From the Archives: Newsletter July 2000

                July 2000

Dear customer

Welcome to the July update of our year 2000 catalogue.  As usual, some old seed friends will have disappeared from the catalogue, & a few new ones have taken their places.

More than ever this year, rain has altered, influenced or disrupted our collecting plans.  For almost the entire country, 2000 will go down in history as “the year of the rain” – mostly too much, but in the SW Cape, far too little.  In the SW Cape, we have a Mediterranean climate with wet winters & hot reasonably dry summers.  This year most parts of the area had absolutely no rain during the very hot summer, for a period of about 9 months, the driest period for over 70 years.  This is the third successive year of below average rain for the area, & we are all beginning to feel desperate.  To make it worse, January 2000 started off with the most devastating fires ever seen in the Cape.  On one particular day there were 8 major fires burning at the same time in various mountain ranges.  At times it was almost impossible to move away from home as the roads were choked with smoke, & it really looked as though the end of the world had come!  Now we are longing for rain to start to repair some of the damage inflicted on the vegetation.

It is questionable whether fire or flood is worse – while the SW Cape was burning, the rest of the country was having some of the heaviest rain ever recorded, with some towns receiving up to 1.5 meters of rain in a month!  Abnormally heavy falls occurred over the entire sub-continent & the effect on Mozambique was devastating – you probably all saw pictures of the kilometers of water & destruction in that unfortunate country.  In the middle of all this, we decided to go on a field trip to the summer rainfall area to look for flowers.  Miraculously we timed our trip perfectly & it coincided with a two week window of drier weather, & although we had plenty of rain, the days were sunny (or at least not wet!) & the rain all fell while we were asleep or driving!  As you can imagine, the rain affects seed collecting in various ways.  Roads & bridges get washed away, so sometimes one cannot get to the site unless one walks.  Some seeds simply cannot be collected, for example Erica & other fine seeds stick to one’s hands & will not get into the collecting bags!  Also, Erica capsules swell in the rain & will not release their seed, so it is difficult to decide whether there is seed there or not.  Other seeds are just too difficult to dry in the confines of the car, so also have to be left behind.  In wet weather we normally drive with the car heater on & the dashboard draped with various bits of clothing & seeds in cloth bags, all soaking wet!  That is another thing to remember – paper bags disintegrate when wet, so we always carry a good supply of cloth bags in case of rain.  Rain & cooler weather also have an effect on the length of the seed ripening period, particularly in Iridaceae.  For example Romulea seed can take up to 10 weeks to ripen providing there is plenty of water & the weather remains cool, whereas under hot dry conditions, it can ripen in 4 weeks.  All in all, the weather makes planning one’s trips very difficult!

Another disruption this year was the political instability in countries to the north of South Africa.  Namibia is having problems with the Angolan war spilling across the border, and this has resulted in land mines in the north of Namibia.  And then, of course, the chaos in Zimbabwe has helped neither our travels, nor South Africa’s exchange rate!

People often ask us about our field trips & how we manage without all our “home comforts” for a month or more at a time.  Bathing is usually the first question, & yes, we do bath!  We take a shower (a converted bucket with a rose) with us, & each night we hang it in a tree & have a perfect shower in about 5 liters of warm water each.  We normally carry 60 liters of water in the car, & that is enough for 4 or more days.  While travelling, we sleep in a roof-mounted tent on top of our 4 wheel drive vehicle, away from the dust & dirt of ground level, & also away from any fellow creatures that occasionally feel the need to investigate us!  In the more built up areas we stay in regular campsites, but further out & off the beaten track, we just camp when the sun goes down where ever we happen to be.  We record “good campsites” on our map, & we will often base a day’s trip on the proximity of a good site.  When wood is available we cook over an open fire, otherwise on a camping stove.  We also frequently bake bread in a cast iron pot, & the same pot is occasionally used to bake scones!  On the whole we are very comfortable, except of course when it rains day after day, as it is impossible to keep us, our clothes & our bedding dry.

Some of you will know that we have had many problems with the postal & courier systems this year.  Many of you received two copies of the January catalogue – this was due to the courier having “lost” the first batch of catalogues (all 78kg of them!), us re-printing the catalogue & re-sending them, & then the courier finding the first batch again!  Several parcels have got lost in the post, some have taken months to arrive, & some have been returned to us with incorrect addresses.  We are sorry about these problems, & are trying to sort them out.  None of the postal systems are ideal, & it is a matter of finding the best one that loses the least parcels!  When you send your orders, by e mail, fax or letter, please make sure that your name & address are both clearly written so that we are less likely to make a mistake.  That at least eliminates one of the potential problems.

We hope that you enjoy the July catalogue, and that your seed sowing results in lots of new plants.