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