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.