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.
Tag Archives: South Africa
There are days when I bound up the mountain followed by happy dogs, fully of the joys of, not spring as it’s autumn here, but certainly the joys of life and the beauty of this place in the morning light. And there are other days, probably far more frequent, when the run is more of a plod, as the busy life we lead catches up, sleep is never enough and despite the glories to be found on the mountain it’s an effort to drag myself out there. Yesterday was one of those other days.
Luckily there was lots to photograph so I had plenty of excuses to stop and to take my time and the usual morning run took much longer than it should have.
The first excitement is that the wild rosemary is in flower. Like the buchu that we farm it is cultivated for the perfume industry. The shrub is a little nondescript thing, a few grey tendrils coming out of the ground, until it flowers and then these exquisite flowers emerge at the top of each branch. Very common, they are all over the place at the moment.
Eriocephalus africanus or Wild Rosemary
Many of the flowering fynbos have a long season – one of them is the fynbos version of salvia. It starts to flower in late November or early December and it’s still flowering prolifically now. There are several of these bordering the roads where we run and they are like friends we great every day for half the year. Coming towards the end of their season now and flowering as vigorously as ever.
As we run, or should I say plod, up the path that goes through the olive groves to the top of the farm, we pass this fearsome, stunning shrub. I showed this photo to Peter, my husband and he wryly acknowledged that he knows it all too well. Like many South African farmers he likes to wear shorts and sometimes comes home with his legs ripped to shreds. This chap is one of the culprits. But look at what a stunning chap he is. I actually managed to get a shot of the small thorn-head in focus, grey with tiny spikes of gold set in little balls. A bigger version could be a medieval weapon of war. I don’t know what this is, there’s lots of it about and it must be pretty common and I will identify it sooner or later and post the name.
One of the most varied and most prolific fynbos varieties we have are the Ericas. You know this species as heather. The amazing thing about Ericas is that they grow all over Africa and Europe but 80% of the species grow in Southern Africa and there are 660 fynbos sub-species. Quite a few of these grow on this farm, so there will be plenty of Ericas in the blog. Here’s the first one, another long standing friend who flowers throughout the hot months, giving us lovely purple-mauve flashes on the mountain when all else is hiding deep underground away from the relentless sun. I don’t know which of the 660 this one is. Will have to get a book or two on Ericas – there are plenty more to come.
One of the 660 subspecies of Erica resident in the region
Finally, there I was, puffing along, when I saw a little group of tiny pink whorls. Pulled up and investigated. A little flower head with flowers tightly furled waiting for more daylight. I drove up later to catch them open. I haven’t identified it but it looks and behaves like Oxalis so that’s what we’ll call it. Completely different to the Oxalis I photographed a few days ago with their clover-like leaves, and that is the enduring joy of fynbos.
Some flowers are at their best in the subtle light of dawn and dusk while others curl up and go to sleep, only showing off their brilliance in the full light of day. I was driving home yesterday afternoon, wondering if I really was going to find enough flowers on this farm to justify a whole year of blogging, when I noticed the bank was studded with pink and white flowers. When I’m out running early in the morning they are all but invisible but during the day they are everywhere, on the banks, on the roads and all over the lands.
These come in a multitude of colours and at least a couple of varieties that I’ve noted here on the farm. What I love about them is that they seem to be the first bulbs to flower each year, showing almost immediately after the first rains. Of all the fynbos bulbs are among the most delightful, highly localised in terms of where they grow, often so fragile that one wonders they can survive at all, hugely varied and the first sighting of a favourite flower each year is always a moment of private joy, very Wordsworth, somewhat hackneyed yet so true. We’ll be having some surprised by joy moments I’m afraid.
While photographing the Oxalyis I saw a different flash of white, something I hadn’t noticed before. It’s one of those I’m not certain of, yet so distinctive that I think it must be Stachys Aethiopica. It was quite hard to capture and if I see more out there I’ll try and get a better shot. A very distinctive white flower and the leaves were used medicinally in the past; the common English name is woundwort.
Part of the fun is identifying the plants as it lends a component of detection to my day. Sometimes I’ll get it wrong. When the yellow lobelia I thought I’d identified last week started to show tiny little fluffy seedheads I thought “that can’t be right” and went back to the book. Indeed I should have known better as I grew up with a garden that had lots of senecio in it and this turns out to be Senecio pubigerus.
I have been trying to get a bit fitter this week as I’m riding in a show at the weekend, so for a couple of days I’ve been running twice a day. One evening the light was exceptional, it was too dark to take flower photos but I could not resist a couple of sunset shots and a rare picture of Maebh the Irish Wolfhound standing still. And a picture of the farmhouse as we crossed over the dam wall when it was very nearly dark.
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.