10 March, 2015

Mountain fires and rainbows

by Diana Studer
- gardening for biodiversity
in Cape Town, South Africa

On the 3rd of March Cape Town was the hottest place on earth 42C (107F)! It was cooler at only 33C (91F) on False Bay. 'The sky would crack and split and thunderous crashes would rearrange huge blocks of air as though the universe itself were in the throes of some vast quake' from Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout. One almighty clap of thunder on the 4th of March started another fire at Cape Point. Fires began on Sunday 1st March and fire crews and spotter planes monitor for flare ups. RIP Hendrik Marais whose helicopter made a forced landing.

When we moved in, the mountain burnt on the other side of the valley. We walked in November 2009 in the Groot Winterhoek Mountains in search of fire flowers. With the efficient disaster management which began after Cape Town's huge fires in January 2000, I am encouraged to read a botanist's calm explanation of why and how fire is good for fynbos. At the Porterville museum is a San Bushmen exhibit with the shaman doing a rain dance. 'Male' rain is hard and destructive, causing flooding. 'Female' rain is soft soaking into the soil, so the grass can grow, for the animals they hunt. For the crops the women gather. To heal our burnt mountain.

Groot Winterhoek November 2009 flowers after fire

We hope to move in to the new bedrooms at the weekend. Meanwhile I distract my mind with a kaleidoscope of plants. In pots from Porterville (and Camps Bay before that). The wild flowers I dream of planting as we turn to fynbos. Our garden will be mostly about Ungardening structure and texture and colours in leaves. Rivers of Paradise, milk and honey, water and wine, four colour themes.

The newly enclosed front garden will be the Karoo Koppie. Mostly succulents with flowers in flaming sunset oranges and reds. An icon of winter, driving across the anti-claustrophobic expanse of the Karoo are spires of aloe flowers, where that vibrant colour is a jewel.

Nerine sarniensis April 2014

Fill the frame. Tell the story. Sun and shadow on the petals, swirling skirts in sultry colours of a flamenco dancer.

Tecoma capensis April 2013

Tucked in the shady but windy corner near the carob tree, I plan yellow flowers. Happy yellow Euryops. I favour a soft true yellow that sings, not a sharp one, but I love the lime green of Euphorbia.

Euryops May 2010

Hibiscus tiliaceus was bought at Kirstenbosch. One of the few that Kristo Pienaar listed as WORLDWIDE. It always has some glowing red-orange-yellow leaves scattered amongst the green.

Leaf heart Hibiscus tiliaceus

The shady side with a washing line pergola framing the lemon tree will be blue and purple with some white. Dreaming of bluebells in English woodland, a blue Himalayan poppy in the garden of a Swiss cousin, high up in Lauterbrunnen, gentians in the Alpine garden at Schynige Platte.

South African plants are spectacularly blue. Blue African lily Agapanthus (= for love of a flower). The only blue daisies, a luminous, freshly washed after rain, blue sky? Felicia (= happiness), the kingfisher daisy. Very gentle, just blue, of a hazy sky on a high summer day – Plumbago! Clerodendrum ugandense with its Oxford and Cambridge style two tones of blue. A spring pool of annual blue flax at Postberg.

Postberg August 2007

Dimorphotheca is a purple so deep, it is almost black and adds drama. Plectranthus come in every mauve or purple. Scabiosa gives a haze of mauve. Canadian deciduous Prunus nigra with plum leaves to match its fruit.

Prunus nigra September 2013

The sunny side in pinks and white shimmering against velvety grey leaves.

March lilies 2013

Wild chincherinchee October 2009

We clear Port Jackson wattle because it takes water we need and is a fire hazard. We forget the links invasives break in the web of life.

Pictures by Diana Studer  
of  Elephant's Eye on False Bay 

(If you mouse over teal blue text, it turns seaweed red.
Those are my links.
To read or leave comments, either click the word Comments below,
or click this post's title)

26 comments:

  1. From one extreme to the other -- temperatures from your part of the world to mine. Love your garden plans. I didn't think you could better your old garden, but the new will be stunning! I too dream of bluebells in an English woodland. Beautiful posting! You surely have a 'way with words.' P. x

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    1. I've never seen wild bluebells, but perhaps my pot of bulbs will bloom in this cooler climate?

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  2. that is so lovely, female and male rain, beautiful, what a journey you take us on,,, take care .

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    1. from my window and on our walks, I hope to watch our mountain turn to green and flowers.

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  3. Our one trip to Yellowstone came after a fire and the wildflowers were rampant. After Mt St Helens blew...utter devastation. A year later, the plants were already beginning to re-stake their claim. Isn't nature amazing? Your new garden will be amazing as well, as you take your cue from Mom Nature herself.

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    1. That surge of vitality in fire flowers is breathtaking. I remember one special year after a fire on Lion's Head, the slopes down to Camps Bay were covered in gazillions of tall pink watsonias!

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  4. I very interested in your comment that South Africa has blue flowers. This fascinates me because I know that is one of the hardest colors to grow and perhaps to find in the wild. I wonder why this is so? I've searched for years for the Himalayan Blue Poppy. I recall Eleanor Perenyi writing of this in the timeless classic "Green Thoughts." Each time I pick up that book, I realize I am in the hands of a master wordsmith and gardener. Good luck on the gradual finishing of your home!

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    1. reading about it is one layer of experience. Dancing Beastie blogged about her bluebell wood. But one day, I hope to SEE wild bluebells.

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  5. I saw in the news some nasty fires down there....that is one thing about winter here....lower temps, snow, rain and no fires usually. Stay safe.

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    1. Add summer heat and the prevailing Southeaster to a mountain fire and it very quickly turns nasty. Currently they are fighting the THIRD fire near Stellenbosch.

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  6. I think some native American tribes make that same distinction between male rain and female rain -- independent discovery or culture passed down from some common ancestor?
    I love all your blue flowers. -Jean

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    1. perhaps like the Digging Stars (when the night sky prompts pastoral farmers to sow next season's crops) simply living closer to nature?

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  7. Before Europeans (including many of my ancestors) settled the Midwest and the Great Plains here in the U.S., there were great swatches of prairies and Oak savannas. They regularly burned with natural fires, and afterward it's said the wildflowers thrived. That seems to be a common story worldwide in wide open spaces. Now our naturalists and prairie experts regularly conduct "controlled burns" in the small swatches of prairie left--to return health and vitality to the soil and life it sustains. I hope the extreme heat is finished for you for the season. Here's to many more wildflowers and more comfortable temperatures for you!

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    1. the firebreaks between the mountainside and the nearest houses are kept cleared and on a cycle of controlled burns. But I've watched in horrified wonder when we lived in Camps Bay on the mountain slopes how quickly and easily, how far, the fire can spread! And how unconcerned some landowners are by the biomass load of invasive aliens on their patch.

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  8. Diana, I hope for a cooling breeze, and rain to help stop the wildfires. Anywhere is too close for comfort, and 42 C is just too much. I was reading another blogger's post about the heat the other day, and it's scary. Although we have reached 40c here, it wasn't when I was living up here.

    Your photos of wildflowers are beautiful and evocative of warm summer days when nothing threatened meadows, mountains, and life.

    Jen

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    1. It is cooler.
      But they are still battling the third fire.

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  9. bush/forest fires are also common here in Canada. Although the damage can be devastating, it does bring forth new life on those grounds and is good for the earth.

    I am British born and I do miss the bluebells in the woods.

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    1. like this?
      https://dancingbeastie.wordpress.com/2014/05/15/the-magic-of-a-bluebell-wood/

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  10. Terrific, Diana. It sound like you've got mountains/years of work ahead of you.
    Here, too, fires rage. They are to be seen as part of the climate, I believe, not just as an intruder. And then we can build our gardens.

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  11. In what way is Port Jackson wattle a fire hazard?

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    1. Port Jackson is in Australia - and you know what wildfires that country has. It grows fast and dense. When it burns it is hotter than the fynbos fire, which kills the fynbos seeds in waiting. After the fire, Port Jackson wattle has a HUGE amount of seeds. Seedlings grow fast and smother EVERYTHING else. Until the next fire when the cycle repeats.
      Curiously this is the same plant sold in Europe in the spring as mimosa, with little yellow puffballs and fragrant.

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  12. It amazes me how often the wild responds to fir with exuberant beauty. Your South African fields are beauty in the highest order. Those blues!

    I am looking forward to seeing your new garden as it progresses! It sounds like you have enough gardening to do to keep you young for years to come!

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  13. For a long time the narrative with fire in Southern California was that it is necessary for the regeneration of the landscape. But human-caused fires have pushed the chaparral to the point where it's too stressed to recover, where a burn once a century is one thing, but a burn twice a decade is too much, and weeds start to move in. Even though you mention lightning-caused fire, do you also have similar issues with human-source fire? I wonder if the fynbos has a similar tipping point that fortunately hasn't been crossed...

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    1. for the fynbos 15 years is just right and the last big fire was 2000. They do investigate the cause of each fire. Sadly arson, or a thoughtlessly discarded cigarette end are the usual cause. An actual textbook case of a fynbos fire started by lightning is a first for me.

      Ideally shrubby proteas and ericas burn when the bushes are old and there are lots of seeds available. If the fires come too close together that cycle is broken. But it is interesting when a burden of invasive Port Jackson is cleared, how the fynbos seed is still viable, and does return after MANY years of waiting!

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  14. you're having a late summer over there. The hottest place on earth is a record you'd prefer not to have. Garden plans are exciting. Interesting about the blue. I tend to grow a lot of blue - plumbago, salvia 'african sky' to name 2 - they often make themselves at home in the garden better than other colours. That photo of the blue wildflowers looks divine.

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    1. Cape Town's weather giggled at us and is now crisp and autumnal! I love blue for pots and garden furniture - it sings so well against all the green. Blue flowers is even better.

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