Maybe the reason I love animals so much, is because the only time they have broken my heart is when theirs has stopped beating.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Feathers appear when angels are near


Clearfeathersappear
A Dandelion flower and a feather in my garden, Tarlton (Gauteng, South Africa)

The internet is full of “when you find a feather, what does it mean?” I read up on some of these and the overall conclusion is that, when you find a feather, it is a sign that you are going to get a message soon. Or that some thing or another is going to happen to you. And if the feather is white, it is a message from an angel. A black one means that the guardian of your soul is near.

Now I (maybe) understand that city folk might look upon finding a feather as some sort of a sign, but for us country folk, feathers are a big part of everyday life, especially if you happen to have (13) chickens, and lots of garden birds, like I do. My yard is covered in feathers, especially during moulting season. White ones, orange ones, grey ones, black ones, yellow ones and mottled ones – virtually every colour of the rainbow, even blue and purple.

Don’t get me wrong, I am totally enchanted by every feather I see, some more beautiful than others, but I regard them as part of one of nature’s wonders, like falling leaves and baby chicks and tiny flowers.
One woman wrote that she found a feather “around odd places where birds don’t fly around” and was wondering what the message could be. Has she ever considered that the wind might be playing a part in this? Or is my garden just filled with messages from angels?


Friday, 23 September 2016

In a garden one is making memories

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Probably most of us have been in a garden on a particular day and time and felt a rush of well-being – of joy, being recharged, uplifted, a sense of healing, being in tune with the infinite. Gardens can clear away the fog of the noisy, fast, techno world, and the mindless focus on the clutter of trivia. Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help.


Gardening is an instrument of grace. In a garden one is not growing rare plants and trees… one is making memories… Gardening is one thing, maybe even the only thing, that brings people from all over this world, together. Gardening teaches us compassion – just walk past the ‘nearly’ dead tree every day, pat it on the bark and whisper, “just hold on for one more year”. It really does still serve a purpose – little raptors like the Fiscal Shrike loves the vantage point the dead branches give her and many birds will bask in the early morning warmth of the sun on a cold winter’s morning in the very top branches.
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Consider what you bring to the partnership and what the rest of nature brings. Gardening as a partner with the rest of nature means we have to let go of control to allow the garden to do its magic. When we allow ourselves to see the garden more in its own terms, to reach beyond ourselves to the garden, then we become more one with it, and no longer standing outside and above. A soul garden is one where the forces of nature are more powerfully evident than our own power. This is honoured and expressed through plants that regenerate, and are thereby not as dependent on humans for their existence. These are often labelled as weeds. There is a dance between the power of the weed and us. Allowing weeds to grow in your garden is not just a new fashion, which calls for a wild patch alongside tame ones; wildness is necessary within a garden, it’s a connection between nature and ourselves.

My own private forest where wildlife abounds.

A wildlife haven for insects, birds and small mammals
 
 Sitting in the shade here, watching insects and birds, is a real joy!

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Sunday, 18 September 2016

Building a wildlife pond

Having water in a garden is one of the most soothing aspects of owning a garden. The sound of a fountain or water gushing gently over a waterfall is one of the most calming sounds to the senses.
Water in the garden is a great attraction for birds, insects and other wildlife. I can't think of anything better than the sound of frogs croaking me to sleep at night! .
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Placing the pond .
 
1.   Place the pond near a tree or fairly dense shrub where the birds can seek refuge. If you will be planting some shrubs or a tree, try and choose something evergreen, as falling leaves and seeds can play havoc with a pond.
2.   Position it so that you can relax and watch the comings and goings of the wildlife
3.   Check in which direction the water would naturally flow and place the pond accordingly so that it looks as natural as possible.
4.   Check for tree roots or other underground obstacles such as water pipes and electricity cables before using a pick.
5.   If you have children make sure you will be able to secure the pond.
6.   To attract wildlife place the pond in a quiet corner of the garden.
7.   Make sure the pond has at least some strong direct sunlight.
8.   Small ponds and water features need some form of circulation and filtration. You would therefore need an electrical point for your system. 
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Digging the pond
Mark out your pond – this can be done with flour or a hosepipe.
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Remember the bare hole looks a lot bigger than when the pond is finished so add about 25% to the size of the hole
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Make sure that about one third of the edge is very shallow and gently slopes in towards the middle of pond.  This is vitally important as it is the area the birds and insects will use and feel safe. They will not use a pond with steeply sloping sides as they will not feel safe.
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If you are creating a little waterfall (recommended as this helps aerate the water) make a ledge, I built mine up by about 1m, which will be covered by the liner or cement and onto which you can place the base rocks of the waterfall.
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If you are using a plastic liner, place a thin layer (about 5cm) of river sand on the bottom of the pond, the ledges and edges.  This gives you a little leeway to seat the rock properly.
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You could use a plastic liner like Firestone Pondgard EPDM Liner. Not only is it flexible and easy to lay and fold but is also 100% safe for aquatic life. Remember to measure the hole accurately and allow ample liner to go over the edges. If you buy only just enough liner to cover the hole, even the slightest movement could cause leaking over the edge.
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Take particular note of the waterfall or “pot” area as these are the areas where the liner may move or the cement might get worn out as the water cascades over the rocks. The water could leak behind the liner or under the rocks placed in the cement. This is very difficult to see and would mean breaking down the whole waterfall to fix it.
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I, however, opted to cement out my pond and when that was completely dry, we sealed it with a pond cement sealer, which you can see here as black in colour. I also planted a thatch umbrella for a seating area from which to survey the surrounds.
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While cementing out the pond, we also cemented in big rocks around the edge and in strategic places in the shallow parts. After about a week the sealer was dry and we could fill the pond.
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On the shallow edges, place gravel to a level that some of the stones actually go over the edge and stick out of the water a little. This will make it easy for insects and other small wildlife to use the water.
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If you wish to have a clean healthy pond, it is important both to keep the water moving and to possibly have a bio-filter. This need not be an expensive exercise although I do recommend that you buy the best quality pump you can afford.
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Because my pond is fairly large, I bought a ,75kW swimming pool pump to circulate the water over the waterfall and through a pipe to the fountain. The inlet or suction pipe, right at the bottom and deepest end of the pond, was built in before cementing out the pond, coming out on top of the ground where the pump was to be situated. On the outlet side I have a pipe, slightly under-ground, leading to over the waterfall, with a T-piece taking some of the water to a pipe into the pond for the fountain.    

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The grass soon started growing in the dug over area and within a couple of weeks the water lilies started flowering.
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It's also wise to install a pipe from a nearby tap for filling the pond. Before I installed mine (which can be seen on the left at the back of the pond) I was using a hosepipe, which can take absolute hours!
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A couple of ducks and geese enjoying their new home.
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Some Egyptian Geese soon discovered the pond!
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 Housing for the ducks
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Winter at the pond - Next on the list was planting shrubs and trees in the pond area. I chose some indigenous Acacias and Celtis africana.
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  Some new shrubs at the back of the pond (Butterfly bush, Buddleia salvifolia - a bit messy for this area...)
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 Within 2 or 3 seasons, the trees were becoming really well-established.
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The Water scorpion snacking on an insect in the pond 

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The grass has grown well and the shrubs are also coming along nicely. I'm thrilled that frogs have found their way into the pond area, as have dragonflies, water beetles, pond skaters and even a few harmless snakes, like the Mole Snake and Brown House Snake. They are indeed welcome as rats can be quite a problem with chicken and duck food around. I can honestly say that I will never, ever again be without water in my garden, not matter where I might find myself! 
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 I started my pond in 2004 and this is what it looks like now 10 years later.  
 A Wild Olive in the corner and the Butterfly bushes behind the pond. In the foreground are some Kniphofias (Red Hot Pokers) that just love water and benefit from the pond's over-flow. 


Frogs and insects benefits from some plants on the edge of the pond and a log for safety.  


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Friday, 16 September 2016

One for Friday


Actually, this applies to every day!

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

A wildlife pond and Bullrushes

“Never cut a tree down in the winter time. Never make a negative decision in the low time. Never make your most important decisions when you are in your worst moods. Wait. Be patient. The storm will pass. The spring will come.” 
- Robert H. Schuller 
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 A watercolour sketch of the Bullrushes at my pond a couple of winters ago.
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I absolutely LOVE Bullrushes (Typha typhaceae) and used to have them growing at my pond until I discovered how quickly they take over an area, killing everything in their path. I also used to cut the velvety flowering spikes to arrange in a vase, absolutely gorgeous!, also only until I discovered that, when they're ripe and ready to disperse their seeds, the velvety spike would burst open, covering the house with bundles of dense, cottony fluff! Only the female flower does this, the male withers and dies once it has dispersed its pollen. (Some interesting information : the dense cottony fluff was used for stuffing Futons in Japan before the advent of cotton.)
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My wildlife pond is looking extremely dull after this winter, even though it was very mild. All the water lilies are gone, the Pontederia has died down and all the Red Hot Pokers have finished flowering. The Buddleia salvifolia (butterfly bushes) at the back of the pond are sparse and leafless and the only green around is the Kei Apple, which has also finished fruiting.

The Wild Olive (Olea africana) behind the waterfall provides some greenery throughout winter
 
 
 My Red Hot Pokers (Kniphofia) with their last flowers. I transplanted these from a shady corner last summer and because they get enough water when the pond over-flows, they have grown extremely well.
The fountain at my pond
The waterfall in the back-ground
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Having a pond in your garden has quite a few benefits. It attracts lots of wildlife and many water-loving birds are nesting in the trees surrounding my pond - Red-headed Finches, Wydah's, Weavers and Bronze Mannekins are but a few. When I built the pond, I created quite a few shallow bathing areas for the birds, which is constantly in use. And there is nothing more soothing than the sound of running water and frogs croaking at night!
Bronze Mannekins will make use of any available water!I have these little fellas nesting in the Butterfly bushes and in the Wild Olive (Olea Africana) behind my pond and what a racket they can make! Music to my ears! Unfortunately I don't have my own photograph of them as they are busy, busy, busy little bodies and much too fast for my photographic skills!
The Redheaded Finches, on the other hand, are a different matter. They will calmly sit and watch me as I take photographs or do some sketches. This is a Journal sketch I did when the Red-headed Finches started moving into the pond area in 2009.
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Thursday, 8 September 2016

Going indigenous

Masked Weaver (Ploceus velatus) building his nest. 
Camera : Canon EOS 550D
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We’ve all met different kinds of gardeners. There are ornamental gardeners who aspire to have a garden worthy of showcasing in the pages of gardening magazines. There are vegetable gardeners who proudly feed their families (and neighbourhood) with the bounty of their land. And there are passionate wildlife gardeners who find great joy from a new bird or butterfly who has chosen to visit their wildlife garden. I am a wildlife gardener. Personally, the entire reason that I garden is to create habitats for wildlife, and every choice that I make in my garden is made with the needs of wildlife as a top priority. What is beautiful to me is not the individual “specimens” of plants scattered through a garden, but the birds, butterflies, bees, insects, lizards, frogs and toads, and other wildlife who make their home in a garden that I have created. And happily, my garden will never appear in the pages of Garden & Home!
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2006 - Young Acacia's and Celtis's at my wildlife pond
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2006 - Young Acacia's and Celtis's at my wildlife pond
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2009 - Young Acacia's and Celtis's at my wildlife pond
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By 2011 the Acacia's, Celtis's and Karee's were fairly well-established at my pond
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2011 - starting to take shape
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The White Karee's in my garden when planted in 2005
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The Acacia karroo and Karee's in 2009
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Planting mostly indigenous has really paid off. When my Celtis's, Acacias and Karee's were small, most of the birds, besides Sparrows and Weavers, were only occasional visitors to my garden. Since the trees and shrubs have become 'grown-up', an amazing array of birds have moved in, living and nesting here. Black-eyed Bulbuls, Olive Thrush, Ground-scraper Thrush, Robins, Mynah, Black-throated Canary, Fiscal Shrike, Crested Barbet, White-browed Sparrows, Red-headed Finches, Red Bishop, Golden Bishop, Bronze Mannekins, Greater-striped Swallows, Rock Pigeons, Laughing Doves, Ring-neck Doves and White-eyes. Daily visitors (don't know where they live!) are the Black Sunbird, Black-headed Oriole, Bokmakierie, Diederick's Cuckoo, Wood Hoopoe, Redbilled Woodhoopoe, Fork-tailed Drongo, Redwinged Starling, Glossy Starling, Arrow-marked Babbler, Grey-headed Bush Shrike, Mousebirds, Red-faced Mousebird, Red-chested Cuckoo (Piet-my-Vrou), Cape Turtle Doves and the occasional Paradise Flycatcher, Grey Lourie and Pin-tailed Wydah. I've even had a couple of King Fishers, although goodness knows why, I don't keep any fish.
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Black-headed Oriole (Oriolus larvatus) at one of my feed tables
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Ground-scraper Thrush (Psophocichla litsitsirupa) keeping an eye on me as I walk through the garden. they just love scratching through the loose leaf litter
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Laughing Dove (Spilopelia senegalensis) fledgling - these little birds are SO trusting and unafraid...
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Masked Weaver (Ploceus velatus) contemplating a nesting site in one of the Acacia's
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Red-faced Mousebird (Urocolius indicus) - they are daily visitors now and I still don't know what attracts them as I never see them at the fruit tables
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Grey Lourie (Corythaixoides concolor) visiting
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A Glossy Starling (Lamprotornis nitens) making use of the bathing facilities
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Indigenous planting has many benefits. Besides drawing birds, wildlife and insects endemic to your area, there is less chance of losing any plants due to extreme heat or cold. Planting indigenous species provides a living environment that is part of the local natural system. Indigenous plants have evolved as part of the entire biological population of an area. A strong interdependence exists between indigenous plants, animals, insects, and micro-organisms. Planting indigenous species can contribute to the maintenance of a balanced and diverse eco-system.
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With habitat disappearing at an alarming rate, you can help provide wildlife with an oasis of the habitat they need to thrive. The native plants that you use can meet the needs, including food and cover, of native wildlife without causing long-term damage to local plant communities. With the right diversity of native plants in your urban landscape, you can provide:
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• Protective cover for many animals.
• Seeds, nuts, and fruits for monkeys and other mammals.
• Seeds, fruits, and insects for birds.
• Nectar for Sunbirds and butterflies.
• Larval host plants for butterfly caterpillars.
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Caterpillars (larvae) of the Speckled emperor Moth
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Caterpillars (larvae) of the Speckled emperor Moth at the base of an Acacia karroo
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The adult Speckled Emperor Moth after hatching sitting on a Restios
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However, one of the most important advantages of planting indigenous is saving water – you also save yourself money and contribute towards overcoming the world's critical shortage of water.
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The beautiful pom-pom flowers of the Indigenous Acacia karroo
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Not only are indigenous plants water-savers and low maintenance but some also exude a wonderful perfume. A fragranced garden appeals to one of most evocative senses and with careful planning one can have a perfumed garden throughout the year. Use scented bulbs like freesias, scented agapanthus, night-scented gladioli, the wild honeysuckle tree, sweet salvias, jasmine and the lemon-scented pelargonium. Then there are those plants which release a strong aroma when touched. Pelargoniums (Geraniums) are best known for this. Favourites are the rose, nutmeg and peppermint scented.
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Indigenous plants can be used to create impenetrable barriers and block out sound, making your garden a haven of security and tranquility.
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Kei Apple
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Kei Apple - ideal as a hedge due to its density
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 The virtually impenetrable thorns of the Kei Apple
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An old favourite is the Kei apple, which can be trained very easily into a hedge plant. The lemon thorn is also an attractive intruder deterrent. Other types include the forest num-num, buffalo thorn, the common turkey berry, spiny gardenia, false forest spike thorn and prickly asparagus thorns.
Indigenous plants also make very effective windbreaks. It is a good idea to leave hedges in coastal gardens untrimmed and a bit wild so they act as wind breaks.
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The garden in 2012 with the trees now well-established
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Plant shrubs closer together so they can protect each other. The tick berry is ideal with its yellow, daisy flowered bush. It is quick growing and loved by birds for the fruits and by butterflies as a larval host plant. Try Honeysuckle and Plumbago (forget-me-not), both of which can be trimmed or left to scramble.
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 Bulbinella flower - attracts many insects and the leaves are useful for treating cuts and burns
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 Celtis africana (White Stinkwood)  and the White Karee (Rhus viminalis, below) providing shade, shelter and food to many species of insects and wildlife
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Weaver's nest in one of the White Karee's (Rhus viminalis)
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Nest of the House Sparrow in one of the Acacia's taking advantage of the safety of the thorns- they will use the same nest year after year, just adding fresh leaves, as can be seen here. These little brown jobbies are renowned for their messy-looking nests!
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So, if you would love to have lots of wildlife in your garden, then going indigenous is for you. I'm not saying that, if you are into neat borders, lots of colour and exotic plants and you hate leaves littering your lawn or garden beds, you won't have lots of wildlife in your garden - animals and insects are amazingly adaptive and resilient and make the most of whatever is on offer. The most important point is just that we carry on gardening and provide refuge and food for all the little creatures we share this planet with.

PS: Please excuse all the dots between paragraphs, but Blogger has been playing up lately and won't make paragraphs. In fact, Blogger seems to be totally out of sync, not quite the same since Google+ is taking over the world! 

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