Aitch learnt the joy of indigenous plants on the Bluff in 1985 when doing her cardio-vascular perfusion-ing at Wentworth hospital. Ian Whitton, friend and cardio-thoracic surgeon, indigenous gardener and nurseryman extraordinaire, piglet-producer, protea grower, pigeon-fancier, erythrina expert and all-round good friend took her under his wing taeching her about Natal trees and birds. She needed it as a Capie new to KwaZulu Natal. She phoned me breathless one day to describe a new bird she had in her binocs: ‘Koos! Its beautiful! It has a yellow beak, its purply-brown with a black head and it has a bright yellow face. (see bottom of post)
She also learnt from Kenyan, indigenous guru, horticultural landscaper, author, visionary and gardener Geoff Nichols; She collected seeds and swopped them for plants for and from horticulturalist Enver Buckus at Silverglen nursery; She worked for noted colonist, author, canoeist, British apologist, acrylic painter and Last Outpost historian Geoffrey Caruth Esq Duke of Bhivane at his Geoff’s Jungle Indigenous Nursery enthusiastically selling shade plants; She joined BotSoc (now the Biodiversity Society) and got very involved, especially in the annual big plant sale, working with Sandra, Wally Menne, Jean Senogles, Dave Henry, Diane Higginson, etc; She spent fifteen years ‘botanising’ (as they called it) with Barry Porter on his and Lyn’s Hella Hella game farm. We went there at every opportunity. It became our second home. They would roam the farm spotting and photographing plants and flowers with their posteriors pointing at the heavens, occasionally digging up one for culture with Porter’s Powerful Patented Plant Pincher**, a handy device Barry had welded together to make extracting small plants easy and less destructive. Barry taught us to use Eugene Moll’s tree-ID book using leaves to ID the trees of Natal.
Our first property was 7 River Drive Westville, already mostly indigenous thanks to Mike and Yvonne Lello. On the banks of the Mkombaan River, it was paradise unfenced. We rooted out invasives and aliens and planted the right stuff as directed by Geoff Nichols. On his first visit he told me sternly, pointing ‘over there’, to ‘Get rid of that inkberry.’ You know how Geoff is. Right! Sir! A month later on his next site inspection he said ‘You haven’t got rid of that inkberry!’ Oops! True. So I undertook to do it that week.
A few days later I set to with my bow saw, sawing off all the branches and then cutting down the 100mm trunk just above the ground, Then I garlon’d that and composted the bits n pieces. Phew! Done! Finally!
A month later Geoff was back. ‘Who the hell cut down the tassleberry?!’ he bellowed. ‘And you STILL haven’t got rid of the inkberry!’ I never lived that one down. We planted five tassleberries to make up for it. They have male and female trees, so that was best anyway. I am pleased – relieved – to report they did well over the next fifteen years!
Aitch didn’t mind a bit of attention, so when our garden was chosen to be on display for Durban Open Gardens she blossom’d n preened and was in her element! She LOVED showing people around the garden and re-assuring them that it was quite safe* even if it did look a bit wild. In fact she would keep the entrance and pathway to the front door and pool very tame, civilised and trimmed so as not to scare people and put them off wild gardening. The hidden parts of the garden could go wild and host the 112 species of birds we recorded in the garden over the fifteen years we lived there. For 32 of those species we saw nests or fledglings.
We put in a bird bath outside our bedroom window and plumbed it to a high tap I could reach from my bedroom window to fine-choon as water pressure fluctuated; and left it running with a fine little spray of water for fifteen years. The birds loved it. Me too. The tap is visible against the far wall on the left; the birdbath is hidden behind Jess.
*In fifteen years we saw one Natal Black Snake, two Brown Water Snakes, a few Herald Snakes, a resident House Snake, regular Spotted Bush Snakes, tiny Thread Snakes, a couple of Night Adders, and that was all. None of them really dangerous.
One year we decided to make a large pond by damming a little stream that flowed though our garden into the Mkombaan. It came to be called (by Aitch) ‘Koos’ Folly.’ In my defence, Nichols was involved in the planning. We built a substantial dam wall next to the Voacanga on the bank, covered in bidim felt and strong and long-lasting, creating a deep pond about 8m X 4m in size.
Which the very first flood filled it up to the brim with silt. One shot. Pond now a shallow little mudflat with most of the flow passing under it underground. I learnt: Don’t mess with watercourses.
Some murdering had to happen. There was a mango tree in the grasslands and a fiddlewood behind the house. I bow-saw’d and de-barked and felled. Then I garlon’d. That would sort them out. Well, only years later did I finally get rid of the last shoots that kept sprouting. I developed a genuine respect for their kanniedood properties! A massive syringa on the banks of the Mkombaan I just ring-barked and garlon’d. No cutting. Two years later it crashed down across the river, bank-to-bank, forming a bridge you could walk across.
**Barry also made us a bird feeder, which he called Barry’s Bizarre Balancing Bird Bistro. More about Barry and Lyn here.
kanniedood – hard to kill; later we planted a kanniedood Commiphora harveyi down where we buried the dogs