Sunday, October 14, 2007

Nature park in the heart of the Karoo.
We wanted to see Aloe broomii and Aloe claviflora in bloom in their habitat. There can be no nicer place to go and look for them than in the Nature Park at Beaufort West in the Karoo.

Photo above :-  A very friendly welcome at the entrance to the park.  This is Aloe broomii habitat. The inflorescens of this aloe is unbranched with densely packed small flowers. The buds are still tightly closed on the photo above.
 More aloes in the small garden at the entrance to the park The bungalows are at the foot of the mountains in the background, far from the noisy N1 traffic.

Photo above:- The view late afternoon from the back of our bungalow. There are some walking trails but visitors may walk where they please in the park before 17:00. The only warning is to remain in the car if the rhinos are visible. And take note bird watchers - In the park there is also bird watching huts at a dam where a large variety of birds will at least visit to drink.

We saw only the dung of the rhino on the dry river bed. Much more interesting was the exposed history where the river cut into the terrain exposing large rocks deposited by a glacier some 250 million years ago. Those rocks are about one and a half metre high (four to five feet) and a few are larger. I thought I could use the tree to show size but it is not as effective as it would have been with one of us standing there.
I took one of the small boulders home, so that I can look at a 250+ million year old souvenir in my garden. By the way at this stage Africa was still part of Gondwanaland, with South America, India and Australia.

It was only millions of years later when the continents drifted apart making cracks in the crust where volcanoes erupted, that the forces of nature folded and turned whole mountains on their side, as if it was playing with clay. This photo was taken in the Small Karoo to the south of Beaufort West. The folds can be seen much better when the photo is larger. Click on the photo.

Back to the present, we were driving up and down mountains looking for our aloes. One of the roads is visible to the left and back of the photo. We took the footpath to the top of this mountain but even that was without success. The aloes we saw at the entrance were nice, but the purpose of our visit was to see them in the wild. We saw many different wild antelope but the only wild things that we wanted to see were the aloe plants, and we found nothing on the top of the mountain or even in the deep crevices (where aloes often grow, no joking). We had a laugh to think we wanted to see them in flower, now we will be happy to see any one. There will be aloes somewhere in this very large park, but it seems they are not near any of the usual trails.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

the road of death 

is that part of the N1 starting roughly at Lainsburg to Beaufortwes in the Karoo, just over 300 km long. It is a perfectly good road as far as we could see. We were on our way to the Karoo National park to see Aloe Broomii and Aloe claviflora in bloom in their natural habitat.
The enormous notice at the side of the road gave me a bad feeling. It stated - "Record without an accident is 11 days" and "The latest accident free record is 1 day ". It was early morning 9:00, the day was only starting.
This road carries the main freight between the northern parts of South Africa and Cape Town. There are very few cars amongst these enormous heavy freight trucks. We watched the trucks pass while having breakfast at a roadside picnic table. I found them beautiful, the sound was exciting too. Not that there was heavy traffic by any standard. 2-3 trucks would pass and be gone before a car or another truck would pass again. How on earth could there be so many accidents on this road?

The reason is not very obvious at first, but apparently it has to do with a straight monotonous road and tired drivers. The overall distance to travel is way over 1000 km for most of these trucks. The drivers work for a bonus if they rush or penalties if they take longer than the allotted time to deliver. There are stops to pull off the road and rest, as well as ripples in the tar that make a noise to wake up the drivers, but only so much can be done - money has the last word.
The day started without an accident but before noon we passed an accident near LeeuGamka, one of the very small towns near the main road. A truck full of apples was standing on the shoulder of the road leaning over at an angle which just needs a tiny bump to roll the truck over. Nobody was hurt (except the pocket of the unfortunate driver). The top layers of boxes filled with apples were thrown off the truck and apples were strewn all over the side of the road. Children from LeeuGamka settlement were having a ball carrying apples in anything, mostly their shirts. The police have little patience with cars stopping at the accident sites, so we had to drive on without taking a photo of the kids.

We spent the afternoon and night in the Nature Park at Beaufortwes (very nice, we can recommend it - in our next blog) and left at about 9:00 the next morning to return home on the same road. The notice read "days without accident 0" zero! at the start of the day... then we saw the flashing lights of the police at the accident. This time it was a small pick-up truck. It was badly damaged as it rolled far into the veld. We did not see any sign of what it was carrying and that is bad as the local people like to hitch a cheap ride on the back of these pick-ups. No stopping permitted so we drive on hoping nobody died in that accident.

We wanted to see more of the Karoo so we turned north to Fraserburg, away from the road of death. We felt relaxed and enjoyed the peaceful Karoo scenery - but then absolutely unexpectedly at the roadside we were reminded that there is no "safe from harm" place.


In memory of our beloved mother.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Our winter garden for the year 2007 .
The winter garden in bloom with aloes and an enchanting lily endemic to South Africa.

It is a wet winter this year with few sunny days. The disadvantage is that the pollen is wet and pollination is difficult. We had so many new hybrid aloe seeds in mind, but that is life... sigh. The aloes that bloom in winter are from the summer rainfall area where there will be no problem with pollination in winter. Most South African aloes ( 90%+ ) are from the summer rainfall - which is logical as only the western cape has winter rainfall.
I exchanged some lily bulbs and these two lilies were first to bloom. Lovely!!

I am not a botanist - if you have not noticed.
Anybody know what lilies these might be? Clue - they are endemic to South Africa.
Most lilies are so quick to bloom and disappear, but it is exciting to find the blooms
every year, if only they would remain a little longer.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The cotyledon succulent flowering plant for the garden
There are about nine species in the Cotyledon genus of which five are in Namaqualand. This plant is very easy to grow, it flowers well and the birds love the nectar.
The leaves are covered more or less by a wax layer which change the green to different shades from dark green (no wax) to blue-green and near to white. The shape of the leaves are also different and the color of the flowers are shades of pink, red and orange. This makes it possible to have an interesting water saving low maintenance garden with mainly Cotyledon.
These photos are from plants in my garden. I do not know their scientific data and I do not feel that it is important for me to know as there is no need to read up on growing or cultivating them. In any case, the garden plants will be mainly hybrids of different Cotyledon species. The sugar birds are the main polinaters and they can fly far and wide with the pollen. The only maintenance I do is to cut back the plants during or after the rain season.
The Cotyledon plants bloom throughout the year, but not as much as they do in the rain season. We do not water them at all during the dry hot summer.

Happy colors.

The color was known as "baby-pink ".  Just a thought  -  It will be interesting to know what the colour known as "baby-pink " would be in modern times.

Cotyledon soften the formal effect of the aloes.

This is a small Cotyledon species. The yellow-green emphasize the blue-green of the aloes.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The iceplant Mesembreyanthemum crystallinum
The thought struck me that I should at least give the scientific name of the iceplant in my description of this plant in the previous post. To my surprise the first information I looked up on the web gave the distribution of the plant as Mexico and the USA. That was when I decided to go to the web site of the University of California. The plant is from South Africa but it was accidentally introduced to America by the first seafarers.
Crystalline iceplant occurs along the immediate coast from the SanFrancisco Bay region south into Baja California, Mexico. It can also be found on all the California Channel Islands..... It is found primarily in saline soils on coastal strand, coastal sage scrub, coastal bluffs and cliffs, and other disturbed ground. It tolerates saline soils, but not frost.
Mesembreyanthemum crystallinum grows not only on the coast but also in the dry sandy loam of Namaqualand which contains a lot of salts. There is frost inland so that it could not be very sensitive to frost in habitat possibly because it is protected by shrubs and boulders.

Something special about the plant - In the old days it was (probably still is) used to clean pots. A little sand added to the leaf mush will scour and clean a pot quickly. Not so long ago I met a woman who grew up in a household where the pots were scoured and cleaned in this way. I can imagine the women who live far from towns in the dry Namaqualand with very little cash money, could still be using this plant for soap and water. The juice and pulp of the iceplant is very good treatment for the skin.
In addition to the healing and feeding of the skin it also forms a thin membrane which protects the skin against drying out and even sunburn.
I found a photo of the iceplant that we took a previous winter. This photo was taken in Namaqualand.

  I was more interested in taking a photo of the dashing grasshopper "knight with his armor" than the iceplant.

Is he smart or what ?!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

the quiver tree Aloe dichotoma in habitat. During his visit to us my son wanted to see the "Quiver Tree forest". That is an experience not to be missed by anybody visiting South Africa or Namibia. To appreciate the full effect of the harsh climate in which these aloes grow visit in December, which was when these photos were taken.

The drive is roughly 500 km there and back.
 Our grandson Thomas enjoyed the boerewors and mielies for lunch (beef sausage and corn on the cob) at a picnic spot in the shade.

Exploring the world with Grandpa - on the shady side of the tree.  Note there is only a hint of green. Everything goes without water until the rains start after April.

Where are the lions and elephants ?

Because of its sponge like fibrous composition the trunk of Aloe dichotoma has a very light weight. Thomas (aged three years and five months) kindly agreed to demonstrate the weight of a dead Aloe dichotoma trunk. The wind was strong and made it difficult for him to keep his balance, but he was not going to give up.  If a guy must pose on a photo for Grandma he will do it with a smile.
Finally the stem was in line with the wind and he could pose.

A last stop to get some of the high quality sandy loam for Grandpa's seedlings.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

terrestrial orchids companion plants for aloes
The small terrestrial orchid Pterygodium.volucris can grow happy in the same conditions as the aloes in the garden. The name orchid usually goes with pretty or very odd flowers, but not in the case of this small orchid. The flowers are so plain and the same colour as the leaves so that it is easy to overlook them. The plants are neat and they grow very easy.  Pterygodium volucris is from the winter rainfall area so it needs rest in summer and water in winter. It can remain in the ground in a dry climate.
The orchids grow next to the Paintbrush lily Haemanthus coccinius (The two large leaves in photo ) which bloomed a few weeks ago. 

 The Paintbrush lily sends out the flower first( photo below), then the leaves. The leaves measure, each 39 cm long and 17 cm wide. In inches that is roughly 16 inches long and 7 inches wide. I measured them.

The little blue aloe in the top photo is a hybrid growing without any attention. I would have liked to ask it to make an offshoot or two, but it seems that is not going to happen.
The winter rain has started and the dry patches between the aloes are turning green - soon there will be flowers all over. For now we enjoy the green and the anticipation.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Cultivating the perfect garden aloe hybrid which would bloom throughout the year is ongoing and some are on the market already. Some aloe species in cultivation bloom three or more times a year, with only a few weeks between the previous inflorescens and the new one. There are also the tropical aloe species that bloom twice a year and the aloe species growing in very arid regions will bloom after good rains whenever that opportunity arrives. Combining these aloes in hybrids is difficult as the seeds are seldom viable when the plants differ so much, but there are people out there who just love a challenge.
We started off with Aloe species plants. It is convenient to know exactly how the plant will look and what it needs to grow when planning where to plant it. Then in time we obtained some hybrids. A few times we thought (or was told) that the hybrid was a species plant and at first we were disappointed, but in the end we were not unhappy with the mistake as the hybrids were always very nice.
These plants were easy to grow and more often than not, they had very attractive flowers.
Then we saw some hybrids not done by the birds and bees but by careful cultivation. They were stunning. However we do not have the years on our side, so we made some uncomplicated hybrids and enjoy the surprises given to us by the birds and bees.

Aloe dorothea hybrid is ideal for a border. The aloe sends out offshoots which will form a solid border. The leaves are a shiny yellow-green which will shade dark olive in full sun. The bright red flowers are also glossy and to top this, this aloe hybrid blooms at least three times a year - that is less than a month from the seeds on the old inflorescens to when the new one starts to grow out.

Some medium size aloe hybrids for the garden.
Photo above. The aloe from my previous blog on buds Aloe petricola x Aloe speciosa, is a convenient size plant for most small gardens and this aloe always shows off well in a green garden - even when not in flower. Flowering time is in winter.

Aloe framesii x Aloe arenicola hybrid is a deep green going over to wine red in full sun.  It is a very attractive aloe but would not show off from a distance in a green garden - it usually has the effect of surprise at finding the pretty plant when it catches the eye of visitors in our garden.

photo above. Against the wall - what better than an assortment of Aloe arborescens hybrids and cultivars.

A focal point

The focal point could be on size. We had no idea that this would be the size that this hybrid below would aim for. It is not planted as a focal point but on the side of the garden behind a tree. Many aloes grow higher than 2 m. but that is mainly due to a long stem not a large rosette like this aloe. This seed decided to go one better on Aloe marlothii. The effect of this hybrid on visitors in the garden is - "What is this?!" A man can stand in front of this aloe with his arms spread out and the aloe will still be higher and wider (and it is still growing).
The pole is 2 m. above ground.
At half the size in bloom.
It is possible to see the parent plants of an Aloe F1 hybrid. Further back than that is for the experts with experience in hybridizing. Some garden hybrids have been going on for generations, we do not even try to think what is in their background as long as they are pretty and easy for the garden, that is what matters.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

more aloe buds Our winter is an exciting time with at least 80% of our aloes blooming from late fall to early spring. The real thrill is when a rare aloe blooms for the first time and buds are visible on our Aloe sabaea from Yemen! I have not seen this aloe in bloom except on a picture. Buds are also showing on Aloe rubroviolacea, also from Yemen and I have not seen it "live in bloom" either.

The raceme is often mentioned in describing aloes, it is the part of the stem on which the flowers are attached. The length of the raceme change the image of the flowering aloe a lot.
Directly below is Aloe mitriformis with a very short raceme.

Variations occur in this aloe - below is a longer raceme.

The buds of Aloe mitriformis on the left has just passed their green phase. This is the stage in the development of the flowers that I find the most attractive of this aloe, before it changes to the flowering shape on the photo right. Aloes tend to vary in the same species.  The raceme is longer which space the flowers wider apart. The new bud can be seen on the right bottom of the photo on the left. It is obvious that the flowers will not be densely packed. However, that is not the only difference, these flowers are wider apart but much longer than the Aloe mitriformis flowers above - and how do you like those open flowers! The curling of the pedals are so charming. The bees do not have a problem pollinating these narrow long flowers as the nectar flow down and the pollen is also right at the opening of the flowers. The stigma will appear after the pollen is gone, most aloes are not self-fertile.

This is a lovely hybrid of Aloe petricola X Aloe speciosa. Aloe speciosa is obvious in the flowers and buds and Aloe petricola is prominent in the size and shape of the plant. A. petricola is not quite 50 cm high and Aloe speciosa is a tree aloe reaching 3 meter easy. This hybrid plant is just under 50 cm.
 The many flower buds of Aloe speciosa are packed so tight that the raceme with buds feels as hard as a rock. Compare the buds of this aloe with the hybrid above - The buds are much alike but Aloe speciosa buds are very dense. The raceme with flowers on the photo above is 40 cm long.
What is the meaning of the word "cola" - The lovers of the drink need not answer.....
It means "inhabiting or dweller ". petri (from petros) = rock + cola would be ... rocks/stones .. inhabiting stones.
There is also an Aloe arenicola which grows on the west coast and it is a sand dweller.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

but it is a bud...
It is obvious that the Aloe species differ a lot in the shape of the leaves, rosette
and flowers but the buds are also different. The best way to identify an aloe is by the flowers as the leaves and rosette will change shape and color depending on whether they grow in shade, sun or drought but the flowers remain the same. The buds are not taken into account mainly because they change in shape and color nearly on a daily basis and the flowers are so much easier to identify. It can be interesting to watch the change and to note the differences in the buds of the aloes species and hybrids.
Aloe cryptopoda. The bracts give a prickly effect. The buds point upward and as they grow they tip over and color yellow when the flowers open. Then after pollination they tip upwards again. All the different stages are easy to see on the photo.
Aloe gerstneri. The buds hang down from the start and lift slightly as the flowers grow and ripen. The shading of the buds to flowers are lovely. The seedpods point upwards. I can not remember seeing seedpods that hang down.

Aloe glauca is another one of the few aloes with "fluffy" bracts.
The buds point upwards and the flowers tip over to point down in a one-by-one fashion. The flowers seem spaced far apart but they are large which does not show on the photo - Prettier in real life. The teeth on this aloe are very sharp.

Aloe nuwerus. A lovely hybrid. The florescence branch with the racemes near to each other. This gives a nice show. The bracts over the very young buds look like fish scales. The colour of the flowers do not shade much. It is already obvious looking at the bracts on the young buds that the flowers will be many and tightly packed on the raceme.

The hanging aloes - Aloe hardyi hangs down but it sends the florescence upwards. The inflorescens is still small - near the top corner right.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The seeds of the paintbrush lily Haemanthus coccinius are so pretty that I would like to show them to you. The fleshy seeds of the Amaryllidaceae family should be planted immediately when they are ripe.

The seeds are placed on top of the soil and pressed into the soil to just below the soil level. I have planted seeds much deeper. It took them some weeks later than the other seeds, but the lilies managed to grow all the way through the soil and I know a gardener who places the seeds on top of the soil and that works too.
That was not meant to confuse you but to relax you - if they want to grow, they will grow.
One point can not be changed and that is the seeds do not last long. They can be kept cool for a few weeks but the fresher the better.
For the growing medium use normal potting soil and add some sand. 1 x sand and 2 times potting mix. Do not desturb the young lilies for at least a year, preferably two years.

I am going to plant the seeds on the photo. It always feels like a waste to throw seeds away and such pretty seeds can not be wasted. Pity it is so difficult to send the fragile bulky seeds or I would have asked who wants them.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Indoor succulent plant gardens
Aloes succulents and fat plants grow easy indoors in pots or containers. Good drainage and strong light is all that they need. Here are two indoor gardens. A succulent indoor garden in a flat container with mainly fat plants from South Africa and a desert garden in a bowl with succulents and aloes from Namibia. The soil mix contains dolomite gravel, coarse sand and soil. A very weak plant food is given every 6 months with a sprinkling of a few Magnesium sulphate crystal between the plants. (A quarter teaspoon at the most.)

click on the photo to enlarge. The succulent plants in this indoor garden from South Africa. The white plant at the back is a Cotyledon, next row from the left is Aloe davyana, Aloe hybrid in the center and to the right back. Front row from the left is Euphorbia mammilaris. Gasteria species, Gasteria x Aloe hybrid and a group of Aloe brevifolia plants. The ground cover is two Crassula sp. The container is watered thoroughly and then permitted to dry out.

click on the photo to enlarge. This is a desert garden with plants from Namibia. The back row left to right:- mesemb, Tylecodon species, Aloe variegata, Euphorbia gariepina. Front left to right:- mesemb, Cotyledon species, the small plants are Euphorbia juttae, Aloe melanacantha and the small plant to the right of Aloe melanacantha is Anacampseros buderiana. This garden receives only enough rain water to damp the soil. It is then permitted to dry out. It may be necessary to merge the bowl in rain water once a year to rinse out salts or better would be to replace the growing medium with a fresh mix.
For more information and tips see cultivating succulent plants in pots and containers

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Stop a minute to smell the rosesIt is an honor to be too busy to smell roses after the age of 60 years. I have so much to do, never worked so physically hard in my life and never realized how lucky I am being able to do it.
The photo below was taken by Sandra Legg who is now the Mom of this boy who likes to smell roses.

Not even a dog is too tough to resist the beauty of a rose!
Between you and me, that rose lasted a few minutes. This dog belongs to our son-in-law and our grand daughter Else took the photo, she is a real sport to do things with grandma.
I think I should introduce Else to you

One thing about retirement bothers me - time passes so fast ! The week is at the most 2 days long, a good month has one week and I will not mention how quick a year flies by.
They say that doing something new is important at this stage. Come to think of it - A year feels very long for a child because there are so many new things that the child experience and do, but at this stage of my life new things are either very expensive or against the law. joking, but it is very near to the truth .. sigh..

I did smell the roses after I finished the earnest task of taking a photo. This photo was taken in England visiting my son. That was a lovely visit. Now how do I get my other son into the USA so that I can smell roses there too.