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Jo'Burg Days: Johannesburg Spring

...The carpets of brilliant orange, purple, magenta and ice-pink of the mesembrian-themums which a couple of weeks ago spread across rockeries have faded and the star-shaped fruit are forming. When ripe, children love sucking the sweet-sour juice and the Afrikaans name 'suur-vygies’ describes them well...

Barbara Durlacher tells of the arrival of Spring in Johannesburg.

For more of Barbara’s wonderfully varied articles and stories please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/joburg_days/

‘Oktober is die mooiste, mooiste maand’, goes the Afrikaans saying and Johannesburg’s gardens easily meet that description. Despite an exceptionally dry winter with gusty winds, something that’s unusual for Gauteng where the weather is usually calm; all-pervading dust and temperature variations from near freezing to 27˚C a combination of factors to deter even the most determined plant, this year the gardens are especially beautiful. Bougainvilleas in many shades have burst into flower as they thrive in hot, dry conditions - and the roses, pruned in July and August, are in full bloom.

Shrubs and annuals in nearly every garden in the older parts of Johannesburg are doing well and particularly spectacular this year is the introduced, and now naturalised, Australian bottle-brush which also prefers drier conditions. Newly introduced, are the hybridised pinks and muted purples which with the natural red strain, creates a stunning effect. Staple food of native Australian birds that feed on the nectar-filled “bottle-brushes”, so far I haven’t noticed our nectar-loving sunbirds darting to the swaying heads, but perhaps this is due to disturbances caused by extensive local building operations. When things settle down perhaps we many see a return of these tiny beauties as well.

The streets in the older suburbs are lined with huge jacarandas planted in the ‘40s and ‘50s and shortly they will fill the air with the scent of honey and a mauve haze with fallen blossoms creating mirror images of the parent tree on the pavements.

Happily, the nest-building weaver-birds have ignored the irises this spring and many gardens have a wonderful show of these delicate flowers. Although the blooms fade after a few days, cutting off the spent stalks can extend flowering a little longer. Perhaps it’s their very fragility that makes them so special.

The carpets of brilliant orange, purple, magenta and ice-pink of the mesembrian-themums which a couple of weeks ago spread across rockeries have faded and the star-shaped fruit are forming. When ripe, children love sucking the sweet-sour juice and the Afrikaans name 'suur-vygies’ describes them well. Despite many requests to save water by going indigenous, it seems gardeners consider that nothing is as beautiful as the gardens Britain and Europe and favour plants more at home in the northern hemisphere with its colder, wetter, climate than local flora which has adapted over millions of years to local conditions.

One of the most spectacular of these locals are the Mesembrianthemums originating as they do from the drier parts of the country. As time passes and tastes change hopefully local gardeners will return to these easy-care plants, and their brilliant carpets of colour will be seen again in our gardens.

The Namaqualand daisies have finished their show of yellow and orange, although a friend who recently visited the area between Springbok and Vredendal in the Western Cape reported that despite the early winter rains, lack of subsequent follow up showers meant that the plants did not reach their usual height and the shimmering carpets of colour for which the area is so famous were infrequently seen. In Johannesburg gardens where the ‘Namaquas’ are cultivated with care and watered frequently, the show of these cheerful little plants is a sure indicator that spring is nearly here.

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