A process of discovery is available to us if we learn to see what we usually overlook. But what we discover depends more on our own personal filters than on what we think we are looking at.

When thinking of surprises, quite unbidden a verse from a poem by A.A. Milne – best known for creating Winnie-the-Pooh – bubbles up from my childhood. I have not worked out why this verse sticks with me – perhaps its apparent silliness is intriguing, or is it that its scansion is rather irritatingly catchy?

Jonathan Jo

Has a mouth like an “O”

And a wheelbarrow full of surprises;

If you ask for a bat,

Or for something like that,

He has got it, whatever the size is.

Judging from the illustrations by E.H. Shepard that accompanied the poem in the anthology When We Were Very Young (first published in 1924 but reprinted several times since) I have always imagined that Jonathon Jo was an eccentric gardener.  


Rather than the Aberdeen Terrier that turned up in Jonathon Jo’s wheelbarrow, our wheelbarrow sometimes contains our large dog, Rory. Surprisingly for such a big dog, jumping into the wheelbarrow is one of his favourite ‘party tricks’. Given his rather withering look, I suspect that Rory might be regarding me as a somewhat eccentric gardener, hopefully though, not yet barking mad

Copper-stem Corkwood

 Always surprising is the bark of the Copper-stem Corkwood (Commiphora harveyi). It peels off in thin papery pieces or strips to reveal the coppery underbark. The Afrikaans name for Commiphora species is Kanniedood, meaning cannot die, as when poles or cuttings are stuck in the ground they easily take root, so much so that some species are used to make living fences

Carpenter Bee pollinating a flower

No matter how many times I see it, I am always surprised at how perfectly carpenter bees function as pollinators, fitting into the curve of flower stamens as they seek nectar. The pollen from the stamens sticks to their slightly furry backs to pass onto subsequent flowers that they visit. Here a Giant Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa flavorufa) visits a Giant Salvia (Brilliantaisia subulugurica), a plant that is native to Zimbabwe and tropical Africa


When a potted aloe on our front deck came into flower, I was surprised to see that a Katydid remained on the flower for several weeks


 As the flower developed, I got into the habit of looking out for the Katydid and admiring its long antennae. I was surprised to find one day that it was gone. I am not sure if it feeds on the flower itself or on visiting insects

Bract fungus on dead wood, South Africa

I am constantly surprised at the diversity and beauty of fungi, and in the process I have discovered the value in leaving dead wood, including dead trees (small enough not to be a danger) that are still standing, in the garden. Several species of birds collect twigs and sticks for nest building, and the dead wood hosts mini ecosystems that also provide food for birds. There is a lot to be said for emulating woodlands and not striving for sterile tidiness


I was intrigued by the small coronets of slender and tender white leaves developing atop the stems of a Sagewood (Buddleja salviifolia) shrub

Leaves of Buddleja salviifolia with hidden caterpillar

 It was only in when I took a close-up that I saw that a caterpillar was seemingly mimicking the shape of the leaves in a surprising form of disguise

Two bees on strelizia flower

Two honeybees busily looking for nectar on a Bird of Paradise (Strelizia reginae) plant, unexpectedly meet at close quarters as one approached from the other side of the flower. Discovering so many insects underlines the importance of not using pesticides in the garden

  Pods on a Wild Laburnum

A young Wild Laburnum (one of the Calpurnias) flowered for the first time this year. I was surprised to see the seed-pods emerging even before the flower petals had dropped off. Two of the young pods have already provided food for a visitor. This young tree has grown from seedlings that had self-sown in the grasses below a mature tree that I had collected and transplanted elsewhere. It turned out that I took advantage of these gifted seedlings just in time as for some reason the mature tree died the following year. As the flowers on the larger mature tree were so high-up I had not noticed before how the pods protrude so early

Vervet Monkey picking Crossberry fruit to eat

A Vervet Monkey, calmly picking and eating fruit on a Crossberry tree (Grewia occidentalis) in the garden one morning. As I have mentioned in other posts, one of the pleasures of gardening for wildlife is that one is not at all bothered when wild animals eat from a diversity of plants in the garden. I do wish that more people with gardens, including those who are planting native plants, would discover the pleasures and rewards of a live and let-live approach

Moth peeping over leaves, South Africa

Discovering each other, and looking somewhat like a surprised alien from another planet, this small moth observes me while partially obscured by leaves on the Wild Laburnum. Like me, my spouse is learning to look more closely at the plants in the garden, and he alerted me to this charming little guy

Looking at nature in this more attentive way, one captures something of the wonder we enjoyed unselfconsciously when we were children. I am discovering that it is possible to relearn and appreciate richness even in surroundings that might at first glance seem mundane, something children, given half a chance, are able to do so effortlessly.

Anyone who has read the Winnie-the-Pooh books must remember the fictional Hundred Acre Wood where Owl had his house and Piglet too, where Eeyore had his gloomy place and Pooh hoped to find Heffalumps. Even fictional woods have the ability to enchant children and adults alike.

I was sad to read that earlier this year much of the real forest – the Five Hundred Acre Wood in Ashdown Forest in East Sussex in England – that inspired the fictional Hundred Acre Wood, was badly affected by blazing fires in February and in April. Exceptionally warm and dry conditions precipitated a drought turning the area into an easily ignitable tinderbox.  

Which is a sadly appropriate reminder of the need for tomorrow’s youth-led Global Climate Strike. Young people across the world are joining a movement to remind the world of the climate emergency and are demanding climate justice for everyone and an end to the age of fossil fuels.

There are many inspirational young leaders from which we all can learn, and creative young people to inspire across age, geography and cultures.  A pertinent example is the Ndlovu Youth Choir from the village of Moutse in Limpopo Province in South Africa – they have won the hearts of many as they share their message of hope, unity and love.

If you have not been following the Ndlovu Youth Choir’s recent performances at the televised America’s Got Talent show, where they went through to the final round of the competition, please do watch this video showcasing their talent prior to their participation in the talent show. It is the choir’s version of Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’ and features flautist Wouter Kellerman.

Posted by Carol

xLily round crop blue small