Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Midsummer January gardening in Johannesburg...January 7, 2014

Luli Callinicos garden glimpsed through the Patio
I was dispatched to meet Luli (bearing a gift from her sister) by Thesa Callinicos: both are of Greek extraction, both grew up in Johannesburg. Our visit was relatively brief but more than rewarding: despite that I've only met Thesa a few times over the years and her sister this once, our common loves and commitments (Greece, South Africa, flowers, social justice, education) allow for a certain velocity (as it were) in friendship. Luli treated Bill and me to tea and some delicious South African desserts as we strolled through her lovely garden and shared reminiscences. Luli has a rich biography as author, historian and educator worth looking up. (If you click the URL in the last sentence you can do just that!

I think of myself as a pretty bona-fide plant nerd, but I have to admit that although seeing plants in the wild is my my goal in traveling, visiting gardens is just as rewarding. And meeting special people in their native habitat like this makes travel to another country real. And how exciting it is to hear a few casual nuggets emerge as we speak by this biographer of Oliver Tambo, who not only wrote a biography of him, and a picture book about Nelson Mandela, but knew them both and fought alongside them for decades for an end not just to Apartheid, but to the unbalanced social contracts that cloud the future not just of South Africa, but of the entire world. Her work is far from done.

Swimming pool!
Having just flown from the Northern hemisphere, where Colorado is experiencing one of the nastiest of cold snaps the last two months with many subzero (Farenheit!) nights already, you can imagine how warming this vista was to my winter weary eyes! Visiting the Southern Hemisphere in January for me is like being magically rewarded with a second summer! Literally!
I love the smell of Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia) here planted near the patio! I think Luli does too.

Hemerocallis fulva
It will be half a year before I see these in Colorado again!

Herbs, tree roses in a border along the swimming pool
The climate of Johannesburg is really quite amazing: you see masses of distinctly subtropical succulents and trees growing along side cold temperate plants and Mediterraneans: one of the best gardening climates imaginable!

One doesn't often see tree roses blooming and growing so happily.

Both Callinicos sisters are really artists in hiding: their homes are filled with lovely original artwork, and of course there is some delightful garden art--I'll show details in a bit...

We had Dahlias blooming almost into November in a few special spots this year--and here they are two months later--I like that sort of telescoping of the garden year!

I envied the healthy fig--I think it was a dark fruited one. She had a light fruited fig as well..

Impatiens x walleriana is afflicted with a devastating downy mildew in Colorado: they're suddenly rare for us--good to see them still growing and thriving (and probably perennial) here in Johannesburg!
Viola hederacea
I believe some botanist has segregated this into another genus, but I think it's pretty clearly a violet, don't you agree? I grew this in Boulder as a child--one of the few Australian plants that were moderately nearly hardy! Luli has two children who live in Australia--so these are all the more apropos.
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Another view of the energetic wood sculpture: terribly happy fellow don't you think?

I could never get away with having these two sheep in my home garden, I'm afraid. But they look perfect with the backdrop of birches and Shasta daisies.

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If I found this goat for sale, I'd probably be tempted to buy it--although transporting it home would be a nightmare.
Aha! the other fig!
The sturdy, somewhat classical garden furnishings make this a garden that's welcoming and fun to hang out in.

I was almost as shocked to see these paper birches here as when I stumbled on some happy ones in Los Angeles, for God's sake! How unjust that they seem to thrive here with no bother with borers, and their so much harder in our more "appropriate" cold climate. The puritans who insist we only grow native plants blah blah blah really have it wrong. Sometimes the WRONG plant does better.

Bill Adams and Agapanthus
I confess that though Bill is one of my very best friends, he's not the tallest of them! But these agapathus are pretty big nonetheless!
mystery fine
I know this vine is not rare: but I forgot the name. Or perhaps never knew it. OK, one of you clever ones in cyberspace: help me out! I'll give you credit..

You can tell a real gardener: this wonderful potager is tucked away where hardly anyone notices or can see it!

Bill and Luli on the very inviting patio.

I chuckled to see Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red' with a few flowers left (most had been harvested--probably for flower arrangements--earlier in the season.) Bred by Dale Lindgren in Nebraska, he shared it with me in the early 1980's in Denver, where we effectively publicized and ultimately distributed the plant through local nurseries (I believe Little Valley sold it first)--one of the great local plant introductions that helped lay the groundwork for Plant Select. Wish we had a penny for each one of these that's sold: Dale definitely wishes he had!

A bit of the classic Greek emerges here and there as one would expect from a woman who may trace her ancestry to Alexander the Great's generals, or perhaps Theophanes Kallinikos who invented Green Fire in the 7th Century. Ore anyone of dozens of others of that surname who made enormous contributions over the millenia. We Greeks have quite a burden of history to bear.

This gave me a twinge of nostalgia: the ceramic roof tiles that one used to see quite often in neoclassically inspired buildings built a century or so ago all over Greece.

More classicism..
I forgot to get the story of this piece from Luli--but it certainly looked evocative in her entrance patio.

Aloe aristata and Crassula ovata
Succulents in containers are all the rage in the US in recent years--but they're no novelty in South Africa: I suspect this one sits there year around on the front stoop!

Me (in my Greek flag colors) next to Luli, the elder of the two Callinicos beauties.
I have been enormously blessed to have had two very beautiful older sisters by birth who suffered from illness and died far too young. And now I feel as though I've been adopted two younger sisters who share the charm, accomplishment and grace of the other two whom I yearn for with pangs of nostalgia every day. There is a delightful karma that visits a few of us lucky mortals.


  1. Distictus buccinatoria- perhaps? You have the best job in the whole world!!!

  2. On the account that I greatly enjoy your blog (also the one at Denver Botanical Garden)
    I have nominated you for the Leibster blog Award; a warning that there is absolutely no chocolate or trophy to be received:

  3. Is the vine a Mandevilla (syn. Dipladenia)?


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