Author Archives: fynbosblog

Solace

I struggle to get running.  Peter smiles to himself as he watches me procrastinate, putting off the dreaded moment when one foot must go in front of the other and the mountain must be climbed.  That has been especially true in the last few weeks.  Once I’m up there it’s a different story.  The endless redeeming beauty of the farm is a balm for the soul.  Especially at this time of year when the mountain is covered with flowers.  I photograph them to share them with the world, but you really have to come here to see how prolific they are.  I grew up in a country of great beauty and thought that I would never love any sight so much as when I rode along the Kilquade Road at dawn, before school or university, with the sun rising over the Irish Sea on my left and the Wicklow mountains looming dark and sultry on my right, the almond scent of the gorse on a May morning in the air.  Or coming over the top of the hill after riding through the woods at Belleview; the whole county would lie sparkling before us, glittering all the way to Wicklow Head. Horses love a view and will stand like sentinels, gazing ‘eyes burning like two huge worlds… the mane lifting like the imperial purple.”

I love this farm every bit as much.  Winter is especially joyful because unlike the winters of the north, here the weather is mild and the land springs to life after the long thirst of summer.  Today is springlike, which means 25 degrees, a rare warm summer temperature in my native land.  Birds breed in winter and early spring and the fynbos is full of the flutterings and song of parenthood.  On quiet still evenings at sunset the higher places have the quality of a cathedral, that silent stillness, the deep quiet like a breath drawn in and not yet released.  Such evenings have been a great solace over the past few weeks.

There are so many flowers.  I have grouped them together below and if you move your cursor, or touch them on a device, the names should pop up.

We fell a little out of our running habits for a short while.  Then I realised that Maebh was very down and she needed to get out and enjoy her farm again.  A new puppy has arrived, she was horrified at first; now she has taken him into her heart.  Her own puppy nature is coming out and she will play patiently and surprisingly gently with him for hours.   She is suddenly wild and free on the mountain as these pictures of her chasing and running show.  Jemima Chew on the other hand is rather stately around the puppy.  She has already brought up two wolfhounds and clearly has no intention of bringing up a third, fortunately she is gentle soul, but she delegates the playing to Maebh.

So I run on, sharing this special mountain farm with the dogs and its flowers with the world.  And all the while a gentle grey ghost runs alongside me, deeply rooted in my soul.

The lovely Arum lily grows wild in the Western Cape.  They line the roads and grow in damp places, along streams which is where we find them on the farm.  Lebostemon fructicosa comes in blue and in pink.  The blue is especially pretty and lights up the paths on dark days.

 

This delicate pincushion is Leucospermum lineare, known as “The Vulnerable”.  It is rare and endangered but grows happily along the drive and is safe with us.

This is the tarpea, the rambling Boluafra bituminosa.

Two early spring flowers, the crocus-like Babinia fragrans and the waxy coral coloured microloma tenufolium which winds it’s way all over the farm, sending out tiny flashes of red.

And a couple of views in the winter light.  The effulgent green of Leucadendron salignum.  Effulgent is not a pretty word but it means shining forth brilliantly which is exactly what these lovely shrubs do on a winter morning.  In the second, the mountains are framed with the still flowering Protea repens.

 

 

Seamus

Run after run I sometimes bound, but much more often plod, up the mountain, excited to see the new flowers, to photograph them and share them with the world.  My constant companions have been the dogs:  Jemima Chew, the pavement special who specialises in hunting; Maebh, the charming, goofy, wildly athletic and very photogenic wolfhound who runs like the wind.  And Seamus who has won so many hearts with his gentle demeanour, huge size and quiet insistence that there simply isn’t enough love in the world for an Irish Wolfhound, but it is incumbent upon us to try.

Under a huge blue gum tree in the garden, close to the house with a view over the mountains, there is a levelled area, covered in stone collected off the land.  Seamus is at rest there now.  He left us on Sunday morning, suddenly and with typical dignity.  We knew his heart was weakening, but he had spent his morning as enthusiastic as always, delighted to have us both at home, barking at our guests and waving them goodbye.  Before quietly slipping away to the eternal peace he deserves.

All dog lovers have special dogs, the unforgettable ones.  Seamus was like a person.  Dogs are not supposed to have a sense of humour, but Seamus undoubtedly did.  He very nearly spoke English, we were never in any doubt about what he wanted;  his needs were simple.  Food, a farm to explore, an endless supply of love and a comfortable sofa where he could play at being a lapdog.

image

Seamus and Peter

And running together on the farm in search of the fynbos for this blog. The runs slowed to calmer strolls in the last year as his heart grew weaker.  Over the years Seamus and I covered every inch of the farm in the search for flowers.  He had a favourite spot where he would stand and look at the view every morning.  I went there this morning and photographed it in this winter dawn, our favourite time of year.  The morning was damp and cool for running and the winter flowers proliferate on the mountain.  Seamus we were so very lucky to have you with us for nine years, one month and one week.  Your spirit will run free on this place and you live forever in our hearts.

image

His favourite view in the winter dawn

 

 

 

 

A quiet walk

For once I don’t have much to say.  Luckily the rain has been falling and the flowers on this beautiful mountain speak for themselves.  This is the exquisite Morea tripetala that grows all over the farm.  It is tiny, like a little iris.

Mulratia heisteria flowers all year round, and is especially prolific when the winter rains arrive in force.  The waterfall is roaring and the whole place is damp.  I am beginning to quite like the rain…

 

image

The delicate Stachys aethiopica grows all through winter and spring along damp banks.  Being delicate it sways in the slightest breeze which makes it difficult to get a perfectly focused photograph.

image

Of course we should be famous for our Ericas.  We have dozens of different varieties and this, Erica plukenetii, has just begun its long flowering season.  It comes in white and a particularly delicate shade of pink.  It’s supposed to flower all year round but here on the farm it likes the cool damp of winter and the gentle warmth of spring.

 

I’m not sure I’ve seen this before.  I think it may be a Geissorhiza but I am not sure which one.  There are 80 fynbos species so that’s not entirely surprising.  I must post it on iSpot and see if the experts can tell me.

The proteas and leucadendrons have been fabulous on evening runs.  Lucadendron salignum, Protea nerifolia, and Protea nitida.

Finally, Seamus the wolfhound, legend of many many spectacular runs on this farm is not well tonight.  Wolfhounds are susceptible to heart conditions and at nine years old it is not surprising that his heart is not the best.  He hasn’t been running on the mountain for the past year; here is a photo from a recent stroll, I hope we shall have many more.

image

 

Could try harder

The blog has suffered because I’ve gone back to school.  I’m doing a Masters in Philosophy in Coaching (MPhil means you do a significant research piece, that’s for next year).  Weeks like this one, spent at the business school, are intensive and in between there’s lots of study and lots of writing.  Along with launching my new business there’s just about time to run but not much time to write about it.

One of the subjects I was thinking about tonight on the run was the challenge of confidence and humility in business leaders, and specifically in myself as a leader and a coach.  I’d say I don’t have enough of either.  Confidence isn’t too hard to think about.  I don’t want to waffle on so in a nutshell, in many ways confidence is everything, it allows you to be grounded and forget yourself so that you can immerse yourself in the flow of whatever it is you are doing.  Lacking an edge of confidence might not be a bad thing though.  In my case it’s the endless “could try harder” I got as a child instead of positive reinforcement in the form of praise.  Yet it gives me an edge, makes me work a bit harder.  I’m a bit of an Avis type: I may not be No 1 but I try do harder.

Humility as a notion is altogether more difficult.  I’m trying to uncouple the notion from the famous role models like Mandela, Ghandi and Mother Teresa.  They may be shining examples of humility but it’s a public and political humility.  The kind I’m trying to understand is a humility that a great business leader or star sportsman or woman can epitomise.  Utterly genuine, held in a context of great work or great sporting success.  How can you develop and encompass that humility?  Indeed what is it?

These are the questions the study leads me to consider…

The evening was mild with heat from the warm day beating up into the cooling air and as we ran along the path at the very top of the farm we came across one of my favourite flowering bulbs, the gold and brown Gladiolus maculata.  Elegant and queenly, the flower heads arched into the path in front of us.

The Eriocephalus africanus is early this year compared to last – as are many flowers – the warm wet autumn must have a lot to do with it.

As we ran down the mountain Maebh paused and the last rays from the west caught the ghostly tips of her coat, illuminating her in the evening light.

image

I have so many other flowers to post, but this magical evening run deserved a blog to itself.

 

A song of Africa

I left the house this morning and ran into sparkling air.  The last few days have been hot and humid, then overnight a cold front swept through, no rain but damp cool air that wiped away the humid heat like thick dust off a table, leaving the day glossy, clean, gleaming in the morning light.

The northern boundary of the farm overlooks olive groves that belong to Buffet Olives and as it is the harvest there are teams of migratory workers, picking olives.  As I ran along the northern road the sound of singing floated upwards, filling the air with joy, with the traditional echoes of African labour, with the soul of the continent; not something we often hear in the Cape, the deep, moving voice of Africa.  I felt very blessed as I ran upwards, away from the echoing song.

A year ago we were bemoaning the lack of rain, indeed by the end of April we had yet to see a drop.  This year we’ve already had the first 40mm and the mountain is flourishing with life.  The Protea repens always flowers early of course and this blog is devoted to what used to be South Africa’s national flower.  With the rain and the proteas come the birds, sunbirds and sugarbirds that flit among the fynbos, sipping from the rich sweetness held in each white cup and beginning their hunt for mates and the winter breeding season.  I see them, but because I have not the patience to try and photograph them, they are one of the subtle hidden delights of our farm life.

Growing up in Ireland I was never a fan of the autumn.  The promise of short cold days held few delights for me.  Here it is different, autumn is like spring, it brings a renewed flourishing, filling dams with water and the mountain with flowers.  It draws away the summer heat and gives us the promise of rain and fine cool sunny days.  As we ran through the guava orchard, poorly tended though it is, the unique fuggy sweet scent of ripening guavas filled the air we breathed.  In a few weeks we’ll enjoy stewed guavas for breakfast, another autumn delight.

Proteas repens comes mostly in glossy greeny white.  Sometimes the edges are tipped with pink, and sometimes the outside of the petals is entirely pink, a rich colour set off by the bright green leaves.  It borders the roads on the farms and dots the lands that we leave wild to the fynbos.  It is the harbinger of autumn delights.

This perfect day ended in a gorgeous sunset, the pink and orange light setting west-northwest and the colours reflecting in the dam.

image

Late Summer Mountain

Late summer on the mountain balances that edge of raw harsh climate and scarcity of water, with the joyous beauty of light on rock, jewels flowering in the brilliant sunsets,  golden skies reflecting in still water and howling winds, cooling, destroying what they touch yet bearing promise of rain to come.

After a hot December and a scorching January when we thought we could bear it no more, the weather softened and the late summer has been quite mild, much milder than last year.  We’ve even had days of cloud, drizzle and a proper deluge or two.  Not enough to replenish our waterways, but perhaps enough to stop them from drying up altogether.  More rain lies on the short term horizon and we have the confidence to hope that the drought may come to an end in the coming months.  Not soon enough to save the winter crops, but maybe for next spring and summer.

As always there are flowers that thrive despite the season.  And as I write the first proteas are blooming and will feature on the next blog.  Meanwhile the Protea nitida is putting forth its new growth, a glorious scarlet against a cloudy morning.

image

Flowers that survive the heat include the gorgeous Erica abietina with its fabulous coral trumpets and the yellow heads of Aspalanthus abietina which so resembles the gorse on the Wicklow mountains that I wait hopelessly for the heady whiff of almonds that wafts through the Irish countryside in May and am always disappointed when it doesn’t come.

There’s one  gorgeous little pink thing that comes out in late December and hangs around for the rest of the summer.  I’ve never posted it because I’ve never really done the work of identifying it properly.  Now that I’ve had a look I think it must be an Erepsia, not sure of the subspecies, which is a member of the iceplant family, Aizoaceae.  It flowers at the right time of year and has all the right qualities and I can’t see that it could really be anything else.  A process of elimination which leads to a tentative deduction; would be delighted to be confirmed or corrected by the botanists who read this blog.

image

I have a particular love for the cones of Leucadendron tincta.  In fact I like everything about this particular Leucadendron, which proliferates on the farm.  You can see why.

image

The dogs have been loyal running companions despite the summer heat.  Seamus doesn’t join us any more and the other night I took the girls for an evening run, leaving him alone in the house.  As we came home the night was filled with such mournful howling that you would think he was the saddest, loneliest wolfhound who ever lived.  I felt horribly guilty; he was triumphant when covered with love and treats on our return.  On happier evenings (for Seamus) we go for a family stroll and he can come too. Here they are at the little pan which is reduced to a puddle now.  They romped and played and we all came home covered in mud.

Our runs have been glorious.  I’ve changed the pattern a bit and sometimes I go out in the evenings; we can’t go to the north side of the farm then, because for some reason that’s where most of the wildlife lives.  Most of the small predators are active at sunset and the dogs nearly always pick up something to hunt.  So we stay to the south, lingering high for as long as we can to catch the glory of the evening light.  Here are some of the best moments….

 

Thoughts, ideas and Peglargoniums

Running is a great time for thinking.  I used to joke that I should charge my clients for my running time – often my best ideas come to me when I’m plodding around the mountain.  Since Christmas there has been much to think about – I have given up the international contract that led to endless travel and now am building a new business.  Reading and researching and doing some exercises to jog the creative mind in the quiet time between Christmas and New Year, I took a head full of thoughts out for a run.  Accompanied by my constant running companions, Maebh and Jemima Chew, we set off into the relative cool of the forest.  As we trotted down the track, an elegant buck quietly levitated, shot off for a few strides and ducked again.  The girls were busy sniffing something and didn’t see her, so I ran faster, calling them as I went.

Imbued with the joy that comes from seeing some of the wildlife that shares this mountain with us, reflecting how lucky we are to be here, an idea struck me.  A really good idea, for a new business, a service.  I’ve been working on it ever since.  Indeed it’s getting better and better as I work on it.  So exciting and very motivating.  Thank goodness for running, I wonder if I’d ever have thought of it, if I hadn’t gone for that run.

We’ve been shredded by wild tearing winds for days, one of the longest unbroken runs of wind that I can remember since we moved here.  It’s calmed down a bit now, but the garden is battered and it’s incredible to think that anything will grow.  Yet on the mountain we still come across new flowers.  Finally the Tritoniopsis triticea is in flower.  It’s later in the season than usual, and not as prolific but still a stunning flower.

The other amazing flowers are the pelargoniums.  There are around 150 fynbos subspecies, many of those grown in gardens all over the world began their life here in the Cape. Pelargoniums are hardy beyond belief, some of the most common flower all year round.  We’ve seen two new ones out running.  This pink one had rather battered flowers and this was the best photo we could take.  I haven’t managed to identify it precisely.  The odd grey background is Maebh’s coat, she was keen to help and the grey sets off the pink perfectly.

This one could be Pelargonium dipetalum except that it is supposed to stick to the lowlands.  It has emerged from nowhere in the middle of a rock hard road.  The leaves have gone, they dry before flowering, and it’s a little burst of light and colour on the mountain.

image

Pelargonium (dipetalum?)

 

 

Flowers, Fire and Drought, an African Summer Season

The Christmas season is one where the dogs and I relish the break and spend more time on the mountain.  There are fewer flowers as the fynbos battens down the hatches for the onset of summer, but there is always something.  After a dry winter and as the season gets ever drier, regular friends fail to appear.  I caught a flash of red on the drive as we drove out the other day and smiled to myself thinking “great, the Tritoniopsis triticea is in flower, we’ll catch lots of them on the mountain on our next run.”  Not one so far, not even one.  Perhaps they will appear later in the month but already I know they won’t be as profuse as usual.  We did come across the charming Micranthus alopecuroides, the “comb flower”.  It’s easy to miss because it’s quite tiny, and quite rare too, but we often find a few at the bottom of the drive around Christmas time.

Meanwhile our crops are winning the battle – the buchu is hardy and drought resistant and the olives are better this year than they have been for the last couple, largely, we suspect, because we had less wind during the crucial spring flowering season.

Talking of wind, a friend came to stay the other night and woke up expecting to see devastation from the storm she’d heard howling around the house during the night and surprised that everything about the place was dry.  No, we explained, laughing, that was a normal night wind in summer, not even a big one.

El Nino is the culprit of course and these cyclical droughts are normal.  It’s our first since being on the farm though and it’s quite chilling to see how the stream, which we believe to be permanent, has slowed to a trickle and our raging waterfall is a pathetic drizzle.  The dams below us empty at a worrying rate and the farms in this valley will be glad when the harvest is in.  Peter is reassuring and reminds me that “this is Africa.”  He has lived through long multi-year droughts in the low veld.  We must all hope for a wet winter this year, but before we can even begin we must get through the summer.  Fires is our big fear – there was a huge one far from us on the other side of the Franschhoek pass on St Stephen’s Day (Boxing Day to the non-Irish) and the clouds of smoke covered the entire peninsula, flooding with colour at sunset.

image

The odd thing for me, being European, is that the holiday season here falls over Christmas, at the very beginning of summer.  So when the holidays are over, the heat really starts and it’s back to work.  I love the heat and find that I can cope with being active at under 35 degrees.  Between 35 and 40 I prefer not to be too energetic.  Over 40 I am frankly uncomfortable.  Yesterday it was 42 degrees all afternoon and I succumbed entirely, lying on a sofa at the back of the house, the cooler side, reading a novel and dozing away the afternoon. I ran in the early morning, enjoying the forest next to us, which is due to be taken down in the next couple of years, we will miss the shady paths…

image

I have neglected this year to take up the challenge of the yellow daisies  They are the hardest to identify and I have been lazy.  Here goes….

To start with the prickly bush thistle, which we first saw out running in July, Cullumia setosa.

image

{“focusMode”:0,”deviceTilt”:0.09798745711776213,”whiteBalanceProgram”:0,”macroEnabled”:false,”qualityMode”:3}

Next comes the distinctive Cape Weed, Arctotheca calendula which also flowers from July to November and we see it all the time, all over the farm.

image

Another one flowering  everywhere from the beginning of spring to early summer is Euryops abrotanifolius, common but quite charming.

Next is the Heterolepis alien, the rock daisy with it’s distinctive sparsely toothed grey leaves.  If these are all looking the same you can understand why the identification is a challenge.

 

There are two more that I have not identified and I will ask the ispot group to help me with them and report back.

The dogs and I didn’t spend enough time on the mountain in November.  Travel, work and just general life intervened.  The drought is now official and serious and the fynbos has not been as wonderfully exuberant and extravagant as in other years.  Although we didn’t get much rainfall, it wasn’t a terribly hot month, just as well because a quick blast of heat over the weekend led to fires breaking out (or being started, many are the fault of arsonists) all over the Cape.  It is going to be a frightening year.

We’ll keep running in December and looking forward to getting fitter and enjoying some more time in the fynbos.

Even if the flowers are not as many, there is still a huge number and variety.  Early in the month it’s Aristea Capitata that throws lovely blue spikes down the drive.  They are the first in a series of blue flowers that break out all over the mountain, Pseudoselago serrata or powderpuffs, the charming Cyanella hyachinthoides or lady’s hand, and a blue pea type ball that looks like an Otholobium but I really need to check it with the experts.

These orange spikes of Microdon dubious sparkle along the roads in mid-spring.

I’m not sure what this one is – a Watsonia perhaps?  It grows in the protea garden and it’s possible that it was planted there and doesn’t belong on the mountain at all, but more likely that it is something wild, a seed dropped by a bird?

I do know exactly what this is – so pretty and clumps of it emerge all over the farm in late November, Tritonia undulata.

All over Europe summer plantings in pots and baskets include a pretty grey leaved plant – Helichrysum.  Here the Helichrysum grows wild and in lots of different varieties.  One of the most common is Helichrysum cymosum and the farm is covered in these soft grey plants with yellow flowers.

Another early summer flower that I love to see is the Metalasia dense.  These grow on prickly shrubs with woolly white heads.  When the camera zooms in the flower heads look like bunches of tiny roses.  Exquisite.

Some things flower for long seasons.  One of the first brilliant flowers to appear after summer is the Microloma tenuifolium, it is still glowing coral red all over the mountain as it wends and weaves it’s way through host plants.  The waxy petal throw back lot of light which gives a surreal feel to the photo and the colour always photographs a bit more pink than the coral we see with the naked eye.

image

{“focusMode”:1,”deviceTilt”:-0.04098580777645111,”whiteBalanceProgram”:0,”macroEnabled”:false,”qualityMode”:3}

Montinia caryophyllacea is a lovely low shrub, another with a long flowering season and prolific all over our mountains.

 

 

A month of extremes

It’s been a month of extremes.  Work, play, travel, home, pride and a painful fall or two.  Nothing like enough time spent running on the mountain but even so, the flowers are still growing and having been away for two weeks it’s time to post the latest photos before we go out to find many more.

My constant running companion since coming to the farm has been Seamus, the Irish Wolfhound.  The run is one of his favourite things in the world.  Wolfhounds are not long lived and although he remains very healthy his heart is not what it was and the vet has suggested that he should run no more.  In truth that’s not quite what happened – he informed us that we would have seen Seamus become depressed and exercise adverse because of his heart disease.  Um, no.  You probably just haven’t noticed, said the vet.  No, Seamus is as joyful and keen to go as ever.  Silence.  We were told to keep him very quiet for a couple of weeks to give time for the pills to work.  The doors are open here, and the dogs come and go as they please – they would have to go a long way to get into trouble.  I’ve been more diligent about putting Seamus’s tracker on.  While away, in Johannesburg, George or Plettenburg Bay, I’ve been watching helplessly as the message comes in on my phone ‘Seamus has left the safe zone’, and followed him on the iPhone as he visits his friends or inspects the boundary of the farm.  One morning he came back proudly bearing the half rotten head of some poor antelope and Tracy, our friend and house sitter had to suffer the horror of washing her own dog from top to toe after she rolled on the rotting bones.  Seamus is having the time of his life, heart or no heart.  The look of outrage on his face when we head off running without him is something to behold, but when we return he greats us with joy, his outrage put away until he next time.  His prognosis is one of delaying the inevitable but in the meantime he enjoys life to the full and the delay may well be a long one.

Back out on the mountain I had wondered for years if we had some unknown gladiolus growing here as the most common, the Painted Lady, Gladiolus carneus, has distinct red markings on its lower petals.  And ours do not.  This is the first that I’ve seen with the markings, confirming that we don’t actually have an entirely new sub-species, we merely have largely unmarked Gladioli carneus.  They are lovely flowers and parts of the mountain are covered with them at this time of year.

 

Another really wonderful flowering bulb is the elegant Morea tricuspitata.  It has a short season and as a result I missed it for years but have been lucky enough to see it on the last two.

I don’t often see completely new flowers any more, but this one emerged on a road we run most days, and I’d never notice it before; Pelargomium triste.  I suppose its maroon to black colouring led to it’s name: the sad pelargonium.

 

I’m not sure what this is – but most likely Metalasia, though I don’t know which one.

Common and very beautiful all over the mountain is the Felicia fruticosa, covering the mountain with splashes of gorgeous purple light.

This is another perennial favourite, this exquisite tiny Erica that is hard to appreciate with the naked eye.  It creates ground cover everywhere at this time of year, delighting the eye with its soft grey leaves and exquisite tiny flowers with saw-like seams.

Meanwhile another Erica, Erica abietina flowers all year round but is especially prolific at this time of year and the coral trumpets flash bright all over the mountain wherever Ericas like to grow.

Salvia Africana-caerulea which also flowers all year round saves its prettiest dress for spring is the blue version of this lovely wild sage.

The painted yellowwort, Sebea exacoides, studs the roads with its little yellow clusters.

Meanwhile the lands are heavily studded with the prolific Lachenalia pallida.

Finally, there’s just one spot on the farm where a few special things grow and this delightful fluffy Berzelia abrotanoides is one of those special things.

 

« Older Entries Recent Entries »