My Father’s Garden – An Oasis – Part 2
Dad's Roses Midsummer in Johannesburg
My Dad's Garden is alive in my memory every day
Just to fill you in, dear Readers, my Dad is now 90 years old and is still living in South Africa in a lovely retirement cottage. Kim, his Occupational Therapist, visits him every week and chats with him, keeping him engaged and informed. Kim is sharing my writings with Dad and bless their hearts – it comforts me greatly. Thank you, Kim and I LOVE YOU, Dad.
My memories from my childhood are all vivid and intact. Dad, your passion for gardening taught me so much! Not only did you always tell me the names of the trees, shrubs, flowers and grasses, but you created an oasis for living things, including me. I felt peace in your garden. There was space to run around. I enjoyed the vibrant colors and wonderful fragrances which delighted me in every way possible. I could almost see fairies and sprites in the garden. Now, my Dad lives in a retirement village which has beautiful gardens too, but that will be in my next story.
With the help of our Gardener - Enoch
Roses of many colors
Not only did my father’s garden contain wonderful trees and flowering shrubs, but my Dad made sure that it contained flowers, many varied and beautiful flowers. I must add here, that my Dad employed a wonderful gardener, a man who worked for my family since I was about 9 years old. Enoch was from Zimbabwe and was very glad to have a room to live in on my parents’ property. Enoch still goes to the retirement village today, to tend to the small garden outside my father’s cottage. He is a special man and shares a special bond with my Dad, who is now 90. I talk to Dad regularly on Skype, but it is so hard being far away from one’s loved ones. That is also a story for another day.
In my Dad’s garden, my favorite flowers were the roses. My Dad planted the most beautiful roses of different colors and heavenly scents. I absolutely LOVE roses. I always marvel at the structure of the petals, so tightly whorled, which blossom out, as they give us their offering when they bloom. I love the velvety texture of the rose petals and the rich dark greenness of the leaves, and I am always respectful of the thorns. It is interesting to observe that the delicate beauty of the rose is so fiercely protected by the thorns on the stems. Perhaps there is a huge lesson in that alone, as there are so many lessons we can learn about life simply by observing nature. My Dad would always prune the rose bushes back in the winter, allowing the bush to have space on the inside and encouraging the growth of the roses to the outside. Roses bloom in the widest range of colors and have the most interesting names. There is nothing more beautiful than cutting roses to put in a vase and allow the scent to permeate the room, but perhaps the more beautiful option is to leave them blooming on the bushes so that the garden enjoys the vibrant splashes of color, like paint on an artist’s palette.
Irises - bearded or not?
Flowers of every shape and size
Leading up the path from the front gate to the front door, on either side of the path was a hydrangea bush. Like the closing scene in Disney’s animated “Sleeping Beauty,” where the fairies are dueling with their wands and changing the color of the Princess’ dress from pink to blue and back, the bush on one side of the path was pink, and that on the other was blue. My Dad told me it was due to the pH balance in the soil! They are remarkably showy plants and greatly admired by me. Today, Dad has Hydrangeas growing at the back of his cottage.
Along the side of the house, Dad planted Irises. There was a whole extended family of Irises raising their lovely faces, both bearded and not, taller than many of the other plants. Dad loved different colors and began planting variegated Irises too. Each winter, the rhizomes would be dug up and stored until replanting in spring, when these marvelous flowers would bloom again in all their lovely colors. As a matter of fact, the name Iris is taken from the Greek word for rainbow which perfectly describes the wide range of colors found amongst this species.
South African Sunbird
Next to the window of the master bedroom grew huge Strelitzia bushes. Many of you probably know this plant better as the Bird of Paradise flower. This plant is native to South Africa (at last)… and grows larger there than the specimens I have seen growing in California or in Texas. In South Africa, it is commonly called the Crane flower. It is a large, showy plant with long and broad green leaves and the petals are bright orange and royal blue sitting atop what resembles a bird’s head. The color and arrangement of the petals makes me think of flames newly ignited from a match, the flame closest to the match, burning bright blue. I have sat and watched the sunbirds alight on the Strelitzia and suck nectar from deep between the petals. I was surprised to discover that these little birds are distantly related to America’s hummingbirds and Australia’s honeyeaters.
Beside the verandah wall, you would find the Aloes; Red hot pokers and Aloe Arborescens, which always makes me think of Southern Africa. This is a succulent plant with thick, spiky greenish-blue leaves, containing a gel that has medicinal properties. The flowers are vibrantly red-orange and look like splashes of fire against a winter backdrop of dry vegetation. These plants grow from six to nine feet in height and are imposing indeed, welcoming birds to find food during winter. I would always gaze at these flowers with much fascination, but always paid heed to the spiky leaves which do such a great job of protecting these scarlet flowers. July is the time for aloes. It is midwinter in South Africa and this is when the flowering aloes are at their best throughout the country. This is therefore the best time for sugarbirds and sunbirds which are nectivorous, their long curved beaks and extendable tubular tongues specially designed to probe the aloe florets and be rewarded with the prize of nectar that these plants so abundantly supply. There are aloe plants here in the garden across from my living room, and when bored children don’t destroy the flowers, I have seen hummingbirds flitting happily about probing the florets for their nectar. As I sit here and write, a ruby red-throated male hummingbird has been visiting the feeder I set up this week when I saw the hummers in the area, his little red gorget flashing as it caught the sun’s rays.
Aloes splash the countryside like flames in the middle of winter.
Camellia flower buds
Camellias and Lilies
Near the path, when I was still a small child, Dad had planted a Camellia bush. I was enthralled by the tight buds of the flowers and even more so when the flowers bloomed in their pretty pinkness which often reminded me of the tutu of the plum fairy in The Nutcracker Suite ballet. Interestingly, this plant originated in Japan and made its way to England courtesy of the British East India Company. It has become a prominently cultivated species, “with over 2,000 named cultivars.” (Wikipedia)
Also to be found in this part of the garden were the waxy, white arum lilies. Upon researching this plant, I have discovered much interesting information. The genus is deliciously called Zantedeschia aethiopica and is native to Southern Africa. It is known in America as the Cala Lily and has often been used in paintings by Mexican artist, Diego Rivera. I did not know that this plant is also toxic. It grows continuously with available water and food and is able to survive minor frosts. Johannesburg temperatures in winter occasionally drop to below freezing, bringing with it, frost. Wikipedia describes the flower thus: “The inflorescences are large, produced in spring, summer and autumn, with a pure white spathe up to 10 “ and a yellow spadix up to 3½ “ long.” I was always fascinated by the protruding yellow “finger” in the middle of all that white brightness! That flower always made me think of my Aunt whose name was Lily.
Beautiful video of artwork by Diego Rivera - watch for paintings of Lillies
Daisies to die for
Marigolds - the name even sounds happy
Dahlias are such cheerful flowers which raise their heads up to greet you
Flowers and Fireworks
Punctuating the greenness of the garden, Dad always planted varieties of bright, colorful, sunny flowers. You could find Dahlias, Daisies, Daffodils and Marigolds to name but a few, and their beautiful faces always smiled at me and made me feel better at various times of the year. There is a wide variety of South African daisies with several common names: African Daisy, South African Daisy, Cape Daisy and Blue-eyed Daisy. Southern Africa boasts about 35 species – name of genus: Osteospermum.
I clearly remember the parties thrown for my brothers when they came of age. A marquee was erected in the back garden and I had to watch my step so as not to trip over pegs hammered into the ground and the ropes that tethered them to the tent. It was an exciting time and the fragrances of various plants permeated the night air. Also crisp and clear in my memory was running around the garden at night, like a fairy with a wand, sparkler in hand, fascinated at the magical sparks shooting from the end and lighting my way. Every November 5th, we celebrated Guy Fawkes Day by having spectacular fireworks displays at night. As part of the British Commonwealth, this celebration was held to applaud the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when a number of conspirators, including Guy Fawkes, attempted to blow up England’s Houses of Parliament in London. I remember with clarity the excitement of various fireworks being lit (by Dad and my brothers) and watching the rockets shoot into the sky and explode in a variety of wonderful displays and colors. Some that I recall are the flares and fountains, the Roman Candle and the Catherine Wheel, not to mention those annoying firecrackers. Did you know that fireworks originated in China and date back to the 10th Century? Of course, there was always the risk of injury and the fear that fireworks could start a fire. Fireworks displays are now restricted to certain areas and for use by professionals more often than not. Another really important aspect is the safety of animals, both wild and domestic, who are often terrified and some may injure themselves by running away or into a fence for example, in order to escape. Here is a link for some excellent advice on keeping your pets safe during celebrations: http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/pet-care-tips/july-4th.aspx
Keep our pets safe
Guy Fawkes Day in Cape Town, South Africa
- Guy Fawkes Day Cape Town | Guy Fawkes in South Africa
New information about Guy Fawkes Day 2011 safe sites in Cape Town, where you can enjoy the fireworks!