Monthly Archives: May 2013

Pink and Golden Morning 29th May 2013

A week ago we’d had only 10% of the average rainfall for May and I really worried that I’d be blogging about the dry winter and all the flowers we might be missing because of it.  That may still be the case, but probably not because of the lack of rainfall in May, and if the predictions for the first two days in June are accurate, June should be accounted for almost before it starts.
I am learning to be grateful for the rain in Africa, though it doesn’t come easily to an Irish woman. Good rain here comes in 7 – 10 day waves and after a few days a break and a glorious pink and gold morning is truely welcome.  This morning was such a one – blue sky with pink and gold tipped clouds, fresh air and dampness in the scent and on the ground.  Happy dogs released from the contraints of the wet (largely spent on my bed) cavorting in the early light.
On our way up the mountain I saw this lovely pelargonium.  It is quite distinctive though not one I can identify.  We’ll call it the May Pelargonium as date of flowering is very relevant to ID.  It is hard to convey the delicate charm of these flowering shrubs – they flower all winter, spring and summer and I have successfully transplanted a few to the garden.  The flowers tend to be tiny and hard to photograph, in situ they charm completely, epitomising all that is delicate, fragrant and fragile.
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The flowers on the mountain seem destined to confuse me and I have been worried about the Neirine I thought I’d seen.  The petals of the Nerine turn back on themselves and I couldn’t see that in the flowers I posted the other day.  As usual the flowers themselves came to my rescue.  At the top of the farm, beside a path we take almost every time we go out, the same coral petals greeted me this morning, waving in the dawn light and the gentle breeze.  Clearly, so very clearly, a member of the Gladiolus family, although this subspecies is not in my book.  What an amazing colour.  I’m glad it pops up in a couple of different places, it means there are probably a lot more of them on the farm, even if we don’t see them.
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In my attempt to confirm the sighting I tried to climb down this afternoon to get a closer look at the flower on the bank – but failed, the bank got too steep and my nerve failed me.   Heading up the farm in the afternoon light reminded me that at this time of year I miss a lot in the early mornings when these flowers are tightly furled, the colours invisible. During the day they unfurl and show themselves to the light.  The Oxalis stud the entire farm in yellow, white, pink and blue, like stars everwhere.  Their perfection is hard to photograph, the blues and pinks are easier than the white.
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There are friends that enchant every day, and in the increasingly gloomy afternoon light as more rain swept in across the Western Cape, this shining golden yellow Leucodendron with a wild rosemary behind it makes me think again that our wild garden could not be bettered by the work of the best landscape artists.  The shrubs find a harmony of their own.  It is fun to find new things of course, but often the best pleasure is in this greeting of old friends in a new light.
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The dogs gamely followed me down the slope as I tried to find our nerine/gladiolus and I was quite impressed at their tenancity.  Climbing up was easier than climbing down and as we climbed we came across this Erica.  It could be one of several tubular Ericas and I see that the need to acquire more detail reference books is becoming urgent.  This captures it perfectly – it is not the most lovely example of these fascinating flowers, but I like it’s fleshy abundance and they are prolific and will be everywhere soon.
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The Guernsey Lily and other stories –

Writing this blog involves a lot of leafing through books trying to identify the flowers.  My favourite and the best that I’ve found so far is called Field Guide to Fynbos by John Manning.  It seems remarkably comprehensive, very detailed and I’m very grateful for it.

One thing I have learned is that small, daisy like purple and yellow flowers are quite hard to identify with pinpoint accuracy.  The devil, as always, is in the detail.  One has to note leaves, shape, colour, and plenty of tiny details involving the language of the botanist.  The purpose of this blog is not to bore a reader with the science; at the same time reasonably accurate identification of the plants means I must learn something of it myself.  As time goes on I should get better at it.
This has been a busy week and included some travel which means I’ve been out on the farm less than I like.  Luckily here were a few flowers I found last Sunday that I hadn’t taken the time to identify and it’s a rainy Sunday today, the mountain unphotogenically covered in dense cloud, so it’s a good day to spend leafing through the reference books.
This stunning purple daisy-like flower looks like a Felicia, of which we have lots on the farm, though they are not quite in flower yet.  Closer study reveals a white circle at the base of the petals which, combined with the shape of the petals (I really must take care not to become too much of a geek about this) makes me think it must be a subspecies of Senecio.  It looks quite like Senecio Sophioides which is not due to flower until July but it could be a close relation.  There are 80 fynbos subspecies of Senecio and not all are in the book.
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I am a little more confident with the next identification despite the fact that the yellow daisy-like flower is the commonest of all, seen on lots of different shrubs.  Still, this one is quite distinct so I’m going to identify it as Ursinia.  Again it’s not flowering at quite the same time of year as the sub-species in the books, but it is quite distinctive for a yellow daisy-ish thing.
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The day after I saw the Brown Afrikaner I saw another gorgeous bulb.  When it comes to bulbs there are two exceptionally prolific areas (that I’ve identified) on the farm and luckily one of them is the bank along the drive.  Running down the drive the other morning I caught a flash of red and stopped to see this; high on the bank above us.  It’s a south facing bank which doesn’t get much sunlight at this time of year.  I stopped several times as I drove up and down the drive and managed to catch one shot late in the day with the sun behind it.   I’ll go and have a look this week if the weather improves but I don’t know if I’ll find more of these so although the photo isn’t great, I decided to publish it in any case. I couldn’t get close enough to identify it with pinpoint accuracy – I can’t believe I’m going to have to bring field glasses with me to identify flowers. I’m pretty sure it’s a Nerine though. It is a lovely thing.

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Nerine Sarniensis or Guernsey Lily
 

There is a multitude of shrubs on the farm with shapes that are unique and rather strange; not familiar to anyone who grew up in the herbaceous gardens of Europe, even those filled with exotic flora.  A feature of these, and we’ll have lots of examples over the coming months, is that the leaves grow close to the stem, all the way up a long stalk, with the flower heads clustered at the top.  One of these is Metalasia Densa, coming into flower now, – a prolific flowering which will last for the next six months.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of these shrubs on the farm.

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Gladiolus Maculatus or The Brown Afrikaner – 21 May 2013

Today’s blog is devoted to a single flower.  Trotting wearily up the hill this morning, not expecting or needing to see anything new. We still have unposted species from Sunday’s collection, so I was not desperate for revelations of glory.  Looking into the lands I suddenly saw this single, ultra elegant stem with a graceful flower greeting the morning.  This is a gladiolus.

We have quite a few of different sub-species on the farm, of the 105+ that are found in the fynbos region.  Most flower in spring so I’m going to be brave and identify this one as Gladiolus Maculatus or The Brown Afrikaner.

The Brown Afrikaner flowers precisely at this time of year and the only problem is it likes mainly clay slopes in renosterveld.  Most of our fynbos likes granite and sandstone slopes for that is our main habitat.  Still, looks just like the photo, has a delicious, spicy fragrance and flowers at the right time of year.  And who can resist the name?  There are also Large Brown Afrikaners and Small Brown Afrikaners, the latter flower in the spring and we definitely have them here on the farm.  

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Arum Lilies, a dedication and 11 new species/subspecies

On the 19th of May I think of my brother Mark, who’s birthday this is, and this blog is dedicated to him.  Peonies are my favourite flowers because they bloomed in our garden the day he was born and I picked some to bring to the hospital the first day I met him.

Yesterday I took the dogs for a walk in the evening and as we crossed the dam wall I saw the first Arum Lily of the year.  I’ve seen them on the roadside already; all winter the roadsides and fields are covered in them – amazing that something so rare and precious in Europe should be a common winter wildflower here.  They thrive in watery places and the streams and banks on the farm are covered in them, hence this first sighting.  Before our run this morning I took this photograph – the flower shimmered against the brown dam water – its perfection needs no embelishment.

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Then off we went for our favourite weekend run.  The northern boundry of the farm abutts the nature reserve and the lower slopes of the reserve are covered by a commercial pine forest.  Crazy in this environment where the fynbos needs to burn every seven years or so in order to regenerate but if the forest goes up it will be a disaster, not least because there is a village in the middle of it.  That said, we love it.  On hot days it’s a joy to run through the forest’s dappled light and today was an unusually hot autumn day.  Once we leave the property both wolfhounds go on the lead.  I probably look a bit ridiculous running along with these two huge dogs, one of which weighs more than I do, but even with baboon sightings they are too polite to pull me over or the lead out of my hand.  A passing cyclist generates no more than an enthusiast tug from the dogs, and pedals all the faster when he sees them.  They are gentle giants but look quite fierce; this may be Africa, but I feel perfectly safe.
As we set off I was thinking that surely I wouldn’t find anything new on the farm – after all a few days ago I photographed everything I could see.  Now I’m curious to see how the year goes, because in one day I’ve identified 11 new species and subspecies, not all of which I’ll talk about yet but still; 11.  And as I think about it 12 because I saw the buds of one of very favourite flowers about to bloom and didn’t take a picture as the months to come will offer splendid opportunities to capture it at its best.  Out I went thinking, probably won’t see anything new today and 11 new things pop up.  This bodes well for our blogging year.
We ran later than usual so the Oxalis, mentioned in a previous blog, are all showing off in the glorious autumn sunlight and as soon as we left the house I notice this lovely yellow version, on the banks of the roadside and also in the lands, this in the last couple of days.  There are 120 Oxalis fynbos subspecies so forgive me if I dont’ try and identify this one which doesn’t have a perfect match in my book.
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While on the subject of Oxalis, I published a picture of one from the southern part of the farm which I described as unusual.  Clearly I shall be humbled by this blog; this flower may be unusual on the southern boundry, but in the north of the farm these jewel-like flowers are everywhere.  There is one road in particular which always has the best display of flowers and of course it is littered with these lovely pinky white stars.  On closer study I believe it may be Oxalis Argyrophylla.
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While photograhing those I noticed this creeping pink Oxalis with finer leaves and a creeping or rambling disposition.  I can’t identify it but it is most certainly a different and very charming sub-species.
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Ericas or heathers are one of the great marvels of fynbos and the flowers take many forms, often bells or trumpets, others less musical.  The trumpets are to my mind the most beautiful of all – and this coral version has started to flower in the past week or so.  The morning light was not good enough to capture it and I had a busy Sunday afternoon in the garden so I asked Peter to take me up to the top of the farm this afternoon to capture it in the southwestern sunlight.
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This expedition led to several more sightings which I’ll share during the course of the week – too much for one blog.  One thing I saw late last night, photographed this morning and again this afternoon is this tiny, delicate flower, of which I could find only one example in the middle of a fertile piece of road.  Initially I thought it must be yet another of the 120 sub-species of Oxalis but on looking at this photo that’s clearly not the case; the leaves are all wrong. I think it must be Chaenostoma, yet those in my book are all shrubs and this is somewhat standalone. Perhaps this plant will develop over the years, or I shall find others that permit a more accurate identification.  Delicate, delightful, terribly discrete and utterly charming.
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Finally – what on earth is this?  It looks like it belongs in a very smart herbaceous border, yet here it is, casually on the roadside, red berries glistening in the afternoon sun.  Further investigation is clearly required and we need to see what the flowers look like.  What a beauty.  And if you look closely you will note the little violet wild lobelia flowers growing through it.
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15 May 2013 Misty morning run, sunlit evening departure

Here I am, sitting in a hotel room in London, going through the photos and evoking the memory of my morning run the day we left.  I can smell the wild rosemary and the cool misty air and imagine the rush of happy hounds as they head off to inspect all their favourite places.

The night before I left I had a meeting in Cape Town and driving up the drive at about 11.30 at night a huge presence emerged out ofthe night.  It was such a surprise that it took a second for recognition to kick in .  A porcupine, a large, ungainly porcupine with his quills fanned in outrage as he bumbled off the road and into the night.  What a lovely sighting.  We’ve always known they are on the farm because we see their quills, but our first ever sighting was only a month ago on the same road, so he must have changed his routine and perhaps we’ll see more off him. I didn’t have the presence of mind to photograph him; maybe next time I’ll be quicker.
I went early for my run the day I left and it was too dark to see much or to take good photos.  There are mornings when the valley is covered with fog, lapping at the foothills like waves on the beach. The world below us disappears and we float on the white sea clothed in clear morning light.
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Not such a good day for flowers but I did capture one photo of Seamus looking particularly like himself, standing in his favourite spot.  It’s a little dark, but you get an idea of him.
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Some plants seem to capture the light and glow in the gloom.  One of the is the Leucodendron, a close relation of the protea.  I’ll write more about these when I get home, the farm is covered in them and they are the most elegant of plants.

13 May 2013

There are days when I bound up the mountain followed by happy dogs, fully of the joys of, not spring as it’s autumn here, but certainly the joys of life and the beauty of this place in the morning light.  And there are other days, probably far more frequent, when the run is more of a plod, as the busy life we lead catches up, sleep is never enough and despite the glories to be found on the mountain it’s an effort to drag myself out there.  Yesterday was one of those other days.

Luckily there was lots to photograph so I had plenty of excuses to stop and to take my time and the usual morning run took much longer than it should have.

The first excitement is that the wild rosemary is in flower.  Like the buchu that we farm it is cultivated for the perfume industry.  The shrub is a little nondescript thing, a few grey tendrils coming out of the ground, until it flowers and then these exquisite flowers emerge at the top of each branch.  Very common, they are all over the place at the moment.

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Eriocephalus africanus or Wild Rosemary
Many of the flowering fynbos have a long season – one of them is the fynbos version of salvia.  It starts to flower in late November or early December and it’s still flowering prolifically now.  There are several of these bordering the roads where we run and they are like friends we great every day for half the year.  Coming towards the end of their season now and flowering as vigorously as ever.

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Salvia chamelaeagnea

As we run, or should I say plod, up the path that goes through the olive groves to the top of the farm, we pass this fearsome, stunning shrub.  I showed this photo to Peter, my husband and he wryly acknowledged that he knows it all too well.  Like many South African farmers he likes to wear shorts and sometimes comes home with his legs ripped to shreds.  This chap is one of the culprits.  But look at what a stunning chap he is.  I actually managed to get a shot of the small thorn-head in focus, grey with tiny spikes of gold set in little balls.  A bigger version could be a medieval weapon of war.  I don’t know what this is, there’s lots of it about and it must be pretty common and I will identify it sooner or later and post the name.

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One of the most varied and most prolific fynbos varieties we have are the Ericas.  You know this species as heather.  The amazing thing about Ericas is that they grow all over Africa and Europe but 80% of the species grow in Southern Africa and there are 660 fynbos sub-species.  Quite a few of these grow on this farm, so there will be plenty of Ericas in the blog.  Here’s the first one, another long standing friend who flowers throughout the hot months, giving us lovely purple-mauve flashes on the mountain when all else is hiding deep underground away from the relentless sun.  I don’t know which of the 660 this one is.  Will have to get a book or two on Ericas – there are plenty more to come.

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One of the 660 subspecies of Erica resident in the region

Finally, there I was, puffing along, when I saw a little group of tiny pink whorls.  Pulled up and investigated.  A little flower head with flowers tightly furled waiting for more daylight.  I drove up later to catch them open.  I haven’t identified it but it looks and behaves like Oxalis so that’s what we’ll call it.  Completely different to the Oxalis I photographed a few days ago with their clover-like leaves, and that is the enduring joy of fynbos.

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Oxalis?

10 May 2013

Some flowers are at their best in the subtle light of dawn and dusk while others curl up and go to sleep, only showing off their brilliance in the full light of day. I was driving home yesterday afternoon, wondering if I really was going to find enough flowers on this farm to justify a whole year of blogging, when I noticed the bank was studded with pink and white flowers. When I’m out running early in the morning they are all but invisible but during the day they are everywhere, on the banks, on the roads and all over the lands.

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Oxalis Purpurea

These come in a multitude of colours and at least a couple of varieties that I’ve noted here on the farm. What I love about them is that they seem to be the first bulbs to flower each year, showing almost immediately after the first rains. Of all the fynbos bulbs are among the most delightful, highly localised in terms of where they grow, often so fragile that one wonders they can survive at all, hugely varied and the first sighting of a favourite flower each year is always a moment of private joy, very Wordsworth, somewhat hackneyed yet so true. We’ll be having some surprised by joy moments I’m afraid.

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Oxalis Purpurea

While photographing the Oxalyis I saw a different flash of white, something I hadn’t noticed before. It’s one of those I’m not certain of, yet so distinctive that I think it must be Stachys Aethiopica. It was quite hard to capture and if I see more out there I’ll try and get a better shot. A very distinctive white flower and the leaves were used medicinally in the past; the common English name is woundwort.

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Stachys Aetheopica

Part of the fun is identifying the plants as it lends a component of detection to my day. Sometimes I’ll get it wrong. When the yellow lobelia I thought I’d identified last week started to show tiny little fluffy seedheads I thought “that can’t be right” and went back to the book. Indeed I should have known better as I grew up with a garden that had lots of senecio in it and this turns out to be Senecio pubigerus.

Protea nerifolia 4/5/2013

Senecio Pubigerus

I have been trying to get a bit fitter this week as I’m riding in a show at the weekend, so for a couple of days I’ve been running twice a day. One evening the light was exceptional, it was too dark to take flower photos but I could not resist a couple of sunset shots and a rare picture of Maebh the Irish Wolfhound standing still. And a picture of the farmhouse as we crossed over the dam wall when it was very nearly dark.

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