- Jack Holloway
- Passionate Gardener
- SEQUOIA FARM Haenertsburg South Africa
|18 Jul '06 9:36 pm|
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.