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The Hemel ‘n Aarde valley with its vineyards and sweeping vistas of land, lagoon, sea and mountain, is certainly aptly named. A day’s meander along this wine route is nothing short of divine and the perfect destination for a treat outing.

Having popped into Newton Johnson for a quick and delicious wine tasting, we headed off to Creation to experience for ourselves their much celebrated cuisine. [Tripadvisor rates Creation as the best of 84 restaurants in the Hermanus region.] As we parked we were struck by the beautiful surroundings, the undulating hills planted with vines against a mountain backdrop that appeared almost golden in the weak winter sunshine, thanks to the Leucadendrons that are so spectacular at this time of year. The place was packed. Every square metre of garden and patio heaved with humanity, everyone quaffing wine and having a great time. The popularity of Creation makes it essential to book well in advance.

Out and About in the Overberg

We have experienced typical Cape winter weather this year—a few spells of pelting rain and Arctic temperatures, interspersed with wonderfully sunny days. These are the days that we should, quite literally, head for the hills.

Alex Antrobus, a family friend, did just this, accompanied by a couple of his pals. He had this to say about his hike in the Kogelberg… The Kogelberg Nature Reserve forms the heart of the Kogelberg Bioshpere Reserve. For those Betty's Bay and Kleinmond residents who live inland of the R44, the Kogelberg Bioshpere Reserve literally is in their back yard! But this doesn't mean it can't be enjoyed by everyone.

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EDWARD SILBERBAUER is Betty’s Bay’s very own “Mr Hack”. He is the convenor of a group of intrepid volunteers who, once a month, do battle against the alien vegetation that threatens our pristine fynbos. Armed with chainsaws and sheer determination, this group chops down the invasive, non-indigenous trees that can swamp the local vegetation. These plants, if left to their own devices, spread at an alarming rate, swallowing up all the indigenous plants in their path. They are also a serious fire hazard. [One has only to think of the terrible fires in Australia to understand the threat that they pose.] Port Jackson willows, pines, myrtle, rooikrans, New Zealand Christmas trees and long-leaf wattles are the main culprits.

“A little Prestik on the top, covering a small part of a blue security light does the trick, even in rain. The light focuses downwards but is still visible from the road.” Buzz reader, Barbara Jenman

Barbara went on to say how lucky we were, for so many reasons, that we could keep our skies dark . She agrees that we must spread the word by speaking to neighbours about how intrusive the blue lights are and suggesting that we ALL do something about them.

Let’s mobilise, fellow Betty’s Bayers!

It was in my Cape Town garden that I first noticed that the Agapanthus plants were dying back. On closer examination, I discovered that a caterpillar had burrowed into the base of each of them, that the leaves were dying from the outside in and that the fleshy bits at the bottom were rotting. [“Ah, a lotten lizome,” noted my Malawian gardener, Patlick!] I immediately consulted the fount of all knowledge – the Internet – and learnt that this nasty little creature, still unnamed, was a relatively new arrival in the Western Cape. It is thought to have originated in Gauteng and, omehow or other, had travelled the 15,000-odd kilometres to Cape Town. Constantia was the first suburb to be affected, but the infestation soon spread to other parts of Cape Town, where it is now a serious problem. For not only are thousands of gardens affected, but the huge plantations of Agapanthus that line the streets and highways are dying back – a tragedy if one considers how they contribute to the beauty of Cape Town when they flower in October and November.

A year ago, I noticed that the Agapanthus growing in my Betty’s Bay garden were similarly infected and this probably means that yours are too. Or if they are not, they soon will be. We all need to take urgent action if this scourge is to be halted.

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A healthy plant.
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Infested plant
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Burrowing marks on the leaves
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Caterpillar bores down into core
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The culprit at close range

Luckily, it is very easy to get rid of the pest. You add a teaspoon of a poison called Ripcord ® to five litres of water in a watering can and water the plants with the solution. You then water them some more with the garden hose. The caterpillars will emerge and die and, in no time at all, your Agapanthus will be on the road to recovery. It is advisable to repeat the process two weeks later, to get rid of any newly-hatched caterpillars that might have appeared in the interim and then to give the plants a dose every couple of months as a prophylactic.

The active ingredient of Ripcord ® is a pyrethroid. Pyrethroids are synthetic insecticides based on natural pyrethrum. Natural pyrethrum is an insecticide made from the dried flower heads of chrysanthemum plants and it has been used as an insecticide for centuries and as a lice remedy in the Middle East called Persian Powder. Early history showed the Chinese used pyrethrum as a cure for tapeworms and other worms in human stomachs and intestines, with no deaths reported.

One of the advantages of pyrethrum and pyrethroids is that they are specific to insects and do not affect mammals or birds. However, they are toxic to aquatic organisms so be careful when you are applying poison near garden pools. Mammals and birds are able to quickly metabolise and get rid of pyrethrum; even very high doses are eliminated within 24 hours and no after-effects have been observed. In fact, many dogs are regularly bathed in pyrethrum washes and poultry and prized caged birds, which have a faster metabolism than mammals, are often completely submerged in a pyrethrum wash to kill mites and lice.

If you do not like using synthetic insecticides, there is an alternative. You can use Margaret Roberts’s Caterpillar Spray with equally good results. It contains Bacillus thuringensis,
a natural bacterium.

A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot! — Thomas Edward Brown 1830–1897.

Gardening in Betty’s Bay should be a breeze. After all, we live in what is probably the richest pocket of the richest floral kingdom of the world, where “richness” refers to the huge variety of flowering plants occurring naturally in our indigenous vegetation. But gardening here is not easy. In fact, it is “vrot” with disappointment and despair. Seemingly healthy plants up and die on us for no apparent reason and, more often than not, plants refuse to behave as the books tell us they should.

An example: In 1988 I planted a Milkwood tree. It was at least a metre tall at the time and was as healthy as could be, with fabulous shiny foliage and lots of promising new growth. Over the years, I have loved and nurtured it. I have regularly fed it with compost and Seagro. I have religiously watered it in the dry season. I have whispered words of encouragement into its leaves and have even sung to it. But latterly these loving words have been replaced by less salubrious diatribes. The damn thing continues to cling to life but appears to grow down instead of up. After 27 years, my Milkwood is 1/2m tall and has a quarter of the leaves it once had. I wish it would curl up its toes once and for all, but no, it battles on, a constant reminder of my failure as a gardener.

But at last my [and your] gardening attempts could enjoy more success. I now realise that ignorance has been at the root of most of my personal failures. And I use the word “root” quite intentionally. It turns out that I have been trying to grow plants in soil conditions for which they are not suited. [My failure with the Milkwood is testament to this.] Two recently-published books have unscrambled the mysteries of gardening in the Kogel- berg.

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The first is Your Place in the Kogelberg, by Tim Atwell [reviewed in last month’s Buzz] and the second is Indigenous Plant Palettes, An Essential Guide to Plant Selection, by Marijke Honig. It appears that there are no fewer than seven local ecosystems within the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, each with its own “geological and soil features and special and endemic plants” [Attwell, p32]. One’s success in cultivating particular plants in one’s garden is dependent on the soil type and conditions of the immediate area and it is advisable to choose the plants that would naturally thrive there.

The Attwell book outlines the actual areas in the Kogelberg that fall into the different categories and gives an overview of the plants that thrive in each. The Honig book deals with the specifics of gardening in these different conditions and her “palettes – groups of plants for a specific purpose or situation” – provide a very useful guide as to what to plant where, depending on the effect that you want to achieve. Ernst van Jaarsveld, in his introduction to the book, explains that “Marijke simplifies plant choice in a step by step approach and describes 24 plant palettes which cover a wide range of needs from security, screening, fragrance and architectural plants to attracting birds. For each palette she has chosen 30 of the best plants available – taking into consideration our regional diversity of climate and landscape.” Once you have identified the local ecosystem into which your garden falls, you can find out what to plant in it and how to achieve the best results by altering your gardening techniques to suit the environment. Then by a process of cross referencing you can go a step further. You can choose plants for a particular purpose, like attracting birds or creating a screen, while at the same time ensuring that these plants are suited to your particular gardening conditions.

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According to Tim Attwell, I am to be congratulated! This is because my garden is situated in the heart of the Cape flora. It appears that I, in gardening terms at least, am privileged to live on the slopes of the mountain as opposed to the flatter section between the mountain and sea. My property is part of the Kogelberg Sandstone Fynbos and, as such, can support a huge variety of endemic plants that do not occur naturally in any other part of the world. The fact that the garden is on a slope is another plus. This ensures good drainage, an important factor in the successful cultivation of fynbos. So, even though the soil conditions appear unpromising – sandy, nutrient-poor and acidic – I should enjoy many gardening triumphs if I choose my plants wisely, using the rich natural vegetation around me as my guide.

But do not despair if your garden is situated in one of the other ecosystems in the Betty’s Bay area. You may not have such a large selection of plants suited to your conditions, but there are easily enough to create a lovely garden. Again use the naturally-occurring vegetation as your guide. A good idea is to base your garden plan on the local vegetation, using the plants found around your property as the skeleton of the garden. You can then enhance the overall effect by introducing colourful and interesting additions. Both books are very helpful as to what plants grow best in the different conditions. Also, you can consult the people who work in the Harold Porter nursery. They are very knowledgeable about what grows best where. [And you’ll probably be able to grow milkwoods!]

Marijke Honig provides practical gardening advice to fynbos gardeners. Here are some of her suggestions:

  • Plant fynbos in autumn or winter. This gives the plants a chance to develop good root systems before the onset of the hot and dry summer months.
  • If you are planting in good, undisturbed topsoil you do not need to add compost. If the soil is sandy and poor, compost will be of benefit, but don’t dig it in. Instead, put a layer on the top of the soil. Not only will it enrich the soil, but will help it to retain water.
  • Never disturb the soil unnecessarily. Your hole must be just big enough to accommodate the plant that you are putting in.
  • Be very careful not to disturb the root system when you transfer a plant from the plastic container to the ground. Remove the bag very carefully and press down the soil gently with your hands after planting.
  • Be careful not to buy plants that are root-bound. The root system is more likely to be damaged during the planting out process. In other words, avoid larger plants where the roots have filled the bag. [A sign to watch out for is roots growing out of the holes at the bottom of the bag.]
  • An annually-renewed, thick layer of mulch on a bed is very important as it will keep the surface of the soil cool and retain moisture. Your mulch layer must be 3 to 5cm thick and you can use rough compost, wood chip or pine needles. [ If you have proteas growing in your garden, the litter they produce forms an excellent mulch. This litter is to be found lying at the base of the plants. When you cut back a protea or shrub, do not remove all the debris. Allow this to form a natural mulch. This can stay where it is and any excess litter can be used on other plants.]
  • You will need to water new plants during the first two summers or until they are well established. But be careful not to over-water. [This will cause the roots to rot and the plants to grow too rapidly.] Water infrequently but deeply so that the roots are encouraged to grow down in search of water.
  • Don’t dig unnecessarily in your garden. Digging disturbs delicate root systems and soil microbes. Pull out weeds. Never dig them in to the soil.
  • Once a plant has flowered, give it a trim. This will encourage future flowering and make the plant bushier. [When trimming proteas, avoid cutting below the lowest leaves. Very often a plant will not recover if it is pruned too enthusiastically.]
  • Never use chemical fertilisers that are high in phosphates in a fynbos garden. A mulch of compost will do the trick. Foliar feeding or watering with seaweed or fish extract is always beneficial. Seaweed is excellent for strengthening the root systems of plants.

It is never too late to get your garden into shape. Arm yourself with these two books and be guided by them. The results should make all your efforts worthwhile.

[from a very enthusiastic amateur]

In May, this beautiful creature was spotted at Draadbaai by Marianne Alexander, who has a house nearby. She noticed that it had been tagged and sent these pictures to Deon Kotze at the Department of Environmental Affairs in the hope that she might find out more about the visitor.


He responded as follows: “It is a Southern Elephant seal and originated in the southern oceans, where they breed on islands such as Marion Island, Gough Island and South Georgia. I do not have the tagging information at hand but we tagged it about a year ago, when it also visited our shores. This is therefore a very valuable re-sighting.”