Tuesday, November 17, 2015


As we reel, dumbfounded, I think of these words by Ingmar Bergman, posted by a friend of mine yesterday.

The world is a den of thieves, and night is falling. Evil breaks its chains and runs through the world like a mad dog. The poison affects us all. No one escapes. Therefore let us be happy while we are happy. Let us be kind, generous, affectionate and good. It is necessary and not at all shameful to take pleasure in the little world.

Photographs by Willy Ronis

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Dixie blooms.

With romantic visions of New Orleans homesteads in my mind, I bought a few bunches of Spanish Moss some months ago. I did some reading on growing and care, hung them in the trees and besides watering them when I remembered, just left them to their own devices. 

Last night, as I stood at our supper fire, I noticed the faintest wisp of a sweet fragrance and turned around.
No-one said anything about flowers!
And yet, there they are - small as match heads,
a lovely shade of lime green.

Of course it's not really moss, but a member of the Bromeliad family and a distant cousin of the pineapple. 
I have read that they will bloom for months now and that seedpods will form, with hairy seeds that will be lifted by air currents and hopefully settle in cracks in tree bark and other hospitable places. 

At the beginning of spring, the weaver birds plucked tufts from the tresses to line their nests. I have since read that the plants harbour wildlife such as bees, butterflies and moths, and in other climes even bats and small birds.

Nature continues to leave me dumbstruck.

We had a storm last night. In the front garden, the rock rose is wet and crumpled, the lawn is covered in petals. A cure for terror, they say, although each flower lasts only one day.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

African Ming.

Some weeks ago, we went for a walk at Redhill.
We walked through fields of spring flowers,
doing some pollination of our own.

At the first ruined house, we saw two scruffy men with metal detectors and decided to give them a wide berth.
At the second ruin, I picked up some bits of striped Corning Ware and slipware. Evidence that there were kitchens here once,
meals eaten, conversation.

(Redhill photos by the tallest man.)

We found a crumbling old cemetery further up the hill, very small. Someone had planted white freesias on a grave here many years ago - they were straggly, but filled the air with their scent. Synapses fired in my brain: Grandmother. Birthday.

We noticed a marshy field rippling like some green ocean, filled with watsonias about to bloom.

On our way back we bumped into the men with the metal detectors and this time we stopped to talk. They wanted to know what we were looking for and tried very hard to convince us to buy metal detectors: You'll never look back!

We've never liked the idea of digging for something though - preferring to glean what is lying on the surface. One of the men told me that in his diving days he had found lots of Ming under the sea.
You know the blue and white stuff?
And then he said: I found a piece of Ming today - hold on!
He rooted through the small canvas bag tied around his waist. A ball of wire/ bottle tops/ a rusty nail. Here you are! and he handed me a lovely little piece of Staffordshire transferware.
His friend presented me with an old jam jar lid.
Salty sea dogs they were, but very sweet. Since then we call all the porcelain shards that we pick up Ming.
As we walked off the one said to the other: Come on, let's go cause some more kak somewhere else.

In Churchaven we pick up bits of Willow Pattern, green transferware and pink. Slipware. Old medicine bottles.
Over the years, we've picked up many, many pieces of a particular blue-grey pattern. In my mind I call it the-eyes-and-nose, because of the distinctive inner border. Last time I picked up a shard in the lagoon, with some sea-life attached.

Rooting through a little antique shop in Wynberg, as I do, I noticed that exact same edge peeping out from beneath a small dresser. A heart stopping moment!

Rhine. An old Samuel Alcock design, inherited by Burgess & Leigh and made by J.F.W.Foley Potteries in Staffordshire between 1822 and 1853.

Funnily enough, they also produced Asiatic Pheasant, a lovely pale blue and white pattern, which we also find bits of now and then.
Needless to say, the meat platter ended up in the tall man's birthday box and now hangs in our hallway under the portrait of his Great Grandfather, who was a commander in the Boer War.

Back at home, while we were away, the robins built another nest. Of two eggs, one hatched.

Today the nest is empty.
Another robin flies out into the big wide world.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Small mysterious things.

I ended my last Churchaven post with these words:
At night we fell asleep to the hooting of the owls and the shirrr of something else, over and over again.
That shirrr mystified us so much that the tall man made a little field recording one night. It was a familiar sound to us both, a call and reply, but we couldn't place it - bird? frog?
I thought of a bird expert I had met at one of Marie's famous
 lunches-under-the-tree, and sent him the recording.
The answer pinged back:
Bladder grasshopper. Males display in this way to females at night
Aha! And there they were in the insect book.

For the past few weeks, every time we drive over the mountain pass nearby, we have seen a great number of fantastic pink flowers - they came up like fat asparagus and now look almost snapdragon-ish, but big and fleshy. Yesterday I took myself to the African Orchid Show at Kirstenbosch - the large botanical gardens. As I drove over the pass I looked at the spikes of pink flowers again and thought... I wonder if...
And lo and behold, there they were. Satyrium.
"The African species of the genus grow in fynbos, grassland and miombo woodland, and can sometimes be found in extensive and dense colonies of thousands of individuals, particularly in the year after a veld fire." Another aha moment.

There were orchids huge and tiny - one so small that it was hanging in a birdcage - the flowers smaller than peppercorns. 
In the very seductive sales area, I thought I'd buy yet another cattleya, but fell hard for a brassia.

I often wonder how different my life would have been if I'd studied botany - as I had been planning to for years, but then ended up - rather rashly, studying art. It's a love affair anyway.

I liked this quote pasted up at the till, as I paid for my
spider orchid:
You can get off alcohol, drugs, women, food and cars, but once you're hooked on orchids, you're finished. You never get off orchids... never.
- Joe Kunish
Commercial orchid grower
Rochester, New York

Monday, October 12, 2015

Mr. Ottolenghi's Meatballs.

You may know them as fava or broad beans. In South Africa we call them boerbone. Which may make you think that they are a commonplace thing, but sadly they're not. If you're lucky enough to get them at a farmer's market, so be it. But I can't take the chance that a year goes by without making Yotam Ottolenghi's Meatballs.

So, every autumn, I plant the beans and watch them grow the whole winter long. Some of the sweet smelling blossoms are lost to the goggas. There is much staking and tying up against storms. But eventually there are enough velvety pods for a harvest.

I've always made a good meatball, but this recipe has taught me many things. The braise, the vast amount of fresh herbs, the lemon...


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

West Coast Days.

From the tiniest little pinprick of a flower...

To the big, bright and showy:

The West Coast is abloom.
Just in case you thought a brown flower can't be pretty:

And of course, there's always something more weird, more wonderful.

That's Hydnora Africana - a parasitic plant the size of a chicken egg. It has three very suggestive openings and will eventually open up completely, like a starfish. For pollination, it lures dung beetles, so you can imagine the smell...

A starfish of a different sort, Ferraria Crispa - a member of the iris family. I couldn't stop sniffing this beauty - burnt sugar, amber, vanilla. Wonderful.

We stayed in one of the oldest cottages in Churchaven. The walls are all skew, the doorways low. Hot running water and a tiny bathtub - almost unheard of in these parts. I was utterly charmed.

If you look closely, you'll spot our very vocal guest.

She came every day, along with three fussy guinea fowl and all the others. The birds are very busy - it's nesting time. Soft grasses, feathers and twigs are airborne.

At night we fell asleep to the hooting of the owls and the shirrr of something else, over and over again.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Bush lily love.

They are everywhere. In our garden I watch them lay themselves bare, from palest green to deepest orange.

They grow in the shade of the ancient figs in the Company Gardens.

And then there is Babylonstoren, where they go on forever and ever.

Where I discovered colours I didn't know. From the palest creamy yellow to green throated copper, to a deep, dark red. Where I discovered the elusive scented varieties. And I walked, at times completely alone and I was content.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015


I'm thoroughly enjoying this book. A bouquet of sundry characters merge in an organic way, peppered with plenty of swearing and permeated with wonderful fragrances : lapsang souchong, black cardomom, moss... There's the eighty year old great-grandmother, who discovers internet porn by misspelling "clocks" on Google. The documentary maker who films - over ten years - the fifteen metre journey of the walking palm Socratea Exhorrhiza. The philandering botanist and his questionable escapades. There are interiors overlaid in Liberty fabrics, mysterious seedpods and a frankincense tree.
There is even a bit of robin chat:
"It has woodness, but also intense fertee."

Spring is here now, in all of her finery. I have loved being at home this winter - living and breathing our garden. Seeing the light in emerging things, the painterly patterns deep inside flower petals.

In October I will be back at work for a very long time.
I will think of these days with much longing.