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 up start 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.)
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