Summer Gold

West coast summer is all about yellows, russets, sun-stressed reds and many shades of brown. Leaves wrinkled or tightly rolled into a ball – or lying crisp and curled in carpets under summer deciduous shrubs. Lichens fruiting madly. Here in the south the heat of summer creates a world which is reminiscent of a northern hemisphere autumn. In contrast our ‘fall’ is a time of rejuvenation and greening in response to the first rain.

To be fair, my eye was drawn to only one side of the plant spectrum – among these sun stressed species there were almost lush and green karee bushes (Searsia lucida, S.glauca) and sea ghwarries (Euclea racemosa). These hardy evergreens create a wonderful foil for the golds and browns of deciduous species.

To me there is great beauty in the stark seasonal changes of strandveld – as gardeners and landscapers we can drawn inspiration from this natural palette of ultra hardy plants.

 

DSCN6525DSCN6535Deciduous Zygophyllum morgsana about to loose the last of its leaves

DSCN6550Ballota africana (Kattekruie) with tightly rolled leaves

Below: Pretty seed pods of Zygophyllum morgsanaDSCN6545A carpet of leaves forms natural mulch on the soilDSCN6536

DSCN6541DSCN6529Sun-stressed Mesembryanthemum alatum which seems to be growing from seed, no matter how dry it isDSCN6526

Palette: Highveld grassland

During a recent visit to Random Harvest Nursery I had the privilege of visiting a restored grassland. About 25 years ago this piece of the farm was a dense stand of alien invasive Black and Silver Wattles. Linda de Luca and her mother decided to remove the forest and allow the grass to re establish itself, initially for grazing purposes. Then about 12 years ago, their interest in grassland deepened and they decided to play a more active role in restoring the grassland.  The result is spectacular: a little piece of climax high veld grassland in the heart of Gauteng, and only a stone’s throw from the bustling centre of Johannesburg.

Drifts of golden Helichrysum in a matrix of  grasses

Drifts of golden Helichrysum in a matrix of grasses

It was an overcast day after a few days of rain – the grasses were lush green and flowering, in their prime. Eragrostis curvula, Eragrostis capensis (heart love grass) and Themeda triandra (red grass) were a few that I could name. in this matrix of finely textured green were splashes of yellow Helichysum, and the striking tall inflorescenes of prickly Berkheya.

Berkheya radula (Boesmansrietjie)

Berkheya radula (Boesmansrietjie)

I was lucky to have Carol Knoll as my guide – she had just published an excellent article on the restoration of this grassland in Footprint Limited magazine. As we walked through the grassland, we were like kids in a candy shop, excitedly pointing out little herbaceous gems under our feet.

Carol Knoll giving me the species names

Carol Knoll giving me the species names

Veronica species

Veronica species

Tulbaghia leucantha (Wild garlic)

Tulbaghia leucantha (Wild garlic)

Monopsis or Lobelia species

Monopsis or Lobelia species

Carol showed me how the Milkwort was alive with insect activity – ants, beetles and of course butterfly pollinators.

Xysmalobium undulata (Milkwort)

Xysmalobium undulata (Milkwort)

The star flowers remained firmly closed, in the absence of sun, but below is a picture I took in the same grassland last year.

Hypoxis hemerocallidea (Star flower) was not going to show its bright yellow flowers on this dull overcast day

Hypoxis hemerocallidea (Star flower) was not going to show its bright yellow flowers on this dull overcast day

Hypoxis hemerocallidea (2)

As we left the restored grassland, I saw a dense stand of Hyparrhenia hirta and wondered how this local but weedy invasive species was kept in check? I found the answer in Carol’s article which describes how the Hyparrhenia was cut and removed before it seeded, and used to make compost for the nursery. In addition, the grassland is regularly weeded to remove pompom weed, tall verbena and Plantago.  To increase biodiversity and provide different conditions, the grassland is burnt every 3 years, and slashed annually, with one third slashed in autumn (March), one third in spring and the remainder left untouched. Quite a regime, but it has yielded excellent results.

In addition to the spectacular increase in plant diversity, the restored grassland has provided a habitat for the Giant bullfrog and many species of butterfly, including the Eyed Pansy.

Pelargonium luridum (Waving pelargonium)

Pelargonium luridum (Waving pelargonium)

As I left – in great haste – to catch my plane at Lanseria airport I spotted a Waving pelargonium – a fitting end to my grassland visit.