First actual day of work:
These are the results from my morning meeting with Trevor, who is the Propagation Supervisor together with Augustine, the Estate manager (the estate is the extent of he property minus the cultivated gardens):
For starters I will be working in PP (plant propagation) for the first two weeks, which I am told is standard with international students. But then I was asked what my special interests are, so now I am supposed to do a project on cycads in July, and work on succulents in August. The succulents are a very obvious choice being where I am, and after seeing the Conservatory with all the different Karoo (dessert) biomes, I am even more intrigued.
But Cycads are not something I was so hot about before. They are not necessary cute huggy-lovely things, and the way I have seen them grow so far was exclusively in pots, mostly covered by scale – not an impressive sight. But look at those picturesagain, please be patient with the picture quality - still experimenting with my new camera....
The cycad garden here, particulary the Encephalartos species, blow me away! These are impressive plants the size of trees, not indigenous to the cape, but found further east in SA, and they look really great outside in these large groups. Cycads, are for sure interesting as being so distinct from all other plants we know. For starters they belong into the much smaller group of the non-flowering Gymnosperms plants, but they are not easily associated with what most people know as Conifers. Being very old relicts of plant evolution, and often seen as on their way to extinction, I am starting to be very intrigued, not at least because of Susan Pell’s (BBG) enthusiasm for them. So here I am supposed to do a cycad project!
I also indicated my interest in working in the Herbarium and DNA lab, where there is currently work done on the Phylogeny of the Protaceae family, but they are not that closely linked to Horticulture, and I have to see if they want me there…
Actual work I was doing today was pruning about 400 small plants of Polygala fruticosa – Polygalaceae to encourage branching. This is a purple flowering shrub, exuding a milky sap when pruned. Look up this link if you are interested further, his will lead you to the rather comprehensive Flora of South Africa Website.
In the afternoon I worked on Metalasia muricata - Asteraceae (or whatever this is now) a rather lovely plant, having the typical tiny ‘fynbos’ leaves with these very attractive white undersides. It looks like a silver-leaved rosemary, with terminal clusters varying in color from common white to pink or purple and is currently blooming all over the garden. Check it out!
I was repotting those from 2kg bags to 4kg bags, yes you read right, everything is grown in bags (seems to be an economic thing to do), and the sizes go by kilogram (can anybody explain that to me? – the people I asked could not make sense of this to me!)
Tonight I went with Siya and Thumeka, the two conservationalists, to Harare Township (the biggest around here?) to her sisters house – not for the fainthearted!