Monday, December 21, 2009

Mutare - Eastern Zimbabwe

A garden full of the most weird and wonderful plants. Prehistoric-looking cycads and Araucaria greeted us at this garden near Mutare. Conveniently the father of my friend runs it, and so we had a good nose around. The grounds are fairly extensive, and hold a huge selection of subtropical plants.

Once again, I have so many pictures, it's a shame I can't bore you with all of them. The atmosphere in these gardens was quite tranquil, and other-worldly.

A reminder of how the downfall in the Zimbabwean economy affects the smallest things. This garden had one of the nicest collections of cycads I saw in Zimbabwe. Most cycads in public gardens are dug up and sold to collectors. Below is a rare cycad which is native to the region. There used to be many wild specimens, but the native people of Zimbabwe and bordering Mozambique have been so short of food at times, that these have been harvested. The centre of the stems can be dried and made into a rough flour. When the plant has been growing for 50-100+ years, it is a shame for them to end up this way.

A very photogenic Frangipani, blooming its' head off.

An amazing selection of moisture-loving tropicals in one of the shade houses. The atmosphere here was amazing, with a beautiful selection of plants.

If I'm going to get through blogging all of this trip I'm going to have to skip some great stuff. Mutare is set at some altitude, in a valley surrounded by mountains. Having seen some heavy rains a few weeks prior to my visit, the land was green and lush.

We went for sun-downers (alcohol and sunset are a good combination), at a local look out. The skies gradually cleared.

To reveal a most picturesque landscape. Below a setting suns' rays shine through the foliage of a Protea sp.

Mutare has to be one of my favourite places in Zimbabwe. The landscape after the rains is not too different to England on a summers day. I would love to go back one day.

A storm cloud bubbles up behind us, in the light of a full moon.

Darkness falls across the town of Mutare.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

1st anniversary.

I hope the new layout of the blog meets people's approval. I will probably get bored again, and change it, but it'll have to do for now.

It's the first anniversary of my holiday to Southern Africa. I have held back from writing about my holiday before, as this is a garden blog. However, over the course of the year, I've come to realise that garden bloggers appear to discuss most other things, and rarely mention gardens..

Looking back on the pictures, I am quite sad that I can't be there now. Some of you, such as Mr.Colborn, have visited this magical and awe-inspiring part of the world several times. And talk at length about it.

So that's what I'm going to do, to escape the joys of Christmas. Due to work commitments and various other things, I will be unable to revisit Africa for a while. I will be writing a series of posts on my four week holiday, in a bid to try and re-live the time I had there.

In short the itinerary was as follows;
Drive to London Heathrow.
Fly to Johannesburg Airport.
Take connecting flight to Harare, Zimbabwe. Stay overnight.
Drive to Mutare, Zimbabwe. Stay overnight.
Drive to Rio Savane, Mozambique. Have a rest over ten days, and see in the New Year (2009).
Drive back to Mutare.
Drive to Gweru, Zimbabwe. Stay a couple of nights.
Drive to Harare, our base. Stay overnight.
Drive to Chirundu on the Zimbabwean side of the Zambezi river, the border with Zambia. Stay a few nights.
Drive back to Harare, stay a bit, then fly back to snowy London.

What carbon footprint?

Here are some pictures of the first few days in Mozambique.

Our car tyre went on the main road from Mutare to Beira, so we were forced to stop in a small village. The adults watched us change the tyre from the other side of the road, while the kids came for a closer look. These were the first few kids that arrived at the scene. Being situated on the main road, these Portuguese speakers were more than happy to pose when I asked them for a photo.

By the time we were ready to continue on our journey, there was a group of about thirty five children helping and then waving us off!

Taking a sharp turn left, off the main road, we made our way through a market and village. We did have to drive around some rather large, water-filled potholes.

As we drove on through swampy coastal land, the main dirt track was the causeway for the local bus.

After unpacking our camping gear onto a boat, we crossed the river to the main camp at Rio Savane. We dragged our things through the camp.

The camp was beautiful. It was based in a grove of mature coconut trees, on a spit of land surrounded by the river and the Mozambique Channel of the Indian Ocean.

The sun quickly went down, and we had a much-needed swim in the warm sea, under the stars.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Rice to see you, to see you...

This... lots of work equals this...
From above...
I just got these in an email, and I thought it was brilliant! The 'agri-art' is created by farmers in Inakadate in Japan. From what I can see they just use a few varieties, golden, variegated, purple and the plain green leaved (Tsugaru Roman variety).

Apparently the tradition began in 1993, where a simple design of Mount Iwaki was installed every year for 9 years. Then the ideas grew more complicated.

The art covers 15000 square metres of paddy fields.

Another famous rice paddy is in the town of Yonezawa. This year the design shows the fictional 16th century warrior Naoe Kanetsugu, and his wife Osen.

More than 150,000 visitors trek to these agricultural landmarks every summer, where they can be viewed from a mock castle tower!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Funghi, Mushrooms, Toadstools and Lichen.

Autumn is the time of year for mushroom picking in our family. I think it's more of a continental thing, a number of traditional Polish dishes include wild mushrooms. The tastiest are Boletus edulis (you may have heard of the Italian 'Porcini'), but we usually scrape a few others together too.

We always used to pop down the A3 and go to the woods not far from Wisley. Over the past few years they have gradually been taking back the forestry pines and giving it over to heathland. Which is a shame as it means less mushrooms.

These ones (Amanita muscaria) are probably best left alone...

It was a lovely clear day and the Pinus sylvestris here were very photogenic!
These are coral fungus, Calocera cornea.

A plantation of lichens.

Another mushroom (Avantaclewia damdifino)

This is one of my favourite woodland photos. I took it myself and it's covered by copyright.

Oh well, no edible mushrooms this time, but a nice day out nevertheless.

******UPDATE November 21st******

Success! The bumper crop of mushrooms was probably bought about by the unseasonably mild autumn we've had. These will be delicious (once de-magotted).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tree of the Day - Giant Redwood

The Welsh Dog has drawn my attention to this National Geographic link. The image taken below is a first, I believe, and is 84 photos seamlessly linked together.

Don't be scared, click on the image...

Amazing! I'd love to visit a forest like this one day.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Great Great Dixter Day Trip

I seem to have been particularly fortunate, in that on every garden I've visited this year, I've been blessed with beautiful weather *.

Last Sunday was just perfect. The air was cool and sweet as we arrived at around 11.30am, and was gradually being warmed by the early October sun. I'd not been to Great Dixter before, and I had been wanting to go for years. In-between writing (frankly ridiculous) blogs about biscuits, I thought I'd try and make it down there. It's a beautiful place, and very quirky with a garden divided up into various sections. The Old Rose Garden is quite startling with the exotic planting and bold, yet clever, use of colour.

I really enjoyed the dry, upper garden. There's something about the light at this time of year that really turns the dry teasel and grass heads into something magical.

Vanessa reclining lazily on a dark-leaved Dahlia.

I think I may have overdone the exotic stuff on this blog recently, so for balance I'm just posting a couple of very 'Sussexy' garden scenes.

There was a large shrub in the long border that I couldn't quite place. I decided it must be some sort of olive tree. Yesterday evening I was going through some of my Zimbabwe holiday photos and came across pictures of something that looked very much like it. After a little research, it appears to be Olea capensis. It would be very interesting to get to the bottom of this mystery, as I for one would be interested to know of an other plants native to Muturoshanga that could grow in East Sussex!

* Although it's been nice when visiting other gardens this year, it was pouring when Victoria came to visit. I just wanted to add here that her Blotanical Award is really well deserved. Victoria has been through some difficult times, and has been a real inspiration to the blogging community. Congratulations!

I'd also like to congratulate Meems at Hoe and Shovel, who won the Best Florida Blog. This is probably my favourite of the non-UK blogs, and enjoy following her gardens progress.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Norwich Day Trip Part 2c.

Continuing from Part 2b...

Just look at the view...

View down to the pond from the upper terrace.

We sat on bean bags and a beautiful stone bench built by Keith and Melissa, and chatted until the sun went down.

As dusk descended I took this picture of this wonderful Phormium. I don't have the name, but it's one of the giant forms.

Just to show that exotic plants aren't entirely bad for wildlife, the ladybirds seemed to be attracted to the cacti for some reason.


An amazing day. I'm afraid I've run out of steam, but will add more comments later. Just wanted to get this out the way before I go to Great Dixter on Sunday!

Norwich Day Trip Part 2b

Continuing from Part 2a...

I did take rather a lot more photos in the afternoon for some reason. I wish I had taken more photos at Will's garden, but I think I was just too entranced by it all!

Melissa and Keith are very fortunate to live in a rural area (if not rural, it certainly felt like it). It was very peaceful as we wondered around the garden. Going from jungle at the top of the garden, nothing prepares you for what lies just over the edge of the terrace.

Agave franzosinii.

The most beautiful Yucca carnerosana. These plants really love the dry conditions in this part of the UK.

Keith chatting, while Paul looks at the Yucca carnerosana with envy! The other plant is a huge Nolina nelsonii.

The wonderful varied forms of Yucca.

This Yucca linearis is a real knock-out. Supremely elegant with a perfect sphere of foliage.

Yucca filifera.

One of the best bits of xeriscaping in the UK, I would say. It's a shame more people don't garden like this. This sort of garden is all too often considered eccentric. Maybe that's just why it appeals to me?

There are a few lovely plants that are due to go in. This is a Dasylirion longissimum ready to go in once the arid borders are continued across the garden.