Friday, 29 July 2016

What a winter!

Winter is winter, I know, and why anything surprises me is a good question! But this year the seasons have been extremely peculiar. Unlike South Africa's weather, sunny, warm, clear blue skies, even in winter. No. More like the rest of the world's weather!
25th July 2016
After the hectic heat waves we had this past summer, winter has brought in absolutely freezing temperatures and stuff like snow!, hail, floods and tornadoes! Tornadoes? In South Africa?! Well, there you have it. We actually had a few tornadoes.

As the hail started, I thought of running out and moving some of my succulents under cover, but it was already too fierce. 25th July 2016
And rain, In the middle of winter. Not Gauteng weather at all, we are a summer rainfall area. And hail, LOTS of hail, big hail! When it started, my mind was racing. What can I save? My plants are going to be
annihilated! What about my garden birds?!

I watched helplessly as the storm got worse and worse, pounding the trees, the plants and wreaking havoc. Luckily my chooks were already in their coop as I had suspected some foul play earlier in the morning and had left them inside.


The hailstorm lasted for about 20 minutes, followed by heavy rain the rest of the day and night. And it took my gardener a full day to clear all the leaves, broken branches and rubble. Mr. Brown, a stray rooster, was in the aviary at the back of the pic, hiding in the shelter provided and the sound of the hail on the tin roof must have been deafening, it certainly was in my house, we couldn't even hear one another talking.

My experience is that, if we have late-winter rain, then probably we are in for a good rainfall season, so that's one positive to look forward to!
An unusual sight - Aloes blooming in the snow! 

Friday, 8 July 2016

Winter - Fire and Ice

Aloe ferox in my garden

Mid-winter (July) in South Africa and the Aloes flower fiery-red against the white of frost. I've been dreading the frost, as some years it has killed all the flowers in the bud. I do have one aloe (the largest of the three, pictured below, which started flowering last) which doesn't seem to be doing so well, the flowers don't seem to have much colour, but hopefully the flowers will still reach maturity, as long as we don't have any more stints of heavy frost.

My chooks have left large, bare patches all over the garden, scrounging for any available greenery as the lawn is all but non-existent.

Lots of mist this morning, a sign that, albeit cold, the day is going to be bright and sunny!

Some say the world will end in fire;
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
~ One of Robert Frost’s most popular poems, published in December 1920 in Harper’s Magazine

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Can you spot the fungus?

I presume these are Bracket Fungi even though they looked like mushrooms when starting out, almost indistinguishable from the rocks, but they are rock hard and sturdy, like most Brackets.

Like all fungi, bracket fungus likes a damp environment and tree bracket fungi attack the hardwood interior, and therefore, the structural integrity of the tree and are the cause of white or brown rot.

Luckily these appeared in a damp spot next to my garden path amongst some rocks and were not near any of my trees. Make sure the bases of trees don’t stand in water. As soon as the infection is noted, removal of the bracket fungus shelves will at least prevent the spore release that may infect other trees. The good news is that these fungi attack the old and the weak and often occur after a tree is damaged by man or nature and play an integral part in the decomposition of wood.

Standard English Name(s): bracket fungus, shelf fungus, tree fungus, conk

Scientific Name(s): various species of Fomes, Fomitopsis, Ganoderma, etc.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Coprinus comatus - Shaggy Mane

Suddenly appearing in people’s lawns (these two in my chicken enclosure) — in troops or lines or rings — this mushroom is well known and relatively easily recognized. Its distinguishing features include its shape and stature and the fact that the gills “deliquesce,” turning themselves into black ink as they mature. The flesh of the mushroom is white and has a mild taste. and this mushroom grows in groups and is sometimes found in unexpected places, like grassy areas in towns. The Shaggy ink-cap occurs widely in grasslands and meadows throughout South Africa.

Luckily,  there are only a handful of mushrooms in South Africa that are poisonous. So if you learn these first, the rest are all edible or inedible, but not poisonous. This leaves you open to a world of free food.

Shaggy manes are easy to identify with their conical to bell-shaped white caps (2-5 in / 5-12 cm in height) with big white scales, hence “shaggy mane”. The whole mushroom itself can reach over 12 in (30 cm), but normally grows to 8 in (20 cm). If you plan on frying up this delicious mushroom you must act fast. It is best to collect young specimen as their is no point in collecting mushrooms whose caps are already turning black. Once the mushroom has reached maturity, the cap with its crowded gills blackens quickly — the whole cap turns into a black ink-like liquid, stained by the black spores.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Oh! For such a garden!

The Story of a Garden
by Mabel Osgood Wright (1859-1934)
There is a garden that is not like the other gardens round about. In many of these gardens the flowers are only prisoners, forced to weave carpets on the changeless turf, and when the eye is sated and the impression palls, they become to their owners, who have no part in them, merely purchased episodes.
This garden that I know has a bit of green, a space of flowers, and a stretch of wildness, as Bacon says a garden should always have. At its birth the twelve months each gave to it a gift, that it might always yield an offering to the year, and presently it grew so lovable that there came to it a soul.
The song-sparrow knows that this is so; the mottled owl that lives in the hollow sassafras has told it to the night-hawk. Catbirds and robins, routed from other gardens by fusillades, still their quick-throbbing hearts, feeling its protection. The coward crow alone knows its exclusion, for he was unhoused from the tall pines and banished for fratricide. The purling bluebird, claiming the pole-top house as an ancestral bequest, repeats the story every springtime. The oriole and swallow whisper of it in their southward course, and, returning, bring with them willing colonists.
The rock polypody creeps along in confidence, with no ruthless hand to strip it off, and the first hepatica opens its eyes in safety, for tongues of flame or the grub-axe have not crippled it during the winter. Once the petted garden beauties looked askance, from their smooth beds in the tilled corner, and drew their skirts away from the wildwood company, but now, each receiving according to its need, they live in perfect concord.
The wild rose in the chinky wall peeps shyly at her glowing sisters, and the goldenrod bows over it to gossip with the pentstemon. And this is how it came to be, for the garden was no haphazard accident. Nature began it, and, following her master-touch, the hand and brain of a man, impelled by a reverent purpose, evolved its shaping.
This man, even when a little boy, had felt the potency of Nature's touch to soothe the heartache. One day, led by an older mate, he trudged a weary way to see a robber hanged. The child, not realizing the scene he was to witness, was shocked to nervous frenzy, and a pitying bystander, thinking to divert his mind, gave him a shilling. Spying a bird pedlar in the crowd, he bought a goldfinch and a pint of seeds, and the horror of the hanging was quite forgotten and effaced by the little bird, his first possession. To it he gave his confidence and told all his small griefs and joys, and through the bird Nature laid her warm hand on his heart and gently drew it toward their mutual Master, and never after did he forget her consolation.
All this was more than seventy years ago. When the boy grew to manhood; following the student life, the spirit of the bird that had blotted out the scene of civil murder was still with him. Its song kept his thoughts single and led him toward green fields, that their breath might leaven lifeless things, strengthening the heart that felt a world-weariness, as all must feel at times when facing human limitations.
Love came, and home; then, following hand in hand, honour and disappointment; and again, with double purpose, he turned Natureward. Not to the goatish Pan, but to Nature's motherhood, to find a shrine upon her breast where he might keep his holiest thoughts, and watch them grow. A place apart, where the complete man might be at rest, and walking in the cool of day feel the peace of God.
At first the garden was a formless bit of waste, but Nature tangles things with a motive, and it was in the making that it came to win a soul, for the man's spirit grew so calm and strong that it gave its overplus to what it wrought.
The garden's growth was nowhere warped or stunted by tradition; there was no touch of custom's bondage to urge this or that. No rudeness had despoiled its primal wildness, and lovers, who had trodden paths under the trees, were its sole discoverers. It was rock-fenced and briar-guarded; the sharp shadows of the cedars dialled the hours, and the ground-pine felt its darkened way beneath them with groping fingers.
This happened before I was, but hearing of it often, sound has imparted its sense to sight, and it all seems visual. With my first consciousness, the days were fined with planting and with growth; the pines already hid the walls, and cattle tracks were widened into paths and wound among young maples, elms, and beeches. Then there grew in me a love that made the four garden walls seem like the boundaries of the world.
Nothing was troubled but to free it from the oppression of some other thing. The sparrow kept his bush, and between him and the hawkheadsman a hand was raised. The wood thrush, finding his haunts untouched, but that his enemies, the black snakes, might no longer boldly engulf his nestlings, raised his dear voice and sang "O Jubilate Deo!" The gardener who planted no longer watches the bird's flight, but the garden still tells its story. Will you come in? The gate is never dosed except to violence.
Eight acres of rolling ground, and in the centre a plainly cheerful house decides the point of view. The location of a house much affects the inmates; here sunshine penetrates every room and a free current of air sweeps all about, and there is a well of sparkling water close at hand. This well is rock-drilled, deep and cold, and the patron divinity of all good wells, the north star, watches over it, and nightly Ursa Major's dipper circles above, as if offering a cooling draught to all the constellations.
For a space about the house the grass is cropped, and some plump beds of geraniums, Fuchsias, heliotropes, serve to grade the eye from indoor precision, to rest the vision before the trees and moving birds compel it to investigation. However much natural wildness may soothe and satisfy, the home is wholly a thing of man's making, and he may gather about it the growing things that need his constant ministry. The sight of such an open space gives the birds more confidence, and the worm enemies that always follow cultivation offer them a change of food.
The old queen-apple tree that casts its petals every May against the window-panes, like snow blushing at its own boldness, held many nests last spring. A bluebird spied a knot-hole where decay had left him an easy task; a pair of yellow warblers, with cinnamon-streaked breasts, fastened their tiny cup between a forked branch above the range of sight. For several days I watched these birds, fluttering about the window corners where cobwebs cling and spiders weave, and thought they searched for food, until, following the yellow flash they made among the leaves, I saw that they were building; and when I secured the empty nest in August, it proved to be a dainty thing woven of dry grass, the down of dandelions, cocoons, and cobwebs.
A robin raised two broods, building a new nest for the second, as the first one was too near the path to suit his partner's nerves. He spent his days in prying earth-worms from the lawn, singing at dawn and twilight so deliciously that he furnished one more proof that bird voices, even of the same species, have individual powers of expression, like those of men.
The fourth bird to build, a red-eyed vireo, was quite shy at first, yet hung the nest over the path, so that when I passed to and fro her ruby eyes were on a level with me. After the eggs were laid, she allowed me to bend down the branch, and a few days later, to smooth her head gently with my finger. A chipping sparrow added his wee nest to the collection, watching the horses as they passed, timidly craving a hair from each, and finally securing a tuft from an old mattress, with which he lined his home to his complete content.
If you would keep the wild birds in your garden, you must exclude from it four things: English sparrows, the usual gardeners, cats, and firearms. These sparrows, even if not belligerent, are antagonistic to song birds, and brawl too much; a cat of course, being a cat, carries its own condemnation; a gun aimed even at a target brings terror into bird-land; and a gardener, of the type that mostly bear the name, is a sort of bogyman, as much to Nature-lovers as to the birds. The gardener wishes this, orders that, is rigid in point of rights and etiquette, and looks with scarcely veiled contempt at all wild things, flowers, birds, trees; would scrape away the soft pine needles from the footpaths and scatter stone dust in their place, or else rough, glaring pebbles. He would drive away the songsters with small shot, his one idea of a proper garden bird being a china peacock.
It is, of course, sadly true, that cherries, strawberries, grapes, and hungry birds cannot meet with safety to the fruit, but we should not therefore emulate the men of Killingworth. We may buy from a neighbouring farmer, for a little money, all the fruit we lack, but who for untold gold can fill the hedge with friendly birds, if once we grieve or frighten them away?
You may grow, however, tender peas in plenty, and all the vegetables that must go direct from earth to table to preserve their flavour; only remember when you plant the lettuce out, to dedicate every fourth head to the wild rabbits, who, even while you plant, are twitching their tawny ears under the bushes, and then you will suffer no disappointment. Once in a time a gardener-naturalist may drift to you, and your garden will then entertain a kindred spirit. Such a man came to this garden, a young Dane, full of northern legend and sentiment, recognizing through rough and varied work the motive of the place, --like drawing like; and with him, a blonde-haired, laughing wife, and a wee daughter called Zinnia, for the gay flowers, and he found time to steal among the trees in the June dawns to share in the bird's raptures, making his life in living.
It is a drowsy August afternoon; the birds are quiet, and the locusts express the heat by their intonation. The Japan lilies, in the border back of the house, are densely sweet, the geraniums mockingly red, and the lemon-verbena bushes are drooping. The smooth grass and trim edges stop before an arch that spans the path, and about it shrubs straggle, grouping around a tall ash. This ash, a veritable lodestone to the birds, is on the borderland of the wild and cultivated, and they regard it as the Mussulman does his minaret, repairing there to do homage. Before the leaves appear the wood thrush takes the topmost branch to sing his matins, as if, by doing so, he might, before his neighbours, give the sun greeting.
The robins light on it, en route, when they fear that their thefts in other gardens will find them out, and the polite cedar-birds, smoothing each other's feathers, sun themselves in it daily before the flocks break into pairs. Upon the other side, a hospitable dogwood spreads itself, a goodly thing from spring till frost, and from it spireas, Deutzias, weigelas, lilacs, the flowering quince, and strawberry shrub, follow the path that winds under the arch, past mats of ferns and laurel, to a tilled corner, a little inner garden, where plants are nursed and petted, and no shading tree or greedy root robs them of sun or nourishment.
Along the path between the pines, the black leaf mould of the woods has been strewn freely. The fern tribe is prolific in this neighbourhood, and a five-mile circuit encloses some twenty species, most of which may be transplanted, if you keep in mind their special needs. This spot is cool and shady, but the soil is dry from careful drainage. The aspidiums flourish well; A. acrostichoides, of two varieties, better known as the Christmas fern, with heavy varnished fronds, A. marginร le, with pinnate, dull-green fronds, A. cristatum, almost doubly pinnate and with them the fragrant Dicksonia punctilobula, whose straw-coloured lace carpets the autumn woods with sunlight, and the black-stemmed maidenhair grows larger every year, rearing its curving fronds two feet or more.
What endless possibilities creep into the garden with every barrow of wood earth! How many surprises cling about the roots of the plant you hope to transfer uninjured from its home! Bring a tuft of ferns, lo! There springs up a dozen unseen things - a pad of partridge vine, an umber of ginseng, a wind flower; in another year the round leaves of the pyrola may appear and promenade in pairs and trios quite at their ease, until the fern bed becomes a constant mystery. For many years some slow awaking seeds will germinate, the rarer violets, perhaps an orchid.
I brought a mat of club moss, with a good lump of earth, as was my habit, from the distant woods. Several years after, happening to stop to clear away some dead branches, I started in surprise, for enthroned in the centre of the moss, a very queen, was a dark pink cypripedium, the Indian moccasin. It is an orchid very shy of transposition, seldom living over the second season after its removal, seeming to grieve for its native home with the fatal Heimweh, so that the seed must have come with the moss and done its growing in the fern nook.
"TheStory of a Garden" first appeared in The Friendship of Nature: A New England Chronicle of Birds and Flowers, by Mabel Osgood Wright (Macmillan, 1894).

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Syzygium australe

Syzygium australe, with many common names that include brush cherry, scrub cherry, creek lilly-pilly, creek satinash, and watergum, is a rainforest tree native to eastern Australia. It can attain a height of up to 35m with a trunk diameter of 60cm. In cultivation, this species is usually a small to medium-sized tree with a maximum height of only 18m.

The leaves are opposite, simple, lanceolate from 4–8 cm long. Flowers are white and in clusters. The dark pink to red fruits are edible. Closely related to the Eugenias, I planted mine specifically because Grey Louries are purported to be fond of the fruit. Just a kilometer away from us there are Louries in abundance and yet they don’t visit my garden at all. It doesn’t seem to have helped, my Syzygium is 10 years old already and nary a Grey Lourie! But I do enjoy this tree’s shiny foliage and those lovely berries. Flowering time is early summer. In early autumn, red to purple roundish fruits are produced. They are about 15 mm in diameter and are tipped with a persistent calyx.

The genus Syzygium has many medicinal properties. Eugeniin extracted from the buds of almost all species of this genus has antiviral activity against the Herpes simplex virus. Bark infusions of this plant are said to ease pain and coughing.

Purported to be evergreen, mine frosts down every winter and every spring I anxiously await the new greenery, relieved when at last it makes its appearance.

One thing about planting a non-indigenous species of tree, is that no birds are interested in the fruit and don't even use it for nesting. The Mynahs are just about the only birds I ever even see visiting it. But it is a lovely ornamental tree for the garden.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Striped Grass Mouse

Besides beautiful flowers, gardening brings so many other pleasures! Visiting and resident birds, other wildlife like hedgehogs, tortoises, guinea fowl, partridges, bees and other insects, the odd snake and this lovely little Striped field mouse.

A Striped Field mouse Rhabdomys pumilio : Common name - Four-striped grass mouse. Streepmuis in Afrikaans) in my garden. He's quite tame as I often put out seeds for them, and here I was within a meter from him. He was actually very disgusted, drying himself off as I had accidentally gotten him wet while watering the garden with the hosepipe.

Very disgruntled at being wet!

I tolerate these lovely little creatures (unlike rats!) as they are totally harmless and very rarely venture into the house where, however, they can be quite destructive! I've only ever seen this pair in my garden and was actually hoping to see little ones scurrying about!

Rhabdomys is a largely Southern African genus of muroid rodents slightly larger than house mice. 

Here they are snacking on some sunflower seeds I put out for them in my garden. 

The Striped Mouse, so named because of the four longitudinal black stripes down its back, is an opportunistic omnivore, and has a varied diet. In certain areas they are mainly granivorous, while in others they may eat more plant material than seeds. They also enjoy a wide variety of other vegetable matter and insects.

The striped mouse helps to pollinate many Protea species, as pollen clings to its head while it is feeding. When the mouse moves off to feed on other neighbouring flowers of the same species, it carries the pollen with it, thus assisting in the fertilization of these flowers. They normally excavate a burrow at the base of a grass thicket, ensuring that the entrance is well hidden, and lining the chambers of their burrows with soft, leafy debris; alternatively, they construct a ground-level nest under cover of dense stands of tall grass.

Striped Mouse forage by day, particularly in the early morning and late afternoon, and are often seen among the tall grasses growing on the perimeter of cultivated land. In central Africa, where striped mice are also found, they breed throughout the year, but in the south the breeding season is usually confined to the summer months (September to May).

During the breeding season the adult females appear to be territorial, with limited home ranges which probably overlap the large home ranges of the males. There are from 2 - 9 young per litter.

Some Info from "EcoTravel"

Location : My garden in Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa
Camera : Fuji FinePix 2800Zoom 

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