07 October, 2015

To Elgin and Klein Optenhorst visiting gardens

By Diana Studer 
- gardening for biodiversity 
 in Cape Town, South Africa

A story of grass

Chapter 1

We visit open gardens, for a change of scenery. Looking for ideas - I like that, we could do that, I must have that plant. I went to Klein Optenhorst (opens 24th and 25th October in 2015), Jenny Ferreira’s garden in Wellington. In October 2006 with the flower club, October 2007 and March 2009 with the Ungardener. Both the house and the olive tree have a long history. Tall oaks throw some shade, and two large farm dams catch the river flowing down from the mountains. An international collection of sage / Salvia.

Klein Optenhorst 2006

Klein Optenhorst 2007

In front of the house, I found the Italian arum, with marbled leaves. That is still on my wish list. From the house, the garden sweeps down to the ponds and the borrowed scenery. There is a terrace, a golden sun-kissed afternoon, somewhere on the Mediterranean, ‘Enchanted April’. Along the winding gravel path I found clumps of lime and gold Mare’s Tails grass.

Borrowed scenery in 2009

Mare's tails or Mexican feather grass

Chapter 2

November brings Elgin Open Gardens (31st October, 1st, 7th and 8th November 2015). Back to 2007. We went to Fairholme nursery. Came away with a dark lavender and I found my Mare’s Tails.

Grass at Fairholme 2007

I am drawn to the dark drama of trees, and shrubs with deep burgundy chocolate wine-dark leaves. Can’t always lay on the stormy sky, but the feeling is there. One garden with a huge circular lawn and 2 or 3 maples?

The Dark Side at Elgin 2009

When you reach the – yes dear it’s very nice, Good Grief, not another pink and white garden – point … it is refreshing to find a smaller, quirky garden - used in part to display the works of a potter. When we first saw her works for sale – I was delighted that each one has a unique face. Yes, says she, someone came in and said – Ooh Look, there’s Uncle George!

Elgin Pottery

Chapter 3

We still have the Mare's Tails, smuggled themselves in among the potted cuttings. We had The Dark Side (Autumn Fire) in Paradise, And Roses at Porterville, and now the Prunus nigra again in the Cornish Stripe at the Washing Pergola. Uncle George swam in Ungardening Pond and waits for the new pond...

My bucket list has The High Line on it. As Victoria's daughter said 'It's grass, mum. Get over it'.

Sadly if I Google mare's tails, Mexican Feather Grass ... comes from Argentina. An invasive alien, in the USA (but welcome in the southwest USA Stacy tells us), Australia and South Africa.

The Ungardener wants green between our paving slabs. I grumble that's difficult to choose, and to plant in the narrow gaps. Sometimes gardening lessons are about looking and mulling over. In Porterville I cherished these TINY sedges, not even ankle-biters and lost among any other plants. Now I harvest them across the new garden and keep tucking them in the gaps between the checkerboard in the Rose Courtyard. Once they are established and rooted in they should be tough enough to walk past. Ficinia or Isolepis

A tiny sedge

Another tiny sedge

In Porterville our plants preferred the gravel paths. Here they prefer the gaps between the slabs! Between the stepping stones of the path are tiny heartsease pansies.

Heartsease in the paving gaps

This year we could go to

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