu over here. It's a real problem, so hard to get rid of.

  7. I meant to add that I'm glad to see so many bloggers highlighting the quandary that Stuart is in with Blotanical. It has been a great platform for getting blogs out there and it would be such a shame to see it disappear. Hoping that there's an answer to the problems and it survives.

  8. Diana I love your Nandina and it orangey red color....amazing how hot it is in the shade...I remember school in Arizona where it could get 115 in the shade and you couldn't touch your car...

  9. What a lot of work you have done already, little and often I think we both decided for the future! Your Nandina has coloured up beautifully and must be the focal point of your garden at the moment.
    Do hope Blotanical continues, have met some super gardeners through it, would be such a shame for it to stop.

  10. I would be sad to see Blotanical go. Like others I too have discovered interesting blogs like yours. But I suppose what shall be will be. Let's wait and see.

  11. It must be intriguing to garden there. Your garden is charming.

  12. We battle different weeds, but the setting is the same. Fall is less colorful here than in the states to the north.

    I posted on the Forums about my Blot Sprout experience. I hope you'll compare it to yours. My Sprouts do NOT pick, except for Holley.

  13. Nell Jean - your turn at the forums. I have claimed your flung gauntlet.

  14. nice tree foliage to start your post Diane but the end was a surprise I haven't looked into blotanical for a few weeks just taking a wee break so surprised it might be ending, what a shame,

    interesting you were tempted to your house due to trees mine is the same reason, interesting to that though many of the plants we each grow are different due to the big difference in climate yet we both grow Kniphofia, not a native here but it seems very happy in my garden and copes with the wind staying green in winter, you have my sympathy dealing with tough grasses, Frances

  15. Dear Diana, Your autumn poster girl is stunning! I do hope Blotanical doesn't go under -- it has become an important part of my life. P. x

  16. I walked around my garden as well this weekend and realised that it needs some serious work. Now just to find some time to do it in.

  17. Nandina turns such a rich color--more satisfying than deciduous trees, in a way, because you know you won't be looking at bare branches for the next six months. I like your solution of planting succulents in that tricky dappled shade + heat + wind situation. The succulents here that can do OK w/ minimal water and freezing winter temps are all the prickly ones, alas.

    Thanks for the update re: Blotanical. I've drifted away from it for the most part, but not as a reflection on Blotanical--more a realistic gauge of my own energy level. It's such an incredible resource, and I'd hate to see it go away. No matter what anyone's current level of participation, most of our community of readers came from there, and it would be a pity if new blogs dwindled away alone for lack of that kind of resource.

  18. Gosh, Diana, your lessons are so well-thought out and articulated. And you brought up a couple of things that I really should have included in my lessons learned from previous seasons. Especially the "it took five years" lesson. Sometimes it's just so hard for me to change my frame of mind. Thanks, again, for joining in the memes!

  19. Diana, I had never thought about the difficulty of getting major garden projects done for those in hot climates. I hardly do anything in the heat of the summer -- and what I call "heat of the summer" would probably feel like a pleasant spring day to you! For those of us in north temperate climates, spring and fall are such good times to take on major projects. In spring, we're so anxious to get out and garden after the enforced idleness of winter, and a 50 F day feels so warm and wonderful. In fall, the days are crisp and cool, the bugs are gone, and we want to soak up as much outdoor time and sunshine as we can before winter.

    Thanks for the update on Blotanical. I had missed Stuart's latest post on this. I confess that I didn't take Stuart up on the invitation to plug the new Blotanical on my blog because I didn't feel confident that it would actually happen. -Jean

  20. Do you have issues with nandina escaping and being a pest? Some people (mostly in moister areas) have reported that. But It's still a backbone of many local landscapes.

    Thanks for the information on Blotanical. Something happened with Version 1 that made my time spent there frustrating, so I drifted away, like many others. In this quick-paced world the fickle or time-stressed (I aspire to be considered in the second category...) find other things. I hope the momentum can be regained. Blotanical was a great resource and community-builder in its heyday.

  21. James - I'm not aware of Nandina being invasive in South Africa, but I read about American gardeners battling with it. I see those nice red berries, and enthusiastic suckers - and watch warily.

  22. Diana your garden is looking absolutely lovely in spite of the heat we've been having.

    I see the comments about the Nandina - they are very well behaved in my garden.

  23. hi Diana, I must admit I haven't been active and rather disloyal to blotanical that was so useful in bringing us all together. It is all too easy to coast along in the blogosphere, certainly it can all be so overwhelming one has to work out a happy medium somehow.

    Re the lessons learned, I think all the time it's about working with nature, can't work against it. Because nature changes, we need to keep learning. Keeps us on our toes ...

  24. Oh, it's so interesting how some garden tasks can get away. You leave it for a short (?) time and suddenly - oops. I do lately tend to go the seven maids route and get help, still enough time to do all the other things in the garden.

    Happy bloom day!

  25. Diana,
    you make me happy. Even I´m lazy with blogging you support me, thanks a lot!!!

    It would be so sad, if Blotanical will close. Also my Blog was a product of the influence of Blotanical, I will not miss it and all the great garden-bloggers out there!!!

    Wish you a nice weekend in your wonderful hot and dry garden ;-)
    (aus dem frühlingshaften Berlin)

  26. I'm dealing with a garden thug grass. Will have to remove by runners. It's amazing how things get carried away when you have little time to devote to it.

  27. I've never thought of SA as having fall color. I thought your area was warm all year. I would get frustrated gardening in such heat. If I putter around the garden as many days as possible I can stay on top of all the tasks and not miss what's happening. But some days it's hard to do!


Photographs and Copyright

Photographs are from Diana Studer or Jurg Studer.
My Canon PowerShot A490

If I use your images or information, it will be clearly acknowledged with either a link to the website, or details of the book. If you use my images or words, I expect you to acknowledge them in turn.

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