South Africa 6 14

June 2014

The South African area is the one that is least hardy, most difficult, and most colourful… for the brief time it’s in bloom.

My mother tried several different patterns here. Fynbos certainly didn’t work – “you can’t even do that in South Africa”, a very knowledgeable visitor from South Africa told me, when I explained what my mother had been trying to do – and Table Mountain very much borderline.

The one that does appear to work, is Drakensberg. Had my mother still been here, she would probably have succeeded with her Table Mountain model also; but I am not her, so this area is less of a consistent model than the others.

 It’s certainly colourful! How come there’s so little colour in your New Zealand and Australian areas?

It’s to do with the way the native flora evolved in conjunction with other life forms (there’s a lot more to vegetation patterns than just the plants; it’s horribly complicated and my understanding is pretty superficial). But as I understand it, native Australian and New Zealand plants mostly bloom white or pale, because in these countries, they happened to evolve alongside pollinators that were attracted to scent rather than colour. This is, of course, not absolute; but it certainly shows in the vegetation patterns. I gather the main pollinators that like colour are the long-tongued bees.

Fascinating stuff. As an aside, have you noticed how much national dress reflects the colours of native flora? I never did until my mother’s South Africa bloomed for the first time. It makes sense of course… the dyes have to come from somewhere.

Anyway, the South African area does pretty much what you would expect: for most of the year, it shows you bare earth, or green with little additional interest. But for around two months, usually somewhere in June, July, and August, it bursts into this blaze of colour, when everything opens at once.

It’s not as good as the real thing, of course, nowhere near enough colour…

Why?

Because it’s a model. Which means that it will have far fewer species in it than the real thing. When you’re creating such a model, you need the key species that define the appearance of the pattern, and then you need as many other species that grow there as you can manage.

The more species you grow, the more complex and more recognizable the model becomes.

My South African visitor was here in June during an open garden day, and the first thing he said to me, before being very helpful with his obvious expertise,  was “I’m so homesick!”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry… but I think this means my mother got it right!