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Alex Smith

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Secret Gardens of Cape Town #10: Mount Nelson Sculpture Garden

Pink HotelFor one stretching second upon a time, in the early hours of a Tuesday morning, when the moon had turned to blood, three apocalyptic dogs, a piano playing vulture, a group of people holding up a baobab tree and Chinese water goddess, rose up from out of their cast bronze gowns and commenced a dance of cartwheels and pirouettes upon the perfect undulating lawns of an historic pink palatial hotel. Save the hotel cat, who had been eviscerating a field mouse, nobody saw this remarkable event. Nobody was meant to. And we would not have any inkling of what was coming, had we, when we visited the sculpture garden the Friday before, not overheard the whisper of an upside down horse positioned near a lavish English flowerbed of Salvias, Dahlias, Roses and other belles. It was Granny Jay, who loves to eavesdrop, who heard the clandestine discussion between the creatures of the menagerie at the Mount Nelson Hotel. We pondered the forthcoming festivities of the Blood Moon Ball over our tea and scones, but since none of us is rich enough to book into the said establishment, and anyway, some of us have bedtime at 7.30pm, we knew there was no chance we’d be able to gatecrash the auspicious pre-dawn event. However, I can highly recommend a wander through those gardens and their curious bounty of artworks by some of the country’s most esteemed sculptors. And considering the address, the cream tea is very competitive, actually less dear than Kirstenbosch. Elias handled the fine bone china with great aplomb for a boy not yet two. And then he enjoyed kissing the bronze vulture, climbing on the bronze cow, plucking the hearts out of hibiscuses and pinching petunias from the fountain display.

Mount Nelson Garden View resize

Devilskein&Dearlove is due to be published by Random House Umuzi in SA and Arachne press in the UK in July 2014. It is a ‘Secret Garden’ for the 21st century, set in Long Street Cape Town. Perfect for precocious readers from the age of 12 and up!

Secret Gardens of Cape Town #9: The Vineyard Hotel River Walk

Vineyard River Walk2I know of two writers who cannot abide anyone seeing, let alone touching, their feet, but I have no issue with it. Friends gave me a gift voucher to the spa that has been voted the best in Africa: the Angsana at the Vineyard. I chose a colour the Pantone people call Black Red. And after the luxury of a foot massage, with my toes twinkling and nails painted to perfection, there was ginger tea with a view of the almost primordial gardens of the Vineyard Hotel.

pathway

Way back in the mists of time, I had heard there was a river at the Vineyard Hotel, but I never went there. So decades have passed and only because of my toes have I discovered this treasure of a garden. It’s beyond the boring grass (don’t get me wrong, I like grass, but it’s not usually exciting). You go down a cobbled pathway and stairs and then, abracadabra, appears the ‘River Walk’. Why haven’t I been here before? Why didn’t people tell me how sublime this place is? It’s magic. There are cycads, Stinkwoods, Kapok trees, bush willows. And it has certainly been a secret from me.

Hotel view2

Maybe you need to have a coffee at the restaurant to justify sauntering about the garden, but don’t spend too much time under the pergola looking out at the manicured grass; layers of terrace and the river wilderness (complete with a hundred year old tortoise) await you. And the air there is cool and mossy-sweet and dragonflies flit between the water lilies. Its most recent author, or the gardening equivalent thereof, is Anne Sutton, who was named an Icon of Landscape Architecture and who passed away in 2011. What a beautiful legacy of leaves and bush willows she has left.

Devilskein&Dearlove is due to be published by Random House Umuzi in SA and Arachne press in the UK in July 2014. It is a ‘Secret Garden’ for the 21st century, set in Long Street Cape Town. Perfect for precocious readers from the age of 12 and up!

20 Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious picture books for toddlers

Elias and his book3On the brink of his 2nd birthday, Elias is an addict. And he’s demanding. Doesn’t matter if you’re trying to get in a few last winks before 6.30am he’ll thrust a book in your face and demand ‘Read!’ He knows the names of all his favourite characters: Harold, Allan, Billy, Felix, Mungo, Mildred, Oliver, Norman, Mimi, Lulu…and so on. We go to the wonderful Rondebsoch Library and the awesome Central Library to feed his habit – he loves the library and the librarians are so friendly and helpful. It works out at about 10 new books every two to three weeks – even favourites dwindle in popularity after their intense first reading. In all he wants about 6 books a day, some of them have to be read over and over, so over a three week period a good book will be read about 40-60 times! (That’s 2- 3 times a day, fortunately Andrew and I take turns) What has been amazing to see is that books that have earned a status as classic, are that for a reason. As a writer and former bookseller, I have a painfully acute understanding of just how fleeting most books shelf lives really are (and people who don’t know about the book trade often find it hard to believe that the majority of fiction works vanish after 3 months at the bookshop ball). But classics can last for decades. Take Harold and the Purple Crayon, written about 50 years ago. I got that for him when he was 19 months old. To be frank, I didn’t think that in this multicoloured multi-media existence a two-colour (black and purple) picture book would be of much interest, but I’d read it was good, so we got it from the Rondebosch Library. Before reading to Elias, I glanced through it and thought there was no way he who couldn’t draw or write yet, would get this tale about a boy who draws a pathway and then trees, dragons, boat, beach, picnic of pies, city, windows and so on. But boy was I wrong. The word ‘love’ does not adequately describe the effect Harold had on Elias. Harold is a star. Still today when we see windows in tall buildings or come across purple crayons, Elias excitedly proclaims ‘Harold!’

As with all things, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There have been a couple of books I’ve liked that Andrew has disliked. And every time we go to the library, out of the 7 books we take home, Elias will instantly love 3 or 4, and the others will either be totally ignored or reluctant second choices (when his readers tire of repeating the new favourites). This is another astonishing thing to observe and it’s not a brash, flash, bling, colour, foil and TV-tie-ins: some images, some characters and some stories just have an unknowable magic that makes them stars to Elias, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious books.

I don’t think picture books need blurbs, so I’m not going to describe the stories, but here are 20 books Elias has absolutely loved. This isn’t in order, but he did tell me his favourite book is Pumpkin Soup. Also included are links to background stories, articles, webpages about the authors and illustrators – some are just extraordinary people (Judith Kerr, William Steig…oh, what am I talking about ‘some’ actually these authors and illustrators are all amazing people).

pumpkin soup

1.Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper


harold and the purple crayon

2.Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson

3.The Hungry Otter by Mark Ezra

the hungry otter

4.Felix by Pamela Allen

felix

5.Comic and Curious Cats by Martin Leeman and Angela Carter

comic and curious

6.Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion and Margaret Bloy Graham

harry the dirty dog

7.The Plant Sitter by Gene Zion and Margaret Bloy Graham

the plant sitter

8. Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina

caps for sale


9.Lucy Ladybird by Sharon King-Chai

lucy_ladybird

10. The Julia Donaldson/ Axel Scheffler books like Room on the Broom, Tiddler, The Snail and the Whale, The Monkey Puzzle

Snailwhale

ROTB

Monkeypuzzle

Tiddler

11. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig

Sylvester

12.The Happy Day by Ruth Krauss and Mark Simont

HappyDayCover1

13.Maisy by Lucy Cousins– various titles (and he calls her Mimi, because the first one we got for him was in French and in France Maisy is called Mimi).

Maisy

14. The Tiger Who Came for Tea by Judith Kerr

Tiger

15.Owl Babies by Martin Waddell

owlbabies

16.

The Elephant and the Bad Baby by Elfrida Vipont and Raymond Briggs

ElephantBadBaby460

17.Flotsam by David Wiesner(wow! What beautiful images. No words, you tell the story).

flotsam
18.

18.We’re going on a Bear Hunt by Helen Oxenbury and Michael Rosen

bearhunt

19. The Waterhole by Graeme Base

waterhole

20. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems

pigeon

Secret Gardens of Cape Town #8: The Company’s Garden

sundialThe heart of urban Cape Town is a garden. Or since Devilskein & Dearlove features a pawn-broker of souls who works for The Company (though possibly not the same company), perhaps I should say the soul of Cape Town is a garden. As far as I recall from school history lessons, the creation of this garden and its fruits and vegetables were the very reason the Dutch East India Company created a colony at the far end of Africa. The town exists because of this antique garden. Today was overcast and perfect for a pilgrimage to The Company’s Garden. aloe treeAnd they are breathtaking: the view of table mountain is unsurpassed, the array of plants, trees and shrubs is startling and delightful, and of course, the garden is home to the National Gallery and the National Museum. We arrived at 9.30, chanting ‘Dinos, Dinos, Dinos!’ Elias burst into tears when the man at the front desk informed us that the museum only opened at 10. But the circles of rose garden and the lawn beyond with its multitude of pigeons soon cheered him. Chasing pigeons and feeding peanuts to the squirrels are chief attractions to visitors under a certain age. (Later in the morning we discovered that the restaurant sells tiny bags of nuts for R7). And though we did not see any today, the white squirrels are famous. As is the giant Aloe tree, it reaches up to the clouds and when viewed from directly below its succulent green branches are likes starbursts. ghosts of the gardenIn forests of palms the Yucca’s are plumed with white flowers, ‘ghosts of the graveyard’, they are called in some parts for this ethereal display. A part of the garden is being reworked into an vegetable garden in accordance with the original antique plan. The requisite wheelbarrows, rakes, spades and other landscaping equipment were of great fascination to Elias. An hour later we returned to the museum, which is not entirely modern and rather wonderfully haphazard. It is its imperfections that make it special. For example, the first time I took Elias there, half of the displays in the cul-de-sal under the stairway where the dinosaurs of the Cape roam, were in darkness. This is what stayed with Elias: dark. Dinos in the dark! I said we should ask one of the museum staff to turn on the light, he agreed, we went in search of someone, only to be told that the wiring was old and those dinos had been in the dark for a while. It was Elias’s best part of the museum. For weeks after that he told everyone about the ‘dinos, dark, lady, no light, dark, dark’. But today, in the gloom beyond the herds of taxidermy specimens, we found a staircase we’ve not before climbed. The sign promised ‘wonders of nature’. And indeed we were not disappointed. It was absorbingly dark, artfully spotlit, serene and exquisite; it was a mezzanine of glass rectangles, each one containing a single wonder: a whale vertebrae, a coco de mer, the rostrum of a saw-fish and so on… no artist living or dead could hope to sculpt with such sublime elegance. And then having gulped in a little of nature’s spirit, we returned to the garden. We passed by the ponds with the koi, an aviary of Cape birds and the sundial dated 1781, then took up a table in the restaurant and under a giant blue gum tree we had tea and scones with cream and honey. And pondered with the pigeons a quote attributed to Benjamin Disraelie on the Hulette’s sugar sachet. ‘Nurture your mind with great thoughts, for you will never go any higher than you think…’ I read it out to Elias, who was more interested in delving his hand into the cream pot. I like the idea of that though, but it’s difficult to know when one is actually having a genuinely ‘great thought’, and having to worry about having great thoughts (especially under the influence of toddler-driven sleep deprivation), is rather exhausting. The best I can do for Elias (and myself) is to show him great sights. Surely, one cannot see and not think. Wonders viewed must be the food of great thoughts, and The Company Garden with is for sure a wonder worth viewing often. Next time we will go to the National Gallery, but after tea it was time for his late morning nap. WP_002159rose garden viewrose garden view2dino

Devilskein&Dearlove is due to be published by Random House Umuzi in SA and Arachne press in the UK in July 2014. It is a ‘Secret Garden’ for the 21st century, set in Long Street Cape Town. Perfect for precocious readers from the age of 12 and up!

Formative Reading Experiences: S.A.Partridge

sallyseaBearing a treasure of books and a small monkey, S.A.Partridge came for afternoon coffee. They were gifts for baby Elias. Sally said the books were those she had loved as a child and one of them was her own copy of a most beautifully illustrated Peter Pan. Seeing these books reminded me of a blog series I did a few years ago on ‘Formative Reading Experiences of African Authors’ for the Little Hands Trust. At that time, I didn’t interview Sally, a literary star, one of South Africa’s very finest authors of YA fiction and soon to be an international name. So here now are Sally’s formative reading experiences:

1. What is your earliest memory of books and reading?
We couldn’t always afford new books, so my father used to tell me stories about Super Leonard (based on his own adventures of course) These adventures ranged from cowboy capers and dramatic helicopter rescues to shark encounters where he always came out tops. My parents encouraged creativity, so my imagination flourished. I grew up on home-made stories and naturally, I made up my own as well. My parents were, and still are, avid readers, so my Mom used to take me to the library often to foster this love of storytelling.

2. As a small child, what book/s were your favourite?

When we did buy books to keep they were absolutely treasured. My favorites were Peter Pan by J.M Barrie, The Faraway Tree and the Secret Seven series by Enid Blyton. As I got older I sought out anything with a mystery element to it, like the Nancy Drew series. My Mom used to scour jumble sales and church fetes for second hand books so she had a large collection of Agatha Christie novels. I grew up loving these too.

3.Where did you grow up? Do you have a particular memory of a library, bookshop or other place of books in your hometown?

I grew up in the southern suburbs of Cape Town, so my Mom and I used to regularly visit Claremont library for our week’s reads. Even after we moved, the first thing I did was locate the nearest library. I can’t live without books.

4. As an adult, in the role of parent or caregiver, what has been your experience of reading with children?

I really love reading at schools. I love the reactions and the enthusiastic responses I get afterwards. After all, this is my target market, and its a captive audience to read to. Spending time with my readers is one of the perks of being a young adult writer.

And here are some of the other wonderful authors born or living in Africa who responded before:

Sarah LotzMy earliest memory is being shocked senseless by Beatrix Potter. Is there anything more disturbing than The Tale of Samuel Whiskers? The image of Tom Kitten being casually rolled into a roly-poly pudding by a giant rat gave me claustrophobia and nightmares well into my twenties, and I blame Ms Potter for my obsession with horror literature. I was equally terrified by Dr Seuss’s warped illustrations (still am). Read more about Sarah’s formative reading experiences…

Susan Kiguli I do not know if it is possible to express adequately what sharing another world and space or being part and parcel of an exciting creative process, and to feel that it is acceptable as well as good to imagine means even to a young mind. As a child, in books I found the power to dream, to laugh to hide my face behind my palms in pure terror. This is where I could think freely and sympathise with children unjustly treated by friends and adults, it was the corner where I was allowed to gawk at illustrations of delicious food without being reminded to mind my manners! I loved the words and the pictures with their strong primary colours. Read more about Susan’s formative reading experiences…

Henrietta Rose-Innes My mother taught me to read as well. We had a series of strange readers, in lurid colours and containing rather peculiar stories. There was one I remember vividly which involved little red demons invading some poor peasant household, putting the little old lady and the little old man in a sack and poking them with little red fingers, and – I’m not making this up – cutting their dog in half! Now that’s one illustration that’s branded into my brain. Where did she get those books from?! They were great. It seems there were no saccharine children’s books in our house, or if there were I don’t remember them at all. The ones that stuck with me were the ones that stirred me up. I believe that children have a great capacity for pretty complex emotions – wonder, dread, melancholy, exhilaration – and I don’t think it does them any harm to be mystified and even a little terrified by what happens within the sanctuary of a book. Read more about Henrietta’s formative reading experiences…

Lisl Jobson The Pinetown library had a long red verandah and going there was a regular and very special treat. But long before we learned to read there were always bed time stories that my father told without a book. Always theatrical and never quite the same – The Tale of Little Coffeepot and Songololo Girl’s Shoe Shopping Expedition were my favourites. Read more about Lisl’s formative reading experiences…

Gabeeba Baderoon I remember my mother and father reading to my sisters and me. We would go to Hanover Park library, choose our books and sit in the small wooden chairs next to the child-sized tables. I loved disappearing into the faraway worlds of fairy tales and legends. Read more about Gabeeba’s formative Reading experiences…

Beverley Naidoo Not having books is not always just about lack of money. It’s also about those in power recognising how important and valuable books are as ‘mind food’. We need to remind our leaders that young people should have the freedom to read, imagine, think and ask their own questions about the world which is already passing into their young hands. Read more about Beverley’s formative reading experiences..

Karina Brink Confession time: When I was a child I loved books and stories, but hated reading them myself (until I was 13!). So my earliest memories of books, or rather stories, are of somebody reading them to me, usually my grandfather who was a magnificent storyteller as well. I remember that whenever my brother Krystian and I visited our grandparents (which was often) our grandfather would tell us stories, known ones but also some invented by him. Our cousins Ala and Tomek lived with our grandparents, so he always had a small kindergarten group around him, listening. He also bought us an LP player and many LPs with fairytales and we listened to them every night before falling asleep. So most of the stories I remember from childhood came to me as sounds only, not captured into physical objects one could page through. Read more about Karina’s formative reading experiences…

Sindiwe Magona No books feature in my early childhood. There were none in the village where I was born and it was when we came to Cape Town and had the exceeding good fortune of a neighbour who worked as a domestic servant for a family with children who read and gave her books and comics to take home that I entered the world of books and reading. My parents never bought books and the only books we ever paid for were school books. But from age five, I made up for lost time. Read more about Sindiwe’s formative reading experiences here…

Helen Moffett I have a vivid memory, a few months before my fourth birthday, of a teacher friend of my parents putting a book in my hands and giving me my first reading lesson. I remember how desperately I wanted to unlock the code that would let me understand words on pages. I remember acutely where we were (on the stoep of the farmhouse where we lived), the old-fashioned pictures, the first words (“Oh! Oh! Oh! Baby falls down!”). Read more about Helen’s formative reading experiences here…

Secret Gardens of Cape Town #7: Ferndale

Feeding ducks and geese is immeasurably uplifting: bearing nought but all the dingy bits of bread you never got around to eating, you are met with the kind of unadulterated glee, adoration and quacking clamour a superstar like Natalie Portman or Brad Pitt might expect on the Oscar-night red carpet. For as long as your bread lasts, you’re a hero, a benevolent god tossing crumbs far and wide, ensuring that not only the tall, fat, goose front-runners get their share but the small, skinny underducks too. I confess then, that when Elias and I go to Ferndale, it’s very seldom to buy plants (although when wandering through the rows of trees for sale he tells me he is Happy!); we go to feed the ducks.
Ferndale2
But does a nursery count? A garden is there on purpose, it is not there by wild chance, but rather, by design. A garden is a leafy manifestation of a gardener’s motives, secrets, passions and obsessions. And the plants are given beds. An ordinary nursery is always only temporary, perhaps not a true garden then, because everything is for sale and trees don’t have time or space to put down deep roots. The oaks at Ferndale are testament to its status as most unusual in the realm of nurseries. Your honour, I argue therefore that it is a garden. If you have only been there to buy potting soil and Impatience for problematic window boxes, or such like, then you may not have realised there is a puddle of ducks and gaggle of hungry geese beyond the aviary with lovebirds and parakeets, and you may not have ventured with the cock-a-doodling cockerels through the shrubbery maze, towards the tangle of palms, plectranthus and bamboo. I bet you then also won’t have been photographed with the cement lamb which perches on the tree stump next to that ‘jungle walk’. Whereas the Green Point Urban Park, is perfectly conceived, immaculately designed, not for profit, and spotlessly resolved, Ferndale is haphazardly evolved, generous with eccentricities (like the cement lamb, which probably nobody ever wanted to take home), abundantly floral, clearly lucrative and pleasantly chaotic. Andrew came with us last week and he was enchanted. Indeed, it is joy, and actually today when we went to feed the ducks we did buy a pot of Thyme and three succulents, so we’re not just duck-freeloaders. But if you do go, even if you are a proper plant shopper and don’t remember to take your old bread, for R2 a packet, they sell corn and, really, it’s worth spending a moment feeding the birds.
ferndale5
Devilskein&Dearlove is due to be published by Random House Umuzi in SA and Arachne press in the UK in July 2014. It is a ‘Secret Garden’ for the 21st century, set in Long Street Cape Town. Perfect for precocious readers from the age of 12 and up!

Secret Gardens of Cape Town #6: Klein Constantia & Little Stream

GatesIt is late afternoon, the wind sighs through vines laden with dark grapes awaiting a harvest time which never seems to come. A hunting buzzard circles overhead. And we are playing ‘Camel’: I am the camel, Elias in his red Monte Carlo Grand Prix T-shirt makes clip-clopping sounds and we amble down a tree-flanked driveway towards heaven. There it is: fields of vines, soft emerald meadows where fat cows graze and laze and then the Constantia mountains spot-lit by ethereal fingers of sunlight. If they are anywhere, Gods, Saints and Spirits are here. Swing, swing! calls Elias as we pass the solid gates of Klein Constantia and head towards Little Stream a six hectare private garden along a stream in the folds between two historic wine estates. Elias neath plectranthusLittle Stream was bequeathed to the YMCA and is open to all who like gardens for roaming. And between the oaks and a bamboo glade there is a swing, which Elias adores. Higher, higher! he demands. Beagle, beagle! he points out, as one trots by. Higher, higher! After half an hour of swinging, the only way I can entice him from the swing is to suggest looking for baby pandas in the towering, clattering bamboo forest. He is easily distracted from the search for pandas – he is too clever, my baby, he knows it is only pretend, he knows there are no baby pandas there. We admire day lilies, white butterflies, acorns and plectranthus and then I must be camel again. Up, up, up we go through the tea garden, past the succulents for sale, past a pair of pugs and out again towards Klein Constantia. We’re on a dirt road leading to the Kramat of Shaykh Abdurahman Matebe Shah. KramatIt is a beautiful green domed shrine in honor of Shah, a young sultan, who became a Saint and who died in this place in 1685. Elias and I skirt around the Kramat, we clamber over a small barbed-wire fence and now we are inside the vineyard. Every time we come here, I wonder: when are they going to pick these grapes? Perhaps these grapes need to become heavy with sweetness, perhaps these are the grapes used to make the legendary Vin de Constance, which appears in the work of Charles Dickens, Baudelaire and Jane Austen and which was the favourite drink of Napoleon during his exile on St Helena. We leave the vines and do not stop in at the cellar to taste the famous Constantia (but you can if you visit!);we take a road flanked by agaphanthus (Light blue! observes Elias, and his proud mummy, that’s me, thinks him terribly clever for this considering he is not yet 2) and then we’re back at the very beginning: the gates of Klein Constantia.
WP_001919
WP_001922

Devilskein&Dearlove is due to be published by Random House Umuzi in SA and Arachne press in the UK in July 2014. It is a ‘Secret Garden’ for the 21st century, set in Long Street Cape Town. Perfect for precocious readers from the age of 12 and up!

Secret Gardens of Cape Town #5 Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden

Elias and Monkey
Okay, so it’s not exactly in the heart of Cape Town, but it’s only a breathtaking drive over the Du Toits Kloof pass away – just long enough to fit in a late morning doze with your monkey if you’re Elias. But if your eyes are open the mountainscape is a tonic for any parched urban soul. And then before you know it (a little over an hour), you’re heading down into the Worcester Valley. Signs lead you to the Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden a treasure of desert and semi-desert plants – the garden originated on a plot East of Majiesfontein in 1921, but in 1944 its wealth of succulents was relocated to the present spot.
Dragonfly

Pathway
Of course you must bring a picnic! If you forget though, there is a restaurant, but it’s more fun to explore and find your own oasis. Ours was along a shale pathway, beyond the quiver trees and on a green verge with trees for shade and giant dragonflies, chameleons, scorpions and ants for amusement. Artistic homage to insects, small reptiles and arthropods seems to be quite the fashion in botanical gardens these days; there was a particularly handsome dragonfly in the tree next to us, but the signs which forbid climbing on these creatures proved to be an impossible intrigue for Elias, who went around ‘our land’ collecting them all with gusto so that his Dada could re-plant them into the grass patch which Elias deemed a more fit location. He is a busy little fellow, so we were grateful for the distraction the signage provided, because it gave us a chance to enjoy a cup of flask-flavoured tea and a jolly tasty pair of baguettes with salami, bacon and avocado. I say ‘our land’ because there was nobody else in the 154 hectare garden on the Monday we visited. Amazing! It is a startling place. I only hope the weekends are busy there because it deserves many visitors. There are a couple of hiking trails too, so after the flask was emptied and we’d illegally clambered on the giant ant, Andrew loaded Elias into the Deuter backpack and we summited a hill of Malmesbury Shale. And then it was hometime, but not before we spotted a fabulously exotic sausage tree in the car park, draped with its persistent sausages (according to Common Trees of Southern Africa) and broody oxblood coloured blooms.

Karoo views

Devilskein&Dearlove is due to be published by Random House Umuzi in SA and Arachne press in the UK in July 2014. It is a ‘Secret Garden’ for the 21st century, set in Long Street Cape Town. Perfect for precocious readers from the age of 12 and up!

Secret Gardens of Cape Town #4 Green Point Urban Park

LighthouseOne of Cape Town’s most loved places is the promenade in Sea Point – it is a place for dogs to bring their humans, children to bring ice-creams, babies to perambulate, older folk to power walk, lovers to love strolling, whales and dolphins to parade offshore for watches, ships to sail for spotters, stars to shine for gazers, and waves to break on treacherous rocks for ardent surfers. It is a happy place (with a bit of a dark side, but everybody has their secrets, don’t they).
Elias looking at the wading birds
LizardStocked up with a tub of fresh sliced mango and a couple of sour dough bread sticks from the Newport Deli, Elias and I followed the paving stones all the way to the lighthouse, then crossed Beach Road and found ourselves at an imposing gateway. From the outside the portal seemed to promise nothing more than a rather dull golf course (apologies to golfers, but neither Elias nor I have much interest in the sport) and some flatland beyond. And we almost changed our minds about visiting the uninvitingly titled ‘Urban Park’, but a bird squawked and Elias was intrigued enough to wriggle free of my arms. Seagulls are nothing if not brazen, but Elias is equally determined and our visit to the Urban Park commenced in a flurry as he herded a flock of gulls into the lake and then looked around and demanded More! More! But none were willing, so he set off again at a tripping pace over a bridge into the wetlands biosphere exhibit and through a plant-covered dome where a teacher with a large magnifying glass was telling a group of girls in pink uniforms about how an ant can transform a landscape. We did not have time to listen because just beyond her in a bed of Ericas and fan aloes, Elias spotted a beaded lizard and so he plunged into that thicket and attempted to wrestle the creature off the rock. Fortunately the garden planners must have anticipated such unbridled attention and the creature remained pinioned to his perch.

biosphere
What is secret about this garden is that it is so utterly delightful: thoughtfully crafted, ecologically rich, beautifully landscaped and full of whimsical surprises in the form of artworks which celebrate the smaller wonders in life: chameleons, humming birds, bees, assassin bugs, spiders and ants.

Its position too is noteworthy. It sits in shadow of Signal Hill, and is flanked by two contentious and historic landmarks: on the left there is the lighthouse and on the right there is the World Cup Soccer Stadium which hovers beyond the lake and the reeds like a silvery mirage.

And there is another lovely thing (well there are probably many others) – without doubt the toddlers play area is the most elegant eco-chic one to be found anywhere in town, possibly anywere in the country, or even anywhere on the African continent. You can take your blue scooter and trundle down the mosaic-patterned ramp (but only if you’re under 6!)
bird mosaic elias small

Devilskein&Dearlove is due to be published by Random House Umuzi in SA and Arachne press in the UK in July 2014. It is a ‘Secret Garden’ for the 21st century, set in Long Street Cape Town. Perfect for precocious readers from the age of 12 and up!

Secret Gardens of Cape Town #3 Arderne Gardens

There’s a choked-up main road, the Metrorail train track, a 24 hour emergency hospital, an intersection famous for prostitution, a half-dozen rehab clinics and one of the country’s most prestigious schools, yet, amongst all this action, there exists a hundred-and-seventy-year-old haven for six of South Africa’s official Champion Trees. Entry is free, conditions are pristine and so from 10am onwards every Saturday, Sunday, High day and Holiday, Arderne Gardens becomes a froth of sorbet-coloured silk, satin, sequins, Lycra and lace. It is in Everyman’s wedding photo. The Moreton Bray Fig regards the changing fashions with the silence of a sage. And it is unperturbed by the lovers who, over the decades, have carved darling names into its giant trunk and wall-high roots.

Aspects of Moreton Bray3

But if you go early, as we did this Sunday past, you can drink in quietude (before the confetti commences), feed ducks, ponder in the Japanese water garden and marvel at tree ferns, cycads, Bastard Saffrons, Cedars of Lebanon, East Indian Rose Apples, Palms, Monkey Puzzles, Parana and Aleppo Pines, Holm and Turkey Oaks, a 140metre tall Norfolk Island Pine, Redwoods and even a Dragon Tree…what a handsome fellow. Andrew in the Japanese Garden
ducks

Go once and you’ll be hooked. The next time you visit, you’ll take a flask of coffee, a basket of croissants, a blanket and a book because it’s dreamy.

flowerAndrew and Moreton
It is need of help too and for R30 you can join a guided stroll through the history of those trees, some of them planted in 1845 by Ralph Henry Arederne. There are details on the garden notice board or at the Friends of the Arderne Gardens website.

“In his cabin the ship’s Master was talking to a spare man with blue eyes, set in a serious face, who had come aboard. They were discussing the cargo of timber the ship had brought from beyond the Indian Ocean, but every now and then the visitor glanced away at a tiny tree growing in a pot on a shelf. It was about six inches high and the shape of a childs Noah’s Ark tree. When the business was finished, the visitor, whose name was Ralph Henry Arderne, pointed to the tree and said, “would you tell me where that tree comes from?”

“It is a Norfolk Island Pine from Australasia.” the Captain replied. “I am taking it home to plant in my garden.”

“Would you be willing to sell it to me?” Arderne asked. “I have recently bought a property, and am hoping to lay out a garden with trees and plants from as many parts of the world as I can, and I know the Norfolk Island Pine is a very handsome tree.”

“Well,” said the Captain at a venture, “I’ll take five pounds for it.”

That was a very large sum in 1847, but Arderne was so anxious to have it that he paid it without argument. … Arderne was not yet living on his new property, which had been part of the old Stellenberg estate; he was still busy clearing the ground and he was living in a house just opposite. … He had already planned the grounds and now he selected a spot that would be about half way between the site he had chosen for the house and the road from Cape Town to Wynberg, and more or less in the main part of the garden. … All through its life [the tree] was carefully nurtured, watched and measured, and it repaid this loving care by growing to a great height of over 140 feet, towering above all the trees around it ; it was said to have outgrown any other tree of its kind outside its native home.”
Extract from The Ardernes & Their Garden by Arderne Tredgold, published in 1990 by the Arderne Book Trust, Cape Town.

Elias with cycads

My new novel Devilskein&Dearlove is due to be published by Random House Umuzi in SA and Arachne press in the UK in July 2014. It is a ‘Secret Garden’ for the 21st century, set in Long Street Cape Town. Perfect for precocious readers from the age of 12 and up!