Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Indigenous Beauties : Cross Berry

Its easy to find plants to admire this time of the year, when everything is looking so lush and green, and every plant is bursting with extravagant flowers.


Grewia occidentalis
Cross Berry

The Cross Berry (Grewia occidentalis) though, is one of those plants that seem to be easily over-looked. Its never one for histrionics. The flowers which start in Summer, are never showy, but are always pretty. Birds and butterflies are not superficial however, and know a Grewia's real value and will often be found eating the 4-lobed fruit from which it derives its name.

It ranges in height from 2-5m, and will grow in Sun or Shade. It is semi-deciduous - in optimum conditions it won't lose too many leaves. Its a great tree for a small garden, and will often form more than one stem. It looks even better when planted to form a grove of Cross Berries.

If you're looking for other small trees for small gardens, check this previous post.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Stink-wood is no exaggeration!

My team and I have just been cutting back a very old, and dying Celtis africana. And for the last few hours, I've been wondering what that smell is thats been following me around... until I remembered the common name for a Celtis is the White Stinkwood.



This is a magnificent semi-deciduous tree, its fast growing, and gets quite big. In the right place it will reach about 20-25m. Its bark is a lovely smooth grey colour, and if it gets enough water through winter, it will keep most of its lush-green foliage.

While it is small, it is often mistaken for a Pigeonwood because of the similarity of its leaves. But there is no mistaking it when it starts to mature.

Celtis africana is a haven for all kinds of birds, lizards and insects. And I found seeds of the amazing Tapinanthus (a type of mistletoe, that I've written about in a previous post) on one of the upper branches, which shows that this particular part of the coastal forest eco-system is working quite nicely.



Excuse the slightly blurred picture, I was balancing rather precariously on the end of a branch to get the photo!

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Beautifully Clad Pillars



I must admit, I'm a sucker for using any kind of natural rock in a landscape, or anywhere for that matter. I think its because stone seems to add a certain amount of maturity to its surroundings.

These pillars were the first things to go up on this site that I've been driving past over the last few days. Everything about these pillars appeal to me. From the proportions, to the colours - the browns and oranges and reds of the slate look amazing, and contrast nicely with the white concrete capstone.



To me, its a good sign that the rest of the development is going to be just as beautiful?

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Dealing with White Ants, or How To Control The Universe

Our gardens tell us a lot about ourselves - they often are a reflection of our personality - they reveal our tastes, needs, likes, passions, etc. - but they also sometimes show what we obsess about, what irritates us, and our crazy need to control everything around us.

My guess is that the state of our gardens are probably a good measure of our fragile grip on reality!

Lawns are a perfect example of this - if our lawn is perfect, we console ourselves with the fantasy that we at least have control over some small corner of the universe. And maybe in the uneasy state that is the world's economy, we need to believe we have some control over the universe - as deluded as that may be.



So now that white ant season has hit Durban again, I have a lot more sympathy for the "perfect lawn obsession" that results in the flurry of calls from panicking garden owners asking what can be done to save their lawns from these little "evil" creatures.

There are several ways to deal with termites eating your grass or plants - some more effective than others, but the first step (as in the financial world) is not to panic.
But to deal with them properly its best to understand why they are there...

Most often, they are looking for food. If your lawn has just been laid or recently composted, you may notice an increase in the occurrence of termites. They are present because they have found a new source of food.

They generally also become more noticeable around this time of year, because they are preparing for reproduction and swarming.

I am not a big fan of chemicals, unless the situation is incredibly serious. In most cases applying insecticides is an all-round bad idea - it kills most of the beneficial creatures that live in your soil, and the effects are extremely short-term. They may also make the situation worse in the long term.

The presence of termites is usually easily seen by the fact that the grass starts to look sparse, and small sandy tunnels form above the surface of the soil, or on plants or trees. Make sure that you don't leave anything lying flat on the grass over-night, as the next morning you will usually find the area underneath completely eaten.

I've found that the best way to deal with them, is to disturb these tunnels whenever they are visible, by using the back of a rake, or better yet, give the areas a good spray with water. They usually don't like too much disturbance, and often will move on.

Gardening - as in life, is all about cycles. Sometimes the only control that we can exert is by being patient, doing the basics, and waiting these negative cycles out. Every now and then though, if we look carefully enough, we can find something positive that can be taken out of these crises. Termites are an essential part of the ecosystem - they create habitats, provide food, and make certain nutrients available. The nests also often help the soils absorption of water.

Friday, 3 October 2008

What flower is this?



I was driving past Burman Bush - a very under-appreciated wild area in the middle of Morningside (Durban, South Africa), when this large shrub/small tree caught my eye. Everything around it was bare and brown despite the recent spring rains we've had, but in the afternoon light it really was doing its best to be noticed, so I had to take a picture to try and identify it. It was covered in these beautiful star-shaped flowers, and a few leaves.

Any clues as to what it might be?
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