It is somewhat trite to say that change is a constant – be it good or bad or even when we try to be indifferent. Moving house, especially when moving further afield, certainly foregrounds change. And even when the change is chosen, adapting can be demanding and nostalgia can become one’s go-to space.

So of course, I miss our old garden. But in between refurbishing bits and pieces of our new place ­­­­­­– ongoing demands that displace normal activities (such as blogging) – I have made a little time now and then to go out with my camera to explore our new smaller walled garden.

Familiar from our old garden in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and occurring naturally too in the Western Cape, a small tree fuschia (Halleria lucida) is in flower in our new garden. We think it probably self-seeded as its base is so close to the garden wall.

There are a few locally indigenous plants in our new garden, but not many. There are also self-seeded trees, now saplings, that include South African plants from other regions and some exotic trees too, including a Brazilian pepper tree – a species that can be fearsomely invasive.

We are feeling our way as we try to learn about the local mostly alkaline soil types and some of the fynbos plants that occur naturally in alkaline soils. I did a basic home test using a bowl to mix vinegar with a little soil from the garden – it fizzed slightly indicating that the soil is alkaline, something we had already surmised from the scum in the teapot and the funny-tasting tea (adding lemon to our black tea helps a bit). Fortunately, coffee’s more robust taste survives this harder water.

I think this is a confetti bush in our garden. It is one of the Coleonema species that all have the common name ‘confetti bush’ because when in flower they are sprinkled in a profusion of small white or pinkish flowers. Due to their aromatic oils the fine leaves can be used as an insect repellent and fisherman are reputed to use the leaves of some species to rub on their hands to get rid of the smell of fish. We expect this shrub to come into flower during the winter.

The fine leaves of the confetti bush are typical of many plants in the Fynbos vegetation group within the Fynbos Biome. Fynbos literally means fine bush. The Fynbos Biome is one of five biomes contained in the species-rich Cape Floristic Region in the southwest of the Western Cape.  Defined groups of plants are characteristic of fynbos and are dominant to varying extents, depending in part on the altitude and soil types. There are multiple small areas of endemism so there are thousands of species occurring within the Fynbos Biome, with many being extremely localised.

For more information on the Fynbos Biome, which includes the Fynbos and Renosterveld vegetation groups see

This is a close-up of a restio plant in our garden. Restios (members of the Restionaceae or the Cape Reed Family) form one of the defining plant groups within the Fynbos vegetation group.

Restios are endemic to South Africa, with most being in the Western Cape. In place of grasses, they occur naturally in nutrient-poor soils. Restios can form large clumps such as this one in our garden. There are many species within the genus, and making them even more difficult to identify is the fact that male and female plants within the same species have different flowers.

I watched a large carpenter bee (Xylocopa caffra) visiting the flowers of the blue African sage (Salvia africana). The bee lands on the bottom petal and when it pushes into the flower for nectar the pressure on the petal causes the hinged anthers (stamens) to move down so the bee collects pollen on its back, while at the same time the curved stigma picks up pollen that the bee is already carrying from visiting previous flowers (see

In the above photo the anthers and the stigma can be seen curving down over the back of the visiting carpenter bee. I took this picture over a low wall of a plant in our neighbour’s garden. We will be planting some of these lovely blue African sage plants soon.

Looking out of an upstairs window (our cottage has a loft) we saw this swallow perching on the edge of the garage roof. I think it is a juvenile greater striped swallow (Cecropis cucullate). While we were watching it received a rapidly delivered morsel of food from an adult. Too quick for me and my camera!

The exotic white pear (Syzygium sp.) trees have lots of fruit currently and are attracting many birds. As sunbirds eat mostly nectar, I doubt it was attracted to the fruit but I spotted a malachite sunbird (Nectarinia famosa) perching in the tree while preening. This must be a male in eclipse plumage. Full breeding plumage is a bright metallic green.

Definitely attracted to the fruit, a Cape white-eye (Zosterops capensis) enjoys eating the soft, ripe berries. These lovely little birds are familiar from our former garden. They are endemic to most of South Africa.

This olive thrush (Turdus olivaceus) looks almost overwhelmed by the fallen bounty. Olive thrushes eat a variety of invertebrates but they are not averse to eating fruits especially when they are abundant.

A Cape bulbul (Pycnonotus capensis) single-mindedly enjoys breakfasting on fallen fruits. Some oxalis flowers managed to survive the berry carpet.

In our new garden we are doing a degree of waiting and seeing as we learn more about the plants of the region. I have found some self-seeded little plants that have encouraged me to see what turns up and not to weed too enthusiastically – any excuse will do!

Many species of wild Oxalis grow in fynbos areas. I have no idea what species is flowering beautifully in our garden but it is distinctive from the oxalis I know as a very invasive cosmopolitan weed. As the plants pictured are very tender, and don’t seem to spread voraciously (at least yet) via lots of runners, and many hard little rhizomes or tubers, I am leaving them as I hope to find out more about them. In the meantime, I am weeding what I take to be the familiar invasive species, possibly Oxalis corniculate.

I was very happy to discover these tiny lobelias growing low in the garden in the lawn and along the margins of flower beds. I am giving them space to do their thing even though I don’t know what species they are. There are about 60 species of lobelia growing naturally in South Africa, with about half occurring in fynbos.

A closer view of the lobelias – they are so tiny I found them quite a challenge to photograph.

A laughing dove (Spilopelia senegalensis) happily foraging in a patch of lawn edged by lobelias.

Another find in the lawn is what I think might be a tiny pelargonium. I think I will risk digging it up and moving it to a corner of the garden I have set aside for self-seeded discoveries and other finds.

A species of zonal pelargoniums, also small but larger than the previous plant. There are several of these growing up in the lawn that I will probably risk moving.

I am not the only one finding interest in the lawn – these forest canaries (Crithagra scotops) are enjoying some dandelion seeds.  The bird on the right demolished almost an entire head of dandelion seeds – if you zoom in you will see some fluffy seeds still held in its bill. It took me some time seeing them in a new context to decide these are likely forest canaries.

This is the beginnings of my patch of garden where there are already some self-seeded plants. I will add some transplants and seeds as I learn and make new discoveries.

I found this very tiny plant in my patch – possibly a member of the legume family.

Also a small mushroom was growing nearby, peeking through some leaf litter.

And outside our loft study window, red-eyed doves reoccupied a nest that had been empty since we arrived. We figured out that they were brooding some eggs, even though in the Western Cape they don’t usually breed at this time of the year. The parents take turns sitting on the nest and we were lucky enough to see them swopping duties early one evening

And after 17 days we saw that two babies had hatched. In the above photo the two chicks are feeding on either side of one of the parents who take turns staying on the nest and feeding the nestlings. Typically, red-eyed doves lay one to two eggs per clutch. These photos were taken through our study window pane. I hope to bring you more photos and updates on the chicks’ progress in my next post.

And while I was watching the doves a Cape robin landed in the same tree and I snapped this photo through the window. It flirted its tail flamboyantly before diving down to a lower branch out of sight.

I doubted I would find enough to photograph and write about in our small garden, but it turns out there is plenty to see by looking!

(Thanks to for information on plants and thanks to David Bowie for the title.)

P.S. I am slowly getting back into a routine but there have been some impediments to blogging – not least our ongoing and intensifying loadshedding, i.e. scheduled blackouts to protect the national electricity supply. There are so many sudden breakdowns at our aging power stations that scheduling loadshedding has become ad hoc. Loadshedding has become a daily occurrence and a disaster for our economy. We feel lucky if we only have four to six hours without electricity in a 24-hour period, but increasingly we have no power for eight to ten hours in a day. The situation is likely to worsen during the winter as demand increases. In our cottage we have a small battery and inverter to help us maintain a sometimes erratic internet connection and some lights, and we are planning on having a small solar-powered system installed.

Posted by Carol