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Friday, 27 June 2008

Take The Time To Smell The Roses

Following a thread, I found a post on a blog in japan about a japanese tradition called Hanami. This is the custom dating back to the 8th century whereby people gather underneath cherry trees that are in full bloom to contemplate the flowers.

Some of the essence of this custom has probably been lost over the centuries, but wouldn't a lot of the problems that we have in South Africa be lessened if we cultivated a habit of taking time to contemplate the flowers?

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Trees of Eastern South Africa

I have just heard that Elsa Pooley's Field Guide to Trees of Natal, Zululand and the Transkei, is being revised and updated. It should be on the shelves by early 2009.

The new book will most probably be called Trees of Eastern South Africa, and is by Richard Boon and Elsa Pooley.
It is probably the most comprehensive and informative reference of its kind. It will include 1100 descriptions and full colour photographs of indigenous and invasive alien tree species (previously 780) as well as:
  • notes on how to separate similar species
  • colour maps which now cover an enlarged eastern region
  • margin leaf drawings
  • gardening notes and traditional uses
  • fully updated family and genus descriptions
  • derivations of all scientific names
  • common names in most local languages
At the moment they are looking for sponsorship in order to make the price as reasonable as possible. If you would like to help sponsor the book, go to their website -

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Green With Envy Garden Show Pics

I've really enjoyed doing this show - the challenges are what appeals to me most. Trying to make a garden in a too small space, having 3 mainly rainy days to create something that looks like its been there for a while, and of course - a very tight budget.

This show has also confirmed some of my landscape leanings. I've realised that I love contrast. If I was to get philosophical I'd say it's because I live in an amazing country with such stark contrasts, and obvious beauty. But its really that I think the beauty of one plant/ texture/ colour/ material is hardly appreciated without something to contrast it with.

The theme was "The French Courtyard" which I've assumed was a very loose one. But I decided to take some of the aspects that are typical French garden (statuary, clipped hedges and Lavender), and plant wild-looking indigenous Euphorbias and Aloes alongside. In the process, I think, the individual qualities of the plants are enhanced.

The design was based around three inter-linking circles, with different materials, textures, styles, and plants in each. Even with my use of hard materials - I've used rough natural stone and smooth Tuscany cobblestones.

I've always had a tendency towards a more contemporary style of garden, but when designing for others, and specific sites, I'm wary of over-riding other peoples tastes with my own.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Phew...Just In Time!

It looks like its going to be a beautiful day today - the sun is shining, there is no wind. Perfect for the first day of the show. We just managed to finish up yesterday evening before it got dark.
I'm quite happy with the final result, and will post some more pics later on today.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Final Day for Green With Envy Show Setup

I wasn't kidding about the rain - here's a picture taken in Port Shepstone of some of the flooding. Someone's going to have a major cleaning bill to get their car sorted out!

The nursery is beginning to bustle (after 2 days of relative quiet) - people are starting to setup their stands, the marquee is up and everyone is rushing around trying to get it all ready.

Despite the rain, we are on schedule at the moment. The plastering is all but finished, and we are starting to lay the cobbles and steps. The water feature will be next. I think I might have to make some changes to the plants that I had planned to use - there isn't enough space for what I was going to do. Will have to do some thinking...

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

2 Days left to Green With Envy Garden Show

At this point its more like the Green With Envy Garden Shower. The rain was so heavy last night, that it washed away bridges and roads on the South Coast!

As predicted, it started raining quite heavily this morning, cleared up (giving us time to start our plastering) and then bucketed down about 10 minutes before I could rig up our shelter. I'm now soaked, but the shelter is up and Viktor can complete the plastering of the back wall.

On the positive side, the weatherman is predicting clear skies for the weekend, and apparently the bookings for the talks are filling up, so if you are interested call Vicky on 031 2020 348.
The great thing is all proceeds go to the Thuthukani Special School!

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

3 Days to Go - Green With Envy Garden Show

We've got 3 days to build the stand for the garden show, and what do you know - its going to rain for 2 of them! That's something I didn't bargain on, considering that we haven't had any rain in weeks. Things will get a little tricky tomorrow when it comes to the plastering of the wall.
I've finalised the design (I think?) but the finer details will get worked out as we go.

Our stand is under a beautiful Natal Fig, which should help keep some of the rain off our backs, but I'm going to have to get some kind of shelter set up for tomorrow. I guess the style would be leaning closer to Contemporary courtyard rather than French courtyard, but hopefully I can add some touches to the end that will tilt it back into France again?

Monday, 16 June 2008

Garden Show Planning

Today is a public holiday in South Africa - Youth Day. It commemorates the start of the Soweto Uprising in 1976, when school children were protesting against being taught in Afrikaans. The police opened fire on them and several children were killed and injured. This is the photo by Sam Nzima of the dying 12 year old Hector Pieterson, which became an iconic image of that day:

On a less serious note, I'm sitting down today to plan my stand at the Green With Envy Garden Show. The theme is "The French Courtyard". Fortunately thats a fairly open theme I think?

French Gardens are typically formal with topiary, ornate statuary, hedges and water features. But courtyards were generally less formal and were used for culinary purposes, for storing food plants and imported plants which could be given the extra attention they needed. So I think/hope there is a certain amount of freedom of interpretation.

This is my first sketch, the idea was meant to compare a more formal french style with a natural/indigenous style. They would be separated by a plant/moss filled crack. It didn't get the thumbs up from my wife (my best critic), so I'm moving on.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Worth A Read Or Two

I buy a fair amount of gardening books, and I read a whole lot more. But my frustration is that they are often not easily translated to a South African context. I see tons of books that are almost useless to South Africans because they have information that is very specific to a northern hemisphere temperate climate. I feel sorry for the people who unwittingly buy these gardening books and will never be able to use them apart from coffee table books or as drool material.

Fortunately some good quality books are starting to come from places with a similar climate to ours - mainly Australia. Added to this is the fact that South African gardening books are also improving. They're starting to look less like the gardening books that I inherited from my grandmother that contained information that is now either irrelevant or outdated.

An excellent book that I found recently is - The Self-Sustaining Garden: A Gardener's Guide to Matrix Planting
Simply put, the idea behind matrix planting is a completely natural one. It is based on choosing the right plant for the right space. This minimises the amount of pruning, fertilising, weeding and all round extra work that is necessary to enable plants just to survive let alone thrive. It is a principle that is extremely important for people with minimal time and energy, as well as in places with minimal water and other resources.

I noticed a quote on the back of the book that was something to the effect of - 'The thing that separates this book from the host of gardening books out there is that it actually has something to say'.

This post will be the first of many in which I'd like to bring attention to books that I feel have something to say, especially in a South African context.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Trash Talk

Sean from Bamboo Geek has a great website on all things green (including bamboo). But he has just started a website called TrashWatch, which is attempting to make companies which generate large amounts of trash take responsibility for their trash that gets spread around the countryside.

This is an American based site, and obviously aiming at American companies, but we in South Africa could take a leaf out of his book, by taking a stand against companies that generate litter and make no attempt to clean it up.

We also have a responsibility to make sure that we don't litter ourselves. I can't tell you how often I see people throwing rubbish out of their car windows as they drive along. Is it that they don't understand, or maybe they just don't care?
How do you educate people? The perception is that government has neither the capacity or will to really focus on this issue.
The companies that generate the rubbish themselves need to take responsibility for education, or better yet - reduce the amount of plastic and non-recyclable materials that they generate.

SA can be proud - Woolworths has just been awarded "Responsible Retailer of the Year" at the World Retail Awards. This is a great achievement, as they stood out from other retailers internationally in their efforts to do 'good business'. Other businesses in SA need to step up and begin to take responsibility for their footprint too. We need to look at how we do business, and how we can do it better from an environmental point of view.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Green With Envy Garden Show

I've been invited to take a stand at Green With Envy's Garden Show. Its taking place on the 20-22 June at Green With Envy Nursery - 281 Vause Road, Berea, Durban.

If you're in the area you should definitely stop by - it should be interesting.

Its quite short notice, so I'll have to do some quick thinking...

Monday, 9 June 2008

Looking Over The Garden Wall

I once took a test to see whether I used the right or left side of my brain, as an added extra the test told me that I am more visual than auditory.
I'm not sure how scientific it was, but it did make a certain amount of sense.

When I pick up a gardening book, most times I very casually skim read the text, preferring to absorb the pictures instead. This has always seemed the right way to approach the honing of my landscaping skills. Gardens are after all primarily a visual experience.

I've also always believed, that like plants and their ability to absorb water and nutrients, my natural ability to learn relies quite heavily on osmosis.
The absorbing of ideas through my eyes has been how I have learned most of what I know. I quickly get impatient with words, preferring to get to the real thing as fast as possible.
I would often look at planting, texture or colour combinations, and decide whether I liked them or not, and why.

I do believe that this is the best way to begin the learning experience as a landscaper. I think its the ideal foundation to lay to make your understanding of gardens as real and honest as possible.

But lately I have found myself drawn to words far more than I ever have in the past. Maybe its the influence of reading so many interesting thoughts in gardening blogs from people all over the world. Maybe its the act of writing this blog, and the discipline of having to put my thoughts down on paper.
It might also be the realisation that while pictures express so much to me, they may not be enough to try to communicate concepts or needs or reasons behind. And it is dawning on me that gardening as an Art, Science, Hobby, Language or even Need, has so much further to go in being accessible to people in general.

We have such a rich heritage and history as gardeners, that it is easy to look at the art of gardening as complete or mature. If I look back at history, and the growth and development of gardens, I could quite naturally compare it to an old man - wise, experienced and learned, but with little space left for new ideas or experimentation. All the ideas are already thought of, with any freshness coming from re-hashing old concepts.

But I keep getting a flash of the truth: that if we choose to look past what we have learnt, and know already, and up over the garden wall, there is a whole world of new ideas beyond.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

A Perfect Winters Day

Yesterday was one of those perfect winter days - warm enough that you could sit in the sun and feel toasty but not hot. We went for a walk in Kloof Gorge, to take some photos of the red hot pokers that were sitting proudly above the dry winter grass.

On the way back I started to notice a scattering of these Helichrysums in the veld. The flowers were already dry and silvery, but seemed to reflect the sun like little mirrors in the grass.
The flowers are probably several weeks old now, and if the veld isn't burnt too soon they'll probably look just as good for a few more weeks. (True to their common name - Everlasting)

I changed the photos to black and white to show how striking the silvery flowers really are.

The only blight on the day was discovering hundreds of tiny little red ticks the size of pin-heads on my ankles. I had to spend the next half an hour making sure they were all off me.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Indigenous Beauties : White Leonotus leonurus

Leonotus leonurus
Wild Dagga

Driving past Springside Nature Reserve, I spotted this Leonotus growing at the entrance. Its not as common as the Orange Wild Dagga but its just as beautiful.

Home Made Pest Control Solution(s)

I'm really not a big fan of pesticides or chemicals. Actually, that's putting it mildly...I hate pesticides. They are almost always ...