Category Archives: Running

Flower of the day: Gladiois Maculatus known as The Brown Africkaner

As I labored up the mountain preceded by faithful yet enthusiastic hounds this morning I thought ‘but surely if we’ve seen a Gladiolus watsonius, we should have seen a Gladiolus Maculatus by now’.  As we trotted past the precise place where we saw it last year I swiveled my head left and Lo!  There she was.  Upright and unravaged despite overnight rains verging on monsoon.  We will capture a better photo, I am sure; this one shows the indomitable nature of this winter flowering, sweetly scented gladiolus.

 

Gladiolus maculatus

Gladiolus maculatus

Running in between the flying

When I got home from Nairobi last week little Jemima Chew was not looking her usual self. She’s what the South African’s call a ‘pavement special’, an SPCA rescue dog who arrived in our lives shortly after Seamus. Although quieter than the attention seeking wolfhounds, she’s a lovely dog and often ends up a favourite with guests. She also gets bullied by Maebh as a result of which she now sleeps on our bed at night while the hounds sleep in the kitchen.  A perfect outcome from her point of view.

Jemima Chew (named for the Jimmy Choo boots she very nearly destroyed as a puppy) is always alert, always ready for action and always hungry. So when she was down in the dumps, refusing food and clearly off colour we were quite worried. Especially when Peter told me she’d been that way for a couple of days. She didn’t have a temperature, but in our part of the world you worry about biliary and I found a couple of ticks on her. We rushed her to the vet and although she didn’t have biliary she did end up on a drip for 24 hours. Poor girl, she’s so tough that in six years its’s the first time she’s ever had to go to the vet. By Sunday she was home, feeling much better, wagging her tail and demanding dinner.

Here she is in the misty afternoon light a week later. It poured with rain all last weekend but stopped early enough on Sunday afternoon for us to go for a quick run before I had to leave for the airport. This blog is being written on a plane between London and Frankfurt.

Jemima Chew, fully recovered

Jemima Chew, fully recovered

The light was fantastic and made the grove of Ilex Mitis by the weir look like a scene from The Hobbit. Seamus and Maebh put on their best performances for this photo.

Scene from The Hobbit, starring Seamus and Maebh

Scene from The Hobbit, starring Seamus and Maebh

The waterfall, which I posted only a few days ago, is now white with pounding water – we must have had 30mm of rain at least and the farm is soaking wet.

Water!

Water!

One lovely result of a few days of rain is all the bird activity when it stops, especially as this is the mating season for most of our birds. We took a different route through the fynbos today and saw lots of Cape Sugarbirds having battles over the girls. The iphone which I used for all my flower photos is much less good at caputuring fauna but I did manage to get one image of the sugarbird inspecting his territory from the top of a Protea repens.

If you look closely you can see the Cape Sugarbird with his long tail

If you look closely you can see the Cape Sugarbird with his long tail

Not so many flowers on this run – the rain, followed by some sun, means there should be some new things to see next weekend when I get home. This is a new protea gleaming in the soft winter light.  I have promised myself I will be stricter on identity this year, but I’m not sure what this subspecies is.

Unidentified pink Protea

Unidentified pink Protea

No problem identifying Chasmanthe aethiopica which we have posted before.  This group grows higher on the mountain on a different part of the farm – a damp shady area just below the weir. Such a lovely flowering bulb and reliably reminds me of the damp sweet smelling Irish spring where it grows wild on the verges and in the hedgerows.

Chasmathe Aethiopica

Chasmathe aethiopica

Another shot of the graceful and beautifully coloured Chasmanthe Aetheopica

Another shot of the graceful and beautifully coloured Chasmanthe aetheopica

A good fire and some snoring wolfhounds

We woke up full of good running intentions this morning and the first sound was the pattering rain on the roof. News from Cape Town to the west of us that the rain is pouring down and a look at yr.no (the excellent Norwegian weather service if there is anyone alive who still doesn’t know about it) confirmed our worst fears. If we can’t run, we can at least blog about running.

I spend the hot months of summer thinking how much I like the Cape Winter – yes it rains but it never, in my imagination at least, gets truly cold. And it is true that here on the mountain the temperature very rarely slips below 5 degrees. This was a rare week. It was freezing, almost literally, and 4 degrees on Wednesday morning and reminded me exactly why I like living in warm countries. Being the Cape it was a short snap and on Thursday a benign sun smiled on us. Now it’s raining hard but still mild.

Deilighted to be reunited the dogs and I had some splendid runs. I’m travelling too much to keep a proper level of fitness, but even at a plod there is nothing more joyous than time spent on the mountain with the dogs.

The first Erica plukenetii has come into flower and will continue flowering all over the farm from now until December. They come in many colours and well post lots of them. I love the way the evening sun gleams on the clustered pink tubes.

 

Erica plukenetii

Erica plukenetii

 

The Protea nerifolia is one of the most magnificent shrubs on the farm and the bannerhead of The Fynbos Blog. Most commonly seen in pink, sometimes the flowers are cream or white and the soft velvety lushness is irresistible, to me as a photographer and apparently also to the tiny beetles you can see on the petals.

Protea nerifolia

Protea nerifolia

The Oxalis are out now, studding the lands like tiny jewels. I worry when it rains for days on end – the flowers only open in the sunlight, so how can they survive without it? But survive they do. There are dozens of varieties, these three are found everywhere on the farm. Oxalis veriscolor is particularly exquisite with it’s shrublike form and tiny pink edged white flowers.

Oxalis veriscolor

Oxalis veriscolor

Oxalis purpurea in pale lilac

Oxalis purpurea in pale lilac

Oxalis purpurea in bright pink

Oxalis purpurea in bright pink

 

Yellow daisy like flowers can be hard to identify and I was happy to see this Haplocapha lanata again. When I started the blog it was one of the first that I did manage to name and if you look closely at this photo you can just see the pink edges on the petals that indicate the distinguishing red undersides.

Haplocapha lanata

Haplocapha lanata

The water is pouring down the rivers and streams and our waterfall is back to its full glory.

image

This tiny flower grows on a shrub that looks like Chaenostoma hispidum or Sutera hispida (both the same, a victim of renaming again). We are right on the edge of its territory but it does look right.

Chaenostoma hispidum

Chaenostoma hispidum

Seamus absolutely loves this cooler weather. He is exceptionally fit and well at the moment and bounds all over the farm with us. Here he is in one of his favourite poses, he’s just had a drink and a lie down in Fox Pan and now he’s letting the breeze ruffle through his coat as he looks out over the mountains and waits for me to catch up.

Seamus enjoying a sunny afternoon

Seamus enjoying a sunny afternoon

One last flower that I have been meaning to post. It flowers very briefly and I missed it last year although we have lots of these pretty green shrubs on the farm. I caught one in the act a few weeks ago. The common name is wild asparagus, Asparagus rubicundus.

Asaparagus rubicundus

Asaparagus rubicundus

Jemima Chew and the francolin

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a blog and I think I may be struggling with a little writer’s block. There has been so much travel, work, report writing, negotiating still more work, over the last few weeks, to say nothing of trying to keep a semblance of normal life, that the runs and the flowers have faded to the background. Back on a plane now, headed to Nairobi, not a destination that’s particularly attractive at the moment, Time to write a blog. The lovely thing about this time of year is that every day is so different.

Unlike most of the continent we do have four proper seasons and now we are headed from autumn to winter. I’ve talked before about how our autumn is more like spring in the Irish world I come from. Here it is the relentless heat that stifles growth and shrivels the landscape. So once the rains fall and the temperature is mild, the landscape becomes green, birds start courting and building nests and though winter is cold and damp, it is also fecund and bears the promise of life to come.

One silly Cape Francolin (a partridge-like bird) decided to build her nest on the shores of the dam, where the undergrowth is thick and a willow tree grows overhead. Jemima Chew found her, of course, and she flew into the willow tree and refused to budge; presumably reluctant to leave her eggs (it is a little too early for chicks). Jemima spent the entire day barking at her, running around the willow tree, ferreting in the damp waters and generally causing havoc. The bird still didn’t budge. At one point, when Peter and I went to inspect the cause of all this commotion, Jemima Chew had actually managed to climb onto the lower branches of this willow tree, defying both gravity and the limitations of her portly figure. I had left my iphone in the house so we have no evidence of this unlikely event.  Luckily night brought the irresistible temptations of a warm fire and a good dinner and the by next morning the francolin had learned some sense and was gone. Birds are not stupid.

While we were there we saw the first arum lilies of the season. These lovely lilies are indigenous here and will grow all winter long anywhere damp, the wetter the better. Roadside verges are covered in them, a joy to behold. The gleaming whiteness is quite hard to photograph, but these are the first.

The first Aurm Lily of the year

The first Aurm Lily of the year

Another fynbos bulb that likes damp places is Chasmanthe floribunda. I grew up knowing this as Montbrecia – it grows wild in the hedgerows of Ireland (a damp, mild climate if ever there was one). Oddly in Ireland it also flowers in May and June, justifying my claim that the Cape autumn is a kind of spring. Botannical names get changed to bring more global consistency and perhaps this is one that has been changed.  When I look up Montbrecia it shows up as Crocosmia and looks exactly the same, so I’m a bit confused.  Not an uncommon feeling when it comes to naming fynbos with pinpoint accuracy.

Chasmanthe floribunda, or Montbrecia or Crocosmia

Chasmanthe floribunda, or Montbrecia or Crocosmia

 

There is a particular light we see here in winter that charms me most of all. It happens when the sun is setting in the West/North West and a mist comes off the river down in the Paarl valley on a perfectly still evening. At a certain moment the setting sunlight catches the mist and turns the whole valley into gold. I only ever see it once or twice a year and it is enthralling. Last week we had such an evening and this photo is taken from the balcony. Hard to catch the magical glimmering golden light in a photograph, yet there is something of it captured here.

A golden evening

A golden evening

The next morning greeted us with cool cloudy weather pierced by the odd shaft of sunlight and a double rainbow.

image

As we ran up the mountain we saw the first wild rosemary – Eriocephalus africanus. This stunning herb grows commonly all over the farm and soon the air will be scented with its flowering. The tiny while flowers are a delight to behold and we’ll see many more of them in the months to come.

Eriocephalus africanus, wild african rosemary

Eriocephalus africanus, wild african rosemary

The Phylica is now in full flower everywhere and I noticed that the tiny flower heads have opened, each one a little flower in its own right. So pretty.

Phylica eriocoides

Phylica eriocoides

The Banting Wars

It’s been a busy time at work and most of the time I’ve been chugging back and forth to Europe instead of spending this marvellous month of May on the farm.  Last Saturday I took a day off and went with Liz to the Franschhoek Literary Festival where we saw a splendid debate between Prof Tim Noakes and Prof Lionel Opie, entertainly chaired by Dennis Davis.

South Africans will need no introduction to Prof Noakes but for the benefit of everyone else, he advocates a way of eating that is very low carb, medium protein and very high fat.  He’s written a couple of entertaining bestsellers; it is the hot topic here and the large hall was overflowing.   It was particularly fun to go with Liz as we sit firmly on opposite sits of the debate.  I don’t agree with that way of eating at all (a serial dieter I’ve been through all them all, Montingnac, Atkins, Dukan and many variations thereof) and none of them help me to lose weight.  I haven’t tried the “Banting” way, as Prof Noakes calls it, but as is the case with so many diets I don’t know anyone who has lost weight on it after the first couple of weeks or so.  Some people claim to feel marvellous on it though and it may be true that it is a good diet for people who are diabetic or pre-diabetic.   Perhaps also for people who eat seriously bad diets full of sugar and fast food in the first place.  Noakes is highly persuasive and passionate and Liz thought he won the debate.  I heard a lot of theories and a lot of conclusions but the facts didn’t seem to justify the conclusions.  Proof once more that you hear what you want to hear!  Noakes uses himself as an example all the time, so perhaps the only safe conclusion is that it may suit insulin resistance high performance atheletes like him.  Opie pointed out that the ONLY comparative research on the high fat approach that has been done was recently in Cambridge.  The conclusion was that a low-carb high-fat diet didn’t help the participants to lose weight, but in a group of talented Cambridge students, there was a noticable decrease in brain function, particularly memory.

So what has all this got to do with fynbos flowers?  Well the flowers and the run go together, and all that goes with a healthy lifestyle, hence our interest in the debate.  Liz and I followed all this talk of diet with a splendid lunch where she stuck to her Banting and I ate a smoked salmon rosti with a poached egg and hollandaise sauce.  And we shared a divine bottle of Chenin Blanc.

On the way home the light was amazing and I stopped on the dirt road to take this photo of the shining grasses in the autumn vines which are at their most beautiful at this time of year.  A golden highway in the winelands.

The shining grasses in May

The shining grasses in May

Back on the farm I took the dogs for a long walk on the mountain as the sun started to set.  Maebh and Jemima Chew set about hunting every last gerbil, full of glee and joy as they bounced around the place.

Jemima Chew and Maebh enjoying the evening hunt

Jemima Chew and Maebh enjoying the evening hunt

We are moving in to the serious season for fynbos now that we’ve had good rain.  One is another tiny lobelia – I didn’t have room to fit my fynbos book in my bag on this trip, but it is different from the one we posted a couple of weeks ago.

Lobelia

Lobelia

The Protea nerifolia is now in flower all over the farm and will continue to flower for months now.  Quite a hairy chap, it’s always particularly handsome when it catches the light, as in this photo in the very last rays of the sun.

Protea nerifolia

Protea nerifolia

I can be silly in my joy when my favourites emerge and I see them for the first time in the season.  One of these is Microloma tenuifolia which has emerged winding its tentacles around a protea.  This tiny flower is as smaller or smaller than the nail on my little finger, little flashes of pinky coral in the lush green fynbos.

Microloma tenuifolia

Microloma tenuifolia

Rupert Koopman from Kirstenbosch kindly sent a comment to let me know that this daisy that I posted last week is Anthanasia trifurcata – thank you!

Anthanasia trifurcata

Anthanasia trifurcata

 

May Day, home, sunset and the warmth of the mountain

Peter and I both agree that although we both hate leaving the farm to travel, usually for work, the best part is coming home. I’ve been in Europe for a couple of days. One night and two days in London; two nights on planes. I arrived home this morning feeling pretty horrible.  This evening in anticipation of a gorgeous sunset, I took the dogs for a walk and the sky lit up with pink and orange out towards the Paaderberg as we walked on the most northern parts of the farm.

A painted sunset, 1 May 2014

A painted sunset, 1 May 2014

 

I took a different path from our running routes and the slower pace of a walk meant that I saw much more than I do on the morning run.  I must do these leisurely walk more often. Three separate daisy-like yellow flowers; always the most frustrating to identify, and a tiny little pelargonium, one of my favourite plants. The mountain was amazing tonight – the days are still warm, but the evenings cool and at dusk you can feel the mountain giving out the warmth it has absorbed during the day into the cool evening air, sending out blasts of heat that I walked through as I returned to the house. The dogs were joyous and Maebh’s pale coat glows in the evening light.

 

Seamus and Maebh in the fynbos

Seamus and Maebh in the fynbos

The Pelargoniums flower here all year round; different plants in different months. Identifying the subspecies is hopeless, but each one gives me great joy.

 

Autumn Pelargonium

Autumn Pelargonium

As for the yellow daisy-like flowers. There are three, all on the same road, within 100 metres of one another. The first is an Osteospermum spinosum I think.

Osteospermum spinosum?

Osteospermum spinosum?

The needle-like leaves could be telltale

The needle-like leaves could be telltale

 

The second has these splendid clustered flowerheads with gorgeous curly stamens on the tips, with a soft grey-green hairy leaf. You would think that would suffice to identify – but no.

 

Clustered yellow flowers

Clustered yellow flowers

 

Something about the flower makes me think Helichrysum but the leaf says not

Something about the flower makes me think Helichrysum but this thick hairy leaf says not

And the last is a perfect yellow daisy, with clustered spiny leaves. I love the way that these three plants tell me how far I’ve come on my fynbos journey. A year ago they would have looked the same to me; the way your friends’ two dogs both look the same to you, but are completely different to them. Now the differences jump out at me, yet I still can’t identify them. I love that too – that the fynbos journey is without end.  I’ll probably never be able to identify every single plant on the farm, a mere pinprick within the Cape Floral Kingdom. But I won’t stop trying.

 

A perfect daisy, but which perfect daisy?

A perfect daisy, but which perfect daisy?

It's a small shrub with little needly clustered leaves

It’s a small plant with little needly clustered leaves

Torrid days and windy nights on the mountain

The Western Cape sat under a torrid heatwave last week and over the weekend.  I watched the new plants in the garden anxiously, hoping they wouldn’t give up the ghost on us but with plenty of watering they seem to have survived the worst.  It suddenly cooled on Monday, still sunny but a good 10 degrees cooler – 28 is very different from 38.  And cool and damp in the evening, enough to need a sweater.  With the cooler weather came the wind, howling and screaming around the mountain, stronger at night, trying to get the roof off, blow the trees down and blasting the autumn leaves off the trees.

Yesterday I had an early start dropping Peter to the airport, so I couldn’t run and by the time I got home in the evening after a day of meetings and errands I’d taken a pill for an incoming migraine, which also precludes running.  So the dogs and I went walking instead.  The wind howled around us, but the mountain was beautiful, glorious even, with the sun setting in the western sky.  I sometimes wonder why I don’t take crisper photos, and last night was a good reminder of the answer to that.  I defy anyone to take a perfectly crisp photo when the subject is leaping, dancing or even merely quivering in the wind.  Still, with a lot of patience we captured a few flowers in between the gusts.  This time of year is exciting with lots of new growth and even flowering bulbs starting to push their way above the ground.  Some of the flowers we won’t see until August are already sending forth their shoots and it’s fun to recognize them as old friends.

An old friend from one of my earliest blogs is this, very common, plant.  Last year I incorrectly identified it as a Crassula but I know better now.  There is a resemblance to the Metalasia family, in part because of the rolled leaves with tufts of smaller leaves in the axis.  But the the flowers don’t fit.  Another for the unidentified file though it is irritating when the species is so common.

Unidentified and very common

Unidentified and very common

 

The same flower in close up - impossible to get a perfect shot in the howling wind

The same flower in close up – impossible to get a perfect shot in the howling wind

 

The evening light in the olive groves was stunning

The evening light in the olive groves was stunning

Even at the end of the summer there is still plenty of water coming down the fall

Even at the end of the summer there is still plenty of water coming down the fall

The wind took out our wifi connection, so this is written and sent in an early morning hurry from Cape Town International.  We are off to the bush for Easter.

Sunny Days

With Peter away Anna, a Swedish friend, came to stay the night and we started the evening with a sunset walk on the mountain.  We finished the evening, needless to say, with far too much wine and lots of chat!  Anna is a proper walker and I wanted to capture some flowers I’d seen out running so we set off in the gorgeous evening light with a specific aim in mind.  As always the mountain was stunning in the evening the dogs were bounding with joy as we chatted and walked.

Metalasia densa is not particularly beautiful or charming but it is very common.  The book says it is winter flowering, but here it seems to like the summer’s heat, or maybe it’s because we’ve had a wet year.  In either case it is everywhere.  Like so many flowers that are not necessarily beautiful at a distance, it is rather lovely in close up.

Metalasia densa, a rather scruffy shrub

Metalasia densa, a rather scruffy shrub

Metalasia densa, the flower in close up

Metalasia densa, the flower in close up

To my great joy this gorgeous Erica has burst into flower at the top of the mountai.   This is Erica nudiflora, delighting us with a flash of pink as we crossed the road at the top of the farm.  Anna is great company, very chatty and interested in everything and she finds my enthusiasm for these floral finds quite entertaining.   She was very tolerant of having to interrupt both walk and chat while I try to photograph flowers in the fading light and the wind.

Erica nudiflora

Erica nudiflora

 

The flowers of Erica nudiflora in close up

The flowers of Erica nudiflora in close up

Of course proteas are the statement flowers on the mountain and the fabulous Protea nerifolia is coming into flower.  I am sure we’ll have many photos of these over the coming months, the flowering season is long and they are particularly beautiful, with their pink petals and shaggy beard.  This is the first of the year, taken at the lowest point of the farm.

Protea nerifolia

Protea nerifolia

 

Leucadendron salignum?

Leucadendron salignum?

This picture comes from an early morning run over the weekend; I couldn’t resist the morning light shining through the the new growth of this Leucadendron – most probably salignum.

And this last photo was taken yesterday evening, Sunday, as the sun set behind Paarl mountain and the valley was golden pink.  We’ve been having amazing weather since it stopped raining.

Sunset over the valley

Sunset over the valley

 

Protea Repens, the iconic Sugarbush

If there is an iconic flower on this mountain, indeed in much of the Cape, it is Protea Repens.  The book says it flowers all year round but on these mountains this flower is the precursor of autumn and as the days shorten and a damp chill scents the air, these creamy, sometimes pink tipped flowers open all over the farm.  The common name is sugarbush and very often they are full of bees feasting themselves on the nectar.  I like to think that our honey at this time of year must come mostly from from this source.

This morning was spectacular, blue, green and golden, and the dogs and I set off for a gorgeous run with the objective of capturing some images of Protea Repens as it dominates this flowering moment.  With the rain we’ve had there will be more to see before long.

The national flower of South Africa is Protea cynaroides, the King Protea and with it’s huge and gorgeous flowers one can understand why.  I was interested to read in my research that until 1976 the national flower was in fact Protea repens.  It makes sense, it is stunningly beautiful, ubiquitous here in the Cape and there is something glorious about this shrub that chooses to flower in the arid season of the year when all is dried and shrivelled, all colour gone and which continues to flower all through the winter.  We will see more of these in the blog, I can’t resist how they catch the endlessly different light on the mountain and in the months to come we’ll see great banks of them flowering all over the farm.

 

Protea Repens - if you look closely you can see the feasting bees

Protea Repens – if you look closely you can see the feasting bees

 

 A pink and white Protea repens catches the morning light

A pink and cream Protea repens catches the morning light

 

Light shining through a large Protea repens sighted at the top of the olive groves

Light shining through a large Protea repens sighted at the top of the olive groves

 

The same shrub covered with creamy white flowers

The same shrub covered with creamy white flowers

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