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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  1. I've found Heartsease likes to grow everywhere but where you want it to, and I can't say that's because it likes the poor soil under the gravel drive, because it's just as happy growing in the rich soil of my veggie patch! But so long as it doesn't take over, it can stay. I'm a huge fan of dark foliage too. These gardens look lovely places to visit and the face pots are cool.

  2. Doggone! I just developed a liking for mare's tails (never heard it called that before), only to discover that it is considered invasive. The Highline is on my list too.

  3. I have been following your blog for some time, now that I'm retired I can really do it justice! My mother spent her childhood in Cape Town and we visited South Africa a few years ago...so I am really enjoying all your wonderful stories and photos...brings back so many memories. I hope you can see my post on the South African Embassy in Canberra, Australia.

    1. another interesting way down south blog to tuck into my Feedly!

  4. All my best gardening ideas come from visits to other people's gardens! Love the 2007 photo. P x

  5. I'm appreciating grasses and sedges more over time. Thanks for sharing these visits. I really like those pots with the faces.

  6. Diana, I'm not sure whether I just sent you a comment or if I deleted it instead. Kindly ignore this if it's a duplicate!
    Just a note on Silky Threadgrass (as we call Mares Tails)--it is actually also a native of the North American southwest:
    It does self-seed freely, and in warm coastal areas like California or Florida, I believe it is invasive. I could see how it would be a problem in your climate. :-( In New Mexico, though, it's very much a welcome friend.

    1. Mexico, or New Mexico, I can understand it would be a welcome and hardy native.

    2. Diana, thank you for the amendment above! I didn't mean to quibble but was concerned that people just turning to dry-climate gardening might bypass this lovely, useful grass by reading that it was invasive.

    3. no, I'd rather the information was accurate and the advice was informed. Thank you.

  7. Gorgeous gardens...the idea of an international showing of salvia would be enough for me. I had no idea. Your idea of a pleasing garden—the round sweeps of grass with two or three maples, even the granite sky. You are describing my garden to a T. Except for the places where the vegetables grow by the greenhouse and the perennial bed with flowers...the "dark side of Elgin" looks like Home. My favorite Heuchera is a deep chocolate/wine color, paired with one that is golden. Can you grow that varietal? Hardy perennial, wants shade and will attract bees. The grasses you've shown are beauties. I wish I knew the place you are talking about: the Highline?

    1. The Higline is in New York, on the abandoned elevated railway line.

  8. Diana those gardens are in South Africa? They are simply beautiful...what a delight.

    Mare's tail isn't hardy here, so absolutely not a invasive species...it's a little hard to find in the garden centers....most of the time.


  9. More than just a story of grass, loved the (Borrowed scenery in 2009)
    ps -- Dianne, you would be horrified, I have had to make adjustments in accessibility mode as to how I now view the monitor. Your site is now crystal clear for my poor eyesight, the background is black!! and the text bright green, works for me.

    1. glad that you CAN make it legible.
      There are a few sites that I battle with, the other way ;~)

  10. I love visiting gardens for ideas but sometimes I actually learn more from gardens I don't actually like as when a garden is pleasing to you, you don't often analyse why, whereas when you dislike it, you try to work out why and gain an insight.

    1. that. Or translating from a grand scale to mine, or achieving 'that' effect with 'these' plants.

  11. Do your pansies grow all year? Here they do well in the cooler months but perish with the summer heat.

    I love the contrast between the smooth, green lawn and the abundant flower borders of Klein Optenhorst. The perfect use for lawns, I think.

    1. the pansies are selfsown and inherited with the garden - so we'll see if they fade away in summer. I've mostly chosen indigenous, so never grown pansies before.

      I imagine that lawn is used for entertaining too.

  12. I planted some pansies in the front garden. I hope they will self seed and one day the whole street will be full of pansies.

    1. I can see orange and red poppies marching up and down our street already.

  13. Those views of the lawn are pristine but I love the taller grasses better and oh those chocolate colored leaves are amazing and so many to choose from...what a statement they make.

  14. I love visiting gardens, for inspiration, to steal ideas, to gasp "eughh!" and then have to work out why. I also share your addiction to purple foliaged plants, which I extend to the miscanthus that work so well in our climate, the ones with the richly purple flowers anyway. As for planting things in the cracks, excellent idea, if fiddly. Here people often use "Mind Your Own Business" (Soleirolia soleirolii / Helxine soleirolii), also known as Paddy's Wig, Corsican Creeper, Friendship Plant, Bread and Cheese, Baby's Tears, Paddy's Tears, The Pollyanna Vine - so many names for such a tiny plant. And it does look pretty, but I spent over an hour yesterday trying to stop it taking over a 3m square area of my garden! I hope your sedges settle in well and don't make a bid for freedom somewhere you would prefer they didn't!

    1. The baby's tears I remember as the carpet in my mother's orchid house, sheltered from sun wind and foot traffic below the shelves of pots.

      Tiny sedges are well behaved. Shallow roots and only growing where they have an empty space to claim. Between the slabs is the only way I can see them to enjoy.

      Popular choice here is Mondo grass.