To-day I have been taken by a friend to see a piece of vlei-
ground that was completely burnt out about nine months ago.
The ground was still quite black no cover at all except the
stumps of protea and other coarse bushes and big grasses
that had completely filled the place. But, as if to compensate
for all its ill-treatment, pushing their way through the hard
black soil were hundreds of belladonna lilies in varying shades
of pink and white, so poignantly fresh against the charred
background. Between them were pushing up groups of Buphane
ciliata. Though their individual blooms are small, the whole
umbel is attractive with its pink stems and pedicels in the
candelabra head. Then there were the brilliant Haemanthus
coccimus, almost scarlet in colour, pushing through the hard
ground. None of these plants will show any leaves until the
rains come next month, and the brilliance of all the varied
colours of the flowers gives the impression of a flamboyant
emboidery on a black background. I have lived here over
twenty years, but I had never seen this Buphane in flower before.
Now there are hundreds. The superficial observer can easily
explain it : " they only bloom after a fire ". Yes, but the
blooms are formed in the bulb the season before. Do they
remain dormant year after year until there is a fire again,
when all the enveloping grasses will be cleared away and a
good dressing of wood ash scattered over them ?
In the garden I have in bloom two beautiful heads of Bruns- vigia banksiana. This is not a Cape species : it blooms with the leaves and expects water in summer, coming as it does from the summer rainfall area. I think the individual blooms are larger than Brunsvigia gigantea (now B. orientalis] : the pedicels are long and delicate, and the flowers a lovely clear pink, a very much prettier shade than the belladonna lily with its sugar- icing hue. This is undoubtedly the best Brunsvigia I have seen.
A SUPPER picnic to Wemmer's Hoek ! A grand event in these days of failing cars and restricted petrol ; but here is a friend with a luxurious car filled with carefully hoarded petrol. We started off about 5 p.m. as the sun was growing less fierce after a grilling day of packing bulbs.
We went into the kopjies round the other side of grand old Simonsberg, and I was dropped to go plant-hunting while the rest of the party bathed in the river. It was rough walking on the sun-scorched slopes, and so dry that twigs and small bushes just crumbled when trodden on ; but up and up I went to get young plants of Aloe plicatilis where the old plants stand out against the sky line as if posing for a poster " Come to sunny South Africa ". This is a very attractive aloe and one of the very few without thorn or prickles. The leaves are reminis- cent of the old linen-fold wood carving. I think it is only found in the south-west Cape : it does not stand up well to frost. Here it is at home among the kopjies with queer rocks of odd shapes lying around. In the spring the whole place is a flower garden ; but now it is as dry as last year's pine needles. It looks as if a number of gnomes had had a competition in rock- garden design, each hummock or outcrop having just a slightly different plan of planting a big bush here, an aloe there, a tuft of grass above or below.
I sat down and watched big blue shadows of the mountains creep across the wide sunlit valley, just as a realization of a deeper or inner meaning to things seen passes slowly across the mind, leaving always a softening of the brilliance of per- ception but a deepening of shades.
There were lovely soft lights on the river as we went down for supper. The children had made a little fire among the stones at the edge of the water and had a supply of hot coffee ready. How we all enjoyed our eggs and veal loaf and apples and big purple grapes ! We watched the first stars come out, and then the Southern Cross was there and we must start for home. The children were thrilled by the sight of a vast fire raging on the distant mountains an entrancing picture, but terrifying to me. Jennifer summed it up well : " Beautiful, but very cruel ".
AT LAST relief has come : we have had a good night's rain, and soft showers are still falling at intervals. The people with acres and acres of vineyards and grapes still uncut will not be pleased. The grapes will split and be messy to pack, but they have had the perfect season so far.
Many of my silver trees, proteas and leucospermums are already dead ; but others will now be saved, and the seeds I sowed in the open should germinate well, for the soil is still warm. Now there is everything to be done before winter is on us.
We have not had enough rain to wake the mountains into life. All the summer they stand grim and silent withstanding scorching sun and mountain fires, but when the winter rains begin one becomes conscious of a familiar sound that has been long absent something good in the undercurrent of one's mind. It is the mountain torrents crashing down : their dis- tant roar is an accompaniment of which we are hardly conscious, for during about four months of the year we hear it day and night. It is a background to the croaking and clicking of the frogs and the beating of the rains ; and perhaps we notice it most on the glorious still sunny days between the storms, or on the moonlight nights when the arums along the stream sides are touched with silver. When it ceases, we do not notice at first, until the scorching summer becomes more and more silent because the birds have gone into hiding in the bush and the frogs have disappeared into the soft mud around the shady pools.