Maverick Life


Grow trees – they will add dimension, stature, shadows and interest to your life

Grow trees – they will add dimension, stature, shadows and interest to your life
Orange trees (Victoria Chen for Unsplash)

British gardener and landscape architect Russell Page once wrote, ‘To plant trees is to give body and life to one’s dreams of a better world.’ He was right.

My friend phoned me just as I set off on my drive to Cape Town from Johannesburg. “Look up,” she instructed. She meant, look up at the snow on the mountains, the rivers cascading down the hills, the massive skies of the Karoo with their wondrous cloud formations. In fact, she knew I would be studying the crops in the field, the Namaqua daisies and grasses on the side of the road, the dam levels, the first blossoms on the trees in the valleys, any hay bales I could find, and counting all the windmills.

She was right. Looking up is something I do not do often enough. I should look more at the amazing canopy of trees on the Garden Route, with the Nuxia floribunda which are now flowering. The beautiful quiver tree forests in the Kalahari, the massive stands of fever trees in the Kruger Park, the baobab clusters en route to Botswana.

Nuxia floribunda (Image Flickr)

South Africa has a wonderfully diverse selection of trees and among them, some magnificent “champion trees” – trees that are more than 120 years old. “The Big Tree” in the Knysna Forest is an 800-year-old Outeniqua yellowwood, standing 36m tall and with a trunk circumference of 9m. It is a giant among giants and South African author Dalene Matthee wrote of it beautifully in her work Circles in a Forest; it has subsequently been renamed the Dalene Matthee Big Tree. The Sagole Baobab in Limpopo has a trunk circumference of over 32m. It is purported to be over 1,000 years old. Pierneef (1886-1957) captured these magnificent trees in his many iconic paintings of the South African landscape.

Sagole Baobab (Image by Alasdair Macdonald for Flickr)

So of course, no matter the size of the garden, growing a tree is a must. For the shade it offers, for adding dimension, stature, shadows and interest. We need their vertical lines, their “growing up” to balance the horizontals of the underplanting, the lawns, paths, gravel. Plus, they eat carbon dioxide. There is a relevant tree for every space, from the glorious blossom trees of the deciduous fruits such as pears and peaches, to the evergreen citrus trees with their fruits and scents. The fast-growing Indigofera, the wild olive, the Celtis africana, the umbrella thorns, the magnolia.

Citrus trees (Image Unsplash)

Plant them in clumps, mix them up, plant them singly, let them frame a view, shade a courtyard, protect you from the wind.

British gardener and landscape architect Russell Page once wrote, “To plant trees is to give body and life to one’s dreams of a better world.”

A visit to the memorable Kiftsgate Court Gardens in Gloucestershire a few years ago introduced me to Rosa “Kiftsgate”, considered to be the largest rose in the UK. Growing 15m tall into a supporting tree, and being 24m wide, it is a thing of great beauty when covered in its creamy-white flowers with their strong musk scent.

Kiftsgate Court Gardens

Rosa Filipes Kiftsgate (Image by Mark Delepine for Flickr)

Climbers too can do this vertical work for us, this growing up, and in South Africa there are so many delightful ones to choose from. One of my favourites is Gloriosa superba, but Senecio is fast-growing and so happy; Bauhinia galpinii can be trained to grow upwards, and in drier areas, Aloe ciliaris gives a wonderful show. Plumbago can get beyond itself, but the blue is so refreshing in the heat. Traveller’s joy (Clematis brachiata) has the prettiest of pale flowers.

In food gardens, trellised granadilla and the gourds can be trained beautifully on strong pergolas to cover paths and courtyards. Babylonstoren in Franschhoek has a fine example of this. Virginia creeper, star jasmine, wisteria, Solanum jasminoides, climbing roses, bougainvillea, and the ubiquitous ivy are all commonly used but still so pretty.

The Italian born, California-based sound designer and composer Diego Stocco is famous for making music using random sounds from natural “instruments”. Jam along to his Music from a Tree while digging that hole. And then, don’t forget to look up… DM/ML


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