Sunday, August 30, 2015


Lily and I drove out of Cape Town, taking the N7 north towards Malmesbury, unofficial capital of the wheat-producing Swartland region, and then we branched off onto the R45 to Hopefield (but not before driving through a suburban part of the big town where the streets were named for cow and sheep breeds).

On a whim, I had decided to visit the Hopefield Fynbos Show - an annual wildflower show that a friend had mentioned on Facebook. Hopefield is a small town surrounded by farmlands, and some remnants of fynbos (one of the biomes of the Cape Floristic Region - which is one of six floristic regions on the planet), and I had never been.

As it turned out, the carpark was the richest area for botanizing. Lachenalia pallida - images above and below - had crowded the verge of the N7 on our drive up (oddly, verges are one of the last bastions of indigenous plants; here they escape both the plough and possible glyphosate apllication in the cultivated fields just on the other side of fences).

Still working on this ID - I am rusty, and I need a new field guide.

Growing beside the sandy mounds of molehills. [Thanks to Rupert and Don - Tetragonia fruticosa.]

If the Koringberg boys had not arrived we might have missed the hall with the wildflower displays. Somehow we had both just ignored the dark door beside the the lunch hall.

I could have stayed a lot longer at the far end of the hall.

Dozens of individual flowers were labeled.

There was a lot to learn, and someone had gone to a lot of trouble.

Lily and I wolfed some pancakes - a country staple - from the friendly pancake ladies.

The pancakes were silky and sang with cinnamon, They reminded me of rainy nights in Bloemfontein.

And then we bought R20 tickets for a tractor ride to see "die blommetjies." Everyone along this coast refers to flowers in the diminutive. Not the flowers, but thelittleflowers. The sun had come out, and so we were told that thelittleflowers were now open, and we could go, so we did. When in Rome.

Our tour guide, holding the white plastic cash box above, top right, pointed out the NG church to us. Inside, the Koringberg boys were listening to an organ recital.

The tractor dragged us through some fallow ground on the edge of town, and not, as I had imagined, through a farmer's wildflower lands. The daises were out and we saw some Lachenalias, too. A few piles of trash lay amongst the petals. I saw a black cat washing its back leg. It stuck its tongue out at me as we drove by. In houses' doorways and from the schoolyard's recess where boys tackled each other in rugby play, adults and children waved at us as we drove by. We waved back.

Lily and I ate a boerekos lunch - lamb shin pie, waterblommetjie bredie and two starches: boiled white rice and sweet orange pumpkin - as is correct. And later we all drove to Koringberg, where an olive orchard and nettle patch lay in wait.

The fields were green all the way.


                           Book an Autumn Walk 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Cape Town forage

Alerted by a drive-by sighting of the flowers I grew up calling The Aliens, I took a basket and went for a stroll up the greenbelt, in the company of The Corg, to inspect the plants more closely.

The Aliens are in fact aliens - Allium triquetrum is an invasive wild onion known in Europe as a three-cornered leek, for its stem shape. It escaped from its native Mediterranean and has naturalized in this winter-wet climate at the foot of Africa. I collected it for the first time in July 2014It was good - strong when raw, very mild when cooked.

I pulled some bulbs, which are pure white and firm. The stems are very fleshy, unlike those of ramps and field garlic (Allium tricoccum and Allium vineale). Garlic filled the air. The Corg sniffed and chewed some grass appreciatively.

After washing and peeling at home, the bulbs went into a pot of braising oxtail stew - chilly weather food, there are fires every night - with the addition of red wine, fresh bay leaves from the garden, fennel and tiny cubes of carrot.

Those are their flowers in the blue enamel jug, with folded up Oxalis pes-caprae. The others are from the garden.  Spot the Lachenalias on the left, with gorgeous, green-dipped tips.

Today I have a date with some stinging nettles in the Swartland, which Johan and Peter say are still flourishing in their olive orchard, after a  visit with Lily to a country wild flower show, in Hopefield (it runs till Sunday if you can make it) - there, I am hoping to find a good plate of boerekos, with waterblommetjies (the seasonally aquatic Aponogeton distachyos).

It is a good, green time of year if you like things that grow. And I do.


                           Book an Autumn Walk 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Continental whiplash

Morning at last. Jetlag wakes you at 3.15am, so you read three Oscar Wilde stories, as well as re-read the introduction to the anthology (published in 1948) decrying his "sordid past," and when that becomes too much, catch up on two back issues of the Botanical Society's Veld and Flora. You beat the birds to breakfast by an hour, in the still-dark, and by 7.34am would like to go back to sleep.

The flowers are from the garden - Lachenalias, Cape Town's answer to daffodils, and so much nicer, in this, their native context.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Planting forward

Call me hasty.

Hello, Hasty!

On the eve of my departure for another hemisphere, another continent, another season, I dug and pulled and lifted and fertilized and sowed.

I have little doubt that my fledgling fall crops (arugula, mache, mustard and a squash wild card - the fava beans and peas must wait till I return) will be overwhelmed with invigorated weed seeds by the time I return in mid September. But it had to be done.  Our house is still half-boxes, and the garden is just an idea, but I can't let weeks pass without some investment in the soil.

After a week and a day in residence we feel suddenly at peace after almost two years on eggshells. I had not expected such a sudden dialing down of tension. The nervous energy and uncertainty of our Harlem building have gone. Our new building is quiet. These streets are quiet. It is days between sirens. Our landlord is responsive and low key and a good man.

Thank you to everyone who has sent us messages of support during the upheaval of our move. The last few weeks have not been easy, but we are beginning to see the shape of things to come.

                           Book an Autumn Walk

Friday, August 21, 2015

Neighborhood watch

There is a small black cat that lounges often outside a house on the next block. Yesterday, when it saw me coming, it got up to come and meet me. The collar gives the kitty's address - one door down from the lounging spot - and name: Petro.

These are happy streets.


Book an Autumn Walk

Thursday, August 20, 2015

In the weeds

I worked front of house in restaurants for years. If you were in the weeds, you were in trouble. Like the time a man came to ask where his espresso was and I lost it, because five other people needed espresso, too, and I had to deliver checks to tables, and the owner chilling on the patio needed his pink Cosmo, and an order needed to be fired and the fucking salad that we tossed ourselves was not tossed and there was a table of people needing menus glaring at me. So I told him where to put his espresso.

It wasn't until I was two hours into weeding in our 1st Place plot yesterday, wet with August sweat, that I appreciated the trouble with weeds.

It has been a long, long time since I have had to weed, seriously.

I never want to see another morning glory. Take your quickweed and shove it. And mulberry weed is a den of mosquitoes. For the first time - ever - the vision of a quirt bottle of Round Up danced across the screen of my mind whispering, Sprayyyyyy them.

I went on weeding.

                    Book an Autumn Walk (we'll see some weeds!)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Foraging walks - October

Hawthorn, Crataegus species

I have two foraging walks scheduled for October. Attendance is limited to 15 walkers. I am sometimes able to lead private walks, too, so if you have another park in mind for October-November,  or want to walk through your own neighborhood, get in touch using the Find/Follow link for availability and rates. 

To learn more about my approach to botanical walks and to foraging, visit the Wild Foods Walks page.

Central Park's North Woods
3 October 2015, 12pm - 2pm

Join me on an edible botanical ramble through Central Park's North Woods. We'll spot and discuss weedy edible greens, from prolific pseudo-grains like lamb's quarters, to easy-to-recognise pokeweed, burdock and Japanese knotweed.  

Chicken of the woods - Laetiporus sulphureus

We'll see greenbriar, sumac and spicebush, and talk about what to do with them. There will be fruit and nut-bearing trees, the plant that killed Mrs Lincoln, and a few others, inbetween. If we are lucky, there may be a mushroom or two. We will pause on the way to enjoy a wild-inspired snack from my backpack.  Don't panic,  it won't contain strange mushrooms. 

An edible puffball

It is migration season for the birds that use the Atlantic Flyway, and we are likely to encounter songbirds and their friends en route south, which is a nice, feathery bonus.

October in the North Woods

We meet at 12pm at the SW corner of Central Park North and Lenox Avenue. Confirmation emails will be sent to confirmed walkers the week before the walk.


Aronia - chokeberry

Prospect Park
17 October 2015, 12pm - 2pm

Crossing from east to west through Prospect Park's diverse midriff  we will spot a wide range of wild edible (and poisonous) plants, from lawn denizens such as plantain, dandelions and chicory to indigenous forest plants, and invasive weeds like Japanese knotweed and burdock.

Poisonous white snakeroot - Ageratina altissima

If we are lucky, we may spot a maitake mushroom. October is their month.

We meet at the park entrance at the corner of Prospect Park West and Prospect Park Southwest. The closest subways are the F and G to Prospect Park.

Confirmation emails and additional details will be sent to confirmed walkers the week before the walk.

Hen of the woods, Grifola frondosa
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