Thursday, August 04, 2011

Winter and Tree Planting

The white daisies are really starting to bloom on the farm now, heralding the end of winter and early days of spring. Washing is blowing breezily on the line and the ducks have split up into twos and threes, with bouts of fearsome squawkings accompanying their clumsy attempts to pro-create.  The two pet rabbits are showing desperate signs of the nesting instinct. Their pen is set against the side of the house on a brick floor. Thwarted in their attempts to burrow down they have turned their attention to the walls. We live in a straw-bale house, thickly plastered with a natural clay plaster. A determined bunny can scrape away at it, and bingo, the other day it hit the jackpot, making it through the plaster to discover a whole wall full of edible space to burrow into. By the time I noticed him, Toffee had excavated a deep hole into the wall, there was straw scattered everywhere, which he would stop now and then to nibble, and he was only inches from popping his head out into the kitchen on the other side!  We need to fortify the enclosure so that our house won’t be eaten up by voracious pets!

It seems like winter is over before it began, even though we did have some chilly weather back in June when we were busy complaining about frozen toes. But July was dry, dry, dry, with only one downpour and now we’re into August and the tree planting season is nearly over. Because we really meant to plant some trees this winter. It’s not that we’re short on trees, having planted a couple of thousand since we’ve been here (including the border windbreak trees), but we try to keep planting indigenous trees both for beauty and to improve the environment. There are so many more birds here now that the trees are growing.

The other reason that we need to plant trees before the end of winter is to replace our girls’ birthday trees. Each child has a tree that was planted especially for them. Our son’s was planted on his first birthday and was the first tree we planted on our side of the farm, before we even moved out here for good and built our house. It is a bottlebrush with red dangling flowers that look like bottlebrushes, not indigenous, but not invasive either and very pretty. When Youngest was born we planted a peach tree behind out house and at the same time planted a Pompom tree for Middle Daughter, aged two by then,  who was born in England and hadn’t yet had a tree planted for her.

Easter 2007 - hunting for eggs in our son's bottlebrush tree

On Easter Day the bunny would always hide at least one egg by their trees and sometimes birthday treasure hunts would find goodies dangling from them. But we chose the location badly for the girls’ trees. For some reason, that particular side of the house doesn’t seem to do well, presumably to do with availability of water underground. Last year Middle Daughter’s tree, which had flowered for a few years but hardly grown, finally gave up the ghost. Youngest’s peach tree had fruited one year but then had died back and re-shooted a couple of times, so it was moved into the orchard, where hopefully it will have a chance to grow properly. There was much consternation about where the Easter bunny would leave eggs in future, so this year we planned to plant them each a new tree somewhere near the house .And we haven’t ... yet... and there is only a little while left before it will be too hot and dry again to give a tree a good start in life. So we need to get moving  and go and choose some new indigenous trees at our local nursery.

One year my sister-in-law got all enthusiastic and bought a number of large trees to plant, aiming for quick results and instant height. It worked well around her house, but we are just a little bit higher up the property with much deeper sand and ours struggled to adapt and have hardly gown at all. It seems that bigger trees need just as much, if not more, loving care as small trees do when they are newly planted and if they don’t get it are less resilient, having so much more leaf and branch to maintain. So we’ll be going for smaller trees even though the selection of large indigenous trees at TreeTrade is very tempting. I can just picture us in our very own instant forest clearing....!

So now we have to decide what trees to get: another pompom tree, (dais cotinfolia) very pretty, or something tougher like the Wild Plum, (harpephyllum caffrum) which is green and hardy but not much in the way of flowers? Much as I love our South African indigenous trees, it is at times like this that I feel nostalgic for the English oaks and beeches, majestic trees that you could plant for a child and have grow into mature trees that would last longer than their lifetime. Damper areas of South Africa with natural indigenous forest, like Knysna, can give you that satisfaction, but here in the sandy Swartland, where fynbos is king, the few indigenous trees tend to be small and multi-stemmed, and the trees that do well are alien invaders, such as pines, blue-gum and port jackson,  we are rather going against the natural order of things... still we'll try!

If any of you have got a favourite indigenous tree that would do well in sandy soil, do let me know. Have you planted trees for your kids, or for yourself, for that matter?


  1. I confess I'm not much of a gardener (though do manage at least to keep most things alive now - this wasn't always the case!), but I do love the idea of planting a tree for each child. It must be so special for them to look at that when they're older.

  2. Gorgeous pictures - good enough to eat! I have two small baobab shoots coming up from seeds that I bought, hoping that they thrive into trees... am hoping to bonsai them.

  3. This post has such breezy magic to it, Kit. I love the way you write, and I'm bowled over by these photographs. Especially the first one, with the ducks, the flowers and the washing. This is everything I want from a blog post. Congratulations.

  4. Hi
    I agree about Dias cotnifolia, such a lovely tree, but they have a habit of keeling over!
    As for Harpephyllum, while it's a great tree it can get very large, so plant it somewhere that resulting shade won't be a problem.
    One genus that is work looking into is Rhus (now known as Searsia in up to date scientific circles but nurseries still seem to use Rhus). R. pendulina grows like a weed,even in fairly high wind. But it needs a lot of space, it really doesn't stop growing, but it looks quite similar to a willow, so is very graceful. For a slightly smaller tree try R. lancea, while R. Chirondensis is a beautiful spreading shade tree.
    Of course wild olives grow everywhere, the trick is to thin them out to encourage a traditional tree shape otherwise they tend to stay as bushes.
    For a local perspective do contact Malmesbury Kwekery, they grow their own trees and will be able to help for sure.
    Also is a great website to investigate specific options.

    While I don't know much about your specific situation, I would hazard a guess that watering is your issue - trees respond to regularity & consistency of watering rather than simple volume (I.e. a few dry days in hot summer with no water will negate your diligent soakings from the weeks before).

    Otherwise please feel free to call me at Red Daffodil on 021 671 7401, although we are based in CT I have lived in Darling. I'd be more than happy to chat through some other options to try give you a hand in your tree choice, it would be a pleasure.


  5. @Marisa - I was never much of a gardener either, but have discovered that planting trees, for the future, and herbs, for the kitchen now, are what I can cope with.
    @Marcheline - bonsai sounds interesting - tell us more about it on your blog, with pics of the trees once you've got them going. Would love to see.

  6. @ Jane-Anne - Thank you. Coming from you I take it as a huge compliment. I always read your blogs for the writing as much as for the recipes.

    @Chris - Thanks for taking the time to make all those recommendations. We have got several Rhus here - I think pendulina rather than lancea and they do grow well, though needing regular pruning to stop them becoming too multi-stemmed. Shame about the Dais having a habit of keeling over, though now I don't feel quite so bad about it dying on me...!


Thanks for your comments - I appreciate every one!