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