Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hail, again

A gardener dreads hail more than anything else. And in Johannesburg a year rarely passes without at least one major hail storm. I still shudder to remember the one that had left many of the leaves of my Philodendron in shreds.

This year’s hail was more merciful. For one, the Philodendron was entirely spared, probably thanks to the neighbouring tree that had grown some huge branches over a part of my garden, which acted as a protection.

As soon as the hail subsided, I went into the garden to assess the damage and to clean it up, but not before I took a few photos.

The hail among pratia flowers

The leaves from the neighbouring tree

After the hail

Daisies live on

Not to worry. Daisies have not been consigned to the dust bin. They have been given a new lease of life as potted plants. The ugly plastic pots are a temporary solution. I plan to re-pot them into two tin buckets that I bought although I have no need for them whatsoever. It only remains to persuade my husband to drill drainage holed in them and the daisies will have a permanent home. I am hoping the mission will be accomplished in the sometime during the forthcoming five-year plan.

Erigeron moves baby geranium

As soon as I planted the erigeron plants, I realised that the baby geranium previously transplanted into the vicinity of the one on the left hand side had to be moved yet again. This will be the third time it is moved from its germinating pot. I do agonise over its future a bit, since I still see no evidence of any roots.

But here’s to my little baby geranium, hoping for the best!

Erigeron replaces daisies

My new erigeron plants are now where daisies used to be. They are still a slip of the bush they will grow into (it the old gardening magazine and the nursery assistant – who is quickly becoming my acquaintance – are to be trusted). But I am content as content can be. They are just right for the spot, or rather the two spots. I gave them the gift of good measure of compost and promise to give them organic fertiliser too.

The new plants look much better in the designated spots than daisies, because they have that light, airy look I was sought to achieve. Their small flowers seem to float above the clump of the leaves.

The end of the daisies

It is not that I do not like yellow flowers. One of my favourite beauty spots when I drive to work is a lovely green mound with densely planted yellow flowers in the middle. The contrast is most pleasing to the eye.

My dislike of yellow close to me may be rooted in the traumatic experience I had as a young gal. That summer I often wore my favourite bright yellow dress. After a few days I noticed that I displayed an unusually large number of tiny insects on my person. Several more days passed before I connected the insects with the dress. As soon as I realised that they were attracted to its yellow colour, I consigned my dress to the Wardrobe and wore it no more. (Ah, the dramas of my youth! I wonder no one made a movie about them yet.)

Well, yellow of r any other colour, the more I looked at my two daisy bushes the less happy I was with them. They stick out like sore thumbs. I imagined the small whitish –pinkish low growing and spreading bushed in their place, and the latter seem perfect for the position.

I leafed through my old gardening magazines anew and – there it was. The plant I was looking for all the time is not a daisy at all, although it has daisy-like flowers, or rather camomile-like flowers (there it is again – my ever-present love affair with camomiles). The plant I really wanted is called Erigeron karvinskianus. It turned out that I had copied the wrong Latin name.

That’s it. I am off to the nursery. The yellow daisies can go into a pot.

Ah, the regrets and second thought of gardening!

Yellow daisies

Yellow daisies were not my first choice.

As always happens when spring comes, I experienced the urge get a new plant for my garden, even if every nook and corner seems pretty well covered with vegetation.

This spring I settled for daisies. Not just any daisies. I am methodical when it comes to selecting plants for my garden. I studied various gardening magazines and selected a particular daisy with a nice rounded growth and small flowers that seems to range (the picture was rather small) from white to pink. I carefully copied its Latin name to a wider list of plant I had compiled and set off for the closest nursery.

Alas, it turned out that the name I transcribed with such care was a generic name for all daisies: tall growing and low growing, annual and perennial, blue, white, yellow or whatever other colour daisies come in.

The nursery assistant showed me every kind of daisy they had in stock. Not one of them resembled my daisy.
Unable to leave empty handed, I did what I promised myself last year (or was it the year before last?) that I will never do again. I abandoned my original plan and got two daisies with yellow flowers instead.

I was rather satisfied with the two daisies when I planted them out into the ground. True, their habit of growth is rather less than pleasing at the moment, but I look forward to them bushing out into a nice roundest shape (as the nursery assistant said they would).

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


This is the plant that produced the baby jasmine fledglings. I bought it three years ago.

What can I say about my jasmine?

I love its flowers with their heady scent to distraction. In the early spring, I am out in the garden first thing in the morning every day, burrowing my face into the jasmine flowers.

I only wish the flowers would last longer.

This is what my jasmine looked like soon after I transplanted it into my garden:

The supporting stick is still there – I dare not remove it. Here are some more views of my jasmine:

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The fountain

The only ornament in my garden is a cement fountain. I saw the ensemble in a hardware-cum-garden shop and had to have it. I still cannot believe I let the delivery guys drag it over my wood laminate living room floor. Actually, I cannot believe the three or four of them managed to drag it at all. The thing weighs about hundred tons.

The pebble pattern around the fountain was hand-arranged. The area was first covered with garden cloth, then with a layer of river sand, and finally with pebbles. Since then the pattern has been disturbed many times, mainly by me walking over the pebbles, and one anxious afternoon by a visiting toddler who thoroughly enjoyed himself throwing my pebbles around.

I still think the plants – a kind of grass, I believe from New Zealand – were perfect for the spot. Unfortunately, they would not grow the way I wanted them to: flat against the wall, in a fan shape. So they had to be removed.

My next project is to grow a thick veil of jasmine behind the fountain, about half way up the wall. I hope the jasmine will cover the patches of the paint that have peeled off in the meantime, due to moisture from the up-the-hill garden, which now has lawn and plants instead of brick paving. I do not hold it against my up-the-hill neighbours, but I do hold it against the builders who neglected to damp-proof the back yard partition walls.

The jasmine plants that are expected to perform the important function of covering the damaged partition wall are now mere babies:

Friday, October 2, 2009

Building affairs

I am very proud of the stone and cement path I created in the base of the stately staircase (really only three steps - but many other back yards in the complex only feature a sheer drop). This area used to be bare soil which eroded whenever it rained. I trust that by building the path I had saved the staircase from collapse.

This ingenious structure, worthy of pyramid builders, is designed to hide (at least partially) the hose and the bags of potting soil and compost.

The bricks that went into building the wall originally formed paths among the ground cover plants. However, I soon realised that they did not present a very pleasant scene and removed them as soon as the ground cover spread to fill in the spaces. Many of the stones visible on this image were removed too – for one can have too much of the good thing!

The stone affair continues

When I visited St. Petersburg, Russia, our tour guide told us she loved her city best after a good rain, because that is when the colours of the buildings stand out in all their beauty.  I was doubtful at the time, because for me rain is a big no-no. However, whenever I observe the brilliant colours of the stones in my garden during the watering times I have to admit to myself that our guide had a point.

Here they are, stones of my garden photographed when wet to intensify their colours. In order of appearance, they are: rhino stones; river pebbles; hippo stones; red pebbles from a shop (I think they were called diamond pebbles); tiger eye stones; and pebbles dug from my garden:

The variety of stones is not always intentional. Every time I do the nursery rounds with the intention of buying stones they have something different on offer. The only stones always to be found in Johannesburg nurseries are the white ones, which I avoid as much as I can, though I have purchased a few bags out of despair, because there was nothing else on offer.

When I started digging around my garden in order to add compost to the clay soil, I unearthed several large stones. They are now above ground:

The pebbles pictured below travelled with me from across half the globe. They were stolen from a beach in Montenegro; some of those beaches have the most beautiful pebbles in the world.

The origins of this lovely stone – pride of my garden - are shrouded in mystery. It was a gift, one of the most beautiful I ever received.

The affair of the stone

My lasting affair with stones started out of necessity. As soon as I rolled my sleeves and plunged into gardening, I found out about benefits of composting. Naturally wanting only the best for my garden (providing the best was not expensive), I composted the flower beds liberally.

Alas, then it rained. Now, it almost never merely rains in Johannesburg. It usually pours. Our whole complex is on a steep slope, and my portion of it is no exception. Consequently, my garden gets not only the rainfall due to it, but also the rainfall intended for my neighbours up the hill from me. To make matters worse, our first up-the-hill neighbour used to have his whole backyard paved with bricks. Since bricks do not absorb water, the full force of the rolling current would descend right into my backyard, rushing over the steps in a magnificent waterfall.

I watched the downpour from my window, horrified. Buckets and buckets of the newly laid compost and soil were stripped from my flower beds. When the rain stopped I went out to survey the damage. The roots of several plants stood sadly exposed. I collected handfuls of soil and compost that had collected at the bottom of the garden and did my best to cover them. Then I heard someone next door and down the slope from me sweeping in what I imagined was an irritated manner. I peeked through the gate and, sure enough, my neighbour’s patio was black with the soil and compost that came from my flower beds.

That’s how I started collecting stones. They were introduced into the garden for purely practical reasons, to prevent the soil from the flower beds from being washed away. But the necessity soon grew into a passion for stones.

I bought sacks and sacks of stones and pebbles. I brought pebbles from overseas holidays, the way other people bring souvenirs. I hauled boulders for kilometres back to the car when on outings in the bush. Once I stopped in the middle of the road to pick up a nice round stone that lay nearby, looking abandoned.

My first stone works were rather crude. The grey rocks in image number two were donated by a friend who dug them out of her garden. The tree trunk was acquired on the side of the highway. I happened to see workers cutting up a tree trunk and thought – that would look nice in my garden! And it did, until it rotted away. The stone in the centre of picture number three is the one I salvaged.

The second time around the result was more pleasing. I found those beautiful bluish pebbles in a garden shop – once, and then they had them no more.

The same area looks even better with the peace-in-the-house filling in the available space, with the smaller circle of white pebbles removed and the bigger one being hidden by the growing azalea. The white pebbles – the most common kind in the garden shops – are my least favourite.

Peace-in-the house tends to spread and has to be trimmed regularly. If not, it would cover the stones. This plant doesn’t mind that there is not soil. Somehow it manages to bring its own soil with it.