18 January, 2017

Glencairn labyrinth before the fire

- gardening for biodiversity
in Cape Town, South Africa

In September last year, a kind time of year, full of green and flowers, we walked the Glencairn labyrinth on its second birthday.

Path in the labyrinth
September 2016

That huge rock slab broke into three when it was moved on Mandela Day. For me the heartbeat of the labyrinth - three in one, together we stand, the differently shaped pieces of Tutu's 'rainbow people of God' snugly joined. Stepping stone paths and a slatted wooden bridge crosses the soggy bit.

Searsia berries September 2016

I have planted Searsia in each of our three gardens, but never before seen a crop of berries like this waiting for the birds.

Labyrinth flowers in spring's September 2016

Koos Burger keeps a detailed record both of what he has planted, and what flowers month by month. When we walked in September we saw pink Erica, a buchu?, two delicate pelargoniums, soft yellow bursts of Struthiola, mustard yellow puffs of ??

Milkweed locust

Small lives find a place to call home here. Milkweed locust.

Eucalyptus September 2016

Eucalyptus and pine trees inherited from a different time, before we had learnt the value of our indigenous fynbos. Those trees blaze like torches when the mountain catches fire!

Koos Burger of the labyrinth

Koos Burger designed, built and nurtures the labyrinth.

Maths for a gate or a labyrinth

A mathematical mind which spans a labyrinth, and an optical illusion tumbling block gate (intended to distract from ... the bottom edge slants)

If you live in California, around the Mediterranean or Australia you know how you live on edge in fire season. That haze over the sunshine, the light is wrong. I smell smoke. Cape Town is staggering from fire to fire.

First it was Somerset West (Bezweni lodge), then Grabouw. Ours started in Ocean View, along the valley behind our mountain and across to Simon's Town (which burnt in November 2015!) - along the way it sadly reduced the labyrinth to ash. So grateful to our firefighters who managed to protect all but one house in Simon's Town. Riversdale. I heard sirens and we had furious wind and a fire raging at Noordhoek. Another at Lakeside. And the next fire in Tulbagh in the Groot Winterhoek Mountains (fire flowers at my first Elephant's Eye). Deer Park on the city slopes of Table Mountain. Yesterday at Paarl (wine farm gutted) a fire raged out of control.

Bulbs and orchids at the labyrinth in September 2016

Given time, some gentle rain, these bulbs and orchids will return - greenish Satyrium, glowing yellow Wachendorfia, pastel Lachenalia, white yellow and purple Dietes. Seeds will germinate. Fire-adapted shrubs and trees will sprout from their roots. Plants will appear that haven't been seen for decades - as they have where the fynbos is returning as the burnt pine plantation at Tokai is cleared.

From Koos Burger - The main idea is to collect plants, look after them and start to plant late in April after the first rains.
From Thursday's Echo (our local newspaper)- 'Most of what can regenerate, will grow from seeds. Those seeds are under the ash. When the first rains come in April, they should settle and grow. People are walking on the field - right over the burned labyrinth, with their dogs. This will dislodge any surviving seeds, and add to soil erosion: and then we will have lost everything' - Koos is going to put up signs to discourage the walkers and their dogs. (If that fails, he will have to put up a fence)

Each time we drive across Ou Kaapse Weg we enjoy fresh flowers as the fynbos re-establishes itself after the March 2015 fire. Ujubee says fire asparagus blooms two weeks! after fire to feed the bees.

The labyrinth in autumn's March 2016

My first labyrinth walk was in March 2016 and I wait for the bleak moonscape, with its 28 turns, to return to green with the autumn rain! Only DAYS after the Helderberg fire there are fire lilies.

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Pictures by Diana Studer
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  1. It's painful to see what's been lost to fire. Yes, the land recovers in time but the memories can be seared into our souls.

    1. and those poor firefighters. They never get a break!

  2. There is a fire burning not too far away from us (here in Canberra) as I write, I understand completely about the summer fear of fires, the smell and the smoky sky. And it truly is miraculous to see plants and flowers coming back so quickly after a fire...I guess that is the joy of observing the land we live in through all the seasons and climate upheavals.

  3. PS.... And yes the fire fighters they are the heroes! When I rule the world firefighters will earn what politicians earn now!!

    1. Some of our firefighters are volunteers, with a 9 to 5 job as well. Good people putting something back into society.

  4. What a fabulous place, though I admit, I thought you had been to Scotland when I read Glencairn! It seems like a wonderful place to visit at many different times of the year. And what a pretty locust (from afar!)

  5. A fascinating post, including the link to the article on bees and plant regrowth after the fire! I confess to being very relieved to find myself here where the desert growth is scant enough to reduce the fire hazard, though in the Arizona mountains there have been recent tragic fires. At any rate, even here I have been too nervous to risk planting any Eucalyptus! There would be nothing else for lightning to strike except a few Saguaro cacti... for many miles.

    1. Fynbos is adapted to fires caused by lightning strikes. Sadly most fires are caused by negligence (discarded cigarette end?), or deliberate arson.

  6. When you share the names of your places and your plants, it's like a beautiful song or a poem. There's such a lyrical lilt to your prose. The labyrinth is wonderful! A friend invited me to walk a labyrinth later this season. I hope the weather will cooperate. Enjoy the wildflowers after the fire.

  7. Yes, I know what you mean about the smell or sight of fire, Diana. That may be a positive from the intensive farming around us now; with the amount of water they use there is nothing that will catch fire quickly!! It is a small consolation.

  8. That locust looks like something that gave me night terrors as a child. I can take any critter in the garden, but these things! I also have an irrational fear of the big black ones with yellow stripes.

    1. As I child I would cross the road to avoid the large flying hopping brown ones.
      This red one however plods along more like a tortoise - not so SHRIEK alarming!

  9. Hopefully, people will begin to heed the fire warnings put out by our park rangers, as most of our fires seem to be caused by human carelessness. Wonderful, though, how nature heals. P. x

  10. It is amazing how land adapts to fires, scary as they are. There are certain forests here that have actually had problems because there have been no fires, with humans to put them out, when that is what they have evolved to respond to. Then, on the other hand, wildfires that have caused large amounts of destruction to towns with droughts we have had. Stay safe!

  11. I haven't been paying attention and didn't realize you were having a serious fire season there. It is wonderful to know that the labarynth's native fynbos plants will regenerate from the ashes -- assuming that those oblivious dog walkers can be educated or kept out. -Jean


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