09 September, 2014

From Montagu to George

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

Driving across the hot dry parts of South Africa the landscape is dotted with Australian Eucalyptus. Invasive, guzzling water, a raging fire hazard, they suppress indigenous plants nearby. Before being used as fence-posts or telephone poles, they provide shade, to sheep and cattle in the fields, to these travellers in November 2010.

Australian Eucalyptus

Back on the tarred R318 near Matroosberg is the railway cutting abandoned with the construction of a modern concrete bridge. Springbok in a field flees the advancing yellow monster. Once there were migrating herds, now we are lucky to see a small group together.

Railway cutting and springbok

In the little town of Montagu a beloved cat was run over. A reminder, go slow, cat crossing. I looked at gardens. Dramatic and effective. Minimalist planting against a long white wall. Something sharp from North America, alternates with soft green fingers on a South African succulent. An Italianate cypress punctuates the distance.

Cat crossing in Montagu

In Montagu is the Bird Tree. Thanks to his camera we discovered dramatic red markings on the spread wings of the sacred ibis. (Breeding plumage – glossy dark plumes with pale gold underparts. The only resident ibis in the SW Cape. Colonial breeder. Eats bugs, frogs, snails, and other small birds)

Montagu's Bird Tree filled Sacred ibis and egrets

Tick birds. Cattle egrets harvest ticks and insects disturbed by cattle. (Smallest of the egrets. Yellow legs, usually covered in mud! Breeding plumage with pink/orange on crown, back and chest)

Cattle egret or tick bird

In this landscape, and harsh climate, farmers can scratch a living with sheep, or ostrich for meat, or game animals for hunters. Or they can harvest olive oil, and essential oils for food and perfume. We saw a magnificent stone barn. A company that recycles e-waste! Virgin Earth.

Olives in the Little Karoo

We travelled from Montagu behind Riversdale’s Sleeping Beauty Mountain thru the Little Karoo. Down the hair-raising Cloete’s Pass thru the Langeberg I, who can’t take steep drops, was driving. You can share the relief, after long hot dusty hours of driving, when you see the Gouritz River winding away in a green valley.  

Ostriches, Cloete's Pass down to Gouritz River

The second night brought us to George. Car registration plates for this town are CAW. (C for the Cape). Cold and Wet. But George was in the grip of a severe drought with water rationing (today ... they have rain!) This garden uses borehole water. So did our room. Made a cup of tea when we got there, then threw it out, After Reading the Instructions. That salty water did in the Ungardener when we were in Kgalagadi

Evening, George!

Water. This is the 1.1% of South Africa where the indigenous forests of Knysna, with their legendary elephants, are found. Suffering from drought, in part because of global weirding. Also because they build golf courses and associated gated housing. Polo fields. A popular destination for South Africans to retire to. Creating employment. Their workers are in RDP houses or shacks. The First World and the Third World side by side.

Bird facts from Joy Frandsen’s Birds of the South Western Cape, 1982

Pictures by Diana and Jurg Studer  
of  Elephant's Eye on False Bay 

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  1. what an amazing adventure, I cannot tell you how much I enjoy your posts, I truly do and the photos, amazing!

    1. your enjoyment brings the happy memories back to life for me!

  2. Great post Diana, Enjoy your post keep up the good work.

    Have a great day,

  3. agree with Laurie, you have a traveller's narrative as opposed to just a tourist. Fabulous wildlife, a mediterranean looking garden in Montague and the derring-do of the hair-raising Cloete’s Pass - ending with a serene lady & her book
    p.s. are you re-publishing older posts on EEFB before EE goes? Could not comment on your London visit but next time you are here would like to meet up - if I am still here!!

    1. yes, I'm teasing apart the posts that don't belong to the story of how we made the garden in Porterville, and travelling in the Swartland. Bringing those still interesting posts across to this new blog - and hoping that my earlier readers will follow me here.

      One day, when the renovations are done (and started!) we will visit London again.

  4. I travelled down to Cape Town via Route 62 last week and passed through Montagu. One of my favorite towns and a place I would probably be able to live in very easily. I've never done the back roads though and would love to try it out one day.

  5. I have never seen pictures of the ibis...fascinating birds...love the markings.