Thursday, 21 January 2010

Mail-order gardening

The snow has departed, leaving a subdued garden behind. The chickens look muddy and a bit miserable, while the quail are still waiting for summer. The lawn has been stripped down to the roots, revealing the multitude of stones I was too hasty to remove. Like scabby, uneven skin. Brandsiek. Recently defrosted granadillas that originated from next door are now decaying on the vine. The rocket has survived, albeit as something more spindly. It is still crunchy, but angrier after the cold.

From this state of hibernation, I must somehow cast my mind forward to a vibrant summer and imagine the garden. The herb and vegetable part specifically, but there is a troubling hedge-lawn junction that is not resolving itself. So tonight I'm sitting in bed reading the mail-order catalogue, because that is where gardens come from here. At first I found it amusing, because when I grew up we simply bought seed packets at the supermarket or the co-op. Once in a while we'd make the 100km trip to a nursery, which was usually combined with large-scale grocery shopping and the dentist visits too. Later there were other nurseries, closer to home, and homes closer to nurseries. Here there are nurseries too, but the catalogue solves the transport problem, guarantees a wide selection, and ensures everything you buy is F1 so you'll support them again next year. It's definitely convenient, but it's not quite the same.

I've also bought a few sheets of polycarbonate - a cold frame will be born soon.

What to grow? We haven't decided yet. There are the obvious ones, the tomatoes and herbs and leaves you can't live without. Beans, because they're so productive, capsicums are vital too. Potatoes, which I've never had, but always wanted. Beetroot, parsnips are calling me too. Courgettes. For the fruit, but not forgetting the flowers. Broccoli or kale. A sustained harvest, or incremental picking/cutting is preferred. And then there are the tempting ones, those I'd never really thought of before: Jerusalem or Chinese artichokes? Asparagus, or would it be too slow? Maybe a gooseberry? Space is an issue.

The daffodils seem to be stirring slowly.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

t > 0

It is warmer today, so the snow is disappearing. You can still smell it though: crisp and fresh.

Monday, 11 January 2010


I left in a thunderstorm, one of those the Highveld is known for. Sunrise was at Doha, where everything seemed to be the colour of sand. Even the sky, although I imagined I could smell the Persian Gulf in the mist that hovered over everything. Most of Europe was hidden under cloud, it lifted just east of London, revealing a country covered in snow. Everywhere. White, with dark trees poking through, here and there a steely lake. More white. It might still be a response growing up with dusty, grey winter, or a reflection of the eurocentric children's books we read, but snow remains amazing. Or maybe I like the landscape simplified.

I had missed the actual precipitation, so the snow is older, staler, and more crunchy than soft. It's not warm enough to melt properly, so our road has turned into an icy slide. (Hip, shoulder, arm and wrist are all quite bruised). I've never had a white garden though.

Bits of grass are poking up through the snow, the garlic seems quite happy too. I can still dig out some frozen rocket, while the sage is still sagey. The chickens are scratching around on frozen ground, frustrated by their eternally frozen water bowl. The quails seem to huddle and wait.

We're planning this year's crop. This weather calls for root vegetables.

Thursday, 7 January 2010


At O.R. Tambo, trying to avoid the sandwich frustration I had last time, mostly by drinking more beer. Beyond the drop-off zone, beyond the skeleton of the Gautrain, I can see the Kelvin power station. Six squat cooling towers, then a few thin fingers, then another two. Maybe they were added later? I once spent a week working in the shadow of those towers, a week made bearable only by the knowledge of my inevitable departure.

Next to me is a table with an older man, maybe my father's age, maybe five years more. He is seeing off his daughter and her husband. The son-in-law sounds Australian, his wife is on the diluted South African stage, but also with a good dose of the down-under twang. Their baby is bouncing around in a pushcart, waving all his appendages at a colourful book. "Baby Touch Playbook". The grandfather tries to hold the his grandson one last time, but the child is more intent on chewing something inedible.

Sunday, 3 January 2010


Yesterday was a palindrome, at least in some countries.

The sea is quiet today, mostly in a grey, introspective mood. With a bit more sun it feels a bit more reflective, but still subdued. Two days ago it was angry, spitting and furious to be exact. Yesterday was still unsettled, but not as rough. More tired, almost spent: just habitually uneven. Today the wind turned, with it the mood shifted to more somber.

I'm flying to Pretoria tomorrow, then the UK on Thursday. Leaving is slightly easier this time, but it is still a tricky business.