Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the category “gardens”

Influx control is for the birds

Back in the bad old days of apartheid we had a system of “influx control”. The aim was to prevent urbanisation, or at least to preserve it for white people. Black people were forced to live in rural areas, and were allowed in the cities only on sufference, as long as they could provide useful labour for whites.

By 1990 the system was beginning to disintegrate, and more and more people flocked to the cities. But birds also flocked to the cities.

Two species in particular, which had previously mainly been seen in rural areas, started showing themselves in the cities in increasing numbers in the 1990s. They were hadedas and crowned plovers.

From being quite rare sights, that would get bird watchers twitching, they became extremely common.

I suspect that one of the things responsible for the increase in the urban, or, more specifically the suburban population of hadedas was the ubiquity of pet food in the form of pellets. We used to put out such food for our dogs, and the hadedas would pounce on it. Then, on the advice of the vet, we measured out an exact quantity of food for the dogs, and fed them twice a day. The result was that there was no food left for the hadedas.

But that didn’t faze them. They started right in on the crickets in the lawn, which was probably better for them, and certainly better for the lawn. The raucaus cawing of hadedas replaced the chirping of crickets. It stopped the lawn being full of bare patches.

In the 1980s one also used to hear horror stories from Johannesburg housewives about the “Parktown prawn”. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in the flesh, or rather in the chitin, but apparently they are a large kind of cricket, or grasshopper or locust that gives housewives the screaming abdabs. But since the influx of hadedas, I have heard very little of Parktown prawns.

All this — influx control, Parktown prawns, and the rest, was satirised in the science fiction film District 9.

But I’ve noticed a change.

I can hear crickets again at night.

From seeing and hearing at least a dozen hadedas every day, we now only see one or two a week.

Blacksmith plover

Blacksmith plover

And this week there was a new visitor to our garden, one that I had not seen before – a blacksmith plover, or bontkiewietjie, as they call it in Afrikaans. It’s about the same size as the crowned plover, but has different colouring. One plover does not make a summer, but I wonder if we’ll see more of them this summer.

And, now that I come to think of it, I haven’t seen any swallows yet, even though the northern hemisphere seems to be having an early winter.

In some ways we will be glad to see fewer hadedas. For the past several years they have built theit nests in our mulberry tree, under which we park the cars. You wash the car, and within a couple of hours it’s covered in hadeda crap. But they don’t seem to have built a nest there this year.

Plovers don’t build nest in trees, they just scrape a place in the ground. But in an urban environment that isn’t really safe for the children of ground-nesting birds. Urban environments tend not to be safe, for human children, plover children , or prawn children.

And now an assassin bug has just flown in the window and landed on my computer, and is crawling across the keys towards me. Excuse me while I go and get some bug spray.



The City of Tshwane gets it right: a service-delivery thank you

When local government bodies get things wrong, people are quick to complain, and one of the phrases that we have seen a lot of in the media lately is “service-delivery protests”.

But sometimes they get things right, and people tend to say less about that.

When we were coming home from church this morning we noticed that municipal workers were plasnting trees in George Storar Drive. Not little saplings, but full-grown jacaranda trees, for which Pretoria has been famous. It is now late spring, and the jacarandas are blooming — here they are in Middel Street, at the eastern end of George Storar Drive.

Jacaranda time in Brooklyn

Jacaranda time in Brooklyn

George Storar Drive had a few small trees in the centre islands, barely more than shrubs, and some flower beds, but if they take in their new home, these full-grown trees should look quite spectacular in a couple of seasons’ time, and change the whole appearance of the road.

Tshwane City Council workers planting jacaranda trees in George Storar Drive

Tshwane City Council workers planting jacaranda trees in George Storar Drive

George Storar Drive is, in a way, the entrance to the academic part of the city, as there are a lot of educational instituions along it, or that it leads to, including the University of Pretoria, and the University of South Africa as well a several high schools.

Some of the newly=planted trees -- the holse have not yet been filled in.

Some of the newly=planted trees — the holes have not yet been filled in.

It looks as though some trees had to be removed because a road was being widened somewhere else, so congratulations to the city authorities for thinking of another place to put them, a plac e where they will look really good.

In a couple of years we hope to see the newly transplanted trees looking like this.

In a couple of years we hope to see the newly transplanted trees looking like this.

Jacarandas are exotic to South Africa, and a few years ago there was a lot of antipathy in official circles to illegal alien vegetation, and under that policy Pretoria would have lost all its jacarandas, for which it has been famous for years. Lots of places that had alien vegetation have been cleared, but now the policy has been softened a bit. A few days ago I was listening to a radio programme about the Tsitsikama forest, and someone was saying that exotic trees, like wattles, protected the indigenous forest, because the wattles were available for firewood, whereas if they were not people would be chopping down trees in the few remaining bits of indigenous forest for that purpose.

About a month ago we noted that where former council houses were damaged in a severe hailstorm last year, the city council was helping the residents to replace the old asbestos roofs with galvanised iron ones, which, in addtion to being more resistant to hail damage, are also made of a safer material.

So congratulations to the City Council of Tshwane for good ideas for beautifying the city and improving the quality of life of its citizens in different ways. If anyone from the city counsil is reading this, they can take it as a service-delivery thank you.

Spring is early this year

In our garden the first sign of spring is the budding of new leaves on our mulberry tree. They usually make their first appearance on 20th August, but they are early this year. They first appeared about a week ago, and now they are quite big.

When we first moved to this house, nearly 30 years ago, there was no mulberry tree. There was one over the road by the railway line, and when the children kept silkworms, they used to collect the leaves to feed them, and the fruit as well. One of the seeds must have germinated, and the tree is now far larger than its parent. The fruit comes in October, but we rarely get any. The birds eat most of it while it is still green, and what drops on the ground the dogs eat avidly.

Spring is here. Our raised garden is gradually taking shape, and leaves have already appeared on the mulberry tree

Spring is here. Our raised garden is gradually taking shape, and leaves have already appeared on the mulberry tree

Meanwhile, the other trees are still bare, except for the jacarandas, which haven’t lost their leaves yet.

Spring is here

We’ve had a few rainy days in the last couple of weeks, and on Sunday last week my wife Val bought some Barberton daisies in various colours to plant outside out bedroom window.

Barberton daisies

Barberton daisies

They are planted around a bush with pink flowers that seen to flower several times a year. We are not sure what it is called. A friend on Facebook, where we also posted the picture, suggested that it was a “pink bottlebrush”, but I’m not sure if that is correwct — does anyone know?

Pink bottlebrush?

Pink bottlebrush? No – it calliandra

Here is a close-up picture of one of the flowers:

Pink bottlebrush?

Calliandra, powder puff, or fairy duster

We like it, because we used to have such a bush in the garden in Melmoth in Zululand, where we lived 30 years ago, and so it reminds us of home.

And when we were driving to Johannesburg last Saturday evening for Vespers at St Nicholas Church, there were rain clouds all over, with a hole in the sky through which the sun was shining, just when we got to church.

St Nicholas Church, Brixton, Johannesburg - clouds at Vespers

St Nicholas Church, Brixton, Johannesburg – clouds at Vespers

So spring showers bring pretty flowers.


Thanks to Jenny Hillebrand who solved the mystery of what the plant is called — calliandra, powder puff or fairy duster. All is revealed here: Gobetween’s Space: Calliandra common names powderpuff and fairy duster.

Post Navigation