Friday, May 27, 2016

A charm to ward off lightning.

My white paintbrush lilies are blooming for the first time.
The flowers have a delicate, powdery scent.

I brought the bulbs back from Natal two years ago, carefully wrapped up in a piece of African fabric in my suitcase. They had clumps of red earth clinging to their roots and were given to me by a German woman I met in a shop in the Midlands.

She had baskets full of them hanging from trees in the driveway leading up to her house. She took me to places on the seamier side of town. She knew some Zulu and shouted good-naturedly at the women who tried to sell us things for more than they were worth.
HAIBO! she would shout, and everyone would laugh.

It's not always an easy thing, working so far away from home. But I often think of my time in Natal, the people I met there and how things seemed to happen in such fortuitous ways.

The Props Master told me that it was important to find a place in town that no-one else knew about. A place to think. Tell no-one, she said. After a few days, I stumbled upon a lovely old house in Boomstraat (Tree Street). There was a small antique shop, a restaurant, a room full of books and a topiary garden. Every day the statue of Mary at the bottom of the garden was adorned with fresh flowers.

The chef was very good.

Back home the time has come to harvest some turmeric root. Snow peas and broad beans are poking determined green heads through black soil. Aloes are bursting their seams. 

A pot of Osso Bucco is simmering slowly on the stove.
It's almost time to light a fire.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Autumn is a darker Spring.

Sulphur spotted lady bugs step out onto giant leaves of rhubarb for clandestine meetings with tiny white spiders. Under half cover of saw-toothed aloe, skinks scorch and blink.

There is evidence of fowl play.

The bulbuls slay meadow brown butterflies. Optimistic rats meet sticky ends. Unconcerned, the field mouse stands on his hind legs
to inspect a dandelion.

There are those that are precocious, while others - on a slower kilter, thrust out reptilian buds while we sleep.

Furred strangers brood beneath voodoo flowerets.

The guava tree, planted after Christmas,
offers up one perfect fruit.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016


Sugar peas (early bush) reads one of the hand-painted labels on the little drawers below.
Telegraph Cucumbers, American Wonder Peas, Marrow Peas.
Each bag is equipped with the Mauthner name, his best seeds.

My friend Henri (who owns my favourite shop on this planet - Koöperasie Stories) was on one of his Eastern European buying trips when he sent me an image of this beautiful old shop display cabinet.
I didn't dream then that I would one day own it,
but life's full of surprises.

I started to do some research and fell down many a fascinating wormhole.

Meet Mauthner Odon - agronomist and entrepreneur,
born in 1848 in Budapest, Hungary.
After studies applied to seed breeding at the Magyaróvár college and abroad, he founded a large company and experimental station, employing 800 workers. He received merits from the Hungarian nobility.
He was president of the Hungarian National Association of Grain Traders, editor of The Horticultural Papers and The Garden.

The sprawling factory in Budapest still exists - it was converted to apartments and though listed, is falling into disrepair.

There is a seed wholesale building, a customs house, a granary for sorting and cleaning. A vast courtyard. There was once a garden.

I found labels, seed packets and letters.

I found his crumbling villa in Budakeszi Road.

I found his grave in the National Cemetery.
Only then did I discover his first name.
It was