Newsletter 8: June 2024 International Postage

June 2024

After no newsletters for over a year, you are now getting bombarded with another “hot on its heels”.

It is a terribly boring subject and something that has made our hair VERY grey over the years especially recently since we have stopped using the South African Post Office.

I am very friendly with one of the Post Office employees at Kenilworth Post office where we used to take our mail right from the very beginning of Silverhill seeds when Rod and Rachel bought the business.  Mario has become a personal friend and he is always willing to help as well as let us know if there is a parcel that has been returned that is waiting at the Post Office to be collected.

Many of our South Africa Post Office branches have been closed and employees retrenched or moved to other offices.  A couple of months ago the SAPO came to an agreement with Ethiopian Airlines we believe and our parcels are slowly being delivered.  We do have a problem with Witspos in Johannesburg, we never get a response from them and some of our parcels have been there for over a year now, they just don’t seem to getting rid of their back-log.

We apologise to our customers that have had a problem with their postage over the last year and we do hope in the future MAYBE the SA Post office will get back to its original strength.

We are offering other postage options now and they are all working very well.

Royal Mail (https://www.royalmail.com/)

Yes this is exactly what it is.  We use a company here ( Mailwise: https://mailwise.co.za/) that sends our/your parcels to the UK and they are then “put/inserted” into the Royal Mail postage system.  Some of our older customers will member we used to do this when my son was living in Inverness, but he came home, so we had to change that strategy until we got a call from this company.  We have been very happy with their service and we can speak to a human if we need to know, so there is also a personal touch.

  • Your parcel takes 2-3 days to arrive at the Johannesburg Depot, we send every Tuesday from Cape Town.
  • Once the consignment arrives at the depot, items get sorted the following day.
  • Parcels get handed over to the airlines on a Friday and normally depart on a Saturday night/Sunday morning…. If a shipment gets bumped off the flight due to weight restrictions the parcels will then leave on the first available flight again.
  • The parcels undergo clearance which normally takes a day or two, and our suppliers collect the next day once the parcels have been customs cleared….
  • Parcels will then be “injected” into the Royal Mail postage system the day after material has been received at the depot in the UK.
  • If parcels have departed on the weekend as booked, we pre-alert our suppliers on a Monday and tracking numbers will be available from Tuesday afternoon/Wednesday morning to hand over to the clients.

We can send parcels either TRACKED or UNTRACKED.

  • Tracked: This is the more expensive option, but works well for our customers who would like to “watch” their parcel travelling and need their seeds and books urgently.
  • Untracked: Much cheaper than tracked and parcels seem to arrive with no hitch and nearly as fast as the tracked option.  For a small amount of seed, this makes it very affordable to get seed to you from our wonderful selection

Courier

Fedex, DHL, UPS

Fedex is certainly the cheapest option for sending smaller parcels especially to the USA, but comes with its own challenges.  Very often UPS is cheaper for the larger book orders.  We are very happy to get you a variety of quotes to see what will be the best for you.

If we send parcels courier our customers have to be aware that they will need either or both the following: Phytosanitary Certificate and/or Import Permit.  There might be other documents that we have no idea of and you as the customer need to help us in this regard as we don’t know every countries import conditions.

We have even had a customer or 2 emailing us regarding changed requirements or links that we have not updated on our website and this is very appreciated by us as well as new customers visiting our website for the first time.

Import Conditions

 

As above we don’t know when conditions change or what they are and rely on you our customers to help us with this.  We can supply a Phytosanitary Certificate, some countries want a Certificate or Origin, we can also supply this.

We send emails from our website when you order regarding the import conditions we know about, we do this for your information and for no other reason.

If you choose to send without the documents, we are very happy to send via either of the 2 Royal Mail options.  We cannot say it will not be confiscated, but it is the option where small parcels might “slip” through, we also cannot be held responsible if it is confiscated by customs.

Customs duties/VAT/Tax

Please be aware these are charges we don’t know about as each country will have its own sliding scale of charges. Some customers have had to pay huge amounts and others not.  We are not responsible for these charges, each customer in each country is responsible for their own import charges for their parcel.

 

Thank you to all of our customers for being so understanding over the last few years with our difficulties and for those who have so often pointed us in the right direction to try and find the information we may need.  It I am sure has been frustrating for all of us, but your patience is really appreciated.

Newsletter 7: May 2024

May 2024

Dear South African Plant Enthusiasts

It has been a very long while since the last Newsletter, so I will try and make this one a good one.

2023 Rainy season we had very good rains and the Spring display in Namaqualand was spectacular.  I “dragged” my friend and fellow Horticulturist Hilda, along on a 2 week jaunt into Namaqualand.  She had not been there for many years and the 2 of us never really got very far every day, because there was always something to stop and look at.  I drove roads which I have never driven before.  Hilda is more nervous of unknown roads and there was always the question – where does the road go to, how long is the road, do you know where you are going?  To all these questions I just shrugged my shoulders and said we are going North or East etc and if the flowers thin out we can turn around.  By the end of 2 weeks, she took over the planning for each day and knew exactly where we were going and at what time we should turn around to be back in time to cook dinner.  We had great fun; we both learnt a lot and I now know some really great roads to go along.

Towards the end of September, we had a rather big storm here in the Western Cape, lots of damage to roads and infrastructure.  The rain and wind were incredible, I do feel sorry for the insurance companies, there were many millions of Rand having to be paid out for damaged cars, flooded houses and trees flattening houses.

My parents were quite badly affected, in Stanford, so I spent a good few weeks mopping up and trying to save plants and the garden.  We did find that some of the indigenous plants did not like the silt that was left behind when the river subsided, sometimes it was 1cm thick.

 

 

 

 

 

In October 2023 we were supposed to take part in Rally to Read, but due to the rain and the N2 being washed away at Bot River they had to postpone to February 2024.  Erica and I went on the Rally in February and visited 3 schools and donated books, teaching aids and even some soccer and netball balls for the different schools.  Rod and Rachel Saunders donated to Rally to Read from 2008 and we have continued with the tradition as our children in the rural areas do get forgotten a bit.

A bit about Read Educational Trust

Rally to Read originated in Kwazulu-Natal and supports children in rural and remote schools as well as teachers.  The Rally to Read conducts regular school visits throughout the year to follow up with the teachers and provide support in implementing the school curriculum.

Another pillar of the RTR programme is Technology literacy integration which helps evolve the educational landscape by using both cognitive and technical abilities to evaluate information within the classroom. These resources include laptops, coding kits, screen projectors, USBs, and e-books. Digital storytelling workshops are also organized to equip teachers in innovative ways. This component prepares both the learner and educator for the future where digital literacy is increasingly vital. Through this dual focus, Rally to Read bridges both the literacy and digital divides in disadvantaged communities.

The first Western Cape Rally was in 1999. We worked in 18 schools in the Cederberg area, all the way down to the coast.

Year Region Schools
2002-2003 Robertson/ Mc Gregor 25
2004-2006 Overberg- Riviersoderend, Witsand, Stanford Districts 25
2007 Cederberg 15
2008-2010 Karoo – Ladismith, Carlitzdorp, Oudtshoorn 15
2011 Revisit Overberg schools 22
2012-2014 Koue & Warm Bokkeveld – around Ceres 14
2016-2018 West Coast 8
2019-2021 Cape Winelands: Worcester/Rawsonville/Villiersdorp 12
2022-2024 Overberg, Caledon area. 10

On the Rally Day, we get the most amazing welcome and the children either read -aloud or do a play, which the long-suffering teachers coordinate brilliantly. Resources and learning aids are handed over to the school and thereafter the project rolls out for a 3-year period.

There are currently 11 Rallies, one in Western-Cape, Free State, Mpumalanga, two in Gauteng, three in Kwa-Zulu Natal and Eastern Cape.

Rally to Read relies solely on donations from corporate and individual donors. With the recent commercial budget cuts, things have been a bit tighter. However, the schools continue to be provided with great books and much needed support.

Instagram: @rallytoread

https://www.instagram.com/rallytoread/

Summer this past year did not seem as hot as the previous year which we were all thankful for.  There were some large fires at the end of January, that burnt many acres/hectares of Fynbos.  Some of the areas needed fire, but others it is a bit soon for some of the plants that were still young to set seed.

Our small cabin in Bainskloof was very lucky again and thanks to the helicopters water bombing the area we came off unscathed.  It was lucky enough to escape the 2012 fire too.

 

Erica and I went on 2 trips earlier this year, one to Lesotho and Sani Pass in January and did a bit of an explore with Elsa Pooley, it was a wonderful 2 weeks and saw a good few plants, that I have never seen before.  It is always great to learn new things.

Our next was Namibia, she has never been there and was taken with the huge open spaces, but especially the warmth.  It is getting cooler in Cape Town, so Namibia was a treat.  She was the main driver and did very well on 4×4 tracks.  I can say it now, we did not even get a puncture, which is always a very good thing.  There has been very little rain in the central area, and it is very dry, and plants have either finished flowering early or did not even flower.  The roads seem to have deteriorated a fair amount and yet some have been graded and looked after very well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A little bit of business:

Postage has been a great problem since the SA Post Office have been having financial difficulties.  We are not using them at all as we cannot guarantee that parcels will be delivered to you timeously.  We are now using Royal Mail and Couriers, both are working very well, but are not as cheap as the SA Post Office.  Please “pop” us an email if you need some thoughts on the best way to get your parcel to you, we will do all we can to find the cheapest and most efficient option.

Import conditions/Phytosanitary Certificates – We don’t always know when the “goal posts” change from country to country, so you as the customer do need to help us in this regard by doing a quick bit of research and letting us know what you require, if anything.  We are very happy to get documents, but we just need to know which ones you need and if we can get them for you.

Our staff compliment is just about the same.  Dorothy, Regina and Etinah all went home for a well-deserved holiday and to connect with their families.  Dorothy and Regina both welcomed grandchildren and their smiles got even bigger.

Lucy has joined us during the busy periods to help clean seed and is doing a sterling job.  Kirstin and her family are doing well in Dubai and she is still our bookkeeper and having to deal with a sister (me) who really does not want to understand accounting and is very happy for her to deal with it.

Pat had a heart attack last year and we all held our breath, but with some great nursing care she is back with us and being the calm influence she always is.

Max supervising the washing

Nina has welcomed a new addition to her family, Max brings great joy and a bit of frustration to their household, 6 months and he is already standing so the house has to be baby-proofed.

Kenneth (Pat’s husband) an honorary member of the staff is still doing most of our errands, fetch this, do that, which is great.  As well as helping us make a lot of our pictures smaller so we can add a few more and it doesn’t slow the website down too much.

It is hopefully Erica’s last year with us, we are holding thumbs she can get into Onderstepoort to study Veterinary Nursing; this will be a step to Veterinary Sciences and she has worked really hard to get there.  She is still for the moment packing orders and doing bits and pieces of admin.

 

 

 

The number of animals has changed by 1, we added another cat, my total weakness.  They are all happy and still join us in the office.  The dogs are very frustrating as soon as I move out of the office, they follow me, and it is continually opening and closing doors to let them in our out.  They do also greet our walk-in customers with intense delight, which is a bit embarrassing at times as some customers are not used to dogs.  We do also have to deal with cats in boxes and on paper files.

We are always happy to see pictures of plants you have grown from our seeds.

Until our next Newsletter, happy Growing

From all of us here at Silverhill

Back: Nina, Dorothy, Pat, Lucy, Erica, Kenneth Front: Regina, Ondine

Newsletter 6: November 2022

Newsletter 6: November 2022

To all our new customers, the longstanding ones, the patient ones, the frustrated ones – Thank you for being there.

After over a year of no newsletter I decided it was time to try my hand at another newsletter.

Well AT LAST we have the NEW WEBSITE………. after much trial and tribulation, frustration, and inconvenience to all… including you, our extremely supportive and patient clients.

Thank you!!!

URL: https://silverhillseeds.co.za/

We are hoping that it will prove more user friendly for the clients who know what they want as well as those who are novices. Each of us here have been doing test runs to iron out every “glitch” and problem as much as we can. Ordering, changing the order, using the different formats, different styles of payment…… and all this whilst dealing with our famous “Load-shedding”! (We have long periods where our electricity is off and unavailable to us. Seriously frustrating.)

“Loadshedding” is a new word in the South African language. This occurs when ESKOM, our power supplier turns off our electricity for 2 and a half hours at a time.  Sometimes this can happen 4 times a day, depending on the excuse – coal is wet, power stations break down after no maintenance for 25 years.

The odd thing is that Namibia buys electricity from us, and they are not affected by loadshedding. I crossed the border at Alexander Bay and while in customs, on the SA side, the power went off and on the other side of the river in Oranjemund, the lights were burning brightly!

Thankfully Cape Town is shielded a bit from this as we have Koeberg Nuclear Power Plant as well as Steenbras Hydro Electric Plant which provides us with a buffer from the rest of the country. We have put some solar panels and batteries so Silverhill can now function seamlessly though the gaps in service.

Namibian Grass

 

I have started going on seed seeking and collecting trips.  It is starting very slowly, but it has started.  I am doing day trips round the Peninsula and going a bit further afield on other day trips.

 

Weekend or longer trips are also on the cards. This year I went to Namibia with Paddy..  He is always game for a road-trip, his wife not so, but it is wonderful to have his company, and we had a great week, long days, and much mileage. There was so much rain the last wet season and the grass was in some places mid-thigh high. When speaking to the locals we asked how the rain was and all they said was “look at the grass” The grass was certainly a sight.

 

 

I have also done some shorter trips to Niewoudtville, Tanqua karroo and surrounds both Wendy and Louise have been happy to come with me on various occasions.  Both have a huge knowledge of indigenous plants, and it is wonderful to learn from them.  I am slowly beginning to feel like I am learning, and names are sticking as I learn what the plants are looking like. I do still look at fruit/seed if there are any, it usually helps me with identifying plants.

 

Couriers

For those customers who want to make use of these or other couriers.  You will need a Phytosanitary Certificate and/or an Import Permit.

As soon as we send you your tracking information

…you can telephone or email the courier in question and ask if you can start the clearing process straight away.

Get the name or contact details of the imports team in your country and send them the waybill, commercial invoice, phytosanitary certificate and any other regulatory documents you need to import seeds in to your country.

This should speed up the delivery of your shipment.

 

 

 

PROTEA SEED COLLECTING AND CLEANING

Below is a short explanation that Anthony Hitchcock prepared for us in 2019 that we have not had a chance to publish yet. I do hope this gives you some insight into how Proteaceae is cleaned and when we say we need time to dry and sort seed, you have an idea of how long it might take before we can send your seeds to you.

It is important that our customers know about the seed we provide for them. The process of collecting, drying, cleaning, and storing the seed is intensive and time consuming. This is a short explanation of what is involved when processing Proteaceae (Protea, Leucospermums (pincushions), Leucadendrons (conebushes), Serruria and Mimetes seed for our customers.

Planning is very important as it involves travel, time and fuel which is costly. We try to access seeds of the species that are popular with our customers wherever possible. However, we need to collect legally within the permitting system in South Africa. This means that we can collect from private land with landowner permission.

Collecting from natural areas such as reserves is not permitted without a valid permit and permits will not be given by conservation authorities for commercial businesses such as ours. For Silverhill to get permits for these areas we would have to establish ‘Mutual Benefit and Sharing Agreements’ with each authority managing reserves and conservation areas for each species collected. These agreements would have to be signed by each customer for each species and records of every commercial sale be kept with a portion of the proceeds being returned to South Africa to be shared with the authority in charge of the land. The time to manage this, keeping such detailed records and following up is not worth the effort. It is doubtful that our customers would have the time either.

With our collecting permit we can collect from private landowners with their permission. Our collecting is therefore limited to flower farms, but this means that the rarer and unusual species are not available unless there are growers cultivating them.

Anthony cleaning seed

Anthony inspecting seed

Collecting Proteas is easier than Pincushions, Mimetes, Serruria and some Leucadendrons which are only seasonably available.

Protea seed:

Collecting Proteas is intensive and never ending because there is good demand. We must be careful to only collect flower heads that have not been predated by grubs which burrow into the seed head (capitulum) ((see picture below) and destroy the seed from below. Flower heads with burrow holes in the base are discarded. Some species and some Protea stands may be infested which adds to the time taken to select the seed heads. Regina and Etina are our dedicated Protea seed cleaners and must carefully sort and select for viable seed. This requires lots of concentration and regular sampling of seed by cutting them open with secateurs to see that we are sorting properly.

 

We keep records of what we have in stock and what is drying so we know when to collect more seed. Drying can take up to a few weeks and cleaning is a slow process. Protea seed heads are laid out in crates that must be spread out to dry and packed away every night, a laborious process.

Predators: We must be very careful that the seed is not stolen by predators such as rodents or doves. The most destructive problem is the grey squirrel which will eat their way through a crate of pincushions in short time. The crates must be packed out where these animals do not have access or wire cages placed over the crates.

Pincushion seed eaten by squirrels

Collecting Leucospermum and Serruria and Mimetes

is intensively seasonal and requires careful monitoring to determine when the flower head is ready for plucking. This means numerous trips in a short period of about two months to collect at the right time. Too early the seed is still green and useless, too late and it has fallen,or been harvested by rodents or birds.

These Genera need to be spread out in crates and packed out and away daily to be aired and dried. If this is not done the moist flower heads will become covered with fungi. Daily monitoring is required.

Once all of this is done, we will then need 5 days to fumigate your seeds to make sure there are no insects when we send your seeds to you.

 

 

 

 

For South African Customers: Join a fynbos plant identification course.

Wendy Hitchcock

Are you a fynbos fan who would like to be able to identify what you are looking at?

Wendy Hitchcock is a trained botanist with over 30 years of field and teaching experience and offers regular 4 day fynbos plant identification courses in Cape Town.

“I am not affiliated to any educational institution, and I have designed this fynbos plant identification course over the last 20 years in the best way there is: by learning alongside those who have attended the course and adapting the way the information is presented.”

Unfortunately Wendy is not ready yet to offer on-line courses, but maybe if enough requests come through…….. you never know.

Frustrated with plant names?  Join a Fynbos ID course to help you know where to start and efficiently use plant guides – www.wendyhitchcock.co.za

 

 

FAREWELLS AND HELLOS

Farewell tea for Julia, Kirstin and Jenny (who couldn’t be with us)

Julia

After 2 years with Silverhill decided it was time to move on. She will still be in contact with us but is busy working with U Turn ( https://homeless.org.za/) doing a fantastic job showing folk how to grow and create their own supply gardens. We are proud of her as she is really helping others who are in need to better themselves, we do see her now and then and she is still full of “bubbles”.

Jenny

Jenny has also left us after 5 years of sterling work with us, retirement was calling.  We thank her so VERY much and really hope she enjoys her happy little garden and having some time to do the things she would like to do. She will be missed, (especially her fantastic scones) and we wish her well.

Erica

My daughter is also working for Silverhill on a part time basis packing orders efficiently and checking every detail. This certainly, takes a load off us having to do it.

Nina

An introduction to a new staff member – Nina Dunbar-Curran, she is the youngest full time staff member. (I remember being the youngest in the office and bringing the average age down to about 73 at the time!) She joins us to help fill in the spaces left with our departures. Nina is married to Pat’s Son, and they have a little boy of nearly 3 Benjamin who keeps her on her toes. Nina has taken over doing the Phytosanitary Certificates she brings energy, youth and a fresh approach to our little business. She has taken up the reins very efficiently and seamlessly and is keen and eager to do any job asked of her and it is fantastic to have her energy in the office.

Etina

Has also joined us on a part time basis to help Regina clean our Protea seeds. We were running a bit behind and needed a helping hand.

OTHER STAFF:

Pat is still with us. Her daughter, son-in-law and grandson James have moved in with them. Being Granny is a full-time job and keeping her and Kenneth young. Kenneth had a bit of a health scare earlier this year, but he pulled through well and is still able to help us with computer issues as well as all the book photographs on the website.

Kirstin has relocated to a foreign clime, (Dubai) with her family.  Dave (her husband, is based in the Middle East). Because of technology she can continue in her capacity of bookkeeper whilst helping her daughter negotiate a new school and setting up a new home. We get to wave at her over the computer now instead of seeing her personally, thankfully things are so much easier to do nowadays. Their furniture has not left SA yet, but hopefully will do so in the next week or so, so she has a couch for Christmas and a Christmas tree!

Dorothy is now processing orders and doing it efficiently and very well. She has also started learning how to use a computer, which will be a huge bonus for her and us. She still cleans seeds if the orders slow down a bit and is always there if Regina needs help.  Anthony and Julia taught them very well. Dorothy also got married recently after a good many years of courting.

Regina is still working very hard and oversees all the seed cleaning. Which seeds need to be done first, which we need in a hurry and what we have that haven’t been cleaned yet. She has recently become a grandmother and there was much excitement when the birth happened. Regina also comes along when we collect Protea seed, a wonderful outing which blows the office cobwebs away.

Regina collecting seeds and lunch stop with Dorothy

The animals still grace us with their presence in the office. The dogs have beds in the office, and we enjoy having them around. The cats walk in and out. They seem to like Regina’s chair and as soon as she moves, they hop on and make themselves comfortable and she has to find a new chair.

 

 

 

 

Happy Growing until our next Newsletter

                                          Ondine and all of us from Silverhill.

 

Newsletter 5: August 2021

Newsletter August 2021

A big HELLO to our longstanding and new customers!

June/July has seen some upheaval and new beginnings.

With the “New Normal” in full swing we decided it would make sense for us to move home and business – with the thought of moving Silverhill into our home.

After one visit to the property, which had been on the market for 5 months, it just “felt right”. We signed the papers in March and moved in June.  After a month to settle our 5 cats, 3 dogs, 7 Koi and 4 humans, we moved the business on the 1st of July.

With much shuffling of shelves and changing of minds – Kirstin decided we should move a bookshelf after it was packed and sorted – we got ourselves settled and it is a lovely space! In the evening, while I am on the computer and for as long as I am at my desk, I have the cats on my lap and the dogs next to me keeping me company.

Silverhill is having to fit into a smaller office but we’re getting used to working closer together. We were very spoilt in our “mini-factory” with lots of space.   All in one office space, we have a partitioned and airconditioned cold-room for our precious seeds (with a most wonderful door that an incredibly talented Pat painted for us (see image below), seed packers, seed cleaners and admin ladies in the rest of the space.

The books…have been a little bit of a headache.  I can see Francis, who worked at Silverhill for many years and a qualified librarian, rolling her eyes VERY badly (she used to sing the alphabet song to me regularly, as my alphabet was not always “on point”). We’ve arranged them now by title and have a printed booklist by author, so that the website catalogue and their position on the shelves are in sync. If you are in the area, please do pop in and have a look.

Postage

To all our customers…. THANK YOU for your understanding and patience!

In some cases, it has taken 3 months of calls to couriers, check-ins with post office employees and countless emails to customs and department officials to follow up on and track orders to ensure that they get to you – patiently waiting for your seeds and your fingers, itching to plant!

Website

While it is still an ever-evolving work in progress, we are enormously proud of our website! We will soon start getting down to adding some germinating hints as well as more pictures.  Thank you again for being so patient and in most cases, giving us valuable feedback so that we can improve it.

Silverhill Seeds is a family business with you, our customers, pivotal members of our family! To that end, we have strived to maintain a “friendly feel/tone” both at our physical office and on the website. We urge you to feel free to pop in or drop us an email anytime you need seed related support – or even just to chat or send us pictures of how your seeds are doing. We will always do our best to help you!  Julia has grown many of the Fynbos species for restoration projects all over the City of Cape Town and has some amazing hints up her sleeve.

 

ANNOUNCEMENT!

Rod and Rachel’s Field Guide to the Galdioli of South Africa is at the printer and will be available at the end of August! Go onto our website and pre-order your copy.

Fiona Ross, who wrote the book using Rod and Rachel’s notes and many photographs, did the most incredible job.  It really is a fantastic publication! How she chose a few pictures from the many they took; I still cannot comprehend.  The price will be in the region of R420/USD29/£21 for the book (excluding P&P or VAT for South Africans).

The website has been updated: Find out more about the Saunders Field Guide to Gladiolus here: https://www.saundersgladiolusguide.com/

A coveted record of the life’s work of a couple who contributed to botany and horticulture in South Africa; it will be treasured by anyone with an interest in these magnificent flowers.

Saunders’ Field Guide to Gladioli of South Africa is the first of its kind to offer a complete photographic record of the 166 species that occur in the region. Posthumously completed, this book is the culmination of the Saunders’ long search to find and photograph every known species of Gladiolus in South Africa.

Staff Matters

Our Staff compliment has not changed since the last Newsletter.

Kirstin has finished 8 months of building. What a huge relief!  Pat has just had a hip replacement (COVID allowing).  Jenny is still frantically gardening and planting.  Julia is juggling her children’s schooling, which is on today and not tomorrow, 2 weeks holiday…no 3 weeks holiday – due to COVID.  Dorothy and Regina are still our super seed sorters and cleaners!  Thomas had to use his flight to Germany, so has gone to visit family and friends. After a 2-week quarantine period he is eventually out and about.

Data Protection

From 1 July 2021, the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) came into effect in South Africa. The law is designed to protect how your data is used, stored, and processed. With the launch of our new website, Silverhill is striving to become more current, innovative, and connected but we take your privacy and personal information very seriously.

To this end and in compliance with the requirements of the above Act, if you would like to keep receiving our emails and newsletters via Mailchimp, then you do not need to take any action at all. If you would like to stop receiving our newsletters, emails etc. via Mailchimp, please unsubscribe at the bottom of the Mailchimp email.  We will keep you posted as to the development of our new Privacy Policy.

SOWING SEASON IS UPON US

It will soon be SPRING in the southern hemisphere and AUTUMN in the northern hemisphere – a short window (3 months) but both PEAK sowing seasons on the horticultural calendar. Why? Spring and Autumn offer unique growing conditions.  Some seeds need a stark temperature change over a 24-hour period (between 10 – 15°C), along with the following dry/hot and cold/wet to germinate and establish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Newsletter 4: February 2021

February 2021

Dear Customers

What can we say except “What a Year”!!!!

To those who ordered this last, year a HUGE thank you for your patience and understanding with our postage trials.

To those who will order going forward – I do hope things will be smoother with anything to do with Postage.

A warm welcome to our new website, hopefully you find it easier to use as the old one which was nearly 23 years old and in this age of technology that is incredibly old.

We will be updating descriptions/growing information as well as adding as many photographs as we can in the coming months so please keep a look out.

The website is not as fully automated as it could perhaps be, the reason being is that postage of your parcels is weight dependant and there is a huge variation in the weight of seeds from Erica’s dust like seeds to Sclerocarya (Marula) which has heavy seeds.  We will see if in time we can adjust this.  We are also still wanting to keep our personal touch, so feel free to send us emails, we never want to lose that part of Silverhill no matter how technology moves on.

We have also had to increase our prices sadly.  We have not had a price increase in +/-6 years and it is time we do so.  We do hope this is not going to be too much of a shock to you our customers.

Many of the photographs on the website are with thanks to Rod and Rachel who after having travelled widely over the 30 years they had the business, managed to photograph many plant species.  There are also pictures from various other contributors and I thank them very much for allowing us to use their photos.

It was the first year Thomas and I actively went out to identify plants and to mark where they were and when we should go and collect seed.  I thought we did quite well as it was only our first year of “hunting” and we are hoping that this year will be even better.  We certainly had a lot of fun, new roads, new people and some wonderful camping and lunch spots, and can understand why Rod and Rachel spent most of their time out-and-about.

Loving cats must be a “Silverhill thing”                                               Rather good camping spot!

I have taken the plunge and opened an Instagram account (Silverhillseedsandbooks), I am not a great social media person, but as a business we have to move with the times and I certainly will get better with posting things as I get used to using it.

Our staff compliment is just about the same:

  • Kirstin doing the bookkeeping and generally keeping me “in-line”.
  • Pat working in the office, who has welcomed the arrival of not 1 but 2 grandchildren this year.
  • Jenny in the Seedroom busy counting out and packing up your orders.
  • Our 2 seed cleaning “ladies” Regina and Dorothy who keep our supply of fresh seeds cleaned and packed away and their constant laughter is wonderful in the office.
  • Thomas, who cannot do his usual “day job” of Tour Guiding, is also coming in and counting seed and making up orders for us and his precision ensures that our parcels are packed with utmost care and accuracy.
  • A warm welcome to Julia who has joined the team. Julia comes from a Nature Conservation background and also worked at the Millennium Seed Bank at Kirstenbosch where she worked for a fair number of years.  With her organisational skills, we should be on top of not only the office, but the seed hunting too!  Added to that she is the Mom to 3 delightful little boys. We welcome her to the family and hope she is with us for many years to come.

Other staff matters:

The ever-patient Kenneth, who is Pat’s husband, does a lot of the driving, fetching, and carrying as well as standing in the Post Office queues with 50+ parcels, that need to be sent to you, our customers.  Both Kenneth and Claude (Jenny’s husband) are to be thanked for the Photographs of the books for the website.

Wendy Hitchcock and Louise Nurrish for their help with collecting seed and identifying plants and the excitement when doing so!

Cherrie who worked with me and before me for Rod and Rachel, decided at the beginning of 2020 that she wanted to retire, we wish her the best and when I last chatted to her, she was enjoying her walking in the mountains, hacking alien plants in the mountains, and generally enjoying her retirement.

Sadly, we had 2 deaths last year, Euphonia who used to clean our seeds passed away in April, and our very own mischievous seed collector Anthony Hitchcock sadly passed away in July.  We will most definitely miss Anthony’s pranks in the office and his wicked sense of humour and of course his HUGE amount of knowledge.

Anthony in a old Podocarpus elongatus

In the last 3 years I have met many contacts of Rod & Rachel’s and I would like to thank each them for their help and imparting their knowledge to me.  I have started learning and I am so excited about the next year and following years of my education.

The Saunders Field Guide to Gladiolus is in the pre-print stage and we are hoping it will be available towards the middle of the year.  Find out more about the Saunders Field Guide to Gladiolus here: http://saundersgladiolusguide.com/

Here is hoping that 2021 will be a better year all round and thank you once again for your ongoing support – without you our customers, there would be no Silverhill Seeds and Books.

Happy Planting, stay safe, but most of all stay happy.

Ondine and The Silverhill Team

Silverhill Staff @ our belated end of year party

Back Row: Regina, Jenny, Thomas. Kirstin, Dorothy
Front Row: Pat, Wendy, Ondine with Islay (Kirstin’s daughter), Julia, Erica (my daughter)
Missing: Louise who was “gardening up a storm”

Newsletter 3: July 2019

July 2019

By: Anthony Hitchcock

Rod and Anthony Hitchcock confer on this minature form of Protea repens

Dear Silverhill customers

February 2018 saw a great tragedy with the loss of Rod and Rachel Saunders to senseless murder. Their contribution and legacy to South African horticulture and botany is immeasurable. At the time of their deaths Rachel was on the cusp of completing her book on the Gladioli of South Africa. In documenting the genus for this monumental work they showed great dedication and determination to research, locate and record all the Gladioli on the subcontinent. Many a time they returned to localities again and again to try to find that elusive species. Far and wide, up to the top of the Drakensberg and other remote places in search of Gladioli species in flower. Rachel told me in early 2018 that she need only find and photograph one more species to have recorded them all. This was the culmination of a great adventure they undertook from the mid 1990s to collect as many South African plant species for their business and to introduce these to horticulturists, special collectors and researchers all around the world. Such was their success that they became legends in their time feted by the botanical and horticultural world. Their deaths therefore sent shockwaves around the world where they had many customers and friends. Questions were asked and assumptions were made that this would be the end of Silverhill Seeds.

We are happy to announce that Silverhill Seeds endures with Ondine Schrick having inherited the business. Ondine is a life long friend of Rod and Rachel and has been working at Silverhill since 1995. She has the years of experience and a dedicated team to keep the business going.

I have also joined the team to help fill the void left with the loss of Rod’s horticultural knowledge. I have been growing plants all my life and worked at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens for 34 years. In that time I established the commercial production nursery that led to increasing the availability of indigenous South African plants to the nursery industry from a handful to well over 1000 species. This, along with the opening of the retail sales outlet run in collaboration with the Kirstenbosch Branch of the Botanical Society led to changing the face of horticulture in South Africa. I became Kirstenbosch Nursery Manager in 2002 and was responsible for managing the collections and conservation programme until I took early retirement in March 2018.

It was at Kirstenbosch that I met Rod who was Nursery Manager from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s. We forged a close friendship with our love of mountaineering, botany and horticulture. Rod and Rachel, my wife Wendy and I shared and enjoyed many wonderful mountain trips over the years. Every trip was dominated by plants and botanizing. We found, identified, photographed, collected and grew many unusual species from high mountains and remote places. Rod and my penchant for making up plant names was tempered by our other great mountain companion and botanist, Prof. Peter Linder, who ensured that we were kept under some control. However, we managed to contribute to Peter’s botanical skills with much needed red wine produced when camping high in the mountains.

Rod with Peter Linder and Anthony Hitchcock on Nuweberg, south Cedarberg 2016

In late 2017 Rod and Rachel encouraged me to leave the increasingly stressful and politically charged Kirstenbosch work environment and come and work with them. I finally handed my notice to retire on the 16th February 2018 and immediately sent a whatsapp message to Rachel. Sadly, it was too late for her to receive it!

The next few months were traumatic for all close to Rod and Rachel, but we felt the need to keep their legacy going as we were sure they would have wanted us to. I do not think we will be able to emulate their tremendous achievements in harvesting as many plant species that they collected on their numerous trips, but we will do our best to provide the best service we can. Ondine has asked me to highlight some species that I think worth trying out. Please see selection below.

Selected species recommended to growers:

Lobelia valida ‘limestone lobelia’

Lobelia valida is a superb, fast growing herbaceous perennial up to 40cm high producing a breath-taking profusion of exquisite blue flowers during summer. The plants branch from the base producing attractive, densely crowded leaves with toothed margins. They thrive in alkaline or acidic, well-drained, organically rich soils and is particularly breath-taking when massed in groups. This rare South African plant is a superb perennial and easily grown from seed.

Metalasia aurea ‘Golden Metalasia’

Metalasia aurea is a densely branched South African shrub from the eastern Fynbos region. Metalasia muricata is close relative commonly used by landscapers in South Africa, but whereas it has white flowers, Metalasia aurea has exquisite golden-yellow flowers and a more compact growth habit ranging from 0.8 – 1.2m in height. In every way this species is superior to other Metalasias and new to horticulture. It is very easy to grow and maintain and flowers from autumn to early winter in South Africa (April – June). Its bright yellow flower heads illuminate the winter landscape where it is particularly effective in dense plantings. Seed is easy to germinate, which may be enhanced by smoke treatment. Soils, well drained neutral to acidic.

Podalyria buxifolia ‘box-leaf bush-sweetpea’

Podalyria buxifolia is another unheralded gem from the southern Cape region. It is new to horticulture, but we believe it has good potential and is an excellent plant for the gardener wanting to attract bees and butterflies to the garden. It has attractive, dark-green, glossy leaves and the most exquisite magenta, pea-like, scented flowers in summer. It is a spreading, well-branched, re-sprouting shrub growing to 1m high with a 2m spread. The leaves are simple, dark, glossy-green on top and have silky white hairs on the lower surfaces that produce a silvery sheen. It is easy to grow from seed which must be sown in the warm months. Soils should be well drained, and neutral to acidic. Treatment with hot water and a pre-emergence fungicide enhances germination. Flowering time is from August to April. Zone 8.

Sparmannia africana ‘Cape stock rose, wild stock rose, African hemp, Cape hollyhock’

Sparmannia africana is an attractive, much branched, bushy, soft-wooded evergreen shrub with a round growth habit usually 4 m tall but may grow up to 8m. The branches are soft, leaves are large, heart-shaped with toothed margins. The flowers are white with a mass of yellow and red-purple stamens in the centre. Much of the attraction of this flower is in the puff of brightly bicoloured stamens. The sterile outer stamens are yellow with purple tips while the inner ones, stained reddish-purple with purple tips, are fertile. Flowering occurs from mid-winter into early summer (June to November). Sparmannia africana is an easy-to-grow large shrub for shade or full sun. Zone 10.

Phylica pubescens ‘featherhead’

An exquisitely attractive fynbos shrub densely covered with luminous, hairy leaves where each hair seems to gather the sunlight and make it glow. Early morning or late afternoon sun shining behind the featherhead bush makes all other plants dull by comparison. The branches of this erect, 1.2-2 m tall bush are clothed with narrow, hair-covered leaves, which become crowded at the branch tips. Each branch ends in a lovely, compressed flowerhead, comprising rings of feathery bracts amongst which the tiny flowers nestle. They flower in autumn and winter (May to August). Seeds are easy to germinate when treated with hot water and a pre-emergence fungicide. Soils must be well drained and acidic. Zone 8.

Turraea obtusifolia ‘Small honeysuckle’

Turraea obtusifolia is an often-overlooked, beautiful, ornamental shrub with glossy dark green foliage displaying masses of showy white flowers in summer and decorative orange-red fruits in late summer to winter. The flowers are fragrant at night and are pollinated by moths. This plant does best when planted in a warm position against a wall. Sow Sp. Zone 10.

Phylica litoralis

Compact rounded shrub to 1m with dense arrangement of dark green leaves and attractive clusters of white flowers forming numerous button-like flower heads that cover the plant. Grows in full sun along the southern Cape coast and is an ideal coastal plant being resilient against the desiccating effects of salt-laden winds. Suitable filler in gardens near the coast or warm, sunny gardens. Germinate readily when pre-treated with hot water. Sow Spring. Zone 9

Anthony Hitchcock with the magnificent Erica verticillata (Extinct in the Wild) which has been restored to Rondevlei Nature Reserve

Erica verticillata (Extinct in the Wild)

This exquisite erica has been the subject of much conservation attention in South Africa and at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. From being thought extinct in the early 1980s, it has resurfaced in several places around the world through the efforts of the British Heather Society, Kew RBG, private growers and famously from the Belvedere Palace collections in Vienna where it has been grown since the 1790s

Erica verticillata is a handsome, strong growing species averaging between 1.5 and 2m in height, but specimens can grow up to 3 m tall. It produces beautiful pink, tubular flowers arranged in neat whorls. Peak flowering is from January to March, but it is known to flower intermittently throughout the year. Nine distinct forms of this species have been discovered in collections around the world. For further information see: http://pza.sanbi.org/erica-verticillata and author with species in picture above. Please request as seed is limited due to poor seed set probably resulting from long-time isolation in cultivation. Seed produced germinates well when smoke treated. Seed supplied is open pollinated and therefore may yield a mixture of the forms. Sow Autumn. Zone 8.

  1. Instructions to sow in autumn refer to South African winter rainfall conditions, however on other areas we recommend sowing at the beginning of the growing season.

 

Trees and Shrubs Agathosma ovata “Glentana” 70cm evergreen, very aromatic shrub, finely textured foliage, pink fl Sp. Sow Au. Zone 8.
Trees and Shrubs Duvernoia aconitiflora 3m compact shrub, intriguing white fl Su. Sow Sp. Zone 9.
Trees and Shrubs Mitriostigma axillare Compact shrub in forests, sweetly scented white flowers ageing to yellow Sp – Su, round orange fruits. Sow Sp. Zone 10.
Trees and Shrubs Oldenburgia grandis “Mountain hunch back”, to 5m bushy shrub/tree, dark thick corky bark, large stiff leathery leaves, individual purple thistle-like flowers in large flat heads, fruit small brown, linear, flattened nutlet. Sow Au. Zone 8
Trees and Shrubs Erica baueri subsp baueri “Bridal heath”, 1.5m, grey-green leaves, white/pink tubular flowers Spring-Autumn, cut fl. White & pinky-white forms also available.

The pink & white Still Bay form is the most attractive of this species due to its striking combination of white and deep pink flowers. Sow Au. Zone 8.

Trees and Shrubs Erica baueri subsp gouriquae 2.5m dense shrub, erect leaves, 5-10 pink fl in loose spikes, limestone species, but grows well in acidic soils. This is a magnificent, very showy Erica listed as Endangered due to habitat destruction and alien invasive plants. It has lovely, tubular, pink flowers that cover the entire plant creating a magnificent show. It is easy to grow from seed which germinate better when smoke treated. Sow Au. Zone 8.

 

Newsletter 2: May 2019

May  2019

Dear Plant Lovers

This Newsletter has been a while in the making and I must apologise as I am sure you are all wondering how we are doing.

Rod and Rachel’s house was sold at the end of last year and we had to move out.  After a bit of hunting we found a small unit in a light industrial park, not a stone’s throw away from where we were about 12 years ago (for those who remember).

Our moving day dawned cool and somewhat wet, which was not a good sign as we had all our books to move, but thankfully it ended up being quite easy.  There were shelves already set up, so we moved books from shelves at Silverhill to shelves in our new bookroom.

The seed shelves were a bit more challenging, but with Andy’s help and incredible packing skills we got all the shelves down in 2 trips.

The seed crates were fairly east to move as they could be stacked in the cars, so we all made a few trips up and down.

We got a small removal company to help with all the big bits and pieces; fridge, bookshelf as well as some crates of uncleaned Protea seed, which was great, each one was carefully wrapped, so we did not lose a single seed!

A huge thank you to Kenneth for getting our computers up and running.  Cherrie, Jenny, Andrea and Euphonia for the packing and driving up and down.  To Pat, for her calmness and organisational skills.  Kirstin for being the very best sister ever and just being so practical. To Andy for the brilliant packing skills, Thomas for his patience with us and doing some of the heavy work.  Lastly to Erica (my daughter) who gave up her holiday to lend us her young muscle and for being patient with her stressed mother. ( left anyone out?)

We all came back into the new premises from the 7th of January and started catching up on the backlog.

We have had a few teething problems with the workflow, but are working it out slowly.  We are also using a new invoicing program, which has taken quite a bit of getting used to, but seems to be quite easy to use and is making things much easier in the office.  I do realise some of the personal touch has gone, but am hoping that for you, our customers, and for us it is making things a bit easier.

The books are much more visible and will be a lot easier to browse through, if you come in to buy a book or 2.

The office staff consist of Pat and Kirstin.  Cherrie and Jenny are the soldiers completing your orders and Euphonia is cleaning seeds for us.

Anthony Hitchcock formerly of Kirstenbosch is now our collecting guru as well as helping me with some of the more difficult questions, one gathers a lot of information and I have over the last 20 years, but 40 years is a whole lot more knowledge than I have been able to assimilate as yet and I thank Anthony for his unending patience with me and always being willing to help.  Anthony is not in the office, but pops in now and then to stir the ladies up with his jokes, he works from home a lot of the time.

I have asked him to put together a list of some interesting plants that you might like to try and grow yourselves as there are some species that are little known in plant circles.

Lobelia valida ‘limestone lobelia’
Lobelia valida is a superb, fast growing herbaceous perennial up to 40cm high producing a breathtaking profusion of exquisite blue flowers during summer. The plants branch from the base producing attractive, densely crowded leaves with toothed margins. They thrive in alkaline or acidic, well-drained, organically rich soils and is particularly breath-taking when massed in groups. This rare South African plant is a superb perennial and easily grown from seed.

Metalasia aurea ‘Golden Metalasia’
Metalasia aurea is a densely branched South African shrub from the eastern Fynbos region.
Metalasia muricata is close relative commonly used by landscapers in South Africa, but whereas it has white flowers, Metalasia aurea has exquisite golden-yellow flowers and a more compact growth habit ranging from 0.8 – 1.2m in height. In every way this species is superior to other Metalasias and new to horticulture. It is very easy to grow and maintain and flowers from autumn to early winter in South Africa (April – June). Its bright yellow flower heads illuminate the winter landscape where it is particularly effective in dense plantings. Seed is easy to germinate, which may be enhanced by smoke treatment. Soil – well drained neutral to acidic.

Figure 1: Metalasia aurea

Podalyria buxifolia – ‘box-leaf bush-sweetpea’
Podalyria buxifolia is another unheralded gem from the southern Cape region. It is new to horticulture, but we believe it has good potential and is an excellent plant for the gardener wanting to attract bees and butterflies to the garden. It has attractive, dark-green, glossy leaves and the most exquisite magenta, pea-like, scented flowers in summer. It is a spreading, well-branched, re-sprouting shrub growing to 1m high with a 2m spread. The leaves are simple, dark, glossygreen on top and have silky white hairs on the lower surfaces that produce a silvery sheen. It is easy to grow from seed which must be sown in the warm months. Soils should be well drained, and neutral to acidic. Treatment with hot water and a pre-emergence fungicide enhances germination. Flowering time is from August to April. Zone 8.

Figure 2 – Podalyria buxifolia

Sparmannia africana ‘Cape stock rose, wild stock rose, African hemp, ‘Cape hollyhock’ Sparmannia africana is an attractive, much branched, bushy, soft-wooded evergreen shrub with a round growth habit usually 4m tall but may grow up to 8m. The branches are soft, leaves are large, heart-shaped with toothed margins. The flowers are white with a mass of yellow and red-purple stamens in the centre. Much of the attraction of this flower is in the puff of brightly bicoloured stamens. The sterile outer stamens are yellow with purple tips while the inner ones, stained reddish-purple with purple tips, are fertile. Flowering occurs from mid-winter into early summer (June to November). Sparmannia africana is an easy-to-grow large shrub for shade or full sun.

Figure 3 – Sparmannia africana Zone 10.

Phylica pubescens ‘featherhead’

An exquisitely attractive fynbos shrub densely covered with luminous, hairy leaves where each hair seems to gather the sunlight and make it glow. Early morning or late afternoon sun shining behind the featherhead bush makes all other plants dull by comparison. The branches of this erect, 1.2-2m tall bush are clothed with narrow, hair-covered leaves, which become crowded at the branch tips. Each branch ends in a lovely, compressed flowerhead, comprising rings of feathery bracts amongst which the tiny flowers nestle. They flower in autumn and winter (May to August). Seeds are easy to germinate when treated with hot water and a pre-emergence fungicide. Soils must be well drained and acidic. Zone 8.

Figure 4 – Phylica pubescence Turraea obtusifolia ‘Small honeysuckle’
Turraea obtusifolia is an often-overlooked, beautiful, ornamental shrub with glossy dark green foliage displaying masses of showy white flowers in summer and decorative orange-red fruits in late summer to winter. The flowers are fragrant at night and are pollinated by moths. This plant does best when planted in a warm position against a wall. Sow Spring. Zone 10.

Phylica litoralis
Compact rounded shrub to 1m with dense arrangement of dark green leaves and attractive clusters of white flowers forming numerous button-like flower heads that cover the plant. Grows in full sun along the southern Cape coast and is an ideal coastal plant being resilient against the desiccating effects of salt-laden winds. Suitable filler in gardens near the coast or warm, sunny gardens. Germinate readily when pre-treated with hot water. Sow Spring. Zone 9

Erica verticillata (Extinct in the Wild)
This exquisite Erica has been the subject of much conservation attention in South Africa and at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. From being thought extinct in the early 1980s, it has resurfaced in several places around the world through the efforts of the British Heather Society, Kew RBG, private growers and famously from the Belvedere Palace collections in Vienna where it has been growing.

Figure 5 – Anthony Hitchcock with the magnificent Erica verticillata which has been restored to Rondevlei Nature Reserve

Erica verticillata is a handsome, strong growing species averaging between 1.5 and 2m in height, but specimens can grow up to 3m tall. It produces beautiful pink, tubular flowers arranged in neat whorls. Peak flowering is from January to March, but it is known to flower intermittently throughout the year. Nine distinct forms of this species have been discovered in collections around the world.For further information see: http://pza.sanbi.org/erica-verticillata and author with species in picture above. Please request as seed is limited due to poor seed set probably resulting from long-time isolation in cultivation. Seed produced germinates well when smoke treated. Seed supplied is open pollinated and therefore may yield a mixture of the forms. Sow Autumn. Zone 8.

NB. Instructions to sow in autumn refer to South African winter rainfall conditions, however on other areas we recommend sowing at the beginning of the growing season.

Happy Growing

Ondine and the Silverhill Team

 

Newsletter 1: October 2018

October 2018

Dear Plant Lover

Dear Plant Lover

It is with a heavy heart I have to inform our customers and the plant world of Rod and Rachel’s passing (for those who do not already know).

Rod and Rachel were on a collecting trip in Northern Kwazulu Natal where they were in the “wrong place at the wrong time” and were brutally murdered.  The delay in letting the world know is that it was an international incident involving worldwide Police forces.

We hope Rod and Rachel are in a gentler place now – perhaps at the top of a mountain gazing down over unfolding hills and valleys, tranquil.  Work done, dreams and adventures fulfilled.  The world a richer place for their time spent here.

We are really going to miss their knowledge, expertise, the laughter we shared in our very close work environment.

Rod and Rachel left Silverhill Seeds to me and I would like to introduce myself….. Some of you may have already dealt with me.  My name is Ondine and I am a Horticulturist by trade and have worked for Rod and Rachel for 20 + years.  I am married with 2 children (19 and 17).  As a family we are very involved with Scouts and do lots of camping and hiking.

I have known them all my life (I was always a bit scared of Rod as a teenager)    When I was growing up my family were always in the mountains, that is where my folks met Rod and were later re-introduced to Rachel when she married Rod.  My mother knew Rachel as a young girl when she came to our family farm with her parents.

I started working for Rachel in 1998 in the seed room, counting seeds and was also given the job of packaging up seed ready for postage (as Frances did not like working with the tape dispenser).  After a year or two I moved between the seed room and the office to fill in when it was a bit chaotic.  I then moved into the office in 2012 and have been running the office since then while Rod and Rachel were on their long seed collecting trips.  I used to go collecting seed for a day here and there with Rod, when Rachel was otherwise occupied with office chores only she could do.

The business will continue running as it always has.  Anthony Hitchcock, a long‐time friend of Rod and Rachel, will be helping with the collecting of seed.  Some of the hard‐to‐find seed might take me a while to get my hands on, as I learn the locations and am able to go out and find them.  I do have to realise that it has taken them 25+ years to gain the knowledge they had to build Silverhill Seeds up to what it is today and I hope that you will all be patient with me while I continue to learn.

The office staff is just about the same – Cherrie is still in the Seedroom (21 years on and off, the last 6 more on than off!), Jenny has joined her there.  Euphonia and Darkie clean seeds for us.  The office is capably run by Kirstin (my sister) and Pat, with myself putting my “penny’s worth in.

Best Wishes

Ondine & the New Silverhill Team

From the Archives: Newsletter January 2016

January 2016

Dear Plant Lover

As usual, we will start our newsletter with a weather report!  At present, the entire Southern African sub-continent from Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique southwards, is in the grips of a most devastating drought accompanied by a heat wave.  All of this area, except for the SW Cape, is supposed to have summer rain and most areas have had no rain at all this summer. Zambia has no electricity as 90% of their power is hydro-electric and the Zambezi River is at the lowest level recorded. The Free State Province in SA has had not a drop of rain yet this summer and looks like the middle of winter with brown grass and dormant trees. The SW Cape receives winter rain, and our rainfall was about 1/3 of average in 2015. The last rain we had was in about October, and since then we have not had one drop. Most of the mountain streams are bone dry and we are experiencing day after day of sustained hot weather with temperatures in the upper thirties and low forties. On New Year’s day we were in the mountains at Bainskloof near Wellington and the temperature at 1pm was 46°C!

The weather office says this is the worst drought for over 20 years, and it is unusual in that it is covering the whole country, and is accompanied by very high temperatures. Apparently it is due to El Nino, and could extend into a 2nd year. Already we have a food crisis as there was a reduced wheat crop and the maize (corn) crop will be non-existent. Plus of course we have a water crisis as there is simply not enough stored water.

Our Gladiolus project mentioned in the last newsletter is continuing and we are now down to the last 7 species. We have spent the last two Christmases in the Drakensberg looking for Gladiolus – a very rare high altitude species only ever seen by a handful of people.  Christmas is normally a time when we stay at home as the roads and holiday resorts are full of holiday makers, enjoying the long summer holidays. We drove to the Drakensberg using all the back roads, many of them dirt, to try to avoid the main routes as South Africans are suicidal on the roads at this time of year.  We had booked a cave at 2200m where we intended spending 3 nights. The cave is about 10km from the car park, and of course, it is uphill all the way! Neither of us has carried a full rucksack for quite a few years as we normally go on long day walks carrying only protective clothing and lunch. By careful planning of both clothes and food, we kept our packs to a reasonable weight so the walk was pleasant, particularly as there were several large pools to swim in on the way. Once at the cave, we left our packs hidden, and walked to higher altitudes every day.

Needless to say, we did not find Gladiolus symonsii despite a systematic 3 day search for it in known and preferred habitats. However we did find 2 other Gladiolus species and many other plants in flower including Dierama dracomontana, Dianthus basuticus, several Glumicalyx species, Kniphofias, Agapanthus and Albucas. Due to the dry conditions in SA, the grass hadn’t grown as much as usual so the other flora benefited as there was no competition with grass. We had both forgotten how beautiful the ‘berg flora is and seeing the flowers with a backdrop of the majestic mountains cannot be described adequately.

One other Drakensberg endemic Gladiolus species that we still need to photograph is Gladious microcarpus which comes from the cliffs of the northern Drakensberg. We found a couple of plants in flower this December, but as fate would have it, a spell of cloudy misty overcast weather had moved in and it was so wet and damp that we could not photograph them! Several people had told us of large clumps of this species on the path up to Sentinel Peak. However in the winter of 2014 a devastating fire swept through the area (not a usual occurrence) and G. microcarpus has not been seen there since. We suspect that it is extremely fire sensitive and may now be extinct at this site.

Two other rare Gladiolus species that we photographed last year are Gladiolus antholyzoides and Gladiolus phoenix.  Gladiolus antholyzoides used to occur in large numbers around Sasolburg in the Free State south of Johannesburg, as well as around Pretoria. Due to urban encroachment and mining, most of its habitats are now gone, except for a few plants left in a wild area of a friend’s garden.  We have been communicating with him and he agreed to let us know when the plants were coming up to flower. Lo and behold, despite the drought, in November he phoned and told us to come quickly as several plants were about to flower. So we booked flights to Johannesburg for the following week, hired a car, drove to Sasolburg to photograph the Gladiolus, and flew back to Cape Town the same day. An expensive Gladiolus!!

 

Gladiolus phoenix is one of the species that we thought we would not find. It only flowers in the first year after fire, and it only occurs in the Bainskloof Mountains behind Wellington in the SW Cape. However, early in 2015 Bainskloof burned, so we vowed that from November onwards, we would do weekly searches of the area until we found it! We were so lucky – on our first search, there it was, right next to the road! What a gorgeous plant – a large tall branched inflorescence with masses of clear pink flowers all open at the same time. It is amazing that such a striking plant has only recently been described, and we assume that this is because of the position of the plant in relation to the road. The road is extremely narrow with a precipitous drop on one side, and most people would have their eyes glued to the road rather than looking for plants up the bank!

Sadly, Rachel’s mother died in April 2014 at the age of 96. Luckily for her, she was still at work one week, and died of heart failure the next week, so she was ill for only a couple of days. We still miss her and think of her often as she left many signs in our seed room and we come across her handwriting frequently! Ondine, Darkie and Cherrie still work every day and any of you who have phoned our office will probably have spoken to Ondine.

True to our promise, we have acquired another cat, a Somali who we named Abraham!  Perhaps we should have named him Ibrahim instead, taking his breed into consideration! He is a most affectionate cat and is spoiled rotten! Fortunately he seems to lack Nanuk’s wanderlust and spends most of his time in our garden (or so we hope!). Part of this newsletter was written with his help – he has jumped up onto the table and deposited himself onto the paper, knocked the pencil sharpener onto the floor, and is in the process of doing the same with the hand lens while dabbing at the pencil!

Since the last newsletter, some new books have been published and all of them are listed on our website.

  1. There is a new upgraded and enlarged version of the Namaqualand Wildflower Guide.
  2. Lapeirousias have not escaped the taxonomic whirlwind, and have been divided into 4 genera – read about it in “Systematics and Biology of Lapeirousia, Codonorhiza, Psilosiphon & Schizorhiza in southern Africa”.
  3. Jan Vloks admirable Field Guide “Plants of the Klein Karoo” has been re-printed and upgraded.
  4. Herbert Starcker, a superb photographer, has produced a photographic guide to all the South African orchids titled “Orchids of South Africa”.

We finally completed our house renovations which eventually included not only the kitchen and dining room, but also our bedroom, passage and book and wine room. We replaced all the floors in these rooms as well as other major and minor renovations, and the house looks beautiful. The next big job is to re-wire the house which still has some of the original wires from the 1930s! However, that job involves removing and replacing part of the roof, so will have to wait until we feel strong enough to tackle the disruption.

 

With best wishes

Rod and Rachel Saunders

From The Archives: Newsletter January 2014

Newsletter January 2014

Dear Customer

It has been 2 years since our last newsletter – we apologise for this, but we simply forgot to write one!

Fortunately since the last newsletter there has been an upturn in business and we have had 2 busy years. The local nursery industry is still pretty much in the doldrums, and much of our local business is from private individuals rather than from nurseries.

Our Gladiolus project is still on going, and we have now found and photographed 136 of the 169 species. Of course the last 33 species are all difficult to find – many are rare and are only known from 1 or perhaps 2 localities.  A week ago we mounted an expedition to the high Cederberg mountains to find the little known Gladiolus delpierrei.  There was a single collection made about 20 years ago, and to the best of our knowledge, it has not been collected or seen since then.  The conservation officer in the Cederberg was also keen to find this plant, and he had visited the area on 3 previous occasions, but had not found it.  Armed with a photograph of the site and some detailed instructions on the locality of the plant, we set off using a little used and very rough 4 wheel drive track for about half the distance, to save time and gain altitude.  At the end of the road we set off along a path and after about 2 to 3 hours of walking, reached the neck just below the summit where the plant was last seen.  We all spread out and began to search the slope meter by meter. After about 20 minutes of searching, there was a wild yell from someone, and there it was!  What a beautiful little gem it is – a soft yellow colour with the most beautiful red streaks inside the throat.  Eventually we found about 30 plants in flower and we spent almost 2 hours photographing them from every angle. The mountain was covered in mist so the light changed as the mist came and went, and we landed up with some lovely pictures in soft light.  What an adrenaline rush – we were all delighted to find it.

In March we are traveling northwards to look for 6 lesser known species from the summer rainfall area, mainly from around Pietersburg.  Finding these species is quite a hit and miss operation as one can never be certain when the plants will be flowering. There are so many variables including the amount of rain, how early or late did the rain start, how long is it since the last fire, etc etc, so when we arrive at a a site and find plants in flower, we feel a huge amount of satisfaction.  We are trying to get to the end of the 169 species by he beginning of next year, but whether we will achieve that or not we are not sure.

The weather in the Cape has been   and we had good winter rains. However we had a totally dry period of about 5 weeks in June and July, followed by heavy rain right up until November.  The early flowering bulbous plants did not like this, and most didn’t flower. However, the later flowering species responded by flowering well.  At present there has been severe flooding in the southern Cape and southern Karoo with many farms and roads washed away.  Climate change is no myth!

Sadly since our last newsletter, Denise, whom you may have had dealings with, has passed away after a battle with cancer.  Otherwise our staff situation is much the same as it was. Rachel’s mum, at 95, is still working for us every day. Ondine’s children are now teenagers, and we all know what that means!  Darkie now works from home at Stellenbosch, and we visit her once a week to collect sorted seeds from her, and take her bags of unsorted Protea seeds.

Recently a number of new botanical publications have made their appearance on our shelves.  Botanists have now taken a less blinkered view of the Cape flora and it now encompasses the entire winter rainfall region and not just the SW Cape.  The books entitled “Plants of the greater Cape floristic region” are in 2 volumes – one covering the “core Cape flora” and the 2nd volume covering  “The extra Cape Flora”.

The last year also saw the publication of Bill Liltvedt’s 2 volume book on the Cape orchids.  The books are magnificent and this was a monumental undertaking.

Other books recently published include

“The genus Lachenalia” by Graham Duncan,

“Field guide to South African ferns by

Wild Flowers of the Magaliesberg

South African flowering trees

Field Guide to the Central Highlands of Namibia

And a practical book on Protea cultivation called “ Protea Cultivation – from Concept to Carton” by

The past 18 months have seen our cat number reduced and we are now a one cat family! But hopefully this will not last long as later in the year we hope to acquire some new kittens.  Nanuk, our beautiful Somali, grew up to be a most gorgeous cat and endeared himself to all who knew him.  His one fault was his sense of adventure and he ranged far and wide in the neighbourhood.  All of us were devastated when he was hit and killed by  a train a couple of months ago.

Finally, our house is in turmoil at present.  We are replacing our floors in the kitchen and dining room (which are collapsing after almost 100 years of use!), and we are removing walls to make our kitchen and dining room open plan. All our books and furniture from those rooms are in other parts of the house, and we have relocated our kitchen to the garage!  We have an outdoor sink with hot water for washing dishes, a gas stove and microwave for cooking, our fridge is in our seedroom, and we eat outside in the garden.  It all works so well that we are wondering why we are re-doing the kitchen! But I am sure that after living  like this for 3 months, we will be more than ready to move back into the house.  And then we can find some new kittens!

 

Best wishes

Rod and Rachel Saunders