From the Archives: Newsletter January 2006

                December 2005

Dear Customer

Unbelievable as it may seem, it is already December again!  Perhaps it is our age, or the speed of modern day living, but time seems to fly faster and faster each year.

When we last wrote, the Cape was at the start of the rainy season, and we hoped for a good season.  We did receive reasonable rain over the winter, and by the end of October when the rain stopped, the average dam level in the SW Cape was 88%.  Some dams such as the Clanwilliam dam were overflowing, but Cape Town’s storage dams were slightly lower.  The rain even reached Namaqualand this winter, and the flower season was reasonable.  Further east along the coast, the rainfall was poor and there have been some devastating fires along the Garden Route.

All water restrictions have now been removed in Cape Town, and we can water our gardens again.  Whether this is a bright move by the City Council or not, remains to be seen, as our dam level is already down to 75%.  Cape Town’s water problems are by no means over – our population has increased astronomically over the last few years, due to both a high birth rate and population movement from rural areas and from countries to the north of us.  A new dam is being constructed at present, but the projections are that this will not solve our long-term water shortage.  In June we drilled a borehole in the middle of our driveway where it caused minimal disruption, and we now use that water for the garden and seed cleaning.

Now it is our turn for fires, and the SW Cape is burning in all directions.  Last week there were something like 10 fires in and around Cape Town, and once again the poor fynbos on the mountains is under threat.  We were supposed to be in Bainskloof about 100km from Cape Town last weekend to help remove alien vegetation, but on our arrival we were told to leave again as the whole area was burning.  It is frightening to see the mountains go up in flames.  There was a gale force wind blowing and within seconds entire mountain slopes were engulfed in flames, leaping 10 to 15 meters into the air.  The last fire in the area was only 10 years ago, which is barely enough time for most reseeding plants to build up seed reserves.  We are now hoping for a good wet winter next year to ensure maximum survival of the seedlings.

In July Rod acquired a digital camera (a Nikon single lens reflex) and he has had a lot of fun playing with it. The photos on the cover of the catalogue were all taken using it together with the lenses he had on his conventional film camera.  The biggest advantage of using it is when the wind is blowing and it is extremely difficult to make the Dierama or Moraea keep still.  Now he shoots 10 or 20 pictures, and invariably at least one of them is focused and perfect.

During 2005 we made several trips to the north east of South Africa, to the area called Venda.  We went once in summer, once in winter to see all the Aloes in flower, and once in October to collect seed.  It is one of our favourite areas to botanise, but alas it is also becoming over-run with people.  With all the political instability in Zimbabwe, only a few kilometers away, a lot of refugees are moving south and settling in Venda, which is very similar to the area they have left.  Each time we go there are more houses, more people and fewer trees.  The pictures of Stictocardia macalusoi and Adenia spinosa on the back cover of the catalogue were both taken on our last trip to Venda.  Stictocardia is a plant that is native to Kenya, and one wonders how it got to Venda where it grows in profusion along someone’s fence, making a wonderful show.  We were lucky with the Adenia spinosa – the plants were bristling with ripe seeds.  However, the temperature that day was over 40°C, and the seeds were extremely fiddly to collect.  By the time we had finished, we were both covered in Adenia juice, bleeding from contact with the spines, and pouring with sweat!  Adenias are poisonous, but we are both still alive so presumably the seeds and seed capsules are not poisonous!

Early in January we are heading off to Uganda for 2 weeks.  This time we are flying as we cannot afford the time to drive there (about 6 or 7 days from Cape Town, driving more or less non-stop).  We hope to see some high altitude flora in the Ruwenzori Mountains, and maybe see a gorilla or a chimpanzee or two!  We have had inoculations for yellow fever, meningitis and typhoid, and we are armed with mosquito nets and malaria pills, plus clothes to suit cold weather at 4000m above sea level, and clothes to suit hot humid weather at the equator!  More about that in the next newsletter.

We still love working from home again, and we often wonder why we had to go through all those moves to make us realise how lucky we are at home!  Our garden is thriving with the little bit of extra water it is getting this summer and our tiny 1 x 2 meter swimming pool gets a lot of use, particularly after our frequent fights with the bank, the post office, the courier, the income tax office, the Cape Town city council etc etc!

Our employees remain the same – Darkie, Denise, Cherie, Ondine and Rachel’s mother.  Ondine’s oldest child goes to school next year, and so the years go by!  Our 3 cats are all still with us, but 2 are old and every time we go away we wonder if they will still be here when we get back.  All of them are good at lying on whatever one is trying to do, and fiddling with the computer keyboards!

The tissue culture lab at our smallholding at Brackenfell is doing well, and this year Andy planted a large number of coloured arums (Zantedeschia) in pots.  They are all in full flower now, and he has been having fun selling them as Christmas presents at various craft markets around Cape Town.  They are a fairly challenging crop to grow successfully, and he is justifiably proud of the plants.  We have almost finished clearing all the alien vegetation on the property (mostly Australian acacias) and the fynbos in the undeveloped area is doing well.  We have planted several rare and endangered species that used to occur in Brackenfell, and most of them are thriving in the sand. We will need to water them this summer as they are small still and the ground is very dry already.  There is no sign of any summer rain this year unfortunately.

Happy seed sowing and let’s once again hope for a peaceful 2006,

Rod and Rachel Saunders


From the Archives: Newsletter July 2004

July 2004

Dear plant lovers,

Welcome to the July supplementary catalogue.  As usual, the main thing on our minds at present is the weather.  We are now into our 3rd or 4th year of drought, and we fear that this is a consequence of global warming. Rainfall is down again this year, but the distribution pattern has been better than last year so it seems as though there will be a floral display of sorts in Nieuwoudtville and Namaqualand.  However, if we do not have a substantial fall within the next 2 weeks, the displays will be early and short lived.  Agriculturally the next year could be disastrous as the main storage dams in the Western Cape are only 36% full, and we are already more than half way through the winter.  All we can do is hope for late rain, much as happened last year.

Our trip to the Drakensberg early in December was excellent, and we saw many special plants in flower that we normally only see in seed.  Probably the most striking of these was Zaluzianskya ovata with its bi-coloured orange and pink flowers cascading off the crags.  Sani Pass was unforgettable with Eucomis schijfii, Cyrtanthus flanaganii, Moraea alticola, several species of Geranium, Sutherlandia montana, Delosperma nubigena, various Crassula species, Senecio macrospermus, Urginea macrocentra, Dianthus basuticus, Sebaea spathulata and many others in full flower. The only problem in visiting the Drakensberg in summer is the weather.  By midday there is usually a storm brewing and you don’t want to be botanizing on high ground for fear of lightning strikes.  Normally the storms last an hour or so, so if we are in an interesting area we sit in the car and wait for it to pass, then start flower hunting again.  We combined this trip with a visit to Swaziland and Mpumalanga which were both extremely dry still.  The rain in these areas generally starts in September or October and continues through the summer, tailing off in March. This year the rain only started in late December, and by then it was too late for sowing maize in many areas.  We had a funny experience in Swaziland – we spent 2 nights in a game reserve in the east of the country, on the Mozambique border.  One evening we went for a walk and were accompanied by a female ostrich!  Every time we stopped to look at plants, she stopped and found something to eat, when we went on, she followed closely behind us.  We then met a family of tiny baby warthogs who seemed to have lost their mother.  They took one look at us and decided that we were friendly, so dashed up to us squealing loudly.  We nearly had a fit as mother warthogs are extremely fierce, and if she had followed them, she would have attacked us!  We turned round and ran in the opposite direction as fast as we could, and so did our ostrich!  When we finally got back to the campsite, the ostrich had a snack of bread, and then settled down next to our car for the night.  A friend for life!

This area of Swaziland was drought struck, while in the west they had had floods!  Global warming has certainly made the weather most unpredictable with wetter, drier, warmer and colder weather than usual, all over the world.

On this same trip we spent a lovely day in the Leolo Mountains looking at and photographing Zantedeschia jucunda, a very beautiful plant with deep yellow flowers.

The weather has had a large effect on our seed harvesting this year.  Not only have many species not set seed, but those that have set, have ripe seed much later than usual.  Normally many tree species have ripe seed in May or June – this year most were still green and we will have to go collecting again this month.

Later this year (in October) we are off to Scotland on a lecture tour as guests of the Scottish Rock Garden Society.  We are both looking forward to it as we have not traveled much in Scotland before.  Rod will be giving about 8 slide shows and lectures, and we will probably arrive home exhausted, wet and cold!  We will leave our car in Johannesburg and on our return, will spend a week Aloe seed collecting before driving home to Cape Town.  Many of the summer rainfall Aloe species flower during the winter months, colouring the brown drab grasslands with their brilliant orange or pink flowers.  Most have ripe seed in October, and normally we collect seeds of 20 to 30 species, making it a very worthwhile field trip.

And now for a whole lot of changes to our business!  Since Silverhill Seeds started about 12 years ago, we have been getting bigger and bigger, with a larger catalogue each year and more employees to help.  We are away more often (up to 6 months of each year) and we travel up to 80 000km per year.  All our leisure activities have had to go and unfortunately, all of this has been accompanied by the loss of youth!  We are both tired and we find it more and more difficult to keep up with the work load.  So we are going to try to scale down a bit.  The first thing we will do is stop producing a printed catalogue.  We regret this, but the cost of printing and sending the catalogue out each year has become enormous.  So from January next year, please look at our website.  We update the website at least once a week so it is far more accurate than a printed catalogue, and we are streamlining the downloading of the catalogue, so those of you who like a printed version can print your own.  We apologize to those of you who are not computer literate, but please don’t despair!  Find a relative or friend who can download the catalogue for you, and then place your order as before – by fax, letter or e mail.  At the same time we will try to decrease the number of species that we collect.  Instead of traveling to the far reaches of the country three times per year, we will go once, and if we don’t find seed of some species, that is too bad!  We would like to spend more time in the mountains of the SW Cape, so hopefully the number of species from this area will increase.

The second change will be that we are going to close down for 2 months at the end of the year – December 2004 and January 2005.  December is a bad month for a mail order business anyway due to Christmas – we normally stop sending out parcels early in December as many get lost, and January is usually the hottest month of the year, horrible for working!  What we are planning to do during this time is catch up on gardening, on pottery and on everything else that has been abandoned for years!  Both of us are keen potters and we have a large gas fired kiln which has been standing idle for about 10 years.  We will start working again in February, so please look at our website then.  We will send out a letter to all of you explaining how the website works and how to order.

The third change will be our employees.  Ondine, Cherry and Darkie will probably stay with us, but Frances (and probably Antonia) will be leaving.  Rachel’s mother will also continue to work for us, still unpaid!

And finally, believe it or not, we will be moving yet again, and now we will be completing the circle as we are moving back home again!!  The premises at Diep River are spacious and light, but we are finding the driving to and fro a nuisance.  At present our personal botanical library is at Diep River and as Rod still works at home cleaning seed, he has to drive to Diep River each time he wants to identify a plant!  The distance is only 8km, but this can sometimes take an hour as there is no direct route between the two localities.  With the wisdom of hindsight, we should have reorganized our house in the first place and stayed there!  We have now modified our garage and we will work in the garage and the back room of our house, and hopefully the business will not take over our entire house, as happened previously.  We will have separate phones for the business and home, and will notify you about the new fax and phone numbers later.

After all that, there is nothing left but to wish you all happy plant growing and may your weather be better than ours!

From the Archives: Newsletter January 2004

Newsletter  January 2004

Dear plant lover,

It seems such a long time ago that we wrote the last newsletter in July – so much has happened and the time has sped past.

Firstly we have taken the plunge and moved Silverhill Seeds and Books to commercial premises in Diep River, a suburb about 8km from our house in Kenilworth in Cape Town.  Please note the change in telephone and fax numbers on our letter head.  All other details – postal address and e mail address remain the same, but if you wish to come and collect your seeds, please phone beforehand and find out where we are.  The premises we now occupy are very pleasant in a light industrial/commercial park.  We are in the loft of a building, we have about 200m2 of space, sufficient parking for all our cars and we look out over the roof tops towards Table Mountain.  We have a garden of about 1 meter2 and we are in the process of planting up a number of pots to beautify our parking area.  The factory opposite us manufactures bullet proof vests, but there are also a number of more civilised businesses, such as several book suppliers, furniture manufacturers and computer consultants in the Park, so we are not alone.  The whole complex is surrounded by a large wall and is patrolled regularly by security guards, and we feel safe working here at weekends and after hours.  We all miss the cat, the garden and the swimming pool at our previous premises, but we do not miss the neighbour!  Rod and Darkie have yet to make the move to Diep River (they are still working in Kenilworth), but they will both move in the New Year.  It is a pity that moves are always accompanied by the spending of large amounts of money – insulation in the ceilings, air conditioners, new shelving, window blinds, etc etc, but hopefully this is the last move for many years!

Secondly, some bad news – for the first time in 12 years, our £ and US$ prices have had to increase this year.  Since we took over Parsley’s Cape Seeds many years ago, our prices have remained £1.20 or US$2 per packet.  Over the years the South African rand devalued markedly, and this was sufficient to keep up with our inflation, and it allowed us to keep the prices the same.  However, this year the rand has strengthened by over 30%, our inflation rate is about 8%, and finally we can no longer put off a price increase.  So prices are now £1.80 or US$3 per packet.  We are sorry about this, but everything from paper to postage to petrol to potting soil has increased in price, and we can no longer keep up.

And thirdly, the Biodiversity Bill.  The Bill (mentioned in our last newsletter) is going through Parliament, more or less unchanged, and we await the results anxiously.  One of the driving forces for the Bill is that certain individuals in South Africa feel that the world has stolen our flora, and little has come back to South Africa in the way of royalties for plants such as Freesias, Gladioli and Proteas, all originally from this country.  What they seem to have conveniently forgotten about is that South Africa makes a lot of money from flora that we have imported from elsewhere – the vines that feed our huge wine industry, the wheat and tobacco and fruit and cut flowers such as roses – and we certainly don’t pay royalties to the countries of origin of these products!  Anyway, what we are now trying to do is to encourage any of you, our customers, who make selections from our seeds, or who use our seeds for a hybridisation programme, or for a pharmaceutical programme, to ask permission before you do this.  We will ask you to sign an agreement with us so that if you produce a “winning plant” or a “miracle cure”, a small royalty is paid back to South Africa.  We hope that this will help to alleviate any future problems.

At present the whole sub-continent of Africa is in the grip of a most horrendous drought.  Both summer and winter rainfall regions are very dry and what rain does fall is in the form of light showers which quickly evaporate.  The SW Cape had its first good front of the winter in August this year (normally in May) and this was the first rain that Namaqualand and the Nieuwoudtville areas received..  The front was accompanied by extreme cold with snow falling and lying on Table Mountain in Cape Town for 2 days running.  On some of the inland ranges, there was snow right down to about 200 meters above sea level, and Stellenbosch had snow almost into the town.  The same storm drove a container ship Maersk Zeeland onto the beach at Milnerton, right outside the Cape Town harbour.  It took a dredger and our most powerful salvage tugs about 6 weeks to get the ship off the sand bank – we thought it was there forever!  Some of the containers contained toxic chemicals (these containers were lifted off the ship by helicopter) and one was filled with Tulip bulbs!

Coinciding with the cold front, the Indigenous Bulb Association of South Africa held its conference at a hot spring in Worcester.  We are both on the IBSA committee, so were both very involved in this conference, which was held in one of the worst “flower years” ever!  Nobody had enough warm clothes and the hot spring pools were one of the most popular places at the resort!  Fortunately the weather cleared up for the field trips, but because of the previous dry conditions there were very few bulbs in flower to show the delegates, and we had to resort to admiring individual plants instead of the big sheets of flowers that we had hoped for.

In Namaqualand there was no floral display at all in August or September.  A few daring annuals germinated in August after the rain, and they provided a small display in October, long after all the tourists had gone home!  Fortunately for us, our annuals at the tissue culture lab in Brackenfell flowered well and produced a lot of seed, so we were able to collect that to boost our stocks.  One of our new offers is Dorotheanthus in separate colours, rather than mixed.  We have a nice orange selection, a yellow with a red eye (used to be Dorotheanthus occulata in some of the old books), and a shocking pink, a hue which is bright enough to make you blink!

A result of the fire we had in February at the lab property was a wonderful display of both annuals and bulbs in September.  The area had not burned for many years, and the first flowers were Haemanthus pubescens ssp pubescens in March.  There were probably 50 or 60 plants in flower, and they were spectacular against the black ground.  Then in August and September the annuals began and so did the Pelargonium triste, Babiana ambigua and ringens, Wurmbea species, Gladiolus carinatus, several orchids and hundreds of bright yellow sweetly scented Moraea fugax.  In October Ixia curta flowered in places we did not know they existed and then suddenly, everything dried up, went to seed and now there is nothing to see bar sand, Proteas and restios.  All our seed cleaning trash together with all our old seed is used as mulch at Brackenfell, and this year our first Protea plant from this “trash” flowered – a lovely Protea burchellii!

Our big multi-span glasshouse at Brackenfell is now fully operational and equipped with fans and wet walls, and when the temperature is 35°C outside, it is a pleasant 24°C inside.  The first plants are in the house and are growing well.  At Brackenfell we are always short of good quality water (both our boreholes produce slightly brack water), so we installed 11 large water tanks, each holding 10 000 liters, to collect the rainwater that runs off the multi-span roof.  It takes only 50mm of rain to fill all 11 tanks, so our tanks have been overflowing almost all winter!  Rod and Andy are now in the process of installing a pump and watering system so that the water can be used inside the house.

Our week in the Drakensberg in July at the Mountain Club’s annual camp was most relaxing.  The ‘Berg in winter is one of the most beautiful places imaginable – clear blue skies and grass in every shade of brown, but we had forgotten how cold it is! Most mornings start at about -8°C just before sunrise, but as soon as the sun reaches the tent, the temperature rises fast until by tea time it is about 20°C and one is walking in shorts and T-shirts and swimming in every pool one finds (well, some of us are!).  We didn’t mention plants once during the whole week, which must be a record, but we made up for it in the next week, when we went to Mozambique.  We went on a field trip to the southern part of Mozambique with about 12 of the most knowledgeable plant people we have ever met from the Nelspruit area (in the eastern part of the country), and the talk from morning to night was plants!  It was a most stimulating trip and we are now itching to get back to see more of Mozambique, although malaria is still a big worry, as are land mines.

The minute this catalogue has been delivered to the printer, we are leaving for the eastern Cape and the Nelspruit area to look for early flowering plants.  Normally our first trip to the summer rainfall areas is in January, and each year we miss a number of plants that flower in spring and early summer.  Last year when we went north for the solar eclipse we got a glimpse of some interesting areas, but the lack of rain meant few flowers.  This year the rain has been a little better, so we hope to find some species in flower.

Our staff situation remains the same as last year with Frances, Ondine, Darkie, Antonia, Cherry and Rachel’s mother all still with us.  For all of them the move to Diep River has been advantageous as all of them live very close to our office.  The only people who now have to travel are Darkie and us!

Happy gardening and we all hope for rain and a peaceful year,

Rod & Rachel Saunders

From the Archives: Newsletter July 2003

July 2003

Dear Plant lover,

This newsletter starts where we left off in December 2002 – the solar eclipse.  In our last newsletter, we were about to leave home to see the total solar eclipse, in the north of South Africa, about 2 000km from Cape Town.  We joined about 70 000 other people who had rushed up to the north for the same purpose, and we camped the night before at some hot springs close by.  Early the next morning we drove a further 70km to the centre line of the eclipse, and staked our claim to a square meter of roadside, from whence to view the sun.  Totality was at 8am, and by 7am, we were surrounded by about 7 000 or more people.  The atmosphere was festive and the people came in all shapes and sizes and every colour from the pale skins of tourists from mid-winter in Europe, to the blackest of black Africans.  There were people who had the latest high-tech equipment in the form of cameras and telescopes and fancy motorcars, to those on bicycles, in buses and in taxis, and the local police in their vans, all clutching their plastic viewing glasses for protecting their eyes!  An interesting aside: all the viewing glasses were made by disabled local people.  All the local shops shut and everything ground to a halt for an hour or so.

At the commencement of the eclipse, cloud started to move in over the viewing area and for the next hour while it was all unfolding, we only obtained periodic glimpses of the sun, and by just before 8am we were all fully reconciled to not seeing the eclipse at all.  It steadily got darker and darker, until at the point of 95% totality, a hush descended on the crowd although we couldn’t even see the sun at that stage!  We were rewarded for our patience – at the point of totality, the clouds cleared and we were able to see one of the most awesomely simple and beautiful images that we have ever seen.  It affected everyone similarly, and a collective 7 000 person gasp went out.  The moon, now in front of the sun, was lit by the most ethereal light from our own earth’s reflection and wasn’t black at all, and was surrounded by a magnificent solar flare.  A beautiful sight, for a minute!  It then started to get light again, the clouds returned, and it was all over.

The traffic jam back to Johannesburg was 69km long of stop start traffic!  Luckily we had anticipated this problem, so avoided the main road, botanised along the way, and had a most peaceful trip back home.

Ironically, the entire area was completely drought struck, and had not had any rain for 12 months.  And those wretched clouds that disappointed so many viewers, did not bring one drop of rain!

Now that same drought has moved southwards and is affecting the western Cape’s winter rainfall.  So far it has been one the driest winters on record, and although a few showers have fallen in Cape Town, the floral areas of Nieuwoudtville and Namaqualand have had no rain.  This means that the floral displays in these areas will probably be non-existent.  On the other hand, east of Cape Town towards Port Elizabeth, and the Little Karoo have had excellent rain and should have good floral displays in spring.  The cold fronts that bring rain to Cape Town and the north, seem to be missing us completely and dropping their rain on the land to the east of us.

We have recently returned from a very rushed trip to the two most far flung areas we could find.  We drove from Cape Town to the north east of South Africa, where we eventually landed up about 110km from Maputo in Mozambique.  And 3 days later we were a mere 100km from the Atlantic Ocean in Namibia!  Namibia had had late rain and was lush and green from Windhoek northwards.  All the roadside plants were in flower – Barlerias, Sesamums, Crotalarias, Aptosimum species, Cleomes, beautiful ground cover Indigoferas, Monsonias and many others.  Normally by May all the vegetation along the roads is dry and brown, so this year was exceptional.  We walked a bit in the Brandberg, a notoriously dry area, and found a beautiful species of Sarcocaulon in full flower.

In mid-July we are off to spend a week in the Drakensberg, walking in icy cold and perhaps in snow without a plant in sight, followed by a week in southern Mozambique, botanising and hopefully finding some exciting trees and shrubs.

Some very disturbing news from South Africa is the new Biodiversity Bill that is shortly going before Parliament.  It will, if passed in its present state, close us down, as it prohibits the collection and sale of seed for any purpose, without a multitude of permits.  At present we operate with permits, but we have one permit for all the species we sell and one export permit.  The new Bill specifies that we will require a different permit for each species, and all growers of native South African plants will also require permits to grow these species in their nurseries.  We will have to apply for 2000 or more permits each year – the mind boggles!  We hope that sanity will prevail, and that this legislation is modified before it goes any further.

A change in our book catalogue is that we are now quoting all book prices in our own currency, in South African rands.  The reason for this is that in the past 6 months, our currency has fluctuated wildly.  Last year it was valued at R13 to the US$.  Today it is R7.90 to the US$.  That means that if we charge R500 for a book, last year it was US$38, and this year it is $63!  We have frequently had to sell books this year at a lower price than we paid for them.  So, we will try quoting in SA rands, and perhaps that will work better.  It is nice having a strong currency again, but it really needs to stabilise as at present it is changing drastically from day to day.

And finally, Silverhill Seeds may have to move yet again, and this move will involve new telephone and fax numbers.  At present we run our business from a house in a suburb of Cape Town, and one of our neighbours has lodged a complaint with the City Council about the business.  She is objecting on a matter of principle – she does not want any businesses in residential suburbs, and she has no complaint about us per se.  So now we have had to apply to the Council for permission to continue to operate from our house.  If our application is refused, we will have to move, and this time we will move to a commercial or light industrial complex.  We have found a new office in case we have to go, but we hope that we will get permission to stay.  We are all really happy here, the cat that has moved in is delighted to have us, we have a thriving vegetable garden behind the house and the swimming pool in the garden is great.  Neighbours!!  This one is what the City Council calls a “lace curtain twitcher” – she obviously has too little to do, and spends a fair bit of each day interfering in other people’s business.  Apart from us, she is also trying to close down a local Clinic (a very large concern), and is attempting to get rid of all the prostitutes who ply their trade in the area.  So we are in good (or bad!) company!

Happy gardening and best wishes,

From the Archives: Newsletter January 2003

January 2003

Dear Plantsperson,

Welcome to our 2003 catalogue of seeds and books.

Every year our collecting schedules change, dictated by drought, fire and where we happen to be at a particular time.  In this catalogue there are a number of new entries and some omissions.  For the first time we are offering seeds of Romulea hantamensis (photo on inside front cover), a species with a reputation of being difficult to germinate (a period of cold stratification of the seeds (4 weeks at 4°C) should stimulate germination).  We look forward to hearing of your results.  This year we concentrated on Namaqualand and the Roggeveld, and visited the areas 5 or 6 times for photography and seed.  This means, inevitably, that other areas were neglected, so some species have disappeared off the list.  Our peak seed collecting time is from August to December, and it is always difficult to decide where to go as no matter how hard we try, we simply cannot be everywhere at the same time!  In our last newsletter (July 2002) we wondered whether the SW Cape would get good winter rain, and yes we did.  Many of the cold fronts which bear the rain reached Namaqualand and moved eastwards along the coast, resulting in bumper wheat crops in the winter rainfall areas.  The summer rainfall areas had a dry summer last year, and so far this year is even worse.  The summer rains normally start in October and continue until March or April.  So far most areas have had no rain at all, and extremely high temperatures.  Australia is in the same situation and is experiencing the worst drought for decades.

The asbestos saga still drags on!  We can no longer afford to spend any more money on a lost cause – every way we turned we landed up in dead ends, literally!  All our key witnesses who may have been able to shed light on the origin of the waste are either dead or dying, have Alzheimer’s disease or were too young when it happened!  We have now decided to cover the contaminated area with soil, paving and weed matting, and we will prevent any further development of the site.

Earlier in the year at the height of the asbestos saga, we decided to have a break, and we went away to the “Wild Coast” for a week, to forget about the problems at home!  South Africa has some magnificent lonely beaches, and the Wild Coast (in the east of the country) has some of the best (at least until the developers find them!).  However, on returning home it was “back to reality” and we found that we could hardly get into our house because of book and seed deliveries that had piled up in our entrance hall.  The pattern was repeated throughout the entire house, and we suddenly realised that apart from the kitchen, bathroom and our bedroom, our whole house had been taken over by the business.  We decided there and then that the business had to move!  Fate intervened and the very next day we found a property about 5 minutes walk away from our house so Silverhill now has its own premises, and we have our house back!

This spring we guided a group of American plants people to the flower displays of the Northern and Western Cape.  Floral displays in the more arid areas of the country are really fickle and often shortlived, but intensely beautiful while they last.  Over the years we have become a little jaded I think, and seeing the display through the eyes of visitors who have no idea what to expect is refreshing and strengthens ones appreciation of the beauty.  This year the Western Karoo, and particularly the Hantamsberg, Calvinia and the Roggeveld Plateau produced some of the best floral displays we have ever seen.  We went again 10 days later on our own, and it was as though it had never happened.  Such is the brevity of displays in these arid areas.

In June/July we went on our customary trip to the north of Southern Africa, including Zimbabwe and Botswana.  We obtained a little seed, though many of the trees had not even flowered in the last season because of the drought in the area.  The whole political situation in Zimbabwe is such a disaster and the people so desperate, that it is unlikely we will be back until there has been a change of government.  Every evening when we had our shower (standing under a tree under a bucket full of water), we had problems with swarms of wild bees, desperately looking for water.  We found that the only way to cope with them was to give them their own dedicated paper plate full of water, and then they left us alone!

The dry conditions seem to have brought out a large number of impressive snakes.  Normally years go by and if we see one or two snakes, that is a lot.  This year we have seen about 9 so far – some very large cobras, usually moving quickly across the road, and many puffadders lying in the sun on the road, and requiring a prod with a long stick to make them move!  We normally see these snakes immediately after we have been wandering through the thick bush in our sandals, and it makes us shudder!

Travel in Africa has other dangers apart from bees and snakes.  While picking up Acacia pods under a tree in the bushveld miles from anywhere, Rachel felt a thorn prick her.  She looked at it, and to her horror saw a hypodermic syringe needle stuck deeply into her thumb.  One’s first reaction is blind panic since Aids/HIV in Africa is epidemic and we were all for rushing off to the nearest clinic and starting anti-HIV treatment.  However, sanity prevailed, and apart from making the wound bleed profusely and washing her hand, we did nothing.  The number of documented cases of HIV being transmitted by needle pricks is extremely low, and two HIV tests (3 weeks and 3 months later) were both negative.  Phew!

Modern taxonomy is playing havoc with our plant names, and over the last few years we have seen, amongst many others, Homerias and Galaxias disappear and reappear as Moraeas, Sarcocaulons are now Monsonias, and the whole family Mesembryanthemaceae has gone into Aizoaceae!  There is, no doubt, good scientific justification for these changes, but it is a pity since many of the genera that have disappeared were cohesive and instantly recognisable groups of plants.  Some of the changes are reflected in our catalogue (for example Sutherlandia is now Lessertia, Homerias are sold as Moraeas), but some we have not changed as we stubbornly refuse to accept the new taxonomy!  So Galaxias are still Galaxias, and Sarcocaulons are still Sarcocaulons.  I suppose we will have to change eventually, but for the moment we will remain out of date.

When wandering around looking for seed, we often come across horticulturally worth while plants.  On the inside of the back cover is a picture of some of our Ornithogalum hybrids which we have selected and bred, and are now being produced by Frontier lab.  They have immense potential as pot plants as well as cut flowers.  At present we have a colour range from dark orange through peach shades to yellow, cream and white.  There must have been about 3 or 4 000 of them in flower this spring in our glasshouse – they were spectacular and we spent a fair bit of time oohing and aahing over them!  The tissue culture lab is busy and doing well, as is the book business.  Not only do we travel around seed hunting now, but we visit as many second hand book shops as possible looking for out of print botanical books.

In our new premises we have been be-friended by a cat.  His past owner (our neighbour) moved on and left him behind, so he has more or less moved into Silverhill.  All our staff look after him and give him more fuss that he can cope with!

Our human staff compliment remains the same as last year, all one year older, and they all seem to be happy with the move.  Maybe having a swimming pool in the garden helps!  Rachel’s mother still works for us every day, and is now muttering about the lack of a salary for all her labour!

When ordering, please remember to put your name and address on the order.  This year we had three nameless orders which are still sitting here waiting to be claimed.  Please also remember to put your full name and address on your e mails – “John” or “Jane” does not help us much!  Two more requests – please order in alphabetical order as it makes completing the order much quicker and simpler, and please try to organise your order so that the Bulbs are all together, the Succulents together, etc, instead of mixing them all into one list.  It really makes a huge difference to the people finding the seeds, and the people writing the invoice.  Thanks.

The system with phytosanitary certificates for the USA orders seems to be working well, but we have had to increase our charges to US$3 per order.  The post office official in Chicago where Rachel’s brother posts the parcels was very suspicious of all the little boxes at first, but is now perfectly happy with them.

Finally, while this catalogue is at the printer we are off to see the total solar eclipse in the far northern part of South Africa.  Personally, we both think that we are a bit daft – to drive 2000km to see a 90 second period of darkness, then drive 2000km home again is not really sane!  However it is the last chance in Rod’s lifetime that he will get to see a total eclipse (the next one is in 30 years time!), so off we go!  We will tell you about it in the next news letter – meanwhile, happy gardening!

Best wishes

Rod & Rachel Saunders


From the Archives: Newsletter July 2002

July 2002

Dear plants person,

The catalogue and newsletter are a little late this year – we decided to take a break in late June, and go walking in the Spanish Pyrenees with Rachel’s sister and brother-in-law.  For 3 weeks we didn’t mention seeds, plants or books and we enjoyed someone else’s flora for a change.  The Rhododendrons were flowering high in the mountains, as were various Liliums, and they were magnificent.  We also saw Gentians growing wild for the first time among the last patches of snow.  The beech and oak forests on the lower mountain slopes were beautiful as well as being cool and damp – a lovely contrast to the hot sun outside.  However, it is now back to the grindstone!

Earlier in the year we decided to put down a borehole to increase our water supply on the property at Brackenfell.  We obtained the services of a geophysicist who surveyed the property and indicated a site where we could expect to find water.  While he was walking round the property, we asked him innocently about some strange white material that we had seen occasionally emerging from the sand.  The bombshell that he dropped is still with us now – he told us that the compound was asbestos waste!  We subsequently discovered that in the 1970s before we owned the property, someone had dumped 5 000 m3 of asbestos processing waste on the property to fill sand mining pits and to level the ground.  The asbestos had been covered with a layer of sand and only when we dug in the area or when moles dug through it, did it become visible.  Obviously this is a huge health hazard and is highly illegal.  We have spent the last 6 months with lawyers, Government officials, etc assessing liability, who to blame, and what we can do to rectify the matter.  The outcome is that “the buck stops with us” and it is our problem!  Proving who did what is a difficult task at the best of times, and when one is working 30 years after the event, it becomes almost impossible.  Providing that the material is covered or is wet, the asbestos fibres are not a danger.  Due to the prohibitive expense of trying to remove all the waste, we will probably have to cover the area with sand, demarcate it in some way, and write a clause into the title deeds of the property preventing anyone from developing that area (about 1 hectare) in the future.  This whole episode made us realise the inadequacies in the enforcement of environmental law in South Africa, and it also occupied a lot of time and shot our stress levels sky high!

Oh, you may wonder about the borehole!  On drilling the hole (luckily missing the asbestos!) we struck water at 75 meters and the hole delivers more than 10 000 liters per hour!  So there was some good news from the whole fiasco.

The bad news, apart from the asbestos, is that we did not have much time this year for travelling, and our collecting was severely curtailed.  Hopefully this will be rectified in the second half of the year.

While we were stuck at home consulting with lawyers, etc., we concentrated on extending our book list, and have been obtaining quite a number of older out of print books.  You will see from the enclosed list that there are many more titles than previously.  We now visit all the second hand book shops that we pass on our seed collecting trips, to see what we can find.

Frontier Laboratory is doing well and it gives us all a great deal of pleasure.  Andy has just erected a growing tunnel that is the talk of the neighbourhood as, at night when the lights come on, you can see it from miles away.  It has been equipped with rolling tables and heating as well as cooling.  The plants are responding well to their new environment and we are getting more growth out of them than ever before.  At night during the winter, the temperature at Brackenfell frequently drops to about 2°C, and now we can keep the temperature in the tunnel above 8°C, which obviously makes a difference to growth.

Our sowing of annual seeds was delayed this season when we found that half the trial beds we had made were on top of the asbestos!  We had to prepare new beds, sterilise the soil and get the seeds sown in a rush, resulting in uneven germination.  Some of the seeds were simply sown too late (normally we sow in March or April when the high summer temperatures have decreased) and they have not germinated well.  Others have germinated but are still tiny.  We will wait and see what happens in the spring.

As we write this, the rain is pouring down, though whether this cold front is reaching Namaqualand we are not sure.  The Cape Peninsula has had good rain so far this winter, and some of the fronts have reached the Karoo and Namaqualand, so there should be good floral displays.

The summer rainfall areas of South Africa had bad rain this summer, and they are very dry.  They had plenty of rain before Christmas, and then it dried up completely and virtually none fell for the rest of the season.  This means that the winter fires have been particularly bad this year, and the vegetation is suffering.  We are told it is due to El Nino again.

Finally, we cannot please everybody!  Someone in the USA published an article about Silverhill Seeds on a gardening website on the Internet, describing us as “a pair of aged colonials travelling through Africa plundering and pillaging the veld as we go, and depriving the local inhabitants of a livelihood”!!  We suppose that “aged colonials” is a trifle more flattering that “imperialists” or “capitalist pigs”, but it provided us with a wonderful mental picture!

On that note we wish you well with your seed sowing and with your plant collections.

Best wishes

From the Archives: Newsletter January 2002

January 2002

Dear Plant lovers

As I read last year’s newsletter (January 2001), we were facing an uncertain winter which we hoped would not be the same as the previous disastrously dry season.  By May we had still not had a drop of rain, the vegetation was bone dry and we feared the worst.  Then the rains began, with heavy regular falls in the Western Cape and into Namaqualand, and this continued until September and October.  In the past the Cape has earned its name “The Cape of Storms”, and this year we had some good examples.  One particular storm delivered over 150mm of rain in 24 hours.  Another cold front a week later brought 17m waves crashing against the Cape Peninsula and this played havoc with the shipping – one ship aground and two wrecks in 12 hours!  On the same day we were without power for long periods due to the wind blowing the power lines together.

The rain and cold fronts did however do several things – all our dams are still 98% full, the wheat farmers had a bumper crop, and we have had one of the most impressive flower displays in years.  The bulb display at Nieuwoudtville was possibly the best that we have ever seen, and because of extended cold conditions in July and early August, all the early flowering bulbs were delayed and flowered much later, together with the later species.  This resulted in stupendous displays all the way from Cape Town right up into Namaqualand and Springbok.  Those of you who visited the Cape this spring will agree, and if it was your first visit, it will be a while before you see its equal.  The picture of Romulea sabulosa on the cover was taken at Nieuwoudtville this season.

Our trip to Zambia was successful, but we did not get as far as we would have liked.  We found it very expensive (with fuel at over US$1 per liter) and it is a cash only society so we were unable to use our credit cards.  We simply ran out of money and we realised that if we went further north, we probably wouldn’t have enough money for fuel to get home again!  We had also not realised how vast the country is and the distances between centres is huge.  We started in the west and drove north along the Zambezi River, then east to Lusaka along some of the worst roads imaginable.  We then intended driving north to the Tanzanian border, but only got about half way before turning south again.  The trees were magnificent and we saw many interesting orchids, shrubs and perennials.  As we were there in the dry season, all the bulbous plants were dormant.

We then drove back south through Zimbabwe and spent a profitable two weeks there.  All the Aloes were in full flower, and the veld was beautiful.  We took the opportunity of visiting the Chimanimani Mountains in the east of the country for a few days, and despite it being the height of the dry season, we experienced heavy rain while walking in the mountains.  This brought all the rivers down in flood and prevented us from getting back to our vehicle at the bottom of the mountain and on the other side of the river!  After some really hair raising river crossings and getting soaked and extremely cold, we finally found refuge in a cave where we waited for two days for the weather to clear (meanwhile running out of food!).  We returned to the area some two months later and we couldn’t believe it was the same place – it was blazing hot and bone dry!

September the 11th and all that that disastrous day brought, has had all sorts of effects on us all.  Air transport is still disrupted and we now have to book freight well in advance.  The proposed irradiation of mail in the USA is still an unknown factor, and we will have to see whether we can still send seed by post.  We have to be very careful when treating seeds with insecticide as most insecticides consist of white powder, which is treated with great suspicion all over the world.

The tissue culture laboratory is in full production and is a wonderful environment for the people working there.  Andy (our partner) is already talking about expansion!  See the lab on the catalogue cover, with our annual trial beds in the foreground.

Although we had no intention of going overseas this year, Andy convinced us that we should visit the Horticultural Trade Fair in Amsterdam in November, to see what international horticulture and floriculture is doing.  So we braved flying, had a wonderful time and we all came home fired with enthusiasm.  We made many new contacts, renewed acquaintances with old customers and found that the Horticultural Fair was a good place to talk business in a relaxed way.

On returning to Cape Town, we decided to buy a book business, and you will find our larger book list included in this catalogue.  We bought Honingklip Books, run by Walter and his late wife Ruth Middelmann for many years.  Walter and Ruth were the original owners of our seed company, so in a way, the books have come home again!  Walter is now over 90 and he found that the books were becoming too much for him to cope with on his own, so he asked us if we could cope with them as well as the seeds.  We both love books, and Frances is a trained librarian, so we were happy to take the business over.  Our list contains mainly current books that are still in print, but whenever possible, we do sell old books long out of print.  Please ask us about any book that you are looking for and we will see if we can find it for you.

American customers:  According to new legislation in the USA, from the 22nd January, all seed being imported into the USA has to be accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate.  Many orders are small, and it simply wouldn’t be worth it to get a phyto for $12 for an order worth less than that amount.  We have to drive into the centre of Cape Town to get the certificates, and the thought of carrying 20 parcels into the city once or twice a week fills us all with horror.  So we have decided to try the following system with the help of Rachel’s brother and sister-in-law who live in Chicago.  We will complete all orders for the USA as we receive them, and each week we will send all the orders in one large box accompanied by one phyto to Rachel’s brother.  Either he or his wife will then re-pack the seeds and send them out to each customer.  This week we sent one consignment in this way, and if it works, we will continue in 2002.  This means that each customer will only have to pay a small portion of the fee for the phyto (probably about $1 or $2 per person) instead of $12.  If this system does not work, we will have to think again.

Our staff situation remains more or less the same.  Ondine is on four months maternity leave and will be back in February just in time to help with the rush of orders.  She had a baby girl in October and appropriately named her Erica.  Rachel’s mother is still going strong and mutters about customers who don’t order their seeds alphabetically and according to the categories in the catalogue!  Frances’s teenagers are still, unfortunately, teenagers, and Darkie’s grandchild is now 8.  We have several part time helpers who are becoming more full time as we get busier each year.  At present they are Cherry, Antonia and Andrea.

We hope that you like our new catalogue cover in colour.  The only picture we have not mentioned is one taken by Rachel’s nephew (another teenager!) (from Holland) who spent about 6 months with us last year.  He sneaked a picture of two daft seed collectors that he came across in the middle of nowhere!

We wish you well for 2002 and let us hope that it is more peaceful and less stressful than the last year has been.

Best wishes

Rod and Rachel Saunders

From the Archives: Newsletter July 2001

July 2001

Dear customers,

The year 2001 started off with a visit to South Africa by a group of American gardeners who we guided round the Drakensberg Mountains.  We started our trip in the south in the mountains of the Eastern Cape, & finished in the north.  The weather played along and we had lovely clear days for walking and rainy nights.  The flowers were particularly good, despite the fact that a fortnight previously they had had 20cm of snow dumped on them!  An unseasonal cold front hit Cape Town on New Year’s day, bringing some rain to the extremely dry Cape landscape, & this resulted in snow in the eastern part of the country, in mid-summer!  The summer rainfall area had another good rainy season & everything was green & lush.  Poor Mozambique again experienced serious flooding in the Limpopo & Zambezi valleys – with the SW Cape drought struck, & Mozambique flooded, we can’t win!

On our return from our trip to the Drakensberg, we were thrown into helping Andy move Frontier Laboratory to its new premises in Brackenfell, in northern Cape Town.  This involved a whole series of maneuvers – as the plants need to be under lights, we could only move one set of shelves at a time.  So all the plants on one set of shelves were packed in plastic bags, and the shelves were dismantled and moved to the new lab where they were put together again.  The electrician would then wire the shelves for lights, and the plants put back onto the shelves.  This continued for days until finally all 1 million plants had been moved!  Of course that wasn’t the end as all the autoclaves, empty bottles, laminar flow benches, kitchen equipment, chairs, tables etc had to be moved as well.  By the end of the Easter weekend almost everything had been transported to Brackenfell and the lab was ready to open again, after being closed for only 4 working days (which was quite a feat).  It is still a matter of wonder to us that we managed it without any serious mishaps or hitches and without any major contamination problems.  We are all extremely proud of our new lab and we often go and sneak a look at it, especially at night when all the growing lights are on and it looks beautiful.  The building is designed to look like an old Cape Dutch farm house – white walls and a dark green roof with a “stoep” (covered porch) around the outside.  Now comes the enjoyable part of making a garden.  Please note that Frontier Laboratory has a new telephone & fax number   –  the new number is +27 21 982 2872.

During the move we were fortunate to have the help of Rachel’s nephew from Holland who was staying with us for 12 months.  Having an 18 year old boy in the house was quite an eye opener for a childless couple, but he did provide us with ample entertainment, enthusiasm and muscle power during the move.  We have just seen him off on his way back to Holland where he will be attending the Hotel School in Den Haag.

Our smallholding at Brackenfell is looking much neater and more orderly than previously.  In April we employed a horticulturist to look after all our plants, and she has been working hard.  We spent several weeks this last summer clearing alien vegetation (Acacia saligna from Australia) on the property.  Each tree has to be cut down, the stump painted with herbicide to prevent re-sprouting, and the branches piled onto a heap which we burn in winter.  We have probably cleared about 60% of the property so far, and we hope to finish it next summer.  The small patches of fynbos that managed to survive amongst the Acacia are recovering and each spring we find more and more species in flower.  The smallholding has a vegetation type that is highly endangered due to urban development, and we are pleased to find some quite unusual species growing there.

At present we are packing and trying to leave on a trip to Zambia for a month.  Normally at this time of year we head for Zimbabwe, but due to all the political problems in that country, we decided against going there.  It is hard to believe that in 2 weeks, all going well, we will be warm again.  At present the temperature in our house is 4°C, the mountains of the SW Cape are covered in snow, and Cape Town has just had 170mm (almost 7 inches) of rain in 3 days!  It looks as though Namaqualand may have a good flower year again this year, and certainly the bulbous plant display in Nieuwoudtville should be excellent.  The cold front that brought this rain to Cape Town area moved up to Namaqualand as well, but has not brought rain to any of the drought struck areas of the southern Cape, so they are still desperately dry.  This is the third successive dry year and many farmers in these areas have gone bankrupt.  The fronts seem to be side-swiping the country and are missing us by about 100km due to changes in pressure systems.  The drought plus the fires of the past 2 years have had huge effects on our seed collecting, particularly of Proteaceae species.  We cannot find mature plants of many previously fairly common species, so we are out of stock of quite a few of them.

Enjoy the catalogue and we hope to hear from many of you.

From the Archives: Newsletter January 2001

January 2001

Dear plant lovers,

For the South Western Cape, the winter of 2000 has been one of the driest on record.  In many areas rainfall simply did not materialise, and if it did fall, it was in minimal quantities.  The cold fronts sweeping in from the Atlantic, which are so much a feature of the Cape Mediterranean region, and which gave rise to the name “Cape of Storms,” have had little or no penetration beyond Cape Town and the interior of the country is fiercely dry.  This climatic pattern could not have come at a worse time, coinciding as it has with some of the most disastrous fires the Cape has ever experienced.  In many cases the response of the vegetation is depressing with no regeneration of many of the re-seeding plants.  There are now certain areas where Proteas no longer exist in the vegetation because of too frequent fires and lack of rain. Namaqualand had its third successive bad flower season this spring, and the good years are beginning to feel like dreams.  Hopefully they will come again.  We wonder whether these weather changes are due to global warming and are here to stay, or are they part of a normal dry – wet cycle?

This dry weather combined with fires has had a marked effect on our seed collecting as in many cases the seed was just not there.  Some plants flowered, but set no seed because of lack of moisture, or seeds formed, but then shriveled up.  Other plants didn’t even bother to grow, and remained safely underground without wasting precious reserves on growth.  And in other areas, there are simply no plants to collect seeds from – Ericas are a good example of this.  Many of our Erica seeds came from mountainous areas, and so many of these areas burnt either this year or last, that we have very few localities left for seed harvesting.

In contrast, the summer rainfall areas of the country look as though they will have good rain again this season.  This also has an effect on seed production – many of the trees put so on so much new growth in a good year that they seem to forget to flower and produce seeds, and often it seems to be a bit of stress that results in a good seed crop!  Seed collectors cannot win!

This reminds us of a plant, a new <i> Lachenalia </i> species in Southern Namibia that we saw about 10 years ago when we found it in flower.  We have been back to the area three times in search of it again, but have never been able to find any trace of the plant, due to the almost complete lack of rain in the area.  This part of Namibia is influenced by the weather patterns of the SW Cape, and when we don’t get rain in Cape Town, they certainly don’t get any in Southern Namibia!.  Perhaps one of these days our visit will coincide with a good rainy season and we will find it again.  For the moment, all that we have is a photograph of an intriguing plant!

During this year, a dream has come true for Andy (who owns half of, and runs Frontier, our tissue culture lab) and us – we have built a new lab on our smallholding outside Cape Town, and we will be moving the lab from its present premises at Stellenbosch over the next 3 months.  Built in the style of an old Cape farm house, the lab building is most attractive and looks very non-industrial!  Inside the building is plenty of glass, so the whole micropropagation process can be viewed from the office.  This is important as visitors are always fascinated by tissue culture and always want to look round.  Previously however, because of the danger of contamination in the lab, this was not possible – now we can oblige.

This year for the first time our smallholding had some income – we sold a fair number of Sandersonia aurantiaca tubers plus Clivia seedlings.  Three years ago we sowed 11kg of Sandersonia  seeds, and now the tubers are large enough to sell.  Those not sold are in full flower now in December, and what a magnificent sight they are.  Perhaps we should go into cut flower production in our spare time!  Apart from this income, the smallholding remains a hole into which we pour money, continuously!

Rod’s lecture tour to the USA, courtesy of the North American Rock Garden Society was successful and went off well.  We saw some beautiful scenery, met many interesting people including quite a few customers, and managed a bit of walking in the Rocky Mountains and in the mountains around Salt Lake City.  We enjoyed the visit tremendously, but found it tiring with all the hours spent in airports and on aeroplanes.  We spent all our time in the eastern USA, finishing in Chicago visiting Rachel’s brother.  We had not realised just how hot and humid this part of the USA is in summer, and we spent many hours drinking water!  Cape Town is hot in summer, but completely dry, and is easier to cope with.  This year we will probably not travel overseas, but will stay in Africa, where we would like to visit some of the better watered tropical highlands.  Who knows what seed will result from our travels!  However, this depends somewhat on the whims of the African politicians.  Zimbabwe is impossible to visit at the moment due to the lack of fuel in the country, and one never knows which country will be next.

A few work-related problems:

1) please when you order or correspond by e mail, make sure that your full name and address are on the e mail.  Often you may have been corresponding with Rod or Rachel, we then go away, and Frances has no idea who you are!

2) This year we have had a spate of people changing their orders at the last minute.  If you do this, it means that we have to re-write invoices, unpack orders and re-pack them.  I am afraid that in future we will have to charge a handling fee for changes.

Unfortunately we have lost one of our willing helpers – Rod’s mother passed away at the end of November at the age of 87.  Thankfully she died peacefully in bed at home after a short illness and we were able to keep her out of hospital, which she hated.  Our other employees (Frances, Darkie and Ondine, plus Rachel’s mother) are all still with us, as are our cats.

We both hope that you enjoy the 2001 catalogue and that you are able to find some interesting plants to try, and some space in your gardens to plant them!

Best wishes,

Rod and Rachel Saunders

From the Archives: Newsletter July 2000

                July 2000

Dear Customer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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