Tuesday, March 30, 2004

My garden is filled with papayas and mangos 

Garden planning for the new house. The garden is currently a mess of enormous rocks and clay. The first problem is to get in some kind of irrigation, which yours truly has been nominated to do. The next step is to pick the plants. This was last night's task.

I, as you may have spotted, am English. I am also a bloke. These two things make me singularly useless when it comes to picking plants for a South African garden. I don't know what all the English names of things mean, let alone the Latin ones. I just want a lemon tree because I think it's cool to be able to grow lemons in your garden. We also have about twenty chillies in our current garden for the same reason. I got a bit carried away with all the different varieties.

Luckily, as far as choosing plants is concerned, my role seems to be confined to looking up different varieties of bougainvillea, then picking them based on their names. I personally liked Scarlett O'Hara, but we seem to have settled on Danyo. Other than that, my presence is required more as moral support, so I sat there typing this on my Palm and eating a mango.

We're opting for a hedge too. When I say 'we' I'm using the matrimonial 'we', which means 'my wife'. The hedge has a fine history not only in English boundary disputes, but in South African ones too. In sixteen hundred and something, Jan van Riebeek had established the first permanent European presence at the Cape - the sailor's hangout that grew into Cape Town. He reported back to his Dutch bosses that he was having a spot of local difficulty, in that the resident population of Khoi-San herders and hunter-gatherers objected to having their cattle stolen as well as their land. The instruction came back from the gentlemen at the Dutch East India Company that van Riebeek was to isolate himself from the indigenous population by means of a moat, to be dug from table bay to False Bay, turning the Cape Peninsular into an island under Dutch rule. Van Riebeek, being on the scene, took a more pragmatic and less labour intensive route, and opted for a hedge. Given the pervious nature of hedges, this was probably not particularly effective, although the fact that it was a bitter almond hedge probably prevented it being eaten. A section of the hedge survives to this day, and is looked after in the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, around the back of Table Mountain from the city.

To continue the digression, Kirstenbosch is a magical place with large lawns and beautifully kept gardens. At the top, it merges into the lower slopes of the mountain, and one of the most popular walking routes up - skeleton Gorge - starts at the top of the gardens. Come to think of it, if I was walking up a mountain, I'm not sure that a route known as Skeleton Gorge would be my first choice.
“Uh, why do they call this Skeleton Gorge, then?”

The start of Christmas each year for us is the annual Carols by Candlelight at Kirstenbosch, run by the local Rotary Club. Thousands of people go along in late afternoon with large, well lubricated picnics, and then when it gets dark, candles are lit and the singing starts. The noise from me is usually loud, but tuneless. My Boney M rendition of 'Mary's Boy Child' will full Caribbean accents is always popular, though.

Back to our garden, and lots of the plant seem to be spiky. Maybe it has something to do with the more hostile environment – even the plants need defences. There is a tree called (and I will probably spell this wrongly) a ‘wag n bitjie boom’, which I think translates as ‘wait a while tree’. I blundered into one once on one of my frequent off-fairway excursions whilst playing golf, and discovered how it got its name. The whole thing, although very innocuous looking, is covered in vicious spikes, so once you are in, it takes about five minutes of blood, scratches and swearing to get out again. Even my favourite lemon tree has spikes. We occasionally find small snakes impaled on them by, I am told, a bird called a fiscal shrike. I don’t know if they leave them there to soften up for later consumption, or if the shrikes just have a thing against snakes, but it is one of those little details that I love about living here.

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