Summer Lust

There is something so imminently exciting about the first tendrils of warm air that herald the end of winter. Your step falls a little lighter and you breathe a little deeper,  as the joy of birthing is echoed by the frog’ s song, the bird’s calls and the budding trees.

I know its been coming, the confused plants,  popping out bits of colour, have told us that the icy, wet showers of winter are almost done.  Actually that they should have been done already,  August is the month of wind in Cape Town,  not rain.  Our south-easter should have been whipping across the city,  pushing the  winter smog,  far out to sea.  Alas it has not happened yet,  but  August is not over and we can still hope for the seasons to right themselves.   Matters not too much I suppose,  as long as the heat keeps coming, to chase away my winter blues and bring honey colours to my gardens.

The white flowers apparently are the strong ones and tend to pop out first,  so I have had some comfort from my orchids that started flowering in June, but I do long for the sunshine yellows, oranges and deep red of Strelitzia and Cape Honeysuckle.

I am deeply grateful for the life giving rain that turns the world to green, but ENOUGH already – Bring on Summer!

Beautiful Orchids

Trees – the earth’s keepers



Gigantic keepers of the earth,

shooting their roots deep into the soil,

pulling the life giving water and nutrients up

and to the surface,

Gently nurturing us with this bounty.

They mist the moisture into the atmosphere,

Cooling us and bringing rain.

Strip an area of trees and watch it

Dry up and turn into a desert.

They bind the soil with their roots

providing a haven for all the scurrying

And wriggling creatures and bacteria that

improve our soils, so we can grow food,

rich in goodness.

Leaves fall to the ground to form

A carpet of compost, at no charge.

They shade us with magnificent green beauty,

that restores calm to our jagged spirits.

Green Rain that washes away the strains of life

They give us paper

Clean our air

Soak up Carbon Dioxide

They provide wood for fire and furniture,

wind breaks that shield us.

They absorb sound to cushion us from the cacophony of city noises

Juicy fruits and crunchy nuts, to feed our bodies

Medicines, to heal our bodies

All provide homes for birds and butterflies that inspire our wonder

They are honourable and sacred……..and we are their Keepers!


Is cutting down all the alien trees really the right way to go

I am sad for the loss of trees on table mountain, more than sad,  I have observed something that strikes fear in my heart and a chill down my spine.  These is an emptiness in my heart that echos the empty spaces where these beautiful giants used to be.

When my kids were growing up and budgets were tight, we would head up to the forests,  following the streams up the mountain.  After we were well and truly tired out,  our picnic lunch of sandwiches and crunchy, sweet, apples would be enjoyed from a high point over looking Cape Town.   We would drink from the mountain steams that were icy cold and any time there was a pool, the kids would be in, splashing and squealing with joy.  It was a way to share with them my own childhood growing up on the mountains of Gordon’s Bay.

Even at the height of summer, these steams trickled their life saving juice and in the surrounding forests you could breath in the dank aroma of wet earth.   There was always a  welcome coolness and a gentle breeze.  The air was moist and soft  – like a mother’s gentle touch – it would sooth your soul – green rain, is what the Chinese call it.

When you drove from Kirstenbosch around to Hout Bay you could smell the damp from your car, you could feel the cool deep shadow of the trees and you could see the water seepage along the curved banks of the road.  When you drove up Ou Kaapseweg, the sides of the mountains always had points were water oozed out.  All the dampness and oozing water has disappeared with the forests they have cut down.  So I ask again – DO THEY REALLY KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING? The mountain streams might never go completely but do we know this.  There is so much evidence of deserts advancing when forests are cut down.

They say there were never forests on the Mountain because they found some old paintings that don’t show them.  Not very scientific evidence to base such a huge decision on, especially one that will have far reaching consequences.

Its been my observation that there are a number of old buildings in Cape Town that have huge beams in them, massive lintels and wide floor boards that could only have come from really big trees.  They are Yellowwoods so did not come from foreign ships and they come from a time before exploration up the coast.  The only conclusion we can draw from this is that there must have been giant Yellowwoods in the immediate vicinity.   I am sure that they did not cover the mountains  – winds like our South Easter are not generally enjoyed by trees.  However in all the valleys with a bit of protection and constant water streams these trees would have thrived and the mountain is full of these valleys.Soldiers in the Cederberg

I am not against removing aliens that don’t support our bird and insect life, I recognise that many of them tend to be wildly invasive, not to mention burning at a temperature hotter than can be tolerated by our delicate echo system, when the mountain fires do their inevitable sweep, BUT I do think the process should be done slowly with the introduction of indigenous trees in all the places it would be possible for them to grow. Only once they had reached a suitable and sustainable height and number should the area be cleared of aliens.

Like humans, trees tend to grow better in groups.  They protect and feed each other, big trees shade little trees – forcing them ever upward to grab the sun.  They shade the ground, keeping it from drying out, the leaves and branches fall, creating a thick soft matting of organic mulch that all the little forest insects burrow in.  Their massive roots hold onto the soil to stop soil erosion and reach down deep, to bring up water to the surface, which they slowly release into the atmosphere. The dampness in a forest is because of the water that trees release around them and then work hard to keep it there.

When you strip the mountain of trees and lay waste all that is a forest echo system – you destroy much.  Much of which you may never be able to restore.  But when the water dries up in an already water short area – everyone should be concerned.

Plant a tree, better still plant a group of trees – in memory of the once great forests on our beautiful Table Mountain.




In the Begining – Part 2

Summer evenings were some of the most favorite times with my brothers and sister.  Living up on the slopes of the Gordon’s Bay mountains our terraced garden had a spectacular view out over the bay, we would watch the sun sink into it’s radiant self and relish the aftermath of soft, warm, pink light.    The bottom terrace had a gentle slope and we would head down to the lovely patch of thick, cool, green grass in the corner.  We would roll head over heels down the slope until  we were completely dizzy.  When we got bored with that we would lie on our backs and stare up at the twinkling stars that signaled the approaching darkness.  The gentle, evening breezes would brush over us bringing goose bumps to our warm, suntanned arms and legs and we knew it would not be long till Mom’s voice would summon us to dinner.

The best ever, was if Dad joined us and pointed out the star formations, the Southern Cross and Orion’s Belt being favorites, as we could easily identify them.  It also meant we got to stay out until after dark, which was deliciously decadent.  Dad spent 7 years in the navy, in the days when sextant and stars were still taught as an integral part of navigation and he loved imparting this knowledge.  On one of these evenings he also imparted some other, secret knowledge that he had been hoarding for a while and that put us right off that green square for some time.

I can’t quite remember if he volunteered the information or if we questioned him on the puzzle of why that square was lush and green, even in the middle of summer when the other sections were hard and brown.  The horrible truth – we were lying over the soak away for the septic tank overflow.

Yucky, Poo!  We were sooooo disgusted.   In those day we still did not have water-borne sewerage systems and everyone simply had a septic tank and the honey wagon (don’t ask me why we called that stinky, suction truck a honey wagon but we did)  would come around on a regular basis and suck up the sewerage for transport to a sewer cleaning plant somewhere far away.  The smell of that truck would hit you well in advance of its presence and we would rush to try to find a spot where the awful stink of raw sewerage would not offend our wrinkled up noses.

We fell out of love with our patch for a while, but it wasn’t long before it’s charms overcame our aversion and after repeated checking that there was no oozing to the surface and much sniffing to try to detect a whiff of unpleasant odour, we resumed bollamakissies (never had to spell that word before)  down the slope.

At some point the municipality modernised and laid on water-borne sewerage, but that patch stayed green  for a long time after.  Even at that young age it seemed odd to me,  I was sure we should just have kept moving the french drain until all the garden was green.  “Adults are so hard to understand!  Didn’t they also like the thick, springy lawn?”

Something of the perfection of our god given eco system stirred in my brain and a great appreciation of shit has lived with me since then.

It makes things grow fast and strong, it reduces the need to water by half and how much better to pump it under our farms soils, than pump it out into our oceans. Yes I know, it needs to go through some processing first to prevent the spread of things like hepatitis, but common, we are pouring chemicals unto farmlands that leave them leached and useless after time (there is no greater costs than this)  and require huge quantities of water,  while we poison our seas with the stuff that we need to complete the circle of life.   Makes me feel 5 years old again and think “why is it that grownups always seem to do things the long way round”.

If you love green you have to check out this site. Innovation and technology


Los Angeles based artist Stephen Glassman has this great idea to turn old Billboards into lushy gardens. The artist wants to create living cloud forests and by doing this creating some breathing space for the car-drivers . For URBANFLORA only one thing is important ” more green in the city” and this is another example  of innovative thinking to bring nature into the urban living areas.

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Water – the miracle creator of life

Water is the biggest consideration when planting anything.  When you are a guerrilla gardener in Africa the challenge is even greater. Plants are just incredible they adapt to the most stringent watering program but they do need some water in dry seasons, the trick is to make it routine.  A little bit of water once a week is much better than a flood of water every three weeks.   On the railway line garden we have adapted many strategies.

  • Plant indigenous and check that you use hardy plants – be kind to your plants and don’t plant a shade loving water plant in an arid sun spot!  You might think I am stating the obvious, but hey ……
  • Dig deep holes
  • Line them with cardboard and newspaper.
  • Include a layer of plant material – broken branches and leaves work well.
  • Water the hole well before you plant.
  • We love Coke – I am sure there must be a book out there on “101 uses of a Coke bottle”  – take a two liter coke bottle and make 4 pin prick holes in the bottom and then four vertical rows of  four pin prick  on the sides – the side ones should not really come higher than about a quarter way up the bottle.  Fill the bottle with small stones and bury it with your plant.  Leave the neck of the bottle sticking out with the top on.  If you fill this bottle once a week with water your plant will live through summer.  We have even had trees survive on this little water.  It goes right to the root ball and as it is underground, there is minimal evaporation.
  • Make a dam around the plant to allow it to hold any water that comes its way
  • Mulch around the plant – the more the better.  And you can use anything for mulch (although organic material works best and will improve the soil quality).  I make extensive use of stone mulch when we are short on green and brown stuff.  The object here is to create a cool area around the root ball and stop as much evaporation as possible.  The coolness and dampness in the mulch will encourage earthworms and other good things to make it home.  They then borrow and poo, improving your soil quality daily and lessoning the need for outside interferance.
  • We even sweep the street for mulch – amazing amount of leaves find there way into the gutters – neatens the area and gives free mulch
  • Create an environment for nature to do its work.  Its much cheaper and much easier and much more earth friendly than plying fertilizers and huge amounts of water.

Before Railway line – industrial wasteland

In Process

An emerging wall of green