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Waiting

 

We are waiting. The whole Cape is waiting. We all look at the 10 day forecast and see only the odd sprinkling of rain here and there. Traditionally Easter is wet, but this year the forecast is for lovely sunny weather. The drought must break at some point; we hoped for early rains, soon they will be late.

We have water here, enough in the stream for the dogs to stop for a drink on a hot day. Given the dire state of drought in the province, it is a relief that this little stream continues to flow.

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Maebh and Maverick stop for a drink in the stream.

The farm used to be covered in wild proteas. Last year’s fires took most of them out. There are incredible, beautiful skeletons everywhere, jutting out against the skyline.

Then there is the miracle. On the south side of the farm the fire was coming straight for our house, heading straight for the olive groves right next to us. At the top of the grove is a row of Protea Repens, which flowers in the driest season, just before the first rains. Somehow that night, the blazing flames stopped just before those proteas; the wind must have shifted and the fire turned, blazing down into the valley, to our neighbours farms, leaving our grove, and these few proteas, in peace. It went on to burn 80 hectares of olives in a nearby farm. The proteas are flowering now, pink and white and gleaming in the morning light.

Meanwhile all over the farm are millions of baby proteas. They are everywhere and I am fascinated to see how long it will take for them to grow up. Maverick was very helpful here, to give you an idea of scale. You can see what little babies they are, when compared to a wolfhound’s paw.

The Leucadendron salignum recovers more swiftly phoenix-life from the burnt roots. The red you see here is the new growth. The effulgent green will be a glory on the mountain in winter mornings to come.

Little things are always a delight and I think this little flower may be Metalasia divergens.

There are many Metalasia subspecies in the fynbos kingdom. I don’t know which subspecies these are, but they are stunning at this time of year.

A February flower is Aspalanthus abietina, which has happily regenerated and covers the farm again.

Finally, this little iceplant flowers in the driest season and adds colour to the mountain. I believe it is Erepsia, but I am not sure of the subspecies.

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Despite the drought it has not been a hot summer and now there is an autumnal cool in the air. Every run is a delight. Even on those mornings when I feel lazy and struggle to get out, the joy of running in this unique, special place never leaves me.

 

Maverick

One of the great joys here on the farm is taking the new puppy running for the first time. We have to wait patiently though. It’s not good for Irish wolfhounds to start exercising too early. We probably do go too soon – at the age of about eight months I can resist no more. But our “running” involves a lot of walking up the mountain and stopping to take photos of flowers. They run free of course, so can stop and start as much as they want. All our hounds have stayed remarkably well and fit into their old ages, so I believe the regular free exercise does no harm.

Maverick arrived in August, delivered, most kindly by his Johannesburg breeder, with a worried expression on her face.  “He’s a chainsaw teddybear” she said. “Full of love, but I’m afraid he bites.” Boy did he bite! Easy to train, adorable most of the time, but he must have had painful teething because he would go a bit crazy in the evenings and bite and bite. Because of it he was a little hard to love. Particularly because we were worried about the grandchildren coming for Christmas – we would have three children under four in the house along with an enormous biting dog. I foresaw an unhappy Christmas for Maverick, locked up away from the family.

Wolfhounds are famously good with children and Maverick completely won our hearts with his gentleness towards them. Of course he’s a great galumphing puppy, so the odd swipe of a tail would cause a toddler to all over and cry for a moment. But when they left after 10 days not one of them went away afraid of a big dog, he was curious, enthusiastic, and utterly gentle. After that, we noticed his biting had almost completely stopped.

Now it appears that he bites only me, and only when I’ve been away, so it’s become some function of separation anxiety. Then he settles down. His bites are not vicious at all, but his mouth is huge, even for a wolfhound, so they are intimidating.

Suddenly the sweetest puppy has emerged. He is a bit of a homeboy, no wandering tendencies so far. He’s never far from one of us. When there is action on the farm he will take part enthusiastically, putting his great nose into everything until he gets too hot and then he settles, panting, in a shady spot. No matter what I’m doing, from time to time there will be a quick nudge; Maverick checking in to let me know he’s near. I’ve been training him to heel, which he doesn’t do yet, but when we run, he will often trot along for a while at my left heel, nudging my hand from time to time, just to let me know he’s there. He’s goofy, a lovely golden brindle. Meabh adores him and he loves her. He is especially fond of Jemima Chew who held herself aloof for ages and then one day starting stealing his toys and teasing him for hours.

At Christmas we always make a special trip up to the river to find the Gladioli lileaceus. During the day it’s a drab thing, boring crinkled yellow trumpets. You have to visit it at sunset when the flowers open and turn mauve and cream and it emits the most wonderful clove-spice smell. All in order to attract the very specific moth that pollinates it. These miraculous flowers survived the fire and emerged as always in Christmas week. The book says they flower in spring, between August and November. Here they leave it a little later, a Christmas present from the farm.

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Gladiolus liliaceus

By January the rain, what little there is, tends to stop and we face three long months of unrelenting sun, wind and dust. Ironically as I write these words there has been a respite and an unseasonal sprinkling of rain today. The flowering season draws to a close, but not without some stunning final flourishes. One of the best is Tritoniopsis triticea, a fynbos bulb that waits until well into January to display its lovely coral flowers. Coral is always hard to photograph, but luckily there are masses of these this year and I managed to get some nice shots.

Another favourite is Wachendorfia paniculata, which I love for the name as much as for the flower.

Microdon dubius grows along the roads and in the fields, a strange but charming little flower.

Today I was up helping Peter in an area where he thinks we may find water. I saw this, which I’d never seen before. It’s in the book, but much to my surprise it’s an uncommon invasive alien. Known as Hibiscus trionum it’s very pretty but it doesn’t belong here.

What absolutely does belong here and is flowering profusely in the heat of summer is Salvia africana. This flowers all year round but does particularly well in January.

While up on the mountain today I saw this blue pea, a plant that looks very like the broom you find in Italy, but with a blue flower. I remember seeing this years ago at this time of year, and then never seeing it again. Here it is, growing in profusion at the bottom of a damp slope. It’s Psoralea aphylla, not particularly common but it does like damp places.

Helichrysum is used in hanging baskets and pots all over Europe, thanks to its ability to endure very dry conditions. I love that Helichrysum patulum grows wild here, something so familiar when I was growing up, and now a part of the landscape and the life here on our beloved mountain.

Sweet Maverick has all this to explore and understand. He tries to help when I take photos, crushing flowers with his great paws, sniffing them and occasionally eating them. I am so looking forward to many happy years of running together with this giant gentle friend.

 

Christmas flowers

 

The unidentified blue flowers I blogged last time have exploded everywhere on the farm, stunning and lasting quite a long time, so I decided I really should do a bit more research to identify them. The Colour Encyclopaedia of Cape Bulbs is a wonderful book and the dark spots on the lower petals helped give a clear identification. These are Thereianthus spicatus, considered rare and closely related to Micranthus, the combflower, also flowering prolifically after the fires.  Part of their charm is that like the Micranthus they flower just as the season turns hot and dry. Here they are again.

Even with a houseful of guests and grandchildren, the Christmas break gives me an opportunity to spend more time out on the farm. In the mornings I get up before everyone else. The guests are all great runners at 10pm, less able and willing at 7am, so I head off on my own with the dogs more often than not. There are baby proteas growing everywhere, much to our delight, but I stop frequently to pluck them from the roads, in no time they will be large plants blocking the roads and it’s much easier to weed them out now, before they establish roots. Tomorrow I plan to bring a trowel and a plastic bag and to transplant some to the garden, as well as some of these Thereianthus spicatus which should do well in dry areas of the garden and give us some Christmas colour.

There are so many flowers that I have neglected to post over the last few months, so the rest of this post is an attempt to put up some of the most interesting in galleries, along with an idea of when they flowered, to serve as a record of how the farm recovered from the fire and to help us see how it changes over the next year.

First of all this lovely yellow rush which is suddenly everywhere. There’s a good reason we haven’t seen it before as it flowers mainly after fire. It shares the lands with the Thereianthus spicatus so we have tall yellow underlaid with purple-blue, stunning flashes of colour, especially along the drive as we come into the farm.

I really think these must be Ornithogalum though I’m not sure which sub-species, there are over 200 fynbos sub-species. These are growing in masses in one specific dam and rocky area. In the same area is this very sweet little purple flowering shrub which I haven’t identified. And flowering close to the river is the easily identified Ornitholagum dubium.

Another delightful purple flower is Pseudoselago spuria, the lilac powderpuff, which is quite common but until this year we hadn’t seen many on the farm. I haven’t seen Pseudoselago serrata, its close relation, which, until this year, has always made a reliable appearance by the weir.

From the same broad family comes the charming Selago corymbosa, a reliable friend each spring. I’m aware that some of my photos are not great – we’ve had a windy spring and early summer and often it’s been impossible to get a good picture. Yet if I don’t take it, the flower may be gone when we next get out, so these should be viewed as a record, and not as fine examples of the photographer’s art.

Masses of Roella triflora were to be found at the top of the farm in mid-November.

And along the drive, far less prolific than usual but delightful to see and as elegant as ever, the lovely Aristea capitata in November. The other stunning Aristea which flowers in spring, late September, is Aristea africana.

There are so many pelargoniums and I have not done a great job of capturing them. One of my favourites, the delicate Pelargonium myrrhifolium. Pelargonium elongatum is another plant that thrives after the fire, there are masses of them all over the farm this year. And up by the weir, this pretty pink Pelargonium which I haven’t identified. These huge leaves on this will serve to identify it one day.

This is Roepera, flexuosa I believe though it should be mainly costal and there are as many as 50 Roepera’s in the fynbos, so the subspecies may be another. We see it every year, it’s a lovely shrub.

And to finish, the queenly Gladiolus carneus, the painted lady. Ours doesn’t usually have the distinguishing splash of pink on the lower petals, but after years of hoping that we had our own unique sub-species, we’ve concluded, the experts and I, that this is indeed carneus. This charming flower lights up our mountain in November.

 

Just an evening walk…

I have been remiss about posting the spring flowers, overwhelmed by the explosion of number and variety since the fires. The soaking winter deluges that could have filled the dams and saved the Cape from drought never happened, but we did get consistent rains, every few days, that were enough for crops and flowers to do well, so we have plenty of buchu to harvest, the olives are looking their best in several years, and the spring flowers have been extraordinary.

Maverick, the puppy is huge now, as tall as Maebh, and he goes a bit crazy in the evenings, so we have taken to evening walks on the farm to burn up his puppy energy. At this time of year the sunsets are late and glorious, the sun itself drops directly behind Table Mountain, 60 kilometres away. A couple of days ago Peter asked me to check on a weir in a place we don’t usually visit, so we set off on a perfectly still evening on a new route for Maverick who absolutely loves exploring the farm. I can’t wait until he can come running with us. Irish wolfhounds need careful exercising as they grow. Short walks are fine but he won’t be allowed to run with us until he is at least a year old. Here he is taking a short break with Maebh keeping an eye on things in the background.

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Along the way we encountered thousands of little comb flowers, Micranthus junceus. In normal years we are lucky to see them at all, these are quite rare flowers. But this year, with the normal fynbos cleared by the fires, they are everywhere, paving the land in blue with their charming little combs. Out running this morning we came across a white one. The photo isn’t great, partly because the wind was howling and the light all wrong for taking photographs but I thought it essential to capture what seems like a rare find as the flowers are only referred to as blue in the literature. I will be posting this one on iSpot, which is the website dedicated to recording sightings of rare wildflowers.

Down by the weir we came across some Tritonia undulate which is growing all over the farm at the moment. I love its waxy white petals with their flashes of red. If I had the time and inclination to be a gardener I really could have the most amazing fynbos garden on this farm, with beauties like this just waiting to be transplanted to a location where they might thrive and multiply. One day perhaps.

I have never seen this blue flower before and I can’t find it in the book, so I shall have to put it on iSpot along with my white combflower and see if anyone can tell me what it is. Stunning, blue on a spiral, similar in some ways to the combflower but the flower itself is quite different. The splash of darker blue on the petals is quite distinctive.

After inspecting the weir we walked home in the darkening light, the sun setting behind the skeletons of burnt trees that overlook a puddle affectionately known as “James’s lake”. We took the long way home and crossed the dam wall with the setting sun behind us. The light was extraordinary and the farmhouse was reflected in the perfect stillness of the dam. We are so blessed.

Spring Days

Spring on the mountain, silent stillness, glowing sunsets and the promise of summer rising up with the heat from the valley.  Days of cool rain followed by the smell of warm wet earth as the dogs and I run, happy and quite fit, around our mountain.

The research is almost done, and even while it held me chained to my desk I would slip out on a fine evening for a quick run with the dogs, returning to my books as the light faded, full of energy and enthusiasm to work late on into the evening.

Though the winter rains were light and we remain officially in drought, the fires have stimulated the flowering bulbs and the mountains are aglow with light.  Where I have found one or two special specimens in specific places over the years suddenly everything  is everywhere, clothing the burnt land with carpets of spring.  The blue of Babiana fragrens is a distant reminder of bluebells woods at home in Ireland.

Tufts of Aristea spiralis are all over the farm, not just in the special damp places, while Spiloxene capensis, the peacock flower is also prolific along the drive and along some of the high damp banks.  Some years I see hardly any of this charming stars, this year is a real treat.

 

 

The Moreas are also prolific. I love the salmon pink Moraea collina, again prolific everywhere after the fires, but I have been told they are poisonous to horses and cattle so I like them a little less now.  Moraea tricuspidata has been so rare that some years I’ve missed it completely because of travelling. Impossible to miss it this year as it has emerged in copious quantity along the paths where we run.

Wurmbea punctata doesn’t have a particularly pretty name, but it’s a gorgeous little flower found only on damp slopes high on the mountain.

White stars light up the roadways as we run, here are Hesperantha and Geissorhiza ovata

In past years I have celebrated the Ericas in spring. So many are gone, and may take years to grow back.  This one survived along the drive, Erica imbricata.

Another lovely sight is the Leucadendron tinctum. Where the two fires meet there is an unburned spot, where these flower prolifically.  They are lovely now and splendid in summer when the leaves turn terracotta.

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This one is rather unattractively known as the beetle lily, Baeometra uniflora.  It grows in a very specific place, where our run takes us briefly onto the neighbours land.  There are dozens of them there this year.

I am not entirely sure of the identification of this one.  Dianthus albens?

Keeping the best for last.  I love this tiny little green orchid.  This colour seems to be hard for my iPhone camera, it doesn’t capture green flowers well.  This is Disperis capensis, the cowled monk. I have only ever found it close to the olive groves above the house, this year it is suddenly everywhere.  Utterly charming.

As always, the dogs are my faithful companions.  We have a new Irish Wolfhound puppy, Maverick.  He’s too young to come running, but enjoyed a sunset walk with the girls one lovely evening.

 

 

The Evening Run

The dogs and I love winter evening runs on the farm.  If I’m working at my desk I set the alarm for 5pm, head up to the house, change into running gear and we set off.  The sun is just dipping behind the Paardeberg as we leave and the light slowly bleeds out of the sky, filling the evening with colour and drama, a typical winter sunset.

The evening was unexpectedly mild as we headed up the mountain.  We stopped by the stream which is flowing with proper determination now, after several weeks of regular rain.

I have been neglecting this blog, in part because there are fewer ‘surprised by joy’ moments as the land takes its time to recover from the ferocity of the summer fires.  But I have been away for a week and to my delight today there was some wild rosemary, Eriocephalus africanus flowering by the road.  We had thousands of these sweet smelling shrubs with their delicate white winter flowers, and I daresay we will again.  For now I was happy to see any at all, the flowers gleaming in the late light of day.

Another jewel is Microloma tenufolia.  The waxy texture of its flowers make it hard to photograph, I can never capture the amazing coral colour that flashes bright as we run past it.  I was delighted to see it, a dear friend, determined to survive and thrive, just like us.  It’s a climber and flourishing all over the place at the moment.

A determined friend is Leucadendron salignum. This brilliant green shrub thrives on the north side of the farm which was completely destroyed by fire three.  New plants emerge from the roots of twisted skeletons and here and there a plant has survived, casting a remarkable effulgent green light onto the bleak mountain.  A joy to behold as the light fades towards the end of the run.

Along the drive the charming blue Morea tripetala flourishes.  The bulbs seem to be fine after the fire.

A mist rose from the valley tonight as the dams reflected the light.  The sky turned a myriad of colours, deep blue and pink with a rising moon above the mountains to the east.  To the west a huge cape eagle owl launched from this tree into the valley below, just before I took this picture. We returned home, the dogs and I, happy, exercised, carrying the enchantment of the mountain in our spirits and I took one last photo of the darkening valley and the deepening sky.

 

 

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