Monday, May 13, 2013

Autumn in the Western Cape

A sunbird in the Cape honeysuckle against blue autumn skies

Still sunny days, chilly mornings with wisps of mist rising, the first rains, but many more sunny days, an idyllic lull between the fierce heat of summer and cold winds of winter.

Autumn is about the only time of year when the wind dies here in the Western Cape. We enjoy a procession of still days, with only the mildest breezes: a breather between the Cape’s notorious blow-you-off-your-feet summer south-easters and gusting  north-westers bringing winter rain.

The first sign of autumn approaching is the flowering of wilde dagga and tecoma, (the Cape honeysuckle): slashes of orange with nectar loving sun birds flitting between them chattering, the iridescent green backs and scarlet mufflers another flash of colour returning to the dry land.

Wilde dagga or leonotis leonurus

New shoots of spring flowering bulbs emerge, the new green is a sign of spring in the Europe, but here it's a reward brought by the first autumn rains, as the watsonias make the most of a whole winter of rain to grow tall before flowering in late spring.

Proteas and sugarbush flowers open. More food for all the sweet nectar loving birds and bees.

 There is the scent of honey from what I now know, after our visit to Grootbos, to be metalasia muricata, an unimposing but beautifully scented fynbos plant that grows wild among the restios here.

Then jewel-like yellow oxalis flowers peep out of the sand, furling their petals again at night or on dull days and opening wide to embrace the sun as soon as its rays warm them every morning.

The white oxalis, first of the winter flowers

In the vegetable garden there is swiss chard, growing profusely enough to make spinach torta again and again, then rows of new seedlings of cabbage and salads; but the carrots have been ravished by moles... and by moles I mean mole rats, nothing like the cute velvety surface moles, but large, fat, furry beasts, the size of a rabbit, with long teeth to gnaw through the roots of our mulberry trees and take out rows of carrots, their tunnels making man traps for the unwary.
The hole left after my foot descended into a mole tunnel!

The first guavas are ripening, fragrant and perfumed, soon there’ll be enough for guava fool again. (For guava pics look at this winter post from June 2010.)

Olives ripen on the tree, for the first time in several years, waiting for me to get my act together and brine them for posterity.

Glorious sunrises are a daily spectacle at this time of year, and we’re up to see them now the days are so much shorter. On school days we get up in darkness at 6am, watch the skies lighten at the breakfast table, and rush out to photograph orange, red and pink flooded skies just after 7am, until the sun bursts over the mountain horizon flooding the house with light and warming cold feet and hands.

It’s the perfect time for long lunches on the stoep with posies of nasturtiums, as we did yesterday for my sister-in-law’s birthday. Good friends, good food, sunshine, fresh air and flowers, looking over an incomparable view of mountains.

I might miss European autumns with golden beech leaves falling in drifts, but we still get those same autumn colours in another form here, different but just as beautiful. How does autumn look where you are?


  1. My nasturtiums are just poking their wee leaves above the soil... and any place that has "winter flowers" must be like fairyland. What a beautiful post, Kit! Those yellow flowers flat down in the sand are amazing! The green bird!!! The twisty green leaves... it's all so lovely.

    Since you asked, (and Autumn is my favorite season), Autumn here is chilly, crisp wind and red, gold, and russet leaves - first on the trees, then in blankets on the ground. Rain and the smell of decaying vegetation, smoke from leaf fires, the sweet tang of hot spiced apple cider. Gothic horror movies and watching the garden go to sleep. The blood red of cardinals against the bare tree branches. School buses on the streets again, kids with brand new notebooks and as-yet unsharpened pencils. Pumpkin soup and heavy socks and clunky boots. Jackets in the early morning, and again at night. The feeling of being between the worlds.

  2. Tandy, we have nasturtiums in the vegetable garden and they just keep on flowering right through summer and on into winter. One of my favourite flowers.

    Marcheline, thanks for sharing your autumn colours and scents. It sounds like my memories of autumn in England, except for the cardinals and the gothic movies!
    Those little oxalis always bring a smile to my face, so cheerful right the way through winter, until spring gets going with the daisies again.


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