Heatwave!

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We’ve had a serious heatwave over the past week and a half. Terrible wind has added to the discomfort blowing dust into the house from all corners of the farm. Yesterday was the absolute worst with gusts up to 50km/hr the whole day long!

We had a little bit of rain before Myles was born, but there’s been nothing since and everything has totally dried up. I managed to take some photos of the garden early one morning just before things got really parched and windswept. The garden has come into bloom about a month earlier than usual, probably because we had some rain in September and because the temperatures have been so hot for spring. We also had a relatively mild winter so things didn’t frost down as much as usual. I just love the riot of colour and the fragrance of honeysuckle, lavender and rose drifting through the air. A real treat when the wind isn’t blowing and it’s pleasant enough to venture outside!

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Lapping up the autumn sun

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I can’t believe my last blog was two months ago! Where has the time gone?? It certainly has been a hectic year so far and I find myself less and less able to indulge in time spent documenting happenings around the farm. I’ve also been spending a lot more time updating and writing for our official Vastrap Boran website and blog, which has left my personal blog lonely and neglected.

It’s pointless to even try to catch up on everything that’s been going on, but the main news I have to share is that we are expecting a baby boy at the end of September! I am just over 4 months pregnant and feeling great, but the first trimester was very draining and quite stressful waiting to see if we would get past the first three months. On top of that Livia was sick for quite a few weeks and teething badly which left us very sleep deprived, something that we’ll have to get used to!

Ashley is here this week for her holidays and Livia is absolutely loving having her big sister around. We had some fun in the garden this afternoon in our new outdoor seating area. The building was completed just in time for Easter when the whole de Bruyn family gathered at Vastrap to celebrate Bill and Karine’s 50th wedding anniversary. I got lots of ideas from Pinterest on how we could build something like this using the natural sandstone from the area. After showing all the photos to Quentin he made it happen using blocks that were carved decades ago by a stone mason who used to work on the mountain behind our house. I am so thrilled with the result, especially since it looks like it’s always been there. In summer it will be covered in shade from our beautiful tree and in winter it will be a lovely place to lap up the morning sun. The girls certainly approve!

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Dahlia delight!

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I simply can’t get enough of the dahlias in my garden. They never fail to delight and every day something new emerges in a different colour, shape and size. The neon yellow dinner plate dahlias are totally irresistible! It’s been a while since my dahlia patch looked this good so early in the season. Dahlias have been a staple in the Vastrap garden since Quentin’s grandmother lived here over 50 years ago. There weren’t any when I arrived, but it didn’t take long for me to revive the tradition, because they are so easy to grow and make wonderful picking flowers. Exactly the type I like, the more you pick the more they flower! Livia and I are loving summer, spending more and more time out in the garden. We’ve had such lovely rain followed by beautiful hot sunny days, exactly what one expects from a good summer season in the Eastern Free State. It’s the definition of delicious and exactly what’s needed to keep the farmer in our house content and happy over the planting and harvesting season.

Quentin's grandparents at Vastrap circa 1940s.

Quentin’s grandmother Berry’s dahlias. 

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Counting my blessings

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The first proper summer rains came on 1 November, the weekend of my 40th birthday. That must surely be a good portend for the year ahead! It was so dry and dusty and miserable and now everything is fresh and new again. I decided to beat the Monday blues this morning by taking Livia for an early morning walk. There is still a chill in the air, but the sky is brilliant blue. The face of summer is slowly becoming visible across the landscape, which is littered with groups of cows and their new calves. Dams filled to the brim with water shimmer in the rising sun and the sound of tractors leaving for the days’ work punctuates the air. From now until the new year there will be little time for rest on the farm as maize and sunflower crops are planted and wheat is harvested.

The garden has sprung alive too with new blooms appearing daily. I’m in love with the lupins that are flowering for the first time and the dahlias have started their summer show. There are plenty of artichokes and self-seeded holly-hocks are popping up all over the place. I can’t wait for the next flush of roses as I missed most of the first. The agapanthus as budding like crazy. What a beautiful and blessed way to start the week!

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Absence makes the heart grow fonder

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Livia and I have been away for a while visiting my dad in the Cape. While we had a great trip, and even managed to spend a little bit of time with Ashley at the beach, we were very ready to come home. For some reason I’m always away in October when the roses have their first flush and things start to really happen in the garden. It makes me very home sick knowing what I’m missing out on! At the same time, the garden is desperate for some proper rain to really get things going and the farm landscape is still very drab and brown offset here and there with bright green wheat fields. The contrast between the Cape and the Free State could not be greater than at this time of year after radically different winter rainfall. We did have a bit of rain while I was away, but it was accompanied by a massive hail storm which caused a lot of damage in the garden, but fortunately not too much on the farm. Quentin took these beautiful photos just after the storm. He even came across a porcupine that had been flushed out of its hole and looked very disoriented, poor chap!

2014-10-22_0009While we were away most of the seeds I planted in pots in September germinated and the stuff we planted under the bird nets in the veggie garden seems to have survived. I’ve got some beautiful italian tomatoes, lettuce, kale, brassicas, artichokes, rocket, carrots, beans, squash and a few other bits and pieces. Our electric gate stopped working though so it stands open in the day and creates a clear path for the chickens to feast on a buffet of greens! Tseliso doesn’t have the heart to keep them cooped up all day so roam free they will. I was expecting the strawberries to be ready for picking, but sadly they were flattened by the hail.

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While we were away our new bronze garden sculptures by an artist called Sarah Richards arrived. They are a beautiful life sized wattled crane and a purple heron. I think they look magnificent (thank you my love!)

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While we were away the roses put on a magnificent display that was cut horribly short by the hail. The garden now looks nice from far, but in reality is far from nice. My fantasy of picking arm loads of blooms for the house will have to wait for the next flush later in November or early December. The irises looks beautiful though and my dahlias are coming up well. The peonies are looking a bit fragile, but hopefully they’ll pull through. Sadly is looks as if my favourite indigenous tree that was a huge attraction for birds has died. It already looked poorly last season, but it still has no green shoots. I’ll give it a bit more time, but I think it’s a goner. I don’t even know what kind of tree it is, but will try to identify and replace it.

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While we were away the new installation for our pool heating system was completed and the water pump has been connected today. I must say, the guys did a magnificent job, especially our farm manager Andre who built the structure from scratch and connected up all the little pipes. I can’t wait to have late afternoon swims with Livia and for us to have an extended swimming season! This massive new structure now standing in the garden is going to require some work to finesse and soften and my head is buzzing with ideas. I’ve already bought some more honeysuckle, star jasmine and jasmine to train up the supporting poles and along the tennis court fence. Apart from the warm water that it will provide, I’m also very glad that we now have a shady patch around the pool. My next big mission is to find some nice outside furniture to transform this into a real living space.

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Signs of life in the garden

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The Vastrap garden is slowly coming to life after a very cold and harsh winter. Things are taking their time though because we’ve had a few cold snaps over the past few weeks and it still hasn’t rained so there is little going on beyond the watered garden. The roses are in bud and a few are flowering, but the sweet and juicy flowers are very vulnerable to attack by grasshoppers and beetles since there’s so little else to eat in the veld. As always, the bottlebrush tree in our front garden is putting on a beautiful red display and I am thrilled to see the columbines doing so well in the shady spot I planted them last year. The artichokes are looking big and healthy, but unfortunately our usually robust lemon tree took a bit of a beating in the winter frost. I hope it will recover its former glory because I’m totally lost without a supply of lemons in the garden! My sweat peas all died during the winter, but the sweet smell of the flowering honeysuckle on the pool fence compensates a little. I planted some peony bulbs this winter and I’m very happy that most of them have come up and are growing. It’s early days yet, but I’m very excited to see what develops there.

We’ve only just started planting in the veggie garden because there is always a risk of late frost in the Eastern Free State. Last year I had terrible trouble with chickens digging up the seeds I planted and something eating all my seedlings. We’re trying to combat this by putting up nets this year, but I’m not sure if it will work. I’ve also planted more seeds in pots so that I can transplant them when they are more robust. The biggest problem at this time of year is keeping things watered properly in the hot windy weather before the rains come. I’m a bit disheartened about the veggie garden at the moment, because it’s never been as good as the first year it was established, but we’ll keep on trying. If all goes well we should have a good supply of strawberries, raspberries and blackberries during the season.

Things are fairly quiet on the farm while Quentin waits for the first rains to fall. That will signal the start of the crop season which is very busy, but for now we are taking the gap and installing some heating for our swimming pool. A few years ago my dad gave us a system of plastic pipes that are used to heat the pool water, but we’ve never installed them because it required a bit of work to set it up. Since I am desperate to swim with Livia this summer and our pool is usually very cold, I begged Quentin to do something about it. The team in the workshop have spent ages building a huge frame to instal the pipes on and it is looking good so far. I must say I didn’t realise what a big job it would be, but hopefully it will work!

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Late-Summer Garden

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There are signs all about that the seasons are starting to turn. Work on the farm started half an hour later today signalling the end of the busy summer period. The wild peach trees alongside the road are almost depleted of their fruit thanks to passing cars with plastic bags at the ready. Soon a sea of cosmos will bring shades of pastel to the landscape. I am more aware than ever of the subtle changes in light and temperature being awake a few times through the night feeding little Livia. In the garden, the fading agapanthus have been replaced by bright orange wands of crocosmia and the odd flowering clivia. Similarly, the spectacular pink Pride of India and bright red Bottlebrush tree add a splash of colour.  There may still be many glorious sunny days before the winter chill sets in, but it’s only a matter of time before the leaves on the poplar tree at the bottom of the garden and the virginia creeper in the courtyard turn auburn and start to fall.

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Garden colours

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While the roses are preparing for their next big flush, the rest of the Vastrap garden is coming to life thanks to some healing rain. Hydrangeas, agapanthus, dahlias, pelargonium, hollyhocks, daylilies, lavender, scabiosa, salvia, nasturtiums, echinacea, buddleja, and many more have all started to flower. The herb garden in the courtyard has gone crazy with tarragon and mint growing like weeds! Despite my lack of energy for gardening over the past few months it seems we’ll have no shortage of colour around the house over Christmas. But it’s probably wise for me to enjoy it all from a distance rather than getting into extensive flower arranging, because even taking these photos today has completely exhausted me. I guess that’s to be expected with my growing belly and only a month to go until the big day! Deep breath in, deep breath out… the countdown really has begun.

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Pottering around

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I’ve been offline for the past week having a generally frustrating time setting up new computers for Quentin and myself in line with my new job description. Today I finally unpacked my shiny new toy – a beautiful iMac! Since I’ve been so bad at blogging over the past few weeks I couldn’t resist getting right to it and seeing how the machine performs. So far so good, although I still have a lot to learn. Sitting inside fiddling with computers is hardly conducive to exciting blogging so I decided to spend some time outside with my camera this morning. So far we’ve had an incredibly mild July especially compared to this time last year when it had already snowed twice. The heat has dried everything up even more than usual and Quentin is worried that he won’t be able to get his wheat crop planted. A little bit of rain would go a very long way right now.

There was not much to photograph in the garden as everything is looking pretty dead, except the odd spring bulb that is starting to sprout. Instead of gardening I’ve been shopping for some new garden furniture. I found some charming benches at the “antique” shop in Ladybrand, which are made out of old cast iron beds. I think they have lots of character and should find a happy resting place in the Vastrap garden.

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After taking photos of the benches I started spying on Poepsie cat who was sunning herself in her usual spot on the windowsill outside the front veranda. She looked like she didn’t have a care in the world and I was thrilled to see her munching on some catmint that I planted for her last week. Her peace was interrupted by her nemesis, curious Coco who also wanted to inspect the catmint. I’m happy to report that Coco seems to be heavily pregnant. Her waistline has completely disappeared and she is moaning and groaning more than ever while she sleeps. And hungry – I can’t keep up with her demands for treats! Hopefully this is not all fake and we will be delivering some puppies in early August. A very exciting prospect, although I’m sure one that Poepsie cat can do without!

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Bright Spots

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Winter has well and truly arrived at Vastrap in the past week wrecking havoc in the garden. My beautiful pink daisies, geraniums, nasturtiums, hydrangeas and many more have all frosted over. Although I know it always happens, the devastation caused by the first frost always comes as a shock. There are a few last roses blooming in more protected spots, but they won’t last long. Things that do really well in Free State gardens in the winter are aloes and red hot pokers. They provide a gorgeous burst of colour in an otherwise dreary landscape and the birds go mad for them! I went to the nursery to buy some fresh pansys and violas for some cheer. The courtyard is much more protected so the geraniums there should make it through winter unscathed. The primulas we planted in the courtyard last year have spread everywhere even where the soil is just gravel. I just love the vibrant patches of colour that are appearing on their own. What a treat!

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