:: I sit and drink tea in the mornings, and come out at dusk to listen as the world tucks itself in for the night :: Please won't you join me? ::

In nature there is a large place for sentiment. Nature is also my garden of thoughts and dreams. The thoughts grow as freely as the flowers, and the dreams are as beautiful.

:: Living simply ::

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Eager for Winter?

The middle of winter here in S.A., and while the rest of the garden is snoozing, the Cape Reed Grass is growing as if it's spring, sending out new shoots and looking absolutely lovely! Until the chickens discover this new delight, that is. As you can see from the old growth, this plant is their favourite to climb on top of. I've had a close look inside, to see if there's anything special that they might be feeding on, worms, grubs, something, but I couldn't find anything. And I got pricked to boot, those little stalks are firm and hard! Maybe they get a good tummy massage... Mmmmm.....

My garden is definitely looking worse for the wear - every bit of greenery (as you can see on the Sword fern on the left) is being utilized by my chooks seeing as the lawn is mostly dead and brown. They're great grazers, chickens, and besides insects and their daily diet of corn, they spend the rest of the day snacking on the tender little shoots on the lawn.

And it’s that time of the year again – winter, dry grass and veld fires. And even though all our fire breaks have been done and the grass is very short, a strong wind fanned the flames to sometimes huge proportions, picking up pieces of the flames and throwing them into the air like dancing angels.

One of our workers seemingly fighting a losing battle trying to stop the fire from spreading on our smallholding. To the right outside the pic are several other workers also trying their best. One of the drawbacks of being on a farm or smallholding is no municipal services like refuse collection or fire brigade services, even though we do pay our fair share of rates and taxes!

 The aftermath - this fire spread from our neighbour’s property (the yellow house) through our property, instantly leaving the landscape charred and little animals fleeing for their life.

As soon as the land cooled off a bit, the Herons, Egrets and Plovers were out in force, snacking on crispy tit-bits

This Black-headed Heron (Ardea melanocephala) is a regular summer visitor to our smallholding and doesn't get particularly perturbed by being photographed. It often feeds in shallow water, spearing fish or frogs with its long, sharp bill. It will also hunt well away from water, taking large insects, small mammals, and birds. It will wait motionless for its prey, or slowly stalk its victim. Both sexes are alike, so I have no idea whether this is a male or a female.

The Karoo Thrush and his/her mate are still hard at work annexing my Robin's territory, finishing the fruit I put out before Robbie even knows it's there.

My pond has sprung a leak, right at the bottom, and at the worst possible time in this freezing weather.

This is how much it has drained so far. Next step is to scoop out the last bit of water (being careful and keeping an eye open for any aquatic wildlife, there are quite a few water scorpions, water beetles and frogs in there), repair the leak, give it a couple of days to dry and then fill it up again, but I'm waiting for a day a bit warmer than 16℃!

“Thy breath be rude," William Shakespeare famously told winter in As You Like It, invoking a common complaint about the season: winter is cold, windy, bleak, awful, a common outlook still persisting today. But I don't agree. Cold, yes, awful, no. I think the trees enjoy the well-earned rest, all the birds in my garden carry on about their daily business as usual and it is invigorating digging and doing chores when the weather is cooler.


Tuesday, 23 June 2015

The Robin is the one

THE ROBIN is the one
That interrupts the morn
With hurried, few, express reports
When March is scarcely on.
The robin is the one
That overflows the noon
With her cherubic quantity,
An April but begun.

The robin is the one
That speechless from her nest
Submits that home and certainty
And sanctity are best.

I am rather sad writing this post - just as my "OC Robin" (obsessive compulsive!) got so very tame that I could actually capture pictures of him in my house, he was attacked in my lounge a couple of weeks ago by the Karoo Thrush, who also took to coming into the house, and Robbie hasn't set foot inside the house since. Luckily he is unscathed by this territorial dispute and even though the Robin is very cheeky and normally does not back off, the much larger Thrush got the upper-hand this time.

Karoo Thrush (Turdus smithi) - mean-looking, right?

Here are some pics of Robbie in my house :

Robbie making himself at home on one of the chairs in the kitchen. the up-lifted tail is a sign that he is aware of me and not at all pleased!

The Cape Robin Chat (Cossypha caffra) is renowned for its strange behaviour. There are many reports of Robins finding strange nesting places inside homes - a potted plant in a lounge, on top of window sills in the house, even a woman's handbag in her closet! It has even been recorded to have placed the nest in a dried flower arrangement in the lounge of the Grahamstown Golf Club! And they are not adverse to following one around the garden and Robbie seems to know some snacks are going to appear - as soon as he sees me with my spade or garden trowel, he gets close, nabbing cutworms and other insects I up-earth. He also loves it when I water the garden with the hose pipe, trudging around in the water like a seasoned water fowl, snapping up floating insects disturbed by the water.

Robbie following me around the garden

The Robin mainly eats insects and other invertebrates, supplemented with fruit and seeds plucked from bushes, trees or the ground. It does a lot of its foraging in leaf litter, flicking through plant debris in search of food and occasionally aerially hawking an insect; it may also glean invertebrates from leaves, branches and rocks. It readily visits bird feeders and will eat most snacks offered to it. My Robbie is extremely fond of minced meat, which he used to come and snack on in my kitchen (before the Thrush incident!). Now I put it on one of the nails on the bird feeder above, but he's very wary to approach it, as the Thrush is also a mince lover! Oh my, I have a real territorial dispute problem in my garden now!

The Cape Robin Chat is monogamous and a highly territorial solitary nester, as the male aggressively defends his territory against other males as well as other species, such as white-eyes, sunbirds and doves. The nest is usually built solely by the female in about 1-14 days, gathering a clump of material together before shuffling its body into it to form a cup. It is usually made out of bark fragments, twigs, dry grass, fern fronds, rootlets, dead leaves, moss and seed pods and lined with finer fibres, such as hair, rootlets and plant inflorescences. It is most commonly placed in a hollow in an earthen bank, cavity in a tree trunk, densely foliaged shrub, dry flood debris along a stream bank, or in pots or boxes overgrown with vegetation.

Egg-laying season is from about June-January, peaking around October-November. She lays 2-3 eggs, which are incubated solely by the female for about 14-19 days. The female broods the chicks throughout the night and intermittently through the day, for the first 5-11 days of their lives. They are fed by both parents, eventually leaving the nest at about 14-18 days old, remaining dependent on their parents for about 5-7 weeks more. During this period the adults are particularly viglant about protecting their young, sometimes even attacking snakes such as the Boomslang (Dispholidus typus) and Cape cobra (Naja nivea).

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Nature's simple pleasures

“As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; 
 solitude will not be solitude, 
poverty will not be poverty, 
 nor weakness weakness.” 
~Henry David Thoreau 

And beauty will become apparent in all things.

Sprinkle simple pleasures throughout your day. Knowing what your simple pleasures are, and putting a few of them in each day, can go a long way to making life more enjoyable.

One of my pleasures is gardening. Gardening allows me to enjoy the simple pleasures of Nature, who never complicates things. Plants either grow or they don't. And my one simple rule is never to complicate gardening by planting something that does not naturally occur in this area, no matter how beautiful.

Another simple pleasure is taking a walk on our smallholding. Just walking for the sake of walking and not with a destination in mind. No camera, no sketch-book, no iPod disturbing the peace. Just walking. And watching the crew busy with their daily activities.

There's always something interesting to see, and I stop, and look. Laughing Doves in a tree. A lost sunflower. Take it in. Listen to the birds singing, the wind rustling in the trees, the insects buzzing around the wild flowers and grasses. What an honour.

There are more simple pleasures in my day. Reading, listening to music, washing dishes, doing laundry, watering pot plants, enjoying a cup of coffee, preparing a salad. But one thing at a time. Multitasking detracts from fully enjoying each of these activities. Actually hearing the music, the feeling of your hands in the hot, soapy water, feeling the fabric as you fold the laundry and actually tasting the coffee as you drink it. Enjoy doing each task on its own and you will discover the simple joy of living.

Taking a walk down our smallholding towards the blue gum bush at the bottom of our property.


Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Technology and country living

A sketch of a track leading up to a friend's farm - dodging the rocks and ditches in the road is quite a feat. The Roads Dept. has long since stopped grading most of our farm roads and it's up to the individuals living along that stretch to maintain the road. And the telephone poles don't actually have any wires, that's artistic license - those have been stolen long ago and not been replaced by Telkom, our tele-communications provider. So, the general mode of transportation around here is 4 × 4 and the general method of communication is the iPhone as technology meets up with Country Living.


Friday, 15 May 2015

Childhood memories

"Since it doesn't cost a dime to dream, you'll never short-change yourself when you stretch your imagination." 
~ Robert Schuller

This sketch (done from memory) is remembering my childhood days in the 1950's, I was about 10 years old, when I lived in the Limpopo Province (then it was known as the Northern Tansvaal) in Pietersburg (Now Polokwane), when I used to go fishing with my dad at the Albasini Dam, surrounded by the Soutpansberg Mountains, at Louis Trichardt. Once we'd arrived and set up the fishing rods, we'd sit for hours waiting for a bite, chatting about everything and nothing in particular, sipping cold coffee from the flask my mother had packed.

A bite, however, would result in scrambling for the fishing rod, excitedly reeling the fish in, me not being able to wait to see what we'd caught. Most of the time it was only a Barbel, a carp-like freshwater catfish that cooked beautifully over our camp fire. My dad would gut and clean it, slicing it into big, round, fat steaks, and then fry it together with slices of cold potatoes, and we would devour it with fresh home-made bread and thick butter. My mother always packed far too much food for our trips - the fresh, home-made bread she'd baked the night before, hard-boiled eggs, baked potatoes still in their foil, beef sausages and gherkins and pickles. And, of course, the coffee flask.

Barbel catfish

The Albasini Dam was built in 1952 and is named after Joao Albasini, who was born 1 May 1813, in Lisbon, Portugal. He came to Lourenço Marques in 1831 and became a slave trader and Elephant hunter. The remains of his trading post can be found at the new Phabeni Gate, 10 km from Hazyview.

This dam was built primarily to supply the Levubu Irrigation Scheme. The dam has a capacity of 28,200 cubic meters (1,000,000 cu. ft), and a surface area of 3.498 square kilometers (1.351 sq mi) and the wall is 34meters (110ft) high.

Above is a small tributary off the Albasini Dam - The upper Luvuvhu, Sterkstroom, Latonyanda, Dzindi, Mukhase, Mbwedi and Mutshindudi are steep, narrow rivers dominated by cobble riffles and occasional pools with a few bedrock rapids. These were our favourite fishing spots.

What I would give to spend a few days fishing with my father again...


Friday, 8 May 2015

A bath and a clean nest

After Kiep's broodiness finished a couple of days ago, I decided she needed a bath after sitting on her golf ball for almost a month. She looked decidedly drab and worse for the wear and needed a bit of special TLC.

I prepared some luke warm water in a tub and put her in. At first she struggled a bit (it was her first bath ever), but the minute she felt the warmth of the water, she actually lay down! I gently shampooed her back, chest and vent area, careful not to ruffle her feathers too much.

I remembered using vinegar as a youngster to rinse my hair after a wash when we'd run out of conditioner and it always left my hair soft and shiny. So, after a first rinse, I transferred Kiep to another tub with a bit of vinegar in the water, gave her a good rinsing, dried her gently with a towel and then used the hair dryer to get her nice and dry. I was a bit worried about the noise of the hair dryer, but she seemed to enjoy it, fluffing up her feathers to let in the hot air.

Kiep sunning herself in the bathroom court-yard

After she was all nice and dry, and oh so extremely soft and fluffy! we went out into the bathroom court-yard, where she spent a while preening and getting her feathers in the correct order again and when she was ready, I led her out to the main garden where she immediately rushed up to Artemis, greeting him with some wing-flapping and a lot of prancing around.

Kiep meeting up with Artemis after her bath

Spending some time with Artemis in the garden after a nice warm bath

Now it was time to also clean out her nest-box, which is on top of one of my art tables in my studio. I cleaned out the box thoroughly, put in fresh grass and then placed it back, all nice and clean.

Later in the morning she strutted into my studio to deliver her breakfast, but it turned into a big to-do. She took one look at the nest and, horrified, she proceeded to unpack all the grass and then putting it back to her liking before settling down to the serious job of laying the egg!

Her eggs are different after this last broody incident, much bigger and not so white, more brown.

My little girl is growing up now…


Tuesday, 5 May 2015

The consciousness of trees

Researchers at the University of British Columbia are concluding that trees are interacting with one another in a symbiotic relationship that helps the trees to survive. Connected by fungi, the underground root systems of plants and trees are transferring carbon and nitrogen back and forth between each other in a network of subtle communication. Similar to the network of neurons and axons in the human brain, the network of fungi, roots, soil and micro-organisms beneath the larger ‘mother trees’ gives the forest its own consciousness.

Read more here and watch the video

Sunday, 3 May 2015

A splash of White

Not much gardening has been happening over the past couple of weeks - raking up leaves, tending to the compost heap, neatening edges, nothing exciting.

I've got no Shasta daisies in my garden this year, but I've always had a patch somewhere. What happened? (Note to self: get some more Shasta’s). As a child I always admired the Shasta Daisies in my father’s garden. What I remember most was the dazzling brightness of the white blooms that always offset the bright colours of the dahlias, larkspur, gazanias, arctotis and zinnias that grew so prolifically under the African sun.

The simple white flowers with yellow button centres are a symbol of purity and are perfect for cutting. Easy to grow, they are a favourite for beginner flower gardeners and are effective when planted in small groups.

Crab Spiders seem to favour Shasta's as their favourite while ambush-hunting their prey in flowers. These tiny spiders take on the colour of the flower they're sitting on and it's wonderful to come across a pure white or bright yellow little specimen on your flowers.

A white crab spider catching a butterfly on some Shasta daisies

Yellow crab spider

Until recently, Shasta Daisies were considered members of the Chrysanthemum family. But the daisies’ lack of fragrance and hairless stems caused them to be recently reclassified to Leucanthemum, the Sunflower family.

These Daisies like rich, fast draining soil, ample water and lots of sunshine. However, they are hardy and will tolerate poor soil conditions and partial shade. Work some old animal manure or compost into the soil to help promote abundant blooms. Picking often and cutting off dead flowers will extend their bloom period.

So do yourself a favour and get some of these easy-growing, sun-loving daisies for your garden and you'll always have an abundance of butterflies and ready-to-pick flowers for the vase.


Shasta Daisies at my pond a couple of seasons ago. Every summer I SO looked forward to when my Shasta's would appear again. With their splashes of white they brighten up any corner of the garden and the more you pick them (they look lovely in a simple glass vase!), the more prolific they get.


"If you want to live and thrive, let the spider run alive."



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