Archives for category: Gardening in Parkhurst

Spring has a way of approaching Johannesburg tentatively.  Much like many first-time visitors to this city.  It is usually a case of two steps forward and then a big step back which is why I only took the cover off my little camellHia bush two days ago, although the temperatures haven’t been much below 25 during the day for the past two weeks.

The first official day of spring in the southern hemisphere being today, it feels like a good time to introduce you to something special in my garden:  See if you can spot the difference between the two photos below:  This one…

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I’ve always had a thing for swings.  Old school friends tell me that when I was a little girl I was a hopeless party guest if there was a swing anywhere in sight.  I would plant myself on it and refuse to participate in any party games.  Not much has changed.  If I see a swing that’s fit for grown-ups, I’m on it.

So I was absolutely delighted to receive a very heavy Xmas present from my sister in England last December and to find inside it, a very special swing.  It came complete with ropes and has a solid oak, inscribed seat.

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Needless to say, it was quite a substantial addition to my luggage on the flight home but it was well worth the extra bag required.

There was much debate about where to position it in such a small garden and in the end I decided it should line up with the bay window.  It works this way from both inside and out:

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I swing on it almost every day and when my sister came to visit in March, she swung on it too…

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I plan to grow a climber over the frame but am still trying to decide what will do best.  It is a very sunny, hot position for most of the day.

Friends and family who know about this particular penchant of mine, have taken to sending me photos of beautiful swings in other parts of the world.  My daughter took the photo below at a villa in Tuscany where she did a cooking course at Tuscookany in June.

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Now I’d like to go there too…

Other variations of  swings that have found their way into this house are this basket one which lives on the upstairs veranda.  With its lovely views over the park, it is my favourite afternoon tea spot….

And this painting by Abe Opperman who features swings in much of his work…

 

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And finally, being Spring Day, it seems like an appropriate time to look back on what the garden looked like a year ago on the 28th of August, 2015.

 

And today, it looks like this:

A year ago the driveway looked like this:

And today it looks like this:

So it does seem as though some progress has been made.

The animals all seem happy too…

The London Underground is not exactly a space where you’d expect to find inspiration but it is where I rediscovered the magic of poetry two years ago.  I’m not sure whether this post belongs on Home-in-the-Making or elsewhere, but since it ends up in my garden, I’ve decided to include it here.

Subways and crowded carriages are not my favourite places and until overcoming a lifelong struggle with claustrophobia a few years ago, I almost never used them. Consequently, to suddenly catch sight of a breathtaking line of poetry printed inside a carriage rattling far below London was an unexpectedly lovely experience, to say the least. In that instance, I was reminded of “how extraordinary it is that poetry can, over the course of one sentence, flood your circuit board with loss, or anger, or love” (The Independent) and to that quote I would like to add ‘joy’.

“The swallow are italic again”.  The brilliant imagery of that line held me spellbound.  On closer inspection I realised that this was not random graffiti, but a whole poem, printed on the inside of the carriage along with several others.  In fact, the inside of that particular carriage seemed quite festooned with poetry.

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I made a mental note of the poet, Owen Sheers, googled him the minute I got home and then set out for the nearest bookshop.  So far, I’ve not been able to find an anthology of Owen Sheers’ poems, but I did find a book titled “Poems on the Underground” edited by Gerard Benson, Judith Chernaik and Cicely Herbert and I bought it immediately.

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As you can see, it is already quite well worn.

To quote from the foreword of the book, “Poems on the Underground started life in January 1986 as an experiment by three friends, lovers of poetry, who persuaded London Underground to post a few poems in its trains.” I for one now look for poetry every time I board the tube and am disappointed when I don’t find it.  I wish all the carriages could become travelling poetry books.

“Swallows”, I’d decided, needed to find a place in my new home and then on reading “Poems on the Underground” from cover to cover, I came across another poem I couldn’t live without either.

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Returning to South Africa, I set about looking for someone who would be able to transcribe these two poems onto stone for me and, thanks to Google once more, I found just the perfect person in a small, southern coast village of Still Bay (or Stilbaai as it is more commonly referred to by South Africans.)

Si’mon Huber  (http://www.stone2stone.co.za) turned out to be exactly who I was looking for and in a matter of weeks, with only email correspondence between us, he had carved the first verse of ‘Swallows’ and the whole of ‘Tin Roof’ onto beautiful sandstone blocks and had them couriered to me in Johannesburg.  What a find!  It is not often that one orders something sight unseen and when the finished product arrives it actually exceeds one’s  expectations. While I’d have loved to have all three verses of ‘Swallows’ in the garden, I felt I needed to exercise some self-restraint so have limited myself to just the first verse.  It was, after all, that first line that had so captured my imagination.

The poems are now comfortably settled; one outside the front door and one in the front garden.

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With one of the criteria given to our architect being that our house have an ‘iron roof’, this poem, ‘Tin Roof’, has special resonance.

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Close up.

Once “Swallows” was in place, I felt it might benefit from some ‘illustration’.

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While developing this garden, I have rather fallen in love with a shop in our neighbouring suburb of Greenside.  Tucked down a little panhandle and quite difficult to find, is Garden Bleu. (http://www.gardenbleu.co.za)  It is a treasure trove of garden ornamentation and is becoming a regular haunt.

When I realised that most of their products are locally manufactured, I asked Sascha – who manages the Greenside branch – if she thought they could make a few swallows for me to mount on the wall.  She asked me to find a few diagrams on the internet to use as ‘patterns’ which I did and a few weeks ago I collected seven beautiful swallow silhouettes for the wall.

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I had asked for them to be made with short ‘posts’ which could be bolted into the wall so that the swallows would stand proud of the wall itself.  This means that at different times of the day, they cast beautiful shadows of themselves against the wall.  Bernard, our architect, taught me about shadow lines.  Had I not gleaned that from him I would have probably asked for shapes that could be stuck straight onto the wall and I don’t think they would have been as effective

Sascha told me that she’d had a few extra swallows made alongside mine and that they’d already been sold.  It’s very refreshing to have found such an enthusiastic young business where anything seems possible. And, as with the sandstone carvings, the finished swallows were lovelier than I’d imagined.  Before our big ‘downsizing’ exercise last year, I never knew that having a small garden could be so much fun.

 

I had planned to write a garden update this morning but will postpone that until today’s dust has settled.  This post is coming to you live from my sofa and I am writing it with the sound of a burglar alarm ringing in my ears – and no doubt in the ears of most of my neighbours.

Parkhurst properties tend to be narrow with not much space between homes.  This means that trees planted on the boundary lines often encroach into neighbouring properties.  In this country, we are allowed to trim branches that overhang our fences and interfere with our roofs or gardens.

So on Friday morning I sent text messages to both my left and right neighbours, letting them know that we were expecting tree fellers here today to cut back branches on our boundary.

This is what I said:

“Hi there.  Just want to let you both know that we’re expecting tree people on Monday, hopefully in the morning.  They will be cutting back branches that are over our walls/touching our roof.  I’d very  much appreciate it if you’d switch off your electric fences while they’re working. Thanks. Jacqui”

I had a perfectly polite and co-operative response from my neighbour on the right while neighbour on the left took a different approach.  While I’m sorely tempted to include her message here, I’m not in the habit of peppering either my speech or writing with four letter words, and I won’t start now.  Needless to say, I did not take the trouble to reply and the tree men arrived, as arranged, about half an hour ago.

It would seem that we’re never going to be forgiven for building this house and changing this…

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View from the street

to this….

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I shared the message with Julian of Treeworks so he knew what to expect.  The electric fence had of course not been turned off so the alarm goes off each time the smallest branch lands on it and I suspect her armed response company must be calling her every five minutes.  This also means that the tree fellers are unable to pick up any debris that might have fallen into her garden and they have had to access all the trees from my side.  Ironically the trees are all either privets or syringa trees and if I’m not mistaken, both are regarded as ‘alien invaders’ in this country.

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Can you spot the man high up in the Syringa tree? He has carefully avoided the live electric fencing.

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Fellow workers looking on.  The white post to the right is part of the electric fence.  The man on the wall is standing on the wall we had to build a foot into our property, having been prevented by our neighbour from building on the common boundary.

This type of attitude is a mystery to me. There is no concern whatsoever shown for the men who are working around and above the live wires of the electric fence.  I have had several calls on my phone from an ‘unknown’ number (which I’ve ignored) and my husband has had one message left by our neighbour’s attorney requesting that he call back to discuss ‘damages’.  It goes beyond belief.  Fortunately Julian remains unruffled and his attitude transfers itself to his workers who appear faintly amused by the all the goings on.  If you live anywhere around here and especially if you have tricky neighbours, I can highly recommend him.

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I have maintained a fairly low profile but Julian tells me he has been on the receiving end of a verbal lashing from my neighbour who came back from her office especially to deliver it. He is unfazed.

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Our right hand side neighbour has obligingly switched off her electric fence.  Here they are trimming the poplars.

And now, to add insult to injury, a massive storm has broken over Johannesburg and we have had to hastily recall all the men in trees…  This is the first rain we’ve had in many weeks and probably the last we’ll have for many months.  The weather men have been taken by surprise as we’d been told not to expect any more rain until the summer so this is some – welcome – late relief.  Just a pity for us it has chosen today to fall and it’s bucketing down.  The men have taken shelter and it seems likely that this little drama will have a second instalment.  In the meantime we wait for a lawyer’s letter from our neighbour who insists that her electric fence was damaged earlier this morning. Julian doesn’t believe it and frankly, neither do I.  And if she’d switched it off for just one hour, as requested, all would have been well.

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A late and welcome – if inconvenient – storm breaking over Johannesburg.