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

From the Archives: Newsletter January 2012

January 2012

Dear customer

Another year has flown past and for us this was a very quiet year.  At one stage we thought we would have to close down the business and retire as we had so few orders coming in.  Occasionally we would send ourselves an e mail or a fax to make sure that the fax machine and computer were still working!  In the last couple of months however there has been an upsurge in orders (long may it last!) and people seem to be taking an interest in their plants and gardens again.  I suppose there is a limit to the amount of economic doom and gloom one can handle before one looks around for something more pleasurable to occupy one’s mind.

In Cape Town and the southern Cape, our winter rains were lower than usual this year and we had a long period in mid-winter when no rain fell for about 6 weeks.  This had an enormous effect on our seed collecting as many of the bulbs went dormant prematurely and those that did flower aborted their seed production.  By contrast, the northern Cape and southern Namibia had very good rains – more about that later!

Recently Rachel gave a talk on “The genus Gladiolus” to a plant group in Nelspruit (in Mpumalanga), and later in the year she gave a similar talk at the Indigenous Bulb Society of SA’s symposium held in Worcester in September.  This has given us an interest in the genus and we are now determined to get pictures of as many of the Southern African species in habitat as possible.  In pursuit of this, we mounted a botanical trip through the Richtersveld to the Tirasberg in southern Namibia.  Another reason for the trip was to look for an unusual Lachenalia species that we last saw about 15 years ago – the last time that this area had good rain.  So we set off in mid-July for just over 2 weeks.  Our first stop on the way north was at the Heerenlogement near Clanwilliam to look for Gladiolus comptonii which occurs on the summit of that mountain.  To our great delight we found the Gladiolus in full flower.  It is always a surprise when one finds these rare plants, and it is even better when the plant is as beautiful as this Gladiolus with sprays of bright golden yellow flowers.  From Clanwilliam we then drove north to the Orange River between Alexander Bay and the Richtersveld.  One of the reasons for visiting this area was to look for another rare Gladiolus – G. deserticola, a delicate blue flowered species which grows on the southern (shady) slopes of the mountains bordering the Orange River.  Most of the mountains in this area run in a north south direction, so finding a south facing slope was the first problem.  The second problem was that the plant was only supposed to flower from August onwards, and it was now mid-July.  We left the car at the base of a likely looking south facing slope and commenced our ascent – a more unlikely looking spot for a Gladiolus we could not have imagined!  These are amongst the most arid mountains in South Africa and hardly a place to find a delicate Gladiolus!  After several hours spent traversing the slope, looking under boulders and shrubs and in gullies, we were ready to give up.  And then Rachel yelled – on a hunch she had looked at the base of a small cliff and there peeping out of a bush was one of the most delicate little Gladiolus flowers I have ever seen – we had found Gladiolus deserticola!  I think that we were both so satisfied by this stage that we could have gone home happily, but there was still more in store for us!  As mentioned above, the Northern Cape had exceptional winter rain and between Alexander Bay and the Richtersveld Park we saw beautiful massed displays of Lapeirousia barklyi, probably the most spectacular Lapeirousia there is with large bright pink flowers.  In between these we found Sarcocaulons of 4 species, Lachenalias, Cyanella ramosissima, Babianas and most unexpectedly, large populations of Hexacyrtis dickiana in bud and just coming into flower.  We spent a couple of days driving along the Orange River, and every time we stopped we found another 3 or 4 species in flower.

Finally we had to move on, and we crossed the Orange River into Namibia at the pont at Sendelingsdrift.  We drove north to Rosh Pinah, a mining town surrounded by high mountains.  It was obvious that this area had also had good rain and we saw the most spectacular flower displays that we have ever seen – bright pink mesembs, sheets of red Sarcocaulons, wide sweeps of yellow Gazania liechtensteinii, all flowering their hearts out.  We continued northwards and spent some time walking in the Tirasberg right on the edge of the Namib desert.  The mountains are rugged, very rough and dry, and yet because of the rain we found water running in some of the main valleys.  We also found our missing Lachenalia species in flower – identified as L. giessii on our return to Cape Town.  The views from the top of these mountains are spectacular looking over the red dunes of the Namib.  Finally we headed for home after a very successful trip to a normally very arid area.

In September we spent 2 weeks walking in France with Rachel’s sister and brother-in-law.  We had a wonderful time tasting wine, eating good food and walking through beautiful farmlands and forests.  One week was spent on the Normandy coast where we found the 2nd World War museums fascinating.

For Christmas we went to visit 3 plant friends in Nelspruit, near the Kruger National Park.  Nelspruit in December is normally blazing hot and humid, so we went expecting heat and perhaps rain.  We went on many field trips mainly looking for Gladiolus species in flower, and every day we had cool grey drizzly weather – what a pleasure!  We found some beautiful plants in flower, not only Gladioli and enjoyed our week away from home.  Since our return, Cape Town and the SW Cape have had a series of heat waves with Vanrhynsdorp measuring 50°C on several occasions!  The whole area has had some spectacular thunder storms – most unusual for the Cape in summer, and at present the Hex River Valley north of Worcester is flooded!  Nelspruit is also flooded, as is the Kruger National Park so the entire sub-continent is having rain.

Our staff situation remains much the same.  Darkie now works from home and each week we visit her in Stellenbosch on our way to Frontier Lab at Brackenfell.  Denise, Ondine and Rachel’s mum work every day, and Cherrie helps when we are rushed off our feet.  We have acquired 2 new cats, Taffy and Nanuk (we also still have our black Squatter!). We got them as kittens and have watched them grow over the last year.  They are now almost a year old, into everything and of course are far too adventurous for their own good – we both have a few more grey hairs as a result!

Due to the bad economic situation, we have decided for the first time since we began selling seeds, not to produce a printed catalogue this year.  We apologise for this, but last year the catalogue cost over R100 000 (USD12 500, 10 000 euros, £8000) to print and post, and we simply cannot justify it this year.  Please use our website to order – instructions attached!  Many of you order via e mail or the website already, and we now have facilities on our website for you to print your own catalogue if you would like to do so.  The website has the added advantage of always being up to date, and of having pictures of many of the plants we sell.  And another nice feature is that you can search for key words in the description field – for plants hardy to Zone 7, or for fragrant bulbous plants, or red flowers, or for seeds that you can sow in spring, or medicinal plants, etc.

We still sell botanical books, and we are still part owners of the tissue culture lab in Brackenfell, run by our partner Andy Hackland.  Due to problems with Telkom (our SA telephone provider) and stolen telephone cables, the lab no longer has telephone or fax via Telkom – please ask for details.

We wish you all a good 2012 and let us all hope for better economic times!

Best wishes

Rod & Rachel

From the Archives: Newsletter July 2011

January 2011

Dear Customer

All our newsletters start with the weather – most important for gardeners and plant enthusiasts.  The SW Cape had reasonable rain this winter, but despite that, our storage dams are not full and are hovering around 93%, lower than usual for this time of year.  The rains started in May with a big cold front & near torrential rains in the Cape.  This front moved north and east bringing rain to Namaqualand and the Garden Route, but it was almost the only one during the winter that did, resulting in extremely dry conditions everywhere north and east of Cape Town.  Cape Town received regular rain until July when it dried up completely.  The whole of July and August were dry with rain commencing again in September and continuing until a week or so ago, but really only in the immediate surroundings of Cape Town.  Many of the bulbous plants in the veld went dormant prematurely, and those that did manage to flower, did so reluctantly.

Earlier this year we revisited the Brandberg in Namibia.  In May last year everything was saturated with rain and the vegetation was tall and lush – this year it was fiercely dry and in many areas not a drop of rain had fallen all summer.  This meant no annuals, none of the fascinating Cucurbitaceae on the road verges, and virtually no grass.  What a contrast –  we wonder quite how the vegetation copes with these extremes.  Presumably seeds of annuals & grasses have long dormancy mechanisms to cope with these dry periods, but how do the many trees & shrubs with much higher water requirements survive?  After the Brandberg we drove north through Namibia to the Zambezi River valley, with the idea of visiting Zimbabwe again after an absence of many years.  On approaching the Zambezi River we noticed that large numbers of “tent towns” had sprung up.  At first we thought that perhaps they were housing refugees from Angola or Zimbabwe, but as we drove closer to the river we saw the reason.  The Zambezi had broken its banks due to phenomenal rains in the highlands of Angola and we couldn’t get within 20km of the normal river bed!  All the tents were housing Namibians who had been displaced from their villages on the river banks.  With the inundation of the lands along the river, the fish populations had risen dramatically, especially the tiny fish known as “kapenta”.  This fish, when dried, is an extremely important form of protein for man, birds and animals throughout central Africa.  The local inhabitants were out in force, scooping up thousands upon thousands of fishes, with some enterprising individuals using their mosquito nets to trawl with!  Once caught, the fish were laid out to dry along the road verges and we passed kilometre after kilometre of drying fishes.  Of course this bonanza also brought in millions of birds that covered the flood plain as far as the eye could see.  We sat for hours with binoculars, bird watching. The funniest sight we saw were gulls waddling along the road verge, so full of fish that they could barely take off!  The river was the highest that we have ever seen it – such flooding is episodic and many of the trees, particularly the Acacias, had died due to excessive water.  It will be interesting to return next year and see what the area looks like.  As a footnote we need to mention that nowhere was this flooding reported – not internationally or in South Africa, and for a small poor country like Namibia, it was a major disaster.  The Namibian authorities behaved admirably by erecting tents in neat rows on high ground for the thousands of displaced people.  They also supplied and serviced chemical toilets at regular intervals, and they provided clean drinking water in tanks.  We were impressed – Africa is not known for its efficiency!

From Namibia and the Caprivi Strip we passed through northern Botswana into Zimbabwe via Victoria Falls which we could see from many kilometres away with the spray plume rising hundreds of metres into the air.  Normally we are a bit blasé about visiting the Falls as we have seen them many times before, but this year we parted with some US dollars to visit them, as it is unusual to see the river so full.  Normally the main falls are broken into several cataracts, punctuated by islands on the rim of the falls, but this year the water fell as a complete unbroken wall over 2km wide – that is when we could actually see anything through all the spray and mist!  The Zambezi Valley below the falls is magical.  The road follows the river closely, on the cliffs high above the water, and we found some really magnificent places to camp with views over the valley.

From the Zambezi we headed southwards to the Matopos National Park, and then out through Botswana and back into South Africa.  The Matopos is an area with huge granite whalebacks and domes, and because the rainfall is marginally higher than the surrounding country, the tree flora is diverse and interesting.

From the far west of South Africa we then drove to the far east, to Nelspruit, where we met some botanical friends for a trip into Mozambique.  We entered Mozambique through the Kruger National Park on the day of the first Football World Cup match held in South Africa.  The excitement in South Africa was incredible, and even in the middle of the Kruger Park everyone was glued to their radios and communal TV sets!  We spent 4 days in Mozambique on the eastern boundary of the Park, botanising, photographing and identifying mainly trees and shrubs.  Our last night was spent on the banks of the Limpopo River (also very full) under a group of large Xanthocercis (nyala berry) trees.  Watching the sun go down over the river was magical with hundreds of birds making patterns in the sky and across the sun as they returned to roost in trees along the river.  It was particularly special for us as we had to be in Cape Town (about 2000km away) in 2 days time, and the next 2 days would be spent in the car, driving!  We left Mozambique next day hot and sweaty – the temperature was about 35°C at 10am, and we drove southwards steadily with few stops apart from changing drivers at regular intervals.  We had a very persistent head wind all the way, but had no idea what we were in for!  Finally at about 5pm we stopped to refuel in Naboomspruit, north of Pretoria, and reality hit us – the cold south wind was blowing at about 60km per hour, the temperature was about 5°C, and we were still in shorts, T shirts & sandals!  That night in our tent, the temperature dropped to -5°C!  All the way home, we never got warm again – winter had arrived.  The weather really makes planning field trips difficult, and we usually take clothing and bedding for all four seasons.

Our bulbs at Brackenfell are growing well in crates and we had some spectacular flowers this spring, which is lucky as we need the seed.  However, even this method of growing plants has its problems.  The first problem is that we have a small (wild) antelope which lives on the property and at night it wanders about looking for food. It decided that our bulbs were delicious, particularly the flowers and green seed capsules of all the rarest plants we grow!  There is also a porcupine which wanders through our boundary fence periodically, and it also found our bulbs and destroyed 3 or 4 crates of plants.  We have now had to erect a fence to keep everything out of the bulb growing area!  And as though that is not enough, when the bulbs had gone dormant and we stacked the crates for the summer, some mice found their way into the crates and demolished hundreds of corms!

Our cat population has declined drastically and at present we only have our black Squatter.  Unless a new stray finds us quickly, we will have to visit one of the animal welfare institutions and find some kittens.  Our staff situation remains the same, with all of us older and greyer.  We are lucky that Cherrie, who travels as much as she can, still works for us when we are busy.  Over Christmas Ondine is cooking for hundreds of international scouts in the Cederberg Mountains and Denise is off to Scotland to visit her son and family.  We will divide our time between home and Rachel’s mother (who is still working every day), and the mountains, and Darkie will be at home with her children and grandchildren.  Sadly Rachel’s father of 97 died this year after only retiring last year!  Obviously some longevity genes in this family.

We wish you all the best for 2011 and let us hope that the weather does not affect us all too badly.

Best wishes

Rod and Rachel Saunders

From the Archives: Newsletter January 2010

December 2010

Dear Sowers of seeds

As usual, we will start with the weather!  In the Western Cape we had a similar weather pattern this year to last year – good rains in the SW Cape, but the fronts not reaching north or inland or along the south Cape coast.  The area around Knysna and George is extremely dry and they are now enduring very strict water regulations.  Our rains ended as normal, late in September, and we had some fiercely hot weather in October, followed by an incredibly wet November.  In Kenilworth we received 220mm (almost 9 inches) of rain in 4 days, making it one of the wettest Novembers ever recorded.  It became very cold and we were all back to winter woolies and huddling round fires!  The Drakensberg Mountains and Lesotho had heavy falls of snow – not unheard of in November, but rather unusual.  Our bulbs, all still outside drying off, didn’t know what had hit them!

We went north to Namibia in May this year and the desert was looking really good, as it does after reasonable summer rain.  Just how good the rains were we didn’t realise until we arrived at the Brandberg Mountain, north of Windhoek.  We normally access the mountain by means of a dry valley on the west side, and as we drove in, we were surprised to see that the normally bare dry landscape was green and lush with plants a meter high!  On getting out of the car at our campsite, we noticed a noise – the normally dry river was flowing, and flowing strongly with beautiful crystal clear water.  There was no evidence of flood damage and it appeared that the Brandberg (incidentally, the highest peak in Namibia at about 2 500m) had not had the usual thunder storms which bring rain in summer, but had had days and weeks of soft gentle rain.  All the sponges on the mountain were full, and there were streams everywhere.  Although not prepared for it, we decided that this was the one year we had to go up the mountain onto the plateau on top where the rainfall is higher and the vegetation different to that on the slopes.  Normally the walk up is totally dry and the temperature is in the high 30°sC or low 40°sC.  This means that one carries an extremely heavy rucksack with food, sleeping bags and all one’s water requirements, sometimes for 3 or 4 days.  However, this time was rather a different scenario!  The temperature was as high as usual, but we followed the river up, and stopped so many times for swims in large pools, some with glorious waterfalls, that we only got about two thirds of the way up before camping on a sand bank next to an extremely beautiful pool – a campsite in paradise (except for a full moon which shone in our eyes all night)!  The next morning we reached the top, and spent the day botanising before washing under a waterfall and spending the night in a cave.  The third day we went down back to our car.  The ascent and descent of the mountain is quite dramatic – it is mainly by means of long granite slabs, often steeper than 45°, and sometimes hundreds of meters long.  Going up one merely gets out of breath, but coming down really hammers the nerves (some of those slopes were really steep!), the knees and the calf muscles, and we finally reached the car tired, elated and much fitter!  The next day we both had fairly stiff leg muscles, and by the 3rd day, we could hardly move our legs!

We decided not to squander our fitness by sitting around at home, and kept it up by going for long hard walks up Table Mountain and various other peaks around Cape Town.  In late August we flew to Switzerland and spent a week walking in the Alps with a botanist friend, a first for both of us.  We were lucky with the weather which was superb, as was the scenery and the alpine flowers, and we had a wonderful time walking with small day packs from Alpine hut to hut.  From there we went to the Four Oaks Trade Fair near Manchester, and then on to Prague (and the beautiful botanic garden), followed by the Tatras Mountains in Slovakia were we walked every day.  The walking was strenuous with superb scenery, forests which were just turning colour with autumn, and many lovely lakes.

On our return from Europe, we felt fit enough to tackle a walk that we thought we would never do again – the Hex River traverse.  This is probably the finest mountain traverse in South Africa, but is not for the faint hearted!  Route finding is complex with no paths, the days are dry and long, and there is no level walking at any time over the 4 day walk.  The first day is a steep up, the last is a steep down, and the 2 days in between involve crossing numerous peaks, traversing round mountains and finding small necks to cross from one ridge to the next.  We did the walk with Andy (our partner from Frontier Lab) and a friend of his – both of them in their 40s, 10 to 20 years younger than us.  However, luckily for us they were not very fit, and our fitness made up for our advanced ages so we all walked at the same pace!  We had a most enjoyable 4 days with superb weather – clear but cool with no wind.  Every day brought something different and as it was late spring, the flowers were superb.  Coming down a particularly steep and rocky slope, we found what we thought was an unusual species of Hesperantha with a showy bright pink flower and we could not recall ever seeing it before.  Although we had no plant press with us, we took a specimen, pressed it in our map, and on our return to Cape Town, gave it to John Manning at the Compton Herbarium. He took one look at it, proclaimed it an Ixia not a Hesperantha, and said it is a new species!  This is the second new Ixia species we have found on the same mountain in 12 months – one wonders what else lurks there!

Some of the burned areas close to Cape Town produced some marvelous floral displays from August onwards, and as we write this in November, they are still continuing.  Part of Table Mountain burned last summer, and there have been successive sheets of flowers – Gladioli, Ixias, Ornithogalums, Lachenalias, Hesperanthas and Geissorhizas, Moraeas and now thousands of Watsonia borbonnica and Micranthus species.  We have noticed that in the south of the country the best displays are often 4 to 6 weeks later than those further north.

Our staff compliment remains unchanged – everyone a year older, but still healthy and working hard.  Rachel’s mother, now 91 and still working every day, has just had a slight accident in her car which upset her as it is the first accident she has ever had in over 70 years of driving!

Two of our cats – Squatter and Tabby, have become the best of friends, and even our ginger thug Zingiber, has mellowed a little with age!

Best Wishes

Rod & Rachel

From the Archives: Newsletter January 2009

Newsletter January 2009

Dear Seed Sower,

We skipped the newsletter normally sent out in July (and the July catalogue!), and this one follows the January 2008 catalogue.  This last year was so busy that we felt our time was better spent seed collecting than producing a supplementary catalogue.

Last year most of the winter rainfall areas close to Cape Town received excellent rain, and therefore the floral displays in spring were good.  Any visitors who came to see flowers were not disappointed, with Cape Town and surrounds particularly attractive.    The floral display near Cape Town is usually a bit later than Namaqualand (often at its best in early October), and it is often overlooked by tourists who rush northwards to Namaqualand.  It is also more predictable than Namaqualand as weak cold fronts often bring rain to Cape Town, but nowhere else.  We find that the most beautiful displays are the ones that catch you unawares.  This last year we were travelling along a back road in the southern Cape near Laingsburg when we saw “vygies” (mesems) which boggled our minds!  From horizon to horizon, stretching to the distant mountains, was a sheet of purple so intense that it coloured the sky.  This area certainly had good rains!  The Ceres Karoo, an intensely arid area normally receiving less than 100mm of rain annually, also produced good displays of flowers – mostly orange Pentzia and yellow Gazanias, but what they lacked in variety, they made up in numbers.  The Little Karoo, not going to be outdone, produced some beautiful displays of Aloes, particularly Aloe striata.  In some cases the plants are growing so thickly that when they flower, the flower spikes form a sea of colour which fills the entire valley with a beautiful coral red.

After fairly good summer rains last December and January, we were expecting all the winter growing Amaryllids to flower well.  They did flower, but it wasn’t spectacular and a number of species did absolutely nothing.  We are still at a loss as to what makes these bulbs flower en masse.

In June, we decided to head north east, through South Africa to the lower Limpopo Valley in Mozambique.  Access to Mozambique is now much simpler than a few years ago – no Visas required for South African citizens, and there is a new border post in the far north of the Kruger National Park at Pafuri.  The vegetation was interesting and it was better wooded than on the South African side, but we were disappointed to find that there were large numbers of people & livestock living in the area. This is a so-called “Transfrontier Park” – it is supposed to be an extension of the Kruger Park into Mozambique, so we expected to see no people, no cattle, no goats but lots of wild animals, similar to the Kruger Park.  However, the lack of game turned out to be an advantage for us as we were able to collect a large bag of Adansonia digitata fruit, which is normally eagerly eaten by many animals, including elephants.  These Transfrontier Parks, of which there are several, were supposed to be huge expanses of land that allowed game to move in traditional migration routes, irrespective of political borders.  It is sad that this particular Park is not working in the way in which it was envisaged.

Before this trip to Mozambique, we flew to the UK where both of us had speaking engagements with the South African Bulb Group in Southampton.  After this we took the opportunity to have a walking holiday in Cornwall, with “Gardens of Cornwall” as its theme.  It is surprising how many South African plants are grown in that part of the world, and we wonder how many of them have survived in the last few weeks which have been bitterly cold in many parts of Europe and the USA.  We made our arrangements through a company called “Let’s go Walking” in the UK.  They took care of our luggage and accommodation, and all we had to do was set off on our walk in the mornings with only a day pack containing our lunch and rain gear.  It was a most pleasant way of seeing the country and we recommend it whole heartedly.  We believe it is called “Slack packing”!  We then spent 3 weeks in Turkey, doing much the same – walking from place to place with a day pack, with our luggage and accommodation organized for us by another excellent company, SNP.  We spent a week in Istanbul – a fascinating but hectic city, followed by 2 weeks in Cappadocia which has the most extraordinary and beautiful scenery.  We were a bit late for spring flowers, and we missed the displays of bulbs such as tulips, but we saw sheets of poppies, cornflowers and other annuals at higher elevations in better watered areas, plus various perennials such as Salvias in full flower.  We loved the food, the carpets and the architecture, and the walking was superb.

Two months before Christmas the economic downturn suddenly hit us, and our seed sales virtually dried up overnight.  Oddly enough, book sales increased to a record high which surprised us as books cost considerably more than seeds do!  At one stage we were checking the internet and the fax machine to see if they were still working!  Having said that, sales since Christmas have taken off and we are again rushing around madly.

Sadly, last year saw the death of our 2 old cats – they were both about 16 years old, so they had good long lives.  For a while we were down to 2 cats – Zingibar, a beautiful orange (stray) cat with an unpredictable nature, and Squatter, a black stray who moved in about a year ago.  In October a young wild tabby cat took up residence in the garden, and he has since moved in and become very affectionate.  We have decided that somewhere on our fence is a sign in cat language that says “All strays welcome here” and we are destined to become Saint Rachel and Saint Rod, the patron saint of stray cats!

Our staff situation remains the same as usual, with all of us still reasonably fit and healthy. Rachel’s mother turned 90 in December, and she still turns up to work at 8am each day!  Denise walked in Kyrgyzstan in July, and Ondine has just returned from climbing Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.  Darkie’s granddaughter is now at high school in Cape Town.

We trust that 2009 will see an upswing in world affairs and that all of you remain passionate about your plants and gardens.

With Best Wishes

(Patron Saint of Stray cat’s) Rod and Rachel

From the Archives: Newsletter January 2008

Newsletter January 2008

Dear Plant Lovers

Yet another year has scurried by.  Is this rush of time because we are all so busy, or is it a symptom of every increasing age?

In the last newsletter we contemplated whether we could expect a good display of Amaryllids in the autumn of 2007 – well, the answer is no, and we are none the wiser as  to what makes them flower en masse or even what makes them flower at all!  With minor exceptions, most SW Cape Amaryllids did not flower well, with possibly the most disappointing being the Haemanthus species.  Some, for example, Haemanthus namaquensis, have not flowered for almost 5 years, and we look forward to seeing what they do in autumn 2008.  This year everything seemed right for flowering, including good rains early in autumn, but obviously there was something stopping them that we don’t know about.

This last winter in the SW Cape was perfect for flowers and those of you who visited the Cape in spring 2007 will have seen one of the best floral displays for many years.  We had good heavy falls of rain accompanied by snow in the high mountains at regular intervals from April until the end of October.  By contrast the Karoo and the central parts of the country are experiencing a severe drought.  The rains have continued well into late spring and this has favoured good seed set resulting in some fine seed collecting trips.  It has also favoured the late flowering species of bulbous plants which often fail to flower or to set seed, due to premature dormancy.  The down side of this is that all the seed has to be cleaned, sorted and packed.  Rod spends his days from morn till night banging, shaking and sieving see, and still the crates of drying seeds awaiting cleaning remain undiminished!

Each time we visited Namaqualand this spring we were chased out by rain and icy cold weather.  Our last trip 2 weeks ago is a good example.  On the first day the temperature was in the high 30s (celsius) and we were into every farm dam and reservoir desperately trying to stay cool.  We then drove north, expecting even hotter conditions, but that wasn’t to be!  We went to bed in our thin summer sleeping bags, normal for this time of year, and woke during the night freezing cold with the weather looking black and ominous.  We hadn’t taken thicker sleeping bags with us (this is summer!) so we had to put all our clothes back on and huddle in the tent miserably! The next day we collected seeds in all our clothes plus raincoats, and we were still not warm!

In September/October our Aloe seed collecting trip to Venda in the very north of South Africa was also washed out and the whole time we were there it rained gently and softly, most unusual for that part of the world.  A few years ago we spent some time chatting to one of the local inhabitants, and he told us “It is difficult for Venda to get rain” which was an accurate statement!  Normally it is fiercely hot with the odd short thunder storm, and prolonged drizzle is not common.  We were astounded at how quickly the vegetation responds to the first rain of the summer.  We slept under a baobab tree (Adansonia digitata) one night, and when we went to bed the branches were bare.  It rained hard during the night and next morning the first leaves were unfurling and some flowers were making an appearance.  In this part of the world, if you snooze, you lose!

Coupled with this trip to collect Aloes, we flew to Ireland & the UK for a short speaking tour.  We toured some gardens, gave some talks, and managed to do some lovely walking.  Everyone had warned us about the bad weather in Ireland, but we probably had more rain on our return to South Africa than we had in Ireland!  South Africa is perceived as a dry country by most people, and yes, parts of it are very dry.  But large areas actually get more rain than most of Europe, with Cape Town getting about 1250mm (50 inches) and Johannesburg 500mm (20 inches).  The difference is that in Europe the rain tends to be softer and to fall more frequently, giving the impression of a wetter climate, whereas in South Africa our rain generally falls in short bursts, separated by periods of sun and heat.

Our staff situation remains unchanged, but we do have a new addition to the cats.  For many months earlier this year we fed a stray black cat that had taken up abode in our garden.  He was a fully fledged tom and was becoming troublesome, so we managed to trap him and have him neutered, but he still remained wild and we fed him outside under one of the cars.  On our return from a particularly long field trip, we opened the back door, and in he rushed, rubbed round our legs and told us how pleased he was to see us!  We assumed that while we were away, one of our staff had managed to tame him, but they told us that they had hardly ever seen him, apart from at mealtimes under the car.  He slept on our bed that night, and has remained with us ever since.  Darkie christened him Squatter, and the name has stuck!  Our other cats have become quite old and bony, as old cats do.  When we started Silverhill Seeds, two of them were young spry creatures, and now they are 18 and 16.  We have been running the business for about 15 years and we hope that you have enjoyed the variety of seeds.  Where have all the years gone to?

Best wishes

Rod & Rachel Saunders

From the Archives: Newsletter January 2007

January 2007

Dear Customer

All our newsletters seem to start with the weather, and this one is no exception!  As gardeners, the weather is of great importance to us all as it determines what we can and cannot grow, and rain, either too much or not enough, is foremost in our minds.  At the end of the last wet season in the SW Cape, we heard from a number of people how wet it had been.  However, after talking to farmers throughout the winter rainfall area, it appears that for most places the rainfall was actually about average –  I think that we have had so many dry years that we have forgotten what “average” rain is like!  The distribution throughout the season was good, resulting in excellent flower displays, and our only criticism is that the rain stopped early – in early September instead of in October.  Some areas, however, did receive far more than their average rain – the southern Cape and further east along the coast had major floods, and Namaqualand and the Karoo had about 3 to 5 times their normal quota.

We are now well into our hot dry season, although we have had some unexpected showers of rain.  Looking out of the window a few minutes ago, we saw a helicopter flying past with it’s fire bucket hanging underneath, so it seems as though the fires have now begun.

At the end of August the Indigenous Bulb Society held a Symposium in Worcester, about 100km from Cape Town, and almost 100 delegates from all over the world attended.  The bulb displays on our field trips were spectacular (a far cry from the last Symposium 2 years ago!) and everyone took far more photos than expected!  Thank goodness for digital cameras!  We visited Middelpos (in the Karoo) immediately after the Symposium with 38 delegates, at the height of the bulb flowering time.  This sadly taxed the resources of the Middelpos Hotel which only has accommodation for 18 people!  They solved the problem by packing some of the town inhabitants off to Sutherland for 3 days, thereby vacating their houses for us, and other delegates stayed in the Clinic and school hostel!  Middelpos normally receives about 125mm (5 inches) of rain each year, but this winter they received 375mm (15 inches), resulting in the best flower displays in living memory. The displays of Romuleas were particularly impressive, and we saw fields of the most spectacular Romulea unifola, a species that we normally struggle to find at all.  We also saw all the old favourites:  Tritonias, Bulbinellas, Daubenyas, Ixias, Geissorhizas, Babianas, Lachenalias, and of course sheets of annuals such as Felicias, Dimorphothecas, Senecios and Zaluzianskyas.  We went back to the area a month later, and found fields of the rare Gladiolus marlothii, Ixia thomasiae and various other October flowering species, including some unusual species.

We are now waiting with interest to see what effect this rain will have had on the autumn flowering Amaryllids.  In March 2006 they did not really flower at all throughout the winter rainfall area, despite good early rains in March and April.  The more we see of these plants, the more we realise how little we know of their life cycles and what makes them flower.

Our collecting year in 2006 was as busy and as rushed as usual with trips to the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, Venda and the Drakensberg, plus Namibia and Botswana.  When we tell people that we are off on a field trip, they always look at us knowingly and they seem to think that we are off on holiday, or a jaunt to enjoy ourselves!  Well, yes we do enjoy ourselves, but field trips involve lots of hard work.  We work from sunrise to sunset, in all weathers from freezing to over 40°C, in rain and sun.  Our evenings are usually spent cleaning seed, treating it with insecticide, ensuring that all the collecting details and plant names are correctly recorded, and packing it all away in the car.  Often slightly green seed may have to be ripened in water, and these jars are inspected every day for ripe capsules.  And of course if the seed was collected wet, it all needs to be dried out before being packed.  Our last couple of trips have been fiercely hot with temperatures in the low 40°Cs.  On these trips we spend as much time looking for farm water reservoirs as we do for seeds!  We stop the car, leap over the fence and strip off our clothes in a trice, and a few seconds later we are in the water!  What a relief.  Seed collecting under these conditions requires caution – everything is so dry and brittle that if you accidentally touch the seed spike or capsule, the seed flies off in all directions.  The opposite applies when it is wet.  Then the plants are reluctant to let go of their seed, the capsules rehydrate and it becomes impossible to tell whether they contain seed or not.  If the seed is very fine and dust-like, one cannot collect it at all as it just sticks to everything.

Despite the sometimes indifferent weather and the days of fairly boring driving, yes we do enjoy the field trips.  Particularly on those occasions when the weather is perfect and one comes round a corner and there is a plant you have dreamed off, just dripping with ripe seed!

We DID go on holiday this year – we spent 3 weeks walking on the Canary Islands, off the coast of Morocco, and we didn’t collect one seed!  We spent most of our time on La Palma where the walking is either very up or very down, but wonderful.  The islands are volcanic so the scenery and the plants are fascinating.  We also spent a few days on Lanzarote and on Tenerife where we climbed El Teide at 3720m.  The volcanic cone was snow covered on the day we climbed it, and this contrasts greatly with the smoke and sulphur fumes that pour out.  It took us about 6 hours to walk up, and 4 minutes to get down in the cable car!

Frontier’s new plant house at Brackenfell is now fully operational and is at present full of flowering Streptocarpus and Zantedeschia hybrids in all colours.  Rod and Andy spent a couple of Saturday mornings at the local craft market selling potted Zantedeschias in full flower, as Christmas presents.

Happy Planting

Rod &Rachel Saunders

From the Archives: Newsletter July 2006

July 2006

Dear Customer

Thank heavens for small mercies – at present it is pouring with rain and it is cold and wet.  Although we have had regular rain this winter, up until yesterday we have only had about ¼ of our annual rainfall, with almost half of the winter behind us.  Hopefully this current fall will improve the figures.  Our dams in the SW Cape are all about half full, so we are not as desperate as we were last year.

In the last newsletter we were about to leave for Uganda and the Ruwenzori Mountains, albeit with some trepidation as the Ruwenzoris have a reputation of being very rugged and hard mountains.  After flying from Johannesburg to Entebbe via Rwanda, we hired a car, met up with our two botanical companions, and drove to Kasese at the foot of the mountains.  The next morning, after a short drive, we presented ourselves at the Ruwenzori Mountain Services office at Ibanda, and were supplied with 3 guides and 15 porters.  That afternoon, after repacking our rucksacks to the porter’s requirements, we set off on our 9 day circuit of the mountains.  We saw a complete range of vegetation from equatorial jungle at the lower levels to Dendrosenecio forests and giant Lobelias in the afro-alpine zone.  The first 2 days were reasonably warm although partly cloudy, but once we were above 3000 m above sea level, we had snow or rain or both every day.  We kept having to remind ourselves that this was supposed to be the “dry” season – what the wet season must be like we cannot imagine!  The walking and the scenery were both magnificent, and as we only walked between 7 and 10km each day, we had plenty of time to botanise.  Our highest night was at an altitude of 4500m, and the vegetation at that level consisted of only mosses.  Our guides were extremely knowledgeable on birds, animals and plants, and at the end of the trip we all agreed that it was probably the most enjoyable walk that we had ever done.  Whilst in Uganda we also took the opportunity to go chimpanzee tracking in Kibale Forest where we were treated to some really close encounters with several groups of animals habituated to man.  We camped in the Forest for 3 nights, and had an interesting time trying to identify trees that were tens of meters high.  Driving in Uganda is not for the faint hearted, and at the end of 3 weeks we were very relieved to get ourselves and our car back to Kampala in one piece!  Our last day was spent in the Entebbe Botanic Garden on the shores of Lake Victoria, with hundreds of Fish Eagles calling overhead.  A wonderful way to end a superb trip.

The interior of South Africa had a particularly wet summer and good to excellent rains fell over most of the country, including the dry western and southern parts of Namibia.  We visited Namibia to see it lush and green instead of its usual arid self.  It was amazing to see meter high grass in areas that are normally totally devoid of vegetation.  You will see from the catalogue that we collected many Sesamum species and three species of Rogeria – we also obtained photographs of them which we will put onto the website so you will be able to see how attractive they are.  Despite the good rain it has been a disappointing seed year with nearly all the woody plants putting their energies into growth and reserves rather than into reproduction.  Our route home from Namibia took us through eastern Botswana, an area of savannah woodland which is largely uninhabited.  We drove along some deserted rather remote side roads, but eventually had to give up and return to the main road because of all the elephants!  It appears as though all the elephants from Zimbabwe have relocated into Botswana, and we encountered every one of them – we saw hundreds!  The final straw was when we landed up with all four of our car tyres stuck in elephant footprints in the mud, and we had to engage 4 wheel drive to get out only to fall into the next ones!  That night we camped under a large tree in the area, and a couple of elephants dropped in for dinner and were feeding on Mopane trees a few meters away from our tent.  At the time we were a bit nervous, but thinking back, we really are privileged!

On our way to and from Namibia, we visited all of our usual Amaryllid localitites, but were very disappointed as there were hardly any flowers at all.  Some species such as Hessea breviflora and Strumaria truncata and salteri flowered well, but there were no mass displays of Brunsvigias or Haemanthus of any sort.  The more we see of these plants, the more we realise how little we know about them – what makes them flower, for example?  It is obviously far more than a case of wet or dry.

Andy, our partner at Frontier Laboratories, has expanded once again and has added another 4000m2 of greenhouse to the lab.  We intend using it for growing on some of the bulbs that we produce, eg Zantedeschias, Scadoxus, Veltheimias, Ornithogalums, Agapanthus etc.  The lab is very busy and we are vaguely thinking of expanding it.  The property is looking very nice this season, with most of the “alien” vegetation (Australian Acacia species) now removed.  Each year more and more annuals and bulbs flower in the undeveloped portion of the property, and we realise how many species managed to survive the 30 or more years under invasive tree species.

Rod has found that seed cleaning has an element of risk attached to it.  He has developed a most impressive and persistent allergy to Podocarpus falcatus seeds!  His face swelled to the point where he could barely open his eyes, and he was covered in a scarlet blotchy rash all over his body.  A trip to the doctor and 4 injections later he seems to be on the mend, but at present is extremely irritable, itchy and best left alone!  He has cleaned these seeds for about 12 years with no problems at all, so what happened this year we don’t  know.  His message is – treat Podocarpus with respect!

At present we are preparing for the IBSA (Indigenous Bulb Society of SA) Symposium, to be held at the end of August. Rod is the Chairman of the Society and Rachel is the treasurer, so we both have lots of work to do.  The bulb displays for the field trips should be excellent this year due to the rain, so hopefully all our delegates will have an interesting time. Maybe we will see some of you at the Symposium.


As many of you know, we are having increasing problems with the USDA, and they are taking up to 3 weeks to inspect our parcels.  The US Government has brought out a new system for people importing small quantities of seeds.  You need to apply for a permit for “Small Lots of Seed”, and you can then import seeds with no phytosanitary certificate. Not only will this make your seed orders cheaper, but it should make the whole system much quicker.   To get a permit, a resident of the USA sends in a permit application form.  Information is at: .  Alternatively, go to: and click on the Small Lots of Seeds Program. From there, you can click on “PPQ Form 587” (a form that is used for many kinds of plant permits) to download, print, and fill it out. Page 2 of the form has special instructions for the small lots of seed permit. There are only two lines that require special wording; the rest is your personal information.  Then the completed and signed application needs to be faxed or mailed to
the number or address at the end of the instructions (page 3).

Best wishes to you all

Rod and Rachel Saunders

From the Archives: Newsletter July 2005

May 2005

Dear Plant Lovers

We have succumbed to pressure and have printed a catalogue again!  Yes, we said that we were not going to print one this year, but it seems that there are arguments both for and against a printed catalogue.  Not printing one saved us money, but we have noticed that our customer base has changed.  Many of our old customers who ordered regularly previously have not ordered this year, and we feel it may be due to the necessity for Internet access.  We had many moans and complaints, and we have realised that on the whole, gardeners do not like computers, and they like to read proper catalogues printed on paper!  So we have had one printed in a hurry, unfortunately without a colour cover this year, and hopefully it will make everyone happier again.  This catalogue will be something of a litmus test and will determine our future policy.   One option may be to print a catalogue each year, but to charge a small fee for it to lessen the cost of printing.  Your comments would be helpful – do you want a catalogue each year, and would you be prepared to pay for it?

Due to the rapid turnover of seeds, we suggest that you decide which seeds you want, and then before placing the order, please check the website to see which new species have been added to stock, and which species are sold out. This will mean that you are less likely to order out of stock seeds.  Our website has been revamped and it is extremely fast and even simpler to use than before.

Working from home is a real pleasure and as we have mentioned before in a previous newsletter, we should never have moved in the first place!  We have modified our house slightly, we installed 2 telephone numbers (one business and one private) and we make sure that the business does not invade our privacy to the same extent anymore.  We try to limit our working hours as it is very easy to just keep on working late into the night.

Those of you who have phoned this year may have spoken to Denise, our new staff member.  She is an old friend from the Mountain Club and has taken over from Frances.

Darkie, Ondine, Cherrie and Rachel’s mother are all still with us, and we hope that they prefer our garden to the bullet proof vest factory!

Rod celebrated (or mourned) his 60th birthday earlier this year with several botanical friends.  Luckily he still feels as fit as ever, but creaks more as he plods up the hills!  He has taken the plunge and is in the process of acquiring a digital camera.  Those of you who visit our website will have noticed that we have added many photos to the site.  This is an ongoing process, and will continue until we reach the end of the slide collection.

Now to comment on the weather, a matter of great interest to all gardeners.  The rainy season in the SW Cape started with a “bang” this year.  We had a “black south-easter” together with a cold front which dumped 125mm (5 inches) of rain on Cape Town overnight.  The towns further east (Hermanus and Bredasdorp areas), received a devastating 450mm (18 inches) over 2 days, together with lightning and thunder.  Normally the south east wind brings fair cool weather to the SW Cape – a black south-easter is rare and brings heavy rain and violent storms.  This was over a month ago and several areas are still 1m under water!  The damage caused was immense – erosion of farms, huge washaways in the roads, many people homeless and many towns cut off for several weeks.  Ironically our dams are still only 29% full – of course the rain did not fall in the catchment areas!  Since this initial rain, we have had fairly regular falls in Cape Town, and as we write this, it is blowing from the north west and threatening to rain. Hopefully it will come in the night.  To conserve water we have installed a 5000 liter rainwater tank which catches water off about 50% of our roof, to supplement the grey water from the house. Wash day is now “bucket day” as we cart water from the washing machine to as many plants as possible.  We have our name on a waiting list to sink a borehole and that may help our water problems in the garden.  Namaqualand has also had early rain this season, so it looks as though there may be flowers this year.  This obviously depends on the rain for the rest of the season.

The Vanrhynsdorp area produced a spectacular flush flowering of Brunsvigia bosmaniae this autumn.  There were literally thousands of bulbs all flowering at once in April, yet 60km away in Nieuwoudtville, hardly any of the large Amaryllids flowered at all. Such is the fickleness of flower displays.  However it was a superb year for Strumaria watermeyeri which we found north and south of Nieuwoudtville, plus Crinum variabile was magnificent in the river beds.  Two weeks later all the Amaryllids had gone, and Nieuwoudtville was a blaze of colour  – this time it was Oxalis in yellows, pinks and whites, plus white Polyxena maughanii by the millions.  In a week we are heading for the Richtersveld which has also had rain, and it will be interesting to see what we find there.  The Nieuwoudtville area is famed for its spring flowers, but the display in autumn can be just as spectacular, depending on the rain.

Best wishes to you all for a happy and successful gardening year,

From the Archives: Newsletter January 2005

January 2005

Dear Customers,

Perhaps the biggest change in our lives at present is the moving of our business (yet again!), this time back to our home.  With the wisdom of hindsight, we should never have moved anywhere, and just stayed here!  It would have saved us a large amount of mental energy, physical labour and money!  The industrial premises at Diep River were very suitable space-wise, and with 200m2 at our disposal we expanded accordingly.  We are now struggling to fit back into 100m2 and we have had to get rid of a fair amount of office furniture.  Unfortunately our neighbour at Diep River manufactured bullet proof vests, and like most activities connected with the arms industry, this was highly anti-social.  Large machines knitting stainless steel wire make a lot of noise, so much so that on some occasions we couldn’t hear ourselves speak with our windows open.  To top this racket, they played the local pop radio station at full blast to drown out the noise of the machinery!  In addition to this, although the premises were only 8km from our home, it sometimes took almost an hour to get to work, time we could ill afford.  So, we are back home!  Our cats are delighted to have us at home again, and they spend much of their time in the seed room, on top of whatever we are trying to do.  We have built a tiny “swimming pool” (about 1m x 2m) in our back garden, and the sound of bubbling water while we work is far better than any noise the bullet proof vest people produced.

Our postal address remains PO Box 53108, Kenilworth, 7745 South Africa, and once again we have our old telephone (+27 21 762 4245) and fax numbers (+27 21 797 6609).

During December 2004 and January 2005 we decided to take a break and try to regain our lives – working in the garden, doing pottery again, walking in the mountains, and generally relaxing.  This did not really work out as planned, and we probably worked harder than ever!  We spent 2 weeks at the beginning of December in the north eastern part of South Africa, in an area known as Venda.  Venda was one of the ill-fated “homelands” that the previous white government of South Africa started in order to give self government to the black population.  The area is populated by the people belonging to the Venda tribe, and much of the area consists of the Soutpansberg Mountains.  There are many endemic species in these botanically rich mountains, and until recently, the area was poorly botanised.  Previously it was thought that Brachystegia, a large leguminous tree, did not occur in South Africa.  Brachystegia is the principal genus in Msasa woodland that covers large areas of Zimbabwe, Zambia, Angola and as far north as Tanzania, where it colours the grassland red in spring.  A couple of years ago 3 colonies were discovered in Venda, to the great excitement of botanists in this country.  One of the notable features is that Brachystegia woodland has a number of endemic bird species associated with it, and these too occur in the tree populations in South Africa.  This has started a mini tourism boom in the area, which is bringing in much needed income for the local people.  Another species not previously thought to occur in South Africa is Aloe excelsa, and this too is present in Venda.   Needless to say, we returned from our trip laden with seeds – so much for a holiday!

Since our return to Cape Town we have spent most of our time moving and trying to keep cool in the heat.  In the Western Cape we are in the grips of the most horrendous drought with dam levels dropping (now at 40%) and water restrictions in place.  We are allowed to water our gardens for 30 minutes each week, and it is a challenge to keep our precious plants alive, particularly as the temperature is above 30°C most days.  Ironically, the southern Cape, only 300km away, is having floods with 250mm (10 inches) of rain in 12 hours!  It becomes bizarre when Robertson has its bridges washed away by abnormally heavy rain, and Worcester, just 80km away, receives 1mm of rain!  Coupled with the abnormally dry conditions, we have an arsonist doing the rounds of Cape Town.  We have had several major fires over the last week, and 10 smaller fires over this last weekend!  Don’t you just love the human race?  The helicopter pilots are having a lot of practice at scooping up sea water in special fire buckets and depositing it onto fires.  Whether the fynbos likes salt water, we are not sure, but with our water problems, that is what they are using.  It is amazing to watch their accuracy in depositing the water onto a line of fire, and it is extremely effective.

Our trip to Scotland in October went well, and despite rather gloomy weather, we enjoyed our stay very much.  Rod gave about 8 lectures and slide shows over 2 weeks to the members of the Scottish Rock Garden Society in various towns, and we travelled from south of Glasgow to the northernmost tip and back again.  We met many interesting people, had some delicious food and saw some wonderful scenery.

As mentioned in out last newsletter, we have decided not to print a catalogue this year, due to the cost of both printing and posting.  This means that from now onwards, you will have to use our website if you wish to order seeds.  We have tried to make our website more user friendly, and it is now possible to print out whichever section you require, and then you can peruse it in bed or in the bath!  We will include a “Beginner’s guide” at the end of this newsletter for those who are new to the Internet.  During the last month we have been scanning some of our many slides and illustrating the website, so in future you should be able to see what the plants look like.  This process has highlighted some glaring inadequacies in our photographic collection, but hopefully in time these will be rectified.

Staff-wise, we will have Darkie, Ondine, Cherry and Rachel’s mother working for us this year, and we will employ someone to help in the office.  After 10 years of working for us, Frances has left to work as a librarian again.

Payments:  due to the high commission that the banks are charging us on foreign cheques (R100 = USD17 = ₤9), we will unfortunately not be able to accept foreign cheques for small amounts.  Please ask before sending a cheque.  Several people have asked why we do not use Paypal – for some reason Paypal does not operate in South Africa and will not let South Africans register.  It is probably something to do with our foreign exchange regulations.  Please ask if you would like to pay by Paypal as the situation may change over the year.

We wish all of you a peaceful 2005, and we hope that the year does not continue in the same way as it started for those unfortunate people living near the Indian Ocean.  South Africa, amazingly, also felt the effects of the tsunami, and 3 or 4 people lost their lives.  Nothing in comparison to the horrors of the north though.

Best wishes and happy gardening

Rod & Rachel Saunders