Thursday, August 18, 2011

Dear Diary: May 2007 - May 2008

Towards the end of May 2007, Roy drove up to the plot in our new second-hand Opel Astra. In that week he bought and planted 12 Wild Olives (Olea europaea subsp, africana), two more Wild Peaches (Kigeleria Africana) and a Wild plum tree (Harpephyllum caffrum), using the new holes that Willem had dug previously for us. A local farmer where we stored the second caravan had supplied us with two loads of compost at a reasonable rate. The black irrigation pipes had already been buried next to the holes, so it was just a matter of directing the water to each plant. 


Roy also spent time repairing holes in our fence in an attempt to keep out pigs. The pig owner was farming pigs without actually living there and he was using some rented land. They were the thinnest pigs we had ever seen. Consequently, they would roam far and wide to forage for food.  They can be incredibly destructive. I believe that the SPCA were called out time and again and after a year or so, he was given notice to vacate the land.

Holes were also dug in preparation for sinking poles for a pole and shade-cloth structure for storing  resources out of the sun's reach.

We arrived again at the plot on 12 July for five days. We were sad to see that two of our original trees had been broken by cows (cow pats were the clues). The one Wild Peach had been broken in half and to this day, is less than half the size of its peers. It has really struggled to keep going. The biggest Keurboom had a broken branch (the same tree eventually died in 2011 from other causes yet one cant help but wonder if there was a weakness carried through from this event). The culprits were the cows belonging to the agent. He had permission to use the ground adjacent to ours. Nobody could understand how they had gained access to our land until one day, while we watched,  the lead cow of the herd hooked her horn into the wire loop around the gate and lifted it off the hook of the fence post, leaving it free to be pushed open. Thereafter, we used a bicycle chain, looped tightly around the gate and post, in order to defeat this superior intelligence!

We walked across the valley to examine a house being built out of sandbags. Willem had the job of filling the bags and subsequently, he plastered the entire structure.

A drive to Heidelberg saw us visit a nursery there and we bought some trees which are not indigenous to the area but are to South Africa: 2 White Karee trees (Rhus pendulina), 2 Wild Pears (Dombeya Rotundifolia) and, believing the nurseryman's claim that they were hardy, bought 2 Rooi Els trees (Cunonia Capensis), which struggled for a year or so and then,  eventually died. Another lesson learned - do not buy a plant based purely on what the salesman tells you - do the research. Beautiful Rooi Els trees are said to need plenty of water, in truth!

A visit to Buffelsjag nursery saw us buy and then plant out 4 Mission Olive trees and 2 Almond trees. To these, we added an Almond and an Olive tree, transplanted from our garden in Cape Town. Our crossed fingers worked and they have subsequently flourished there.

Transplanted Almond

We also transplanted an Orange tree which had been in our garden for almost 20 years but was still only about 40 cm high. Clearly it was unhappy at the coast. Since then, this tree has just flourished and grown by leaps and bounds. (This year it is full of blossoms so I am hoping for some long overdue reward from this tree!)
At this time, we learned from our friends living in the caravan that they had put their smallholding on the market and that they wanted to move back to Cape Town. Roy and Trevor had become good friends, often taking long walks to explore the surrounding countryside. They had helped each other with little projects and shared ideas regarding their woodwork. More crucially, these were the people who were watering our trees and were literally the lifeline to their survival. We were sad that they were not going to follow their dream of building a house and settling there. Over the years, this has been a common pattern amongst the people who buy property there. It all seems such an exciting idea to be in the countryside but the reality is that the climate is harsh, the ground is like concrete, labour is scarce and unreliable and, unless you have your own truck, everything costs a fortune for delivery from Swellendam. It can also be very lonely.

A few days after our return home, my Mom passed away and it was a while before we could find the time and space to return.

In early September, we planted a few fruit trees from Buffelsjag nursery: Pear (Bon Chretien), a White guava, a Harry Pickstone Plum, an Apricot, an Avocado. We returned a few weeks later at the end of September and I am relieved to find an e-mail about this:

We have just been up to our plot for a few days and are back again for the new school term. All in all, the fruit trees had survived well except for the little avocado tree which might still survive (fingers crossed). We have now organised with a new resident in the smartish house around the corner from us to turn on the irrigation system  when rain is scarce.

Our main project on this trip was to mow the grass surrounding the bungalow for summer, in case of veld fire. Then, to plant a thorn tree that my sister had given us.

 Every year in September,  my sister exchanges a packet of newspapers for a free tree for me, from Stodels nursery. Thus far, I have benefited from: this Acacia Robusta, three Fever trees and most recently , a Kamassi tree in 2011

Finally, we built a table and benches out of wooden remnants for a dining room suite, al fresco.


In between, we visited our friends who live in Barrydale on the other side of the Tradouw pass. We were amazed once again at how quickly their boy is growing up. We also took a walk everyday through the fields and some of the alien Black Wattle thickets down the road from us. (luckily our plot is not wet enough to encourage their growth apart from one huge old tree along the fence).

Every morning and evening, we spied through the gaps of our bungalow how some Swallows have started building a mud nest up against the wooden wall above the caravan window. Amazed at how they get the clay to stick on the wood. They just build a little bit at a time, wait a few hours for that to dry before returning to add on some new blobs.

All too soon, it was time to head back to Cape town, enduring again the roadwork delays between Swellendam and Riviersonderend. The dogs tumbled into the house along with us and after a good nights rest and a relaxing day catching up on local news,  we are all set for the last lap of 2007.

At the end of 2007, we house-sat again between Christmas and New Year and were delighted that my brother from the UK and my sister and her family were able to join in the fun. We initiated a fantasy group called the Gomo Guti Clan, inspired by a gate on a property near to our plot. The name on the gate, Gomo Guti, is apparently an expression from Zimbabwe, meaning Soft Rain. From that time onwards, any new guests of ours would pose next to the gate as an initiation ceremony before joining this elite tribe.

February 2008

In the last week of February, Roy went up on his own for a few days. He had been told that the second caravan would have to be moved from the farmer's barn, so he spent time setting up its position and security next to the bungalow. He also started to put up a wooden framework as a first step in creating a shelter for our "new" pick-up. On one evening, after an extremely hot and windless day (46 degrees), after he had had dinner with our friends in Barrydale, driving back in the dark along the gravel road from Suurbraak, a horse appeared from nowhere and he narrowly missed hitting it.

March 2008

Wonderful.....I found an e mail about this trip too:

We are back home from our trip up country. We left on Tuesday morning at about six am, transporting two live geese for the neighbour who now waters our trees. He has a collection of ducks and chickens and wanted to incorporate some geese too. We bought the geese from MariƩ's nephew who has a farm. She went there last week and brought them back on Saturday, so they spent two days in our vegetable garden where we have shade-cloth stretched over a wooden structure (baboon proofing) Needless to say, any sign of veg was trampled into smithereens within a day but it was the only place we could keep them safely until we took them up to the plot

We traveled in two separate cars. Roy has been given a very, very old Datsun pickup (he hand-painted it to make it look nice from far). He has left it at our plot inside the shade cloth-covered structure he built a while ago and so now, if he manages to get a lift up that way or catches the bus, he will have wheels on the other side. It was a bit scary as we drove over Sir Lowry's Pass. Sunrise meant driving into the sun and in some places, I felt I was driving blind. But this did not stop other vehicles from speeding past and I wondered  whether their view was any better than mine or whether they were just speeding recklessly into the glaring sun.

Up at the plot, we had a lovely time. I was exhausted that first day after such an early start and spent time recovering. The next day we drove the 60 odd kilometers down to the nearest beach just to see what it is like. Witsands has a lovely beach but many big mansions perched on the dunes. Our dogs enjoyed the beach walk and then rested under the table where we had tea at a  beach cafe.

In the afternoon we drove the pickup to a nursery in Olivedale which was having a HUGE sale, marking all their plants down by fifty percent. The sale had been going for about two weeks so most of the really great stuff was gone but we bought quite a bit and I was thrilled to get my hands on a big lemon and an orange tree which must have both been growing for about five years already. We had to use the Astra to "tow" the trees off the back  of the pickup, sliding them down some  planks to the ground next to the holes and then, after removing their  bags, we had to roll the trees into their holes. Without the power of the second vehicle, we would not have managed. It took four men at the nursery to struggle the trees up  into the pickup in the first place. Each was in a 200 litre bag!!

The next day saw us working a bit more on the structure for the pickup.

We want to gradually clad it in the local alien Black Wattle sapling also serves the purpose of thinning out the aliens. I hung another curtain of shade-cloth inside the structure to make it more difficult for anyone to see that there is a vehicle inside it.

We had our new neighbours around for a barbecue and popped in once for coffee at their place. I was sorry to leave on Saturday midday but we had people coming for lunch today, so we had to return home.

The lid of an old water tank is used to collect water when the system is turned on, a little kindness for any thirsty creature.


Almost two years to the day since the first trees were planted, Roy arrived at the plot on 30 April until 6 May. He planted five honeysuckle shrubs (Tecoma capensis), each being a different colour, two Water Berries (Syzygium Cordata), four Buddlejah Saligna, some more Sand Olives along the fence and two Ficus type trees (not indigenous but boy, are they tough!) He donated a third Ficus to Willem who had dug all the holes. These plants we had bought at the plant sale on our previous visit and had stored at our neighbour until Roy's return. On a trip into Swellendam, he bought two Acacia Karoo trees which are totally indigenous to the area and yet we could not find any in the area from which to collect seed.

When I read all of the above, I can't help but chuckle to myself that Roy was so involved in planting all these trees. The price of being the fully unemployed partner who can afford to spend so much time away from home (where he does NO gardening whatsoever!)




  1. Lovely blog ,wonderfull fotos, greeting from Belgium

  2. Thank you for your compliments and greeting.