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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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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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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Celebrating Spring!

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I’ve been very out of touch with the seasons this year. The onset of Spring hasn’t been quite the event it was last year perhaps because we had such a warm winter. But in general, my attention hasn’t been focused out of doors. I spent most of winter worrying about my pregnancy and feeling a little fragile, then there was pregnant Coco to fuss over and after that the puppies. In between, all our energies were focused on our auction which left very little time to think about the garden or go on our usual long walks with the dogs on the farm. I’m still a little ambivalent about the garden, but getting more and more excited for summer and the changes in store for us over the next few months.

The good news is that my pregnancy is progressing well and I’m now more than half way there. My bump is starting to show and I’m feeling her movement more clearly. Packing away our heavy winter clothes and unpacking summer stuff this morning, I was left with only a small pile of things that I’ll be able to fit into by the end of the month when I transition into my third trimester. By the time we meet her in early January, it will be the best time of year in the garden with the Dahlias and roses in full bloom. My biggest conundrum is what to plant in the veggie garden this summer given that I’ll hardly be in a fit state to do daily harvests. But that didn’t stop me from ordering a load of seeds from Living Seeds this week – I just couldn’t resist their amazing selection of heirloom beans and tomatoes, but steered well clear of the zucchini!

On the farm it is extremely dry and conditions will only get worse as temperatures rise. The veld and our wheat crop are thirsty for rain. The willow trees have sprouted green leaves, but the poplars and oaks are still bare. More than anything I love the change in light at this time of year, which brings a special glow to the early mornings and evenings when I’m generally out on the lawn playing with the puppies. Another winter has passed. Welcome back summer!

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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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