Jack Holloway
Passionate Gardener
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SEQUOIA FARM Haenertsburg South Africa


18 Jul '06 9:36 pm
Hello friends!

I’m back from my holiday and break away a little from pure gardening to talk plants and eco-systems. I thought so often of how to share my experiences of the last weeks with my new gardening friends, because I really do see the world as a garden. I start with a picture of a 40 year old map to show you were I’ve been; South West Africa, a South African protectorate since the end of WW1 (originally German) became independent as Namibia. It is still remarkably ‘South African’, the currencies linked and used interchangeably, and Afrikaans still the lingua franca even though English has been the only official language since independence 16 years ago.

It is a starkly beautiful country, dry, crisp-aired, sparsely populated. My sister and family are cattle ranchers. Their farm, Lardner, covers 3000 hectares, 3km x 10km, which supports some 300 cattle. It is probably a below average sized farm in that vast arid expanse. I flew across the Kalahari Desert from Johannesburg to Windhoek; it is an awe-inspiring flight, especially in winter, when the landscape is relentlessly monochrome, all dry water courses and reptilian folds, like severe sixties abstract art. One is constantly reminded of how old the geology below one is.

On our way back to Windhoek we stayed at the Waterberg Plateau Park; an amazing plain some 50 x 20 km on top of a 200m high mountain, where the mountain acts as a sponge, and the slopes are verdant. (See
http://www.namibia-travel.net/centralna ... erberg.htm )

Soon after my return (my farm, Sequoia, is also shown on the map) I left for Samaria, which belongs to my cousins. My godfather’s father bought it in the 1920s, and it is one of few farms in South Africa which has always been treated as a private nature reserve. Long before ecological awareness became fashionable, they believed that the smallest possible footprint should be left on the land; it was only in the late 80s that a roofed building became part of the camping site under the magnificent trees on the banks of the Limpopo river.

Magnificent trees… that phrase is the key to my story, and not co-incidentally to my collection of holiday photos. From just North of Pretoria all the way to the Sahara, the most typical vegetation of Africa is trees in grass. In arid areas they might be little more than dry shrubby things, where there is underground water or on river banks they can be majestic. Sometimes one species can dominate for kilometres, at other times the great richness of Africa’s ancient evolutionary variety is evident. (It took me five years to get to know almost all the temperate garden trees of the world, but I’m still only scratching the surface of the over 700 species of indigenous trees!) The beauty of the veld so often lies in the infinite variety with which trunks twist and branches spread, and the negative spaces between trees. Most beloved of all South African artists, Pierneef, is the reason why people will look at a particularly effective composition and say ‘Look! Pierneef trees!’ My sister has a pencil study by him which illustrates this quality beautifully. I end episode one of my holiday with a photograph of the painting, which hung in the living room of my parents’ house whilst I was growing up. (Try a Google Image search for ‘Pierneef’ to see some of his paintings.)

My nature series starts with a view as we leave Windhoek; it captures the clarity of the Namibian landscape, the sharp light and the way each tree and bush right into the distance seems defined. Then I show four tree pictures taken on Lardner. The amazing thing about the grass, bleached by sun, frost and dry air, is that it is such a uniform colour despite the differences in texture. In a bad year there would be almost no grass here; this year the cows seem legless…

To further illustrate the diverse beauty of this remarkable country I include a shot my sister took last year some hundreds of kilometres away from home. Then we continue to the Waterberg Plateau: it is clearly a lusher, greener world. The trees are in all ways juicier, fleshier, of which this fig is typical – and in the sheltered gorges I am surprised to find Melianthus major which some British garden writers consider one of the world’s best foliage plants.

A week later I am on the banks of the Limpopo.
1 Map of Southern Africa.JPG
2 Pierneef .JPG
3 outside Windhoek.JPG
4 Lardner thorntree.JPG
5 Lardner Boskia.JPG
6 Lardner umbrella thorn.JPG
7 Lardner - a very Pierneef composition.JPG
8 bleached grasses.JPG
9 Christine' pic.JPG
10 On top of the Waterberg.JPG
11 Of the fig family.JPG
12 Melianthus major.JPG

Jack Holloway
Passionate Gardener
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SEQUOIA FARM Haenertsburg South Africa


18 Jul '06 10:03 pm
Samaria – how best to describe this unique place? Possibly South Africa’s most famous naturalist first came here as a student in the 30s; all his life he referred to the unique combinations of habitat to be found here. A ribbon of tall green marks the curves of the river from a distance, but often the wide sand bed contains only pools of water. On the Eastern border the Limpopo joins the Shashe River, both huge channels that carry flash floods. If the Limpopo meets the much larger Shashe in flood, the water dams up, spilling back onto flood plains several square kilometres in extent. Eventually it might break through, dominating the wall of water from the Shashe. It is said that moment is like a cannon shot. Behind the flood plains lie the hills; red sandstone sculpted into magnificent shapes.

I remember hearing as a boy: ‘We have never allowed cattle on the farm.’ Yet a kilometre or two behind the camp is what most likely was the main cattle kraal (as in corral, or pen) of the most ancient civilization in Southern Africa: Mapungubwe, 11th to 13th centuries. When the Limpopo valley became too dry, these people moved North and created what is today known as Greater Zimbabwe, the most important civilization of the African hinterland (see ) My uncle, an entomologist, as a mature man studied archaeology at the Pretoria University, in the department responsible for most of the research done in the first 70 odd years after the discovery of artefacts on Mapungubwe hill; he was keenly involved in documenting sites on Samaria.

Recently, after years of discussion the farm was incorporated into an ambitious archaeological and ecological conservation park, planned to become a cross-frontier park incorporating areas of both Botswana and Zimbabwe; the first results are the creation of a 330m long treetop walk to a look-out on the confluence, and the formalising of a spot where we often went for sundowners overlooking the confluence from high. The map shows the park: The part of Samaria (brown, in the centre) on the right belongs to my godfather’s family, to its left his sister’s family; the third part was sold to a citrus farmer in the 70s. He has created irrigation dams in what used to be the main flood plains. Today he exports 400 000 cases, mainly oranges, per year. How he will be incorporated is not yet finalised…

I leave Sequoia for Samaria… but 15km down the road I stop, to show you how close this Africa is to my un-African world: one of the most beautiful stands of aloe (A. marlothii) I know, march down the rocky slopes of the foothills as one approaches the mountain. In winter they bloom, and their subtle colouring defies description. They become, over many years, as much as 6m tall. In the background there is a typical South African Euphorbia, E. ingens, which looks like a cactus. We will meet it again at Mapungubwe, where I could not resist photographing its amazing design.

Since we have got side-tracked into aloes: here is a shot of the aloes my sister’s house looks out on, and one of the aloes outside my parents’ house in 2005. It was the first year ever they looked this good – often the flowers spikes are frosted before they open, and this year even the leaves were so destroyed by frost that I don’t know what the future holds… (I today heard from a neighbour that it has been our coldest winter in 93 years.) And since we are side-tracked, here is the shot of the Euphorbia too. When I take a look at arid-region gardens we’ll see some more aloes and plants adapted to these conditions.

But because of all these side-tracks we’ll have to postpone our arrival on Samaria to the next episode…
13 Map of Park.JPG
14 aloes in the foothills.JPG
15 Aloe marlothii.JPG
16 Lardner aloes.JPG
17 aloes july05.JPG
18 Euphorbia at Mapungubwe.JPG

Jack Holloway
Passionate Gardener
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SEQUOIA FARM Haenertsburg South Africa

Nature as a garden 3

19 Jul '06 1:48 am
We approach from the east. Suddenly the road drops and an expansive view opens up. In the furthest distance, more and more bushveld. In the background the snaking line of tall green trees indicates the course of the river, and the middle ground includes the huge irrigation dams covering what was once endless reedbeds. They are silver among the wintery tawns and slates of the plain. In the foreground the red sandstone hills down which we are about to descend are altogether warmer in tone. Against them grow the first of the Samaria baobabs. Am I prejudiced, or are they really more impressive, more aptly displayed than baobabs elsewhere?

We stop at the gate which is in the furthest south-western corner. The hill we have just descended will grow ever more rugged on our right as we head back towards the north-eastern corner where the camp is. Unusual for a winter afternoon, there are clouds. I take beautiful pictures. I hardly even think to look for animals. Scene after scene of ‘Pierneef trees’; some are deciduous, others colour to a rusty green which is not quite autumn. Typical of trees and shrubs in this harsh climate, nearly all carry some dead wood. One learns to see the dead wood as part of the composition. There had been a prolonged drought, but from mid-summer the rain was plentiful. The mopanie, often leafless by now and looking like burnt sticks, are still bright green in some places. There is grass. I think of Lardner, a 1000km away: the more things change, the more they remain the same. There is the rounded shape of a ‘kanniedood’ – literally a ‘can not die’, its flaking bark containing both the blackest black and the whitest white, yet no tree could be more different from a birch!

We get to the river. Good! It is flowing! A flowing river is always a sign that it has been a good year in the country. Often for months on end the river is no more than a series of pools, and the white sand is perfect for picking up wonderful little stones in amazing colours, as compulsive as shell hunting on the beach. It is difficult to imagine this peaceful expanse as a deep, turgid mass of brown water, rolling along huge trees and bloated carcasses. Look out for crocodiles basking on the sandbanks! (And of course for elephants!) Notice the tree trunks; the endless pattern and colour, the contorted shapes. How old is this one? How old that? A leadwood, with wood that sinks in water it is so heavy, takes more than a man’s life to become his size. The Herero’s of Namibia believe the leadwood tree is their original ancestor. Look how the canopy closes high above the river-road. Look at the fever-trees! Pale lime green in trunk and in twig, how I battle to capture them on camera! It is as though the digital, with a mind of its own, refuses to believe a tree can be that colour: they come out pale grey, or biscuit, but never the acid green of reality. Yet I remember as a boy of ten, enchanted, taking a photo with my brand new camera, almost a toy, right up into the delicate tracery of branches against the blue-blue sky, and the results were perfect. Somewhere in a suitcase that photo surely lurks! Oh well, dear friends, you will have to settle for the best of the bunch, a sapling still, taken at the neighbour’s irrigation dams.
19 Baobabs - perhaps the best shot of the holiday.JPG
20 Perfect Bushveld - middle tree broken by elephants.JPG
21 Sandstone hills from a vantage point.JPG
22 Intricate branching & umbrella shape of a 'kanniedood'.JPG
23 The wide deep riverbed can fill in hours in a flood.JPG
24 The river at the camp, now a gentle stream.JPG
25  Wonderful trunks on the edge of the river.JPG
26 The dense canopy along the river.JPG
27 Soon after sunrise on my last morning.JPG
28 A young fever tree at the neighbour's irrigaton dams.JPG

Jack Holloway
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SEQUOIA FARM Haenertsburg South Africa

Nature as a garden 4

19 Jul '06 2:43 am
Day two. We go to the aerial walkway in the park. It is 330m long, 8 or 10m high and ends in a huge hide overlooking the river. We look at the trees, and the squirrels and birds, and we see a few far-off animals. As we approach the hide we can see baboons sunning themselves and playing. They scatter at our approach, but are obviously used to humans. The children are naughty, and are punished. They squeal. A general commotion and scattering, some back in our direction. Then – how could we have missed him till we were right near him – a young bull elephant! We are 30m away. He watches us with a beady eye, and refuses to pose through the thick vegetation.

I am on Samaria with serious birders; in fact there are at least 8 qualified ringers, who put up nets and ring birds. A starling ringed there 8 years ago is caught again in the nets; my godmother says she often sees it around the camp. Whilst they ring, I set off to explore with friends who don’t take their birding quite so seriously. But we still spend a lot of time in the hide looking at the endless birdlife. We count over 50 flycatchers, beautiful garrulous birds, sunning themselves in a tree. When the baboons have yet another domestic moment right beneath them, they fly away. On the sandbanks we count three crocs. One is huge.

Later the elephant reappears quite far downstream. He drinks, filling his trunk five or six times, and blowing out the last water each time. He is just too far for a really nice shot. But the scene is peaceful, with waders ignoring him, and a bunch of lazy baboons just sitting around on the sand, passing the time of day. A waterbuck appears and crosses the river. Soon he follows. We concentrate on birds closer by. Only now do other people start arriving. When we leave we see some young impala rams, proudly sporting their beautiful horns.
29 A huge tree dwarfs the huge walkway.JPG
30 Baboons play at the lookout in the morning sun.JPG
31 Just below us an elephant loudly munches branches.JPG
32 A huge crocodile basking on a sandbank.JPG
33 Later he appears further away near baboons. Waterbuck joi.JPG
34 He drinks mighty trunkfulls and sprays back the last bit .JPG
35 Impala from the walkway.JPG
36 As we leave the walkway we look across to equally huge tr.JPG

Jack Holloway
Passionate Gardener
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SEQUOIA FARM Haenertsburg South Africa

Nature as a garden 5

19 Jul '06 3:46 am
We take a slow drive up to the observation post. During ‘the bad years’ this farm belonged to the military and the junction of three countries was considered of strategic importance. It is amazing that ten years on so little remains of the damage done: luckily it was seen more as a place for generals to take a rest (even if they did hunt from helicopters) and, by army standards, well appreciated. The tourist centre, magnificently conceived to echo the strange cave-like formations of the ridge behind it, stands where HQ used to be.

Geographically it makes no sense to think of this as a strategic point in modern military terms. In all directions there are miles of featureless sandbed and flat plains. But the confluence, strangely, happens not so much at as in the only really hilly country for miles. And it is primal country. Between the tourist centre and ridge lies a little valley I saw for the first time on this visit. It is deep and narrow, cut from near solid rock. It contains ‘stalagmites’: points of hard rock topping tall steep pyramids of soft rock. Seen from above they seem as much as 4m tall. I photographed the valley, but it is so strange that the photos make no visual sense at all.

It is only a few miles from here that the people of Mapungubwe founded their stronghold, and the magic it holds for us today must have been compounded a thousand times for an atavistic people. For Mapungubwe hill, the home of the chief and his court, could only be reached up one narrow crevice where sticks lodged in holes in the rock formed a body-wide ladder. (see http://www.safrica.info/plan_trip/holid ... alpark.htm ) From the top you look down onto surrounding plains and across hills, and some of the most perfect baobabs imaginable. Grand country. Yet from two kilometers away you can not find the hill. It has disappeared into the rough terrain, the surrounding ridges in fact higher than it is. All of this is made even more strange by a vast wall that cuts across the plain for a kilometer on the river side, like the great wall of China, formed of massive stones closely cut and packed . It is of a darker volcanic rock, and until the sixties there were many people who refused to believe that it was a natural seam, fissured over aeons by the extremes of heat and summer storms.

We walk up to the observation posts – now a series of 4 well-spaced wooden decks jutting out over the edge of the ridge. I remember going there for sundowners – after the military and before the park. There was a huge rock, now buried under the main deck, some 4m square and 1m deep, that moved by about 5cm if enough people changed its centre of gravity. As it tipped, it gave out a satisfying primal ‘clunk’, not loud, but resonant across the vast spaces. It is sad to have lost it, but good to know that this magical spot has been made accessible to a great many more nature lovers, and with the greatest visual and ecological sensitivity.
37 Looking downriver from the observation post.JPG
38 Looking North up the Shashe river where three countries c.JPG
39 looking upriver Samaria camp is somewhere out there.JPG
40 A detail of the view downstream.JPG
41 At what point does nature become a garden.JPG
42 The informaton centre echos the cliffs behind i.JPG
Last edited by Jack Holloway on 19 Jul '06 6:32 am, edited 1 time in total.

Jack Holloway
Passionate Gardener
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SEQUOIA FARM Haenertsburg South Africa

Nature as a garden 6

19 Jul '06 5:55 am
We have come to the last page of my nature series. Two days before full moon I was walking along the river road at dusk. (One of the great joys of Samaria is that – for now – one can still do that unarmed if you are vigilant.) I was looking for the promised elephant, sighted in the area the previous day, but really just indulging in my immense love of this place – some of which I hope I have managed to share with you. That was when I took the first of these photos, and realised I needed to get into the best baobab country at sunset the next day. I present you with the next four shots.

Then on my final evening I climbed the koppie (=hill) called Klein (=small) Mapungubwe a kilometre behind the camp. It too is a flat-topped hill, but this time on the edge of the plains were the cattle would have been grazed. It has clearly been worked on, a trail cut into the side up which the cattle could be driven, the flattish top flattened and edged further to form a stronghold on which they could be kept safe from raiders and predators at night.

At sunset I took several photos, including the one of the baobabs on its flank seen through the branches of the ‘Japanese’ tree. At sunrise the next day I was back on the hill, but none of my hilltop pics are great; however this same scene features again. After sunset I stationed myself on the hill with my camera and tripod, waiting for the full moon to rise. The dusk up there, alone, the horizon, southwest to northeast stretching over some 140km, glowing, the last birds and first night sounds… The sudden laughter of a jackal not too far off gave me cold shivers, for it was by now growing dark. Could I fight it off with my tripod? Don’t be foolish – it was much more frightened of me, and there was easier meat available. The glow behind the eastern hills showed where the full moon was about to rise…

Next morning’s sunrise walk took me to Mooiste Kremetart – Most Beautiful Baobab. It is at its most perfect when photographed in the light of early morning – and thus I present it to you, as a token of Africa’s beauty, and grandeur, and strangeness.

And yet – perhaps I should have kept the best pic for last: the above comment however remains my last words…
43 A Pierneef dusk perhaps.JPG
45 And dusk the next evening.JPG
46 The same tree from the other side.JPG
47 Taken lying flat on my stomach on the edge of the road.JPG
48 Moonlight can be intoxicating.JPG
49 Take a look at this tree for I keep coming back to it.JPG
50 Recognise the tree in the foreground.JPG
51 And here it is again this time at sunrise.JPG
52 A 4 sec exposure of the full moon rising It was dark.JPG
53 The same scene at sunrise the next morning.JPG
54 Mooiste Kremetart meaning Most Beautiful Baobab.JPG
55 A baobabs bark looks like the wax that has dripped from a.JPG
19 Baobabs - perhaps the best shot of the holiday.JPG

head gardener
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19 Jul '06 10:13 pm
Jack I've just seen your stories and photographs - just wanted to say a huge huge huge huge huge huge huge huge huge huge thank you to you for sharing and writing so well (hmm... must be all that english teaching....). I have only skimmed over the surface - oh, those silly bulbous trees! They are so silly! It's way too late in the evening for my tired old mind, so I will return for a proper look tomorrow morning.

Thank You So Much
Head Gardener

webmaster & eldest son
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East Dulwich, London


21 Jul '06 8:01 am
Wow. What a post...

I was just about to post some pics from a garden I visited in Southend a couple of weekends ago but got drawn in and caught up by this post for the past 30 minutes! My posts and some minor forum updates will have to wait another day.

Jack is definitely back!

Webmaster & Eldest Son
Mooseys Country Garden

Happily Toiling Away
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Regina, Saskatchewan

Like another planit.

21 Jul '06 5:06 pm
WOW! Jack.

What a wealth of onfo and photos you have assembled. My favorite is the Baobab trees.

Just so much to comment on. What a wonderful time you had. Those Aloe plants are something else!

Did you get any plants to bring home with you?

Wonderful post.

A Gnome's at home in his garden.

Thankful Gardener
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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Absolutely Enchanting Series, Jack!

23 Jul '06 4:17 am
...and welcome back! Wow, what an awesome gift you brought back for all of us!! It took me a couple of days and hours by instalment to 'unwrap' :wink: to enable me to enjoy your interesting narration and drink in the beauty captured in those lovely pictures of your much beloved country. Hmm...can be likened to National Geographic material!!! :roll:
Thank you so very much for sharing and I greatly appreciate your time and effort sacrificed.


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