Development of the Guest Farm - The Gardens
The garden was not a particularly attractive place to sit and gaze – or do anything much actually. It had not been looked after, and at some point, when grazing was poor, cattle had been encouraged to ‘mow’ the grass.

The further reaches were occupied by a chicken run, and this had all taken its toll on the area.

Outside the fence it was, if anything, worse.
The ridge that dropped off to one side was a solid tangled mass of lantana and thorn, totally impenetrable and thus quite a good hideout for various birds that skulk
Once removed, by dint of cut and burning the thorny mass a number of times, we could start on cutting back the veldt grass and other vegetation that started to take over.

The ‘taming’ of the area on and below the ridge has taken a number of years, and the replacement of the alien understory by the indigenous equivalent has at last brought back the bird life that we had to evict in order to gain some sort of access into the area.

We are fortunate to have room for a fairly large garden and a number of separate areas where we can establish differing habitats and types of garden

Most of the layout has been with two ideas in mind:
Attracting as many bird species as possible.
Retaining the impressive, beautiful and varied views we
have over the Barberton ‘basin’.


 

We would like to engender and encourage an atmosphere that seeps into one’s soul and replaces the stressful feelings we all have (yes, even us if we are not in the garden).

 


There are many places to stop and just gaze or sit and read or slow down and just chat.
Find some hidden little spot under a Fig or Marula looking out on a vista dominated by bush in so many shades of green. 
Perhaps just wander in the evening as the birds begin to feed again along the paths we have made around the garden.

Or cool down around the swimming pool on a really hot Lowveld day.

When we moved onto the farm, the pool – like the rest of the property - had been abandoned for a number of years. Rain and other water sources had left a noisome, green morass in the bottom of the pool, with some very suspicious dark shapes glimpsed, lurking in the unknown depths. At the very least it was a source of mosquitoes of a particularly voracious nature.

We decided a functioning pool was a necessary feature of living in the Lowveld and it needed to be rehabilitated.

With no little trepidation we attempted to remove the “water” in the bottom. Flourishing ecological communities were unceremoniously evicted and with the aid of a submersible pump we lowered the water level.

Thankfully the only skeletons we discovered were frogs; though the large length of chain was a surprise. All was removed.

Several litres of acid, not to mention rubber boots, masks and scrubbing brushes later the surfaces were clean enough to be able to identify the major cracks all of which were sealed and we were ready for the great day. Filling it took a surprisingly short time and even more surprisingly it was water-tight. A tribute, we felt, to the original makers rather than our patching. Pumps replaced and filters re-filled with sand kept our “new” pool immaculate. The weather improved and all was justified. Now we could bask in the Lowveld warmth, dipping languid toes occasionally in the tepid pool to replenish the appetite for work in the summer days.

However…. Now with the pool looking so new the surrounding bricks looked less appropriate, nothing for it but to replace them; AND we were going to do it ourselves. Anne took detailed measurements and mapped it all out and calculated how many tiles of varying sizes were required, she drew it all up on the computer and gave the pattern to our Foreman.

He spent many (happy) hours making reality fit the pattern and it looked good. So much so that we had to extend it to form a patio under the tree; the pumphouse had to be rebuilt and a storage area included!

….. that lasted 2 seasons, it was obvious then that the pool actually needed re-surfacing. Not wanting to lose all that water – some 85,000 litres – we pumped the majority of it out into our rainwater collection tanks on the lawn.

The contractors did a superb job of renewing the marbellite and then we simply drained the water back in.

However……… it transpired that whilst cleaning the mosaic tiles at the top of the pool with steel wool, small pieces of metal had fallen into the pool and subsequently rusted, staining the pristine white surface. Nothing for it but to re-evacuate the water – fortunately we still had all the tanks available - and pretty much had the procedure down to a fine art.

Pool now cleaned, all water returned and we have never looked back.
All in all it suffered from a severe form of “scope creep” a symptom of many good projects; and we ended up with a lot more than we initially set out to accomplish, but we are very pleased with the finished product.
Many happy hours have been spent in & around a major feature of the garden.

However …… the recreation area in the vicinity of the pool soon proved inadequate

 

The garden on the eastern side overlooks a drop off from the ridge where most of the lawn & pool areas are. Obviously the only answer was a deck that could be built out to take advantage of the slope.

That was the easy part of the decision!
The next part was deciding on the position – in fact it was not too difficult once we had chatted to a few others and got a few criteria together such as: view, shade trees, access to pool and so on there was only one place really appropriate.

Right that was not too bad was it.

Now came the practical part; none of us had any personal experience of such an edifice.
….. what about the rocks that define the ridge
        …….. how can we construct it to take advantage of them and also enable deep enough foundations?
             ……… what about dimensions and shape?

…….. It transpired that these last points which could have been potentially contentious – were more or less self solving as in order to build in among the rocks that could not be moved by anything less than major mining excavations, the shape and size of the deck had few options
Construction started with poles and then a box framework of timber – all carefully treated. The surface planking itself called for much measuring and many, many deck screws.
The one rock that could not be moved, and anyway was of geological interest, was incorporated as it is just the right height & shape to be adopted for the placement of a beer mug whilst  watching the sun go down.
Then what about a barrier at the high end? And we must have electricity, and where can we put the braai fire?
Eventually all these issues were solved and the grand inauguration took place in traditional Aloe Ridge fashion with massed Gin & Tonics on a beautiful early summer evening. The first of many it must be said.
There is definitely something very special about a Christmas dinner on the deck and many an evening with friends and guests has passed in this new area by the pool.
The open grassy areas with trees – mostly Paperbark Thorns ( Acacia sieberana), Marula ( Sclerocarya birrea), Figs ( Ficus ingens)  and Bushwillows( Combretum collinum) provide space and nesting sites for the birds, but most of all places to relax and just sit if one wants.

We have planted many more trees, which will add to the shade and to the secluded areas already being utilized for these purposes.

 

Of course we have only been here for a few years and most of the over 170 trees & shrubs and other flora we have planted are still small, but in the Barberton environment growth is as rapid as the plant can make it. Just add compost and stand back!

We have to try to maintain a balance between ‘natural’ and ‘tended’ parts; though in all honesty even the parts which we count as natural do have to have quite a lot of work done in them to keep away the invading aliens such as bugweed, lantana & syringa.

We have removed almost all of the alien vegetation from the garden, and the immediate environs, but there were areas that were heavily over grown with – usually and inevitably – Lantana.

 

A number of bird species, having no regard whatsoever to the conservation of indigenous plants, thought these areas were perfect, and Robin-chats, Scrub Robins, some Bush-shrikes and other ‘skulkers’ abounded. We have replaced these undergrowth areas with the indigenous equivalents and are hoping that those species that had to move out will return, and there are indications that this is working as the cover increases in these understory areas.

Interspersed with these low dense areas we have tried to plant trees and taller specimens, all of course with some bird attracting properties. Most are either berry or seed bearing, but some Like the Weeping Boer Bean ( Schotia brachypetala)  and Coral Tree ( Erythrinum lysistemon ) have beautiful flowers with lots of nectar

We have expanded the garden fencing to include the overgrown and abandoned parts of the ridges


                   

and included the areas that had the most in Berg Aloes (Aloe marlothii) once again an irresistible focus for Sunbirds in winter and smaller birds for nesting summer.

There are 2 rocky ridges that run through the farm and lie on the eastern & western sides of the garden. These are the perfect places for Aloes & other succulents.

They grow naturally in this specific environment – hence the name of the farm: Aloe Ridge.

These have been cleared, rehabilitated and are now planted with many Aloes and other succulents. As all our water is from our borehole, we want to be as ‘water wise’ as possible and the majority of our plants are established with this in mind.

If luck is with you might even catch a glimpse of our resident troop of Dwarf Mongooses playing under the watchful eye of a lookout stationed on a rock in the garden or feeding around the rocks on the edge.     

                                                                        
An inevitable follow-on from having some topography in the garden is to create some form of water feature, and this is taking the form of a number of small ponds linked by a stream leading down to a larger pond and wetland area.
This presents another opportunity to plant different vegetation and attract a whole new range of birdlife.
 
 The construction of the pond was a reasonably lengthy affair; as with so much that we have done in the past few years we really had very little idea what to do. It was always a dream of ours to have a pond in the garden so when the opportunity came it just had to be done.

The tractor acquired a grader blade and with much to-ing and fro-ing and not really following any design but shaping the pond as the topography and trees allowed, we scraped a hole in the ground.

The hiring of the roller to compress the clay underlying the pond led to interesting times as the slope was in some areas too steep, and the bottom line was that I turned it over! Much heaving and straining required to right it again, with not too much damage!!
The next part was to call for help from professionals who would lay the lining and waterproof it. That of course entailed more work because what we had done was not really entirely practical so some more modifications had to take place. You would think we would have learned from our ideas in the house being vetoed by the builder, but no we had some more ideas vetoed by the waterproofing guys – some people never learn……

Aided and abetted by the family pooches

and even Anne did her bit

.

 

The finished product is every bit as good as we had hoped and is a major addition to the environment.



We have planted many water loving plants - Reeds, Red Hot pokers, Wild Iris and Water Lilies in the main pond which will at least give the fish that we have introduced a chance to hide from marauding herons.



We see the occasional Hamerkop who now peers disdainfully at our swimming pool disapproving of our attempts to keep it clean and frog free, but approving of the pond. A number of birds use it as a plunge bath including the Paradise Flycatchers, Woodland Kingfishers, White-faced Duck and Giant Kingfisher.

          

 

It has certainly enhanced the garden and the birdlife; the dogs love it in summer, especially after a long walk; the frogs and toads give their chorus of approval most summer evenings.

 

Primarily it has fulfilled a dream – what more can one ask? 

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