Tag Archives: Protea Repens

Writer’s block

For several weeks now I’ve been wondering why I haven’t written a blog.  After all I’ve been running on the mountain, in fact my fitness is pretty good. The dogs and I have had several splendid morning and evening runs.  The weather is fabulous for us – this has been the coolest summer we’ve spent on the farm and dogs and humans have relished it.  We love the sun, but extremes, often as high as 40 degrees, can be harsh.  I did go to Europe for work a couple of weeks ago – to a freezing cold and rather depressing Paris, a city I dearly love but which was in mourning not only for Charlie Hebdo but for the loss of freedom that accompanies terrorism.  The weather was as bleak as the mood although a cancelled meeting meant some rewarding shopping and one or two excellent dinners helped cheer me up.

So why no blog?  The question resolved itself yesterday when I was running on the top road.  At this time of year the flowers die back – the middle of summer here is like the winter elsewhere, with little new growth.  The point of this blog is to share the amazing beauty and variety of flowers that grow here on the farm.  And the flowers hide from the heat and the harsh sunlight.

Then yesterday I saw a splendid flash of pink at my feet.  An Erica had burst into flower.  Of course there are 660 fynbos subspecies of Erica, so they are not always easy to identify, and lots of them have pretty pink bells like this one.  Given the season and the dark pink flowers this could be Erica pulchella.  Tiny and absolutely lovely.

The other flower that is in full bloom is this yellow pea called Aspalathus divaricata Subs divaricata (Franschhoek form).  A long name to describe a pretty rambling Cape Gorse that flowers in the driest period of the year.

Although there are few flowers, there is plenty of life stirring and getting going.  The Leucadendron salignum which lights up the mountain on dark winter days with it’s lime green colour is putting out new reddish pink growth at the moment.  And the Protea repens, the most common Protea on the farm, are covered in sticky buds, just about to flower – indeed the very first flowers have just emerged.  Could it be a sign of early rains to come?  They always flower before the first rains.  We had a cloudy morning the other day – it’s rare and pleasant at this time of year, and the new growth coloured the mountain.

Then there are the shining grasses.  As we drive down the road in the evening the light floods the new vines planted just below our neighbours house and the grasses literally dazzle the eye in pink and white.  I sent this photo to our neighbour and she commented that “they shouldn’t be there” so I daresay that next year the grass will be cleared and this extraordinary display of light will disapear.  For the next few months these shining grasses line the roads and catch the light in a display of pink and white luminosity;  I absolutely love them.

Other excitement included the dogs putting up a tiny duiker who shot up the mountain and then ducked behind a buchu plant.  The girls were giving chase and didn’t even glance at its hiding place and I pretended to see nothing and continued up the mountain.  Not long afterwards the girls were still gamboling in the lands and a glossy chestnut coloured rhebok jumped out in front of us.  Seamus was just ahead of me, but supervising the girls and although she was only a couple of feet from him, she looked at us in astonishment and leapt for cover so quickly that he didn’t even see her.  Or pretended not to.  So much for being a sighthound.

Maebh on the hunt

Maebh on the hunt

The sunsets are often incredible.  On that cloudy day the dying rays caught the cloud above the dam and turned it perfectly pink, which was then reflected in the water, a perfect end to another wonderful day at home in Africa.

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Skipping up the mountain

After a week of howling wind that has distressed the garden and stripped the leaves and lots of baby olives off the trees, we finally had a quiet, damp, cloudy morning today.  This kind of weather is much more conducive to flower photos so we managed to capture a few we’d missed.

The Christmasberry, Chironia baccifera is in flower all over the place.  It has these pretty pink flowers now, and later in the year it will be covered in beautiful red berries.

As I’ve been running up the mountain in the past week I realised a sad truth.  We went to the bush for a few days at the end of November.  I love everything about the bush except for the fact that going running would make you a nice, easy, soft pink target for the predators.  So you can’t run.  A few years ago I realised the solution was to bring a skipping rope and this time I was quite good about skipping in the mornings.  It’s very boring, but it does work and to my amazement when I got home I ran quite effortlessly up the mountain.  Next time I’m struggling with fitness I’ll get that rope out.  Tiresome with amazing results.

Another tiresome thing is that I’ve missed some flowers.  I caught these comb flowers, Micranthus alopecuroides at the beginning of their flowering and this morning caught the end of the flowering, they are a little tatty but still very pretty.

Something happened while we were in the bush and it was funny enough to be worth the telling.  We came back from a game drive and I did my skipping, followed by a lovely brunch.  Tired from the early morning start, the exercise and the indulgent brunch, I decided to go for nap.  Off I went to our room, the last little cottage along the river, and lay on the bed.  It was hot; at this point I have to admit I was naked.  I duly fell asleep. A noise woke me.  I looked up.  Sitting on the balcony, lined up in rows as if in a cinema, the babies sitting on the shoulders of the adults, staring in at me through the huge windows, was an entire troop of baboons.  Just watching me sleep.  It was the most bizarre feeling.  I sat up.  They didn’t move, just stared.  It was rather unnerving.  Then quite quietly I said “go away” and equally calmly they all left.  I watched them go, en famille, off along the river bed.  We didn’t see them again for a couple of days.

Back to the flowers.  I have no idea what this pinky red pea is.  I’ll post it on ispot and see if we can find out.

Unidentified pinky red pea

Unidentified pinky red pea

These are an old friend, Selago corymbosa, quite common and very charming.

I went for a walk the yesterday evening.  I’d missed the morning run and when the wind dropped in the evening I thought the dogs would like a walk.  They certainly did and I took a couple of beautiful photos of Maebh.  The focus isn’t perfect her coat looks great in the evening light.

One of the first things to flower at the end of summer is the Protea repens and I think this might be a second flowering, it’s unusual to see them at this time of year.

Protea Repens

Protea Repens

I think this one is a Crassula but I’m not sure which one so once again I will ask the iSpot experts to identify it for us.

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

Helichrysum Days

I try to write this blog at least once a week, sometimes more, with the aim of staying  current with  the flowering cycle on the mountain.  For some reason the past 10 days have been particularly busy.  We had a series of guests, family and friends, which is wonderful although it puts paid to quiet nights when we can watch TV and write blogs.  Then horses and dogs have needed trips to the vet.  The magnificent Seamus has had a bad time.  He got a tummy bug, received treatment and then had a frightening adverse reaction to the treatment.  It is a well documented allergy, but so rare that our vet had never seen it.  Two days of worry later he is much better although his back legs are not working perfectly and we don’t know if he hurt himself, or if it’s a consequence of the neurological reaction he suffered from.  He’s not in pain; he would tell us if he was, but it will be at least a few more days before he’s allowed running on the mountain again.

The horses were just getting all their routine annual innoculations, check-ups, dentistry and so on. All of which needs doing but is rather time consuming along with work and the guests.  I must remember next year how busy this time of year can be and plan a little bit better.

Peter’s business has picked up and while we wouldn’t say orders are flooding in, the painful trickle has certainly become a steady trickle.  Which should be wonderful except that labour protests are growing in South Africa and he had a sit in strike at the factory today.  Fortunately it was resolved quite quickly.  How frustrating finally to have some business, so that we can potentially pay more and afford bigger bonuses and instead be dealing with strikes and knowing our overseas customers are watching this and wondering whether SA is the right place to do business.  That’s not to be negative, just realistic.  Peter is brilliant at managing these situations and he will sort it out.

To my delight there are all sorts of happenings on the mountain which make running a pleasure.  In particular several different Helicrysums are in flower.  Plants that flower at this time of year tend to have dry looking or tiny flowers that can cope with the potential heatwave as you can see from these pictures.

Helichrysum Flowers

Helichrysum Flowers

Helichrysum flowers - a different sub-species

Helichrysum flowers – a different sub-species

 

Yet another variety to be found here on the mountain: Helichrysum flowers

Yet another variety to be found here on the mountain: Helichrysum flowers

A cloud of Helichrysum in the morning light, this one situated in the heart of the olive groves; they grow all over the farm

A cloud of Helichrysum in the morning light, this one situated in the heart of the olive groves; they grow all over the farm

I started this blog last year in March when the first of the proteas came into bloom.  So it is exciting to witness the burgeoning of protea life as the shrubs of Protea repens are covered in buds and will flower in the next few weeks.  That, for me, is the start of our flowering year and I cannot wait.

The Protea repens is budding, a harbinger of summer's end.  The first flowers will emerge well before the autumn rains

The Protea repens is budding and heralds the end of summer. The first flowers will emerge well before the autumn rains

 

We have exceptional sunsets at this time of year.  Almost every night and it is a lovely time to walk around the farm.  With Seamus on the sick list we haven’t gone far and last night I took this picture of the farmhouse with the pink mountains behind us.

 

Pink sunset on the mountains

Pink sunset on the mountains

Sometimes we can get strange effects of the light as the sun goes down, like this photo of the sun just dropping behind Paarl mountain.  Taken a moment later than the one above there is a circular glow around the setting sun that was  distinctive and I was surprised it was captured so easily by the iPhone camera.   

Sunset over Paarl rock

Sunset over Paarl rock

The Morning Run

The unseasonal weather continued all last week with pours of rain thundering down for much of it.  Yesterday morning it was dry at last and we woke up early to go running.  At this time of year we are normally sweltering in the heat so it was a joy to be splashing through puddles and smelling the sweet damp morning air.  I was working in Johannesburg for much of the week, missing the rain, but also the dogs and the run, so they were full of joy as we bounded along.  Yes, I did say bounded.  Fewer flowers mean fewer photos so I’ve been running a bit harder and slowly getting fitter.  

I count my blessing every day that we spend on this farm.  We’ve been a bit slow about transforming the garden and today the fabulous Henk Scholz came to give us some advice.  He is incredible, one starts with an idea of course and he’s very kind so he takes it on board, but then comes up with his own idea that is so audacious and splendid it’s completely irresistible.  Peter then came up with a couple of stunning ideas which, if he really is prepared to do the work, will transform the place and make it even more beautiful.  I described the farm to someone the other day as the most beautiful farm in the Cape, which was stupid because there are many amazing farms here.  Ours is unusual and unexpected which gives it a special beauty.

Henk admired elements of the vegetable garden, principally the fact that I’ve managed to get anything to grow at all.  I may love plants and gardens but whatever shade my fingers are, it’s definitely not green.  He gently explained that the reason my plants are not fruiting is because they are completely smothered by weeds.  Oh I can make all the excuses I want, the rain, the fact that I fertilised everything before the rain, which of course the weeds love even more than the plants.  The time, or rather the lack of it that dominates my life.  In the end, after he left, with the earth still soft and yielding after all the rain I dug and weeded for hours and have cleared all those pesky monsters away.  Maebh loves it when I garden, she sniffs around and tries to help, then lies down and observes all the work with great interest.  Finally she curls up in the cool shadow of an orange tree and happily falls asleep. 

Back to the run.  As we bounded up the mountain I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this Protea repens.  What?  Now?  It’s far too early!  And indeed the season doesn’t really start until March.  This one clearly decided to get ahead.  It has just opened, perhaps the season starts much earlier than I’d realised and this is the first.  

An early flowering Protea repens

An early flowering Protea repens

One of the joys of the mountain is the magnificent Salvia africana-caerulea.  It flowers prolifically for eight months of the year and particularly seems to thrive at this time of year.  

Salvia africana-caerulea

Salvia africana-caerulea

Another flower that is glorious at this time of the year is this stunning Erica.  I’m pretty sure it’s Erica abietina, simply called Red heath which flowers all year round but seems to relish the dry most of all.  The coral flowers are stunning along the drive and although the strong midday sun was almost too much for this photo I couldn’t resist the way it reflects the flight and glows from within.

Erica abietina

Erica abietina

Despite the cooler weather Seamus still took a dip and a drink in Fox Pan as we climbed higher up the mountain.  Then, graciously deigning to wait for me, he stood and admired the view with the water cascading off his flanks and shining in the morning light.

Seamus after his dip admiring the view

Seamus after his dip admiring the view

I rushed to identify the last blog’s flowering bulb as Watsonia, possibly because it gave me a great title.  But I was a bit bothered by that and not entirely convinced.  The flowering season is wrong, and although that sometimes happens you have to be certain.  So back to the books I went and in fact it is Tritoniopsis, most likely triticea, although burchellii is almost identical and grows in the same places.  The brown leaves, which you can see in this photo, are distinctive and make me confident of this identification.

Tritoniopsis tritecea

Tritoniopsis tritecea

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.

Introducing The Fynbos Blog

Most mornings I get up and unless I have other early morning commitments I take the dogs for a run around our farm, situated on the mountains of Klein Drakenstein Municipality in the Western Cape of South Africa.  Because it has a Mediterranean climate with dry summers and wet winters, unlike the rest of sub-Saharan Africa which has wet summers and dry winters, the Cape Floral Kingdom is unique and diverse and known as the 8th Floral Kingdom of the world.  All year as we are out running, me and the dogs, a spectacular botannical feast unfolds before us, and every year I think that I must find a way to share it with a broader audience.  Collectively the shrubs and bulbs of the Cape Floral Kingdom are known as Fynbos.

The year starts, in my mind, at the end of February or early March which is the end of summer in this part of the world.  Typically we have had a hot dry summer, often with no rain at all from early January and the floral life dries and dies by, with only some robust flowers, usually near a source of underground water, surviving the heat and blazing sunshine.  We rarely go over 40 degree here on the farm, but in the valley, in Paarl, it can be 45 on a hot summer day.  Suddenly, before the rains, the mountains burst into life, as Protea Repens, for me the first flower of the new botannical year, bursts into life.

This year I will take a photographic record of as many flowers as possible, starting with Protea Repens, and including a tiny pelagonium that I found nestled by the side of a path, unusal for the time of year.  I will include anything I know about the plant, but I welcome comments as I’m no expert.

Protea Repens is common on the Du Toitskloof Mountain and is commonly known as sugarbush.  It can be pure cream, or the petals can be tipped with pink.  The flowers are narrow and cupshaped.  The shrubs, here on the farm at least, grow in massive quantities and the spectacle of pink and white flowers is a magnificent sight.

There are hundreds of different pelargoniums, worthy of a book in themselves and we have many different species on the farm.  I couldn’t identify this one.

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