Sauntering in Lesotho

The great Henry David Thoreau was a man of extraordinary wisdom. He claimed that for the preservation of one’s health one should “saunter through the woods and over the hills and fields”. Sauntering should be approached with a mind set of ‘presence’ rather than ‘productivity’.

The origin of the word “saunter” goes back to the middle ages when people used to go on pilgrimages to the holy land. When asked by the villagers where they were going, they would reply, “A la sainte terre”, meaning to the Holy land. So it is that they became known as ‘saunterers’.

My man and I were recently lucky enough to be part of a Lesotho wild flower ‘sauntering’ trip. This was just before Covid 19 became a frightening reality for South Africans too and the borders were still open. My partner had been recruited to help with the driving and I was lucky to be invited along and help where ever I could.

Our weekend companions were a lovely senior group – all members of a gardening club. I usually find it a bit daunting to be thrown into a group of ‘strangers’ like that, but it was not long before even I was drawn into the cheerful banter of our friendly nature loving group.

Protea subverstita growing alongside the road up Qachas nek pass

The drive from Pietermaritzburg past Underberg, then Matatiele, and finally up Qachas nek pass and through the border took up most of the day. This was a very scenic drive however with many birds and flowers spotted along the way. Finally by four that afternoon we reached our destination – Sehlabethebe National park. We arrived in a misty drizzly haze of cloud, which although hampered the view of our surroundings, did not dampen our high spirits.

Basotho boy on his donkey wrapped warm in his traditional blanket

After a hearty breakfast we all set off at nine the next morning with much enthusiasm – armed with several books on the flora and fauna of the area. Binoculars and cameras were at the ready, my Elsa Pooley mountain flower book clasped to my lap.

Needless to say we were not disappointed. The variety and beauty of the flowers found was astounding. A visual ‘smorgasbord’. We would stop at points along the way to wonder around and see what we could find and share with one another. The excitement at each discovery reminded me of Easter egg hunting – but an adult one with flowers instead of Easter eggs! These precious finds were also not plucked up, rather they were ‘oohed and aahed’ over and left in peace again once they had been admired and photographed.

Nemesia
Gladioli ecklonii

There were many many flowers spotted and enjoyed during this trip, far too many to cover each and every one in a single blog post. I will en devour to share some of the flowers that stood out for me though.

Gladioli saundersii

The Gladioli were in peak flowering and we managed to spot five species! ‘Gladioli saundersii’ being the fem fa tale of the lot in my opinion, with her flamboyant ballroom gown so striking against the misty grassy hills. We also saw ‘Gladioli dalenii’, ‘Gladioli ecklonii’ with all her many freckles as well as ‘Gladioli oppositiflorus’ with her beautiful soft salmon colouring.

Gladioli oppositiflorus
Gladioli dalenii

A few grass orchids – always a treat for me. ‘Satyrium longicauda’ both in white and pink. There were two new grass orchids for me. First ‘Disa fragrans’ which I first mistook for a ledabouria because of the speckled leaves. This gorgeous orchid was growing on the top of a massive overhanging rocky outcrop, next to a rock pool, creating a perfect little alpine like setting for it. This for me was like finding the gold foil covered bunny of the Easter eggs! Then on our way down again ‘Pterygodium cooperi’ – another new species for me. The prettiest little orchid covered in pastel pink bonnet-ed faces.

Disa fragrans
Pterygodium cooperi
Zaluziansya microsiphon

‘Zaluzianskya microsiphon’ another special find. This pretty perennial plant has vibrant peach coloured petals on the outside outlined in cream. It closes them into a drum shape when the light is low and opens them again to reveal creamy white faces on the inside in the sunlight.

Wahlenbergia

The list goes on and on and I have included a few extra photographs without descriptions.

As the morning progressed the mist lifted and we were able to take in more of the beautiful scenery – rolling hills and mountains that went on and on into forever. Another special highlight for me was the breath taking display of ‘Kniphofia caulescens’. These spectacular red hot pokers were stretched out as far as the eye could see, flowering in masses, a sea of orange and yellow that tumbled down the valleys and into the marshy areas below the hills.

Kniphofia caulescens

Our last ‘sauntering’ walk took place late in the afternoon. A slow amble amongst the kniphofias down below in the valley. The mist had started to roll in softly again as we enjoyed our last moments in this beautiful ‘garden of Eden’. Some of us in pleasant conversation and others lost in our own thoughts.

We left to go back to our own realities again the next morning. Each of us taking home something of value, some intrinsic treasure, to be taken out and savored in quiet moments of reflection.

Rocky outcrops

Now we are in lock down, and I have taken out my treasures from the trip. Memories and photographs to pour over and enjoy – some to be painted. I spent a happy few days working on painting the Kniphoffias which had had such an impact on me. I enjoyed working in my oils again. This medium is smooth and silky – pure bliss to work with, especially for a landscape. This painting will be a happy reminder each time I look at it, of a special weekend spent sauntering in the magnificent Lesotho hills.

Red hot pokers marching down the hillsides – oils on canvas

Mpati mountain and the gladsome Gladioli

Mpati mountain or “place of good waters” as it is also referred to, certainly has lived up to it’s name this Summer. The long awaited rains bringing much needed relief for all. Our beautiful mountain and surrounding grasslands have produced an abundance of floral treasures this season.

Over the last few years I have had the privilege of exploring the mountain. During this time I have not only been delighted, but also utterly astounded at times – by the beauty, diversity and abundance of flowering plants, shrubs and trees that grow on and around our Mpati mountain.

Summer rain has produced an abundance on the mountain

I have been documenting these floral treasures ( as many as I possibly and realistically can), by way of botanical illustration, as a dedication – A dedication to the mountain and to all who take pleasure in the peace and connection to nature that Mpati mountain offers.

Summer time is Gladioli time. We have at least three indigenous Gladioli species on the mountain that I know of. There are possibly more. ‘Gladioli Ecklonii’ is widespread through Southern Africa, growing in the Summer rainfall zone. This species is found in stony places and occasionally at the edge of vleis and streams.

Gladioli ecklonii peeking through the grass

Gladioli are important horticulturally. They are used as cut flowers and in cultivation many hybrids exist. Our indigenous Gladioli ecklonii flowers have whitish tepals covered in freckled spots. These range from pink through to red. Like other Gladioli species it closes it’s flowers as the sun goes down and opens them again as the sun comes up in the morning.

flowers spent but still beautiful a few days later

Possible pollinators are two long – tongued bees, namely ‘Amegilla capensis’ and ‘Amagilla fallax’.

‘Amegilla capensis’ a long tongued bee – graphite on board

This particular beauty was growing alongside a rocky path on the mountain. I managed to photograph it in it’s prime. A very special sighting indeed.

Gladioli ecklonii – Water colour, Acrylic and graphite on canvas board

Painting again – Lessons from creativity

“The human hand allows the mind to reveal itself” Maria Montessori

Malachite sunbird on a Kniphofia

“The human hand allows the mind to reveal itself”. I came across this beautiful quote the other day by the founder of the Montessori school system – Maria Montessori. It got me thinking once again about the power of creativity and why it is so important to live a creative life. This need not be as a formal ‘painter’, ‘writer’ or ‘sculptor’ as we traditionally like to label creative people. It may be as simple as finding enjoyment in everyday life experiences – cooking, gardening, rearranging the furniture in the living room!

The life lessons learned from the metaphors that present themselves through creativity have become, (and are continually becoming) braided into my being, my identity and the way I confront this thing called ‘life’, with all its tumultuous ups and downs.

Dartanian aka ‘Blacky jack’ contemplating lifes’ tumultuous ‘ups and downs’

It is not the end result in which the fulfillment lies – fulfillment and sustenance are to be found in the actual process of making and creating. First the inspiration, the idea. That is usually the easy part. Getting started is sometimes easy, but often one is confronted by various obstacles – procrastination, a sudden wash of fear and self doubt, a lack of time (sometimes genuine), to name a few. Soldiering on, one might realize that one’s initial plan or idea is not working – then back to the ‘drawing board’ so to speak. Time to reassess and make changes. If I am painting it is usually the composition which suddenly decides, out of the blue, not to work anymore! Problem solving is a huge part of the creative process.

Perseverance and discipline are required too. One has to have a healthy serving of these two essentials. Courage, one can never have too much of. Sometimes it has to be dredged up from the very depths of your being but it is important to dose oneself regularly with it, as it is often unfortunately short lived. The saying “fake it until you make it” is not just some catchy rhyme to say – it is an act of cognitive behavioral therapy!

Of late I have been painting again, and loving it. Painting on to glass has led to other doors opening including a few commissions. These botanical paintings have just been completed and are on their way to their new home in Gauteng.

The Yellow Arum Lilly – ‘Zantedeschia petlandii’ is a joyful sunny yellow arum which is found mainly around the Lydenburg area in Mpumalanga. The numbers of this particular lilly are sadly declining due to it being harvested and sold for horticulture. The attractive yellow swathes of the flowers make it sought after by gardeners and collectors. This for me was a joy to paint.

Zantedeschia petlandii

Agapanthus inerptus or ‘drooping aggie’ was also part of the trio. This lovely South African plant is common in cultivation and there are a few hybrids with beautiful blue and violet hues.

Agapanthus inerptus – drooping agapanthus

Last but not least the indigenous grass orchid – Eulophia ovata. I have come across this lovely orchid whist walking in the Drakensberg, albeit the yellow one. I thoroughly enjoyed painting this beauty.

Eulophia ovata – indigenous grass orchid
Trio complete and ready for their new home

Expedition to the top of a ladder

Cape chestnut tree blossoms – ‘Calodendrum capense

Finally this week, after admiring my Cape chestnut tree flowering through the season, I decided to paint some of the flowers. As ‘Murphy’ would have it, now that I had decided to get going with painting I could not find any flowers in reach. The few that were left flowering were way up high and I found myself standing under the branches kicking myself for procrastinating and scratching my head at the same time. What to do.

What to do!

Where there is a will, there is a way. Undeterred I marched off to the shed to fetch the ladder. This itself was quite a job – it is a long ladder and cumbersome to carry. Finally I got it under the tree, after a few frustrating attempts at a level spot.

I consider myself fit and adventurous, but I have to confess to a few moments of panic as I tried to steady myself whilst balancing almost at the tippy top of the ladder with a broom in one hand to hook the singled out branch, and the other hand gripped to another branch, hanging on for dear life. I must have looked a sight.

Finally after a few frustrating attempts I managed to hook the branch and pull it down enough so that I could break off the intended flowering tip of it. Needless to say, although I was rather pleased with myself – waving my branch like a flag, I was relieved to be off the ladder!

Salem, aka ‘Black cat’ and sometimes ‘Thug cat’, my painting companion

The vase I had chosen was quite big, ‘urn’ shaped with a pretty pedestal. After my first attempt I decided that my composition was too ‘skimpy’ for the scale and ‘weight’ of the vase. Once it had thoroughly dried I added a leaf and extra blooms which improved it considerably.

Composition ready for gesso – I added onto it later

Cape chestnut or ‘Calodendrum Capense’ trees are found throughout South Africa and are not related to the ‘Horse chestnut’ tree at all. It is reported that the ‘father of South African botany’ Carl Peter Thunberg, was so excited at the sight of this beautiful tree whilst in the Cape in 1772, that he fired his gun at the branches until one broke and fell to the ground. He was the botanist to name it ‘Calodendrum’ – meaning in Greek, ‘beautiful tree’.

If I had had a gun perhaps I could have tried that instead of risking life and limb, swaying at the top of a long ladder armed only with a broom!

The fruit enjoyed by pigeons and doves

Birds such as pigeons, doves and Cape parrots enjoy eating the seeds which are enclosed in a prickly rather large pod. The nectar of the flowers is not utilized by birds, but several species of butterflies do feed on them.

Our Cape chestnut is a beautiful shade tree in the garden and a favorite perch for the two Black orioles which call in their melodious way from the branches. A worthy and beautiful indigenous tree.

A path of curiosity

“If you can let go of passion and follow your curiosity, your curiosity just might lead you to your passion” Elizabeth Gilbert

I once thought that to be labelled as an ‘artist’ – that grand title that aspires to so many, one had to fit a very stereotypical ideal. My idea of what that ideal looked like was a rather romanticized one. I remember in the height of my amateurish enthusiasm, (and I was told this by more than one ‘arty’ person) that to start selling your work it was important to develop a ‘style’. My own artistic style so that I could be noticed, and so on and so on.

Well that never happened. I am one of those people who could never keep a consistent hand writing never mind artistic style, I did not fit into this category. I have jumped around exploring and enjoying all sorts of mediums and subject matters – from pastel, portraiture, drawing in pen, painting – even fabric craft.

Weaver on a Mason jar

Personally I think that this has been a better way to learn. Gleaning from each ‘phase’ what I could, keeping somethings and leaving or changing others. Certain things have come through consistently – my love of botanical as well as landscape art, probably because they feature so strongly in my personal life. There is nothing I enjoy more then traipsing around mountains discovering indigenous plants to identify.

painting onto cut wine bottles

My latest artistic adventure started with a rather fun wine bottle cutting hobby to make candle holders and vases. It wasn’t long before I was painting onto these and learning to work in acrylic paint again. This has led to sourcing glass ware from second hand shops to paint my botanical art onto – and so the learning and adventure continues.

Gebera hybrid worked well with the shape of this little vase

Painting onto the glass is challenging as the smoothness and transparency make it difficult. The end result once accomplished is so worth the extra layers and time taken. So for now I have found my niche! I may stay here a while or down the line this may lead to something else again, another artistic adventure perhaps.

Female malachite sun bird on a Protea

What I am learning through all of this is that in art and in life nothing is wasted. Everything can be ‘re framed’ and changing ones mind is also perfectly okay. It is important to stay curious though, for who who knows, that may just lead you to your passion.

These two cake domes were perfect for these dusty pink Proteas

Rainy days, wine bottles and Chrysanthemums

In the corner of my kitchen there is a custom built floor to ceiling cupboard with rows and rows of slotted compartments. I have a collection of wine bottles stored in these. While most normal people have collections of full wine bottles – mine are all empty ones. I haste to add that these are not the accumulated result of excessive wine drinking or lonely inebriated evenings. Rather they have been collected over a number of years and stored in this convenient wine bottle cupboard for a rainy day.

My collection of empty wine bottles has often resulted in much head scratching and teasing from my friends and family. Questions like “Well Carol, what exactly are you keeping dozens and dozens of empty bottles for?” and “Good grief woman, you need to get out more!” and so on. I knew though that somewhere down the line I would find a use for them, and now I have!

My custom made bottle cutter

Wine bottles it turns out, can be cut. This past Christmas I received as a gift, a custom designed and hand made glass bottle cutter from my dearest man in my life. Someone who is not only the kindest and most thoughtful person on the planet, but he also happens to be the cleverest and handsomest ‘Magyver’ of ‘Magyvers’ !

cut and ready to paint

Cutting glass is not a simple procedure as we discovered. Glass can be unpredictable and tricky to work with. However with practice and a little luck one can usually get two out of three cut quite nicely. The edges can be sanded down by hand with water sand paper.

Cutting glass is tricky and this one cracked, fortunately I could paint over the crack

Of course it wasn’t long before I thought of painting onto my cut bottles. My Protea jar had worked so beautifully, why not painted tea light candle holders from the cut bottles. So that is what I have been happily doing in my spare time.

Some floral inspiration

My man also just so happens to be a hopeless romantic, and I am spoiled with a bunch of flowers every week, how lucky can a girl be! The Chrysanthemums in my mixed bunch this week have been vying for my attention. Their cheerful colors and multi petaled flower heads have made them perfect models for my tea light holders.

I spent a happy ‘load shedding’ morning (in lieu of a rainy day one) utilizing the time to cut a wine bottle and paint these pretty purple chrysanthemum flowers onto it. All and all a pleasing result and lots of creative therapy for me.

Base layer of gesso

Gesso I have discovered works well as a base for the acrylic – this eliminates the transparency problem of the glass.

Nearly done
Something new from something old

Painting and Proteas

My first encounter with our Natal Protea simplex was a delightful surprise. I came across a copse of them at the top of Empati mountain when I first started trail running a few years ago. In my amateurish ignorance, I thought that Proteas could only be found growing in the fairest Cape. Now I know better as my knowledge (although still amateurish) has improved somewhat through my mountain excursions and enthusiasm for our indigenous flora.

Protea simplex – The modified leaf bracts beginning to unfurl from the flowers

Hiking in the Drakensberg has also led to many happy Protea discoveries and these Natal ‘sugar bushes’ as they are commonly called, have come to have a meaningful significance in my life. They pop up from time to time, weaving their way through my ‘story’, with sometimes an uncanny synchronicity and serendipity. I find myself always looking out for them when out in the bush or climbing mountains.

Protea caffra – Flowering in the Drakensberg, Injisuthi

The world of flowers and all things botanical is a fascinating one. The more I learn, the more I realize just how little I actually know. Proteas are no exception. I have only just discovered that what one would think are the petals making up the frame of one flower – are in fact modified leaves! These ‘bracts’ as they are also known, act as a support for the inflorescence of many many long thin often hairy flowers, all massed together in the center. These flowers are at first closed and curved over towards the center. They open from the outside towards the middle, and as they open, the central mass loosens up and the flowers fluff out sometimes like a messy pom-pom.

Protea simplex providing a smorgasbord for it’s pollinators

I have drawn many Proteas over the years, but lately I have been itching to paint them. Creativity for me is like that. I can leave something for ages until suddenly, out of the blue, the bug bites once again and I am filled with an all consuming urgency to ‘create’ something. This time it has been my paint brushes beckoning and winking at me coquettishly from their jar on the shelf!

Protea caffra – drawn using a ‘bik ‘pen

Inspired by the stunning display the Proteas have put on this Summer, and pouring over the many photographs I have taken, I decide I need to paint them. Canvas? – no, board? – no. The jar?The jar! The glass jar it is. More decisions, oils or acrylic? I prefer oils as they dry slower, giving me more time to manipulate the paint. After researching my new found medium however, I decide begrudgingly to use acrylic. According to the ‘google guru’ I have consulted, acrylic adheres better to glass.

Creativity is an act of faith. Whenever I start a new creative project, I almost always go through the same thought process. Thoughts like – “I can’t wait to start, this will be fun”, to “Oh help, this is a lot harder than I thought!”, and even “should I even bother to go on!” Then, slowly with persistence and blind faith, I start to feel my way through – allowing my intuition to take the steering wheel, or rather ‘the brush’ in this case.

Help!

Slowly but surely it begins to take shape, and I begin to see a way through. Yes, sometimes it doesn’t quite work and sometimes I may have to go over an area more than once. Mostly though I get to the end, and there it is! The thrill of having created something pleasing and beautiful, the feeling of contentment mingled with the surprise of having pulled it off, is pure bliss.

Starting to layer the colors and shading

So to it was with my Protea painting. Doubt at first as to whether I could make it work – the initial enthusiasm turning into panic as I discovered technical difficulties in working on the transparent glass. I had to resort to much layering – which gave it a lovely depth in the end. Then getting used to the acrylic drying so quickly as I worked.

Beginning to work on the leaves

As always with creative work though, I come away richer for the whole experience, whether it works or not. For as in life, art is an act of courage and faith. One has to dive right in. It is a process of feeling your way through the messy bits and then the empowering that develops through that experience enabling you to create your own beautiful and original ending.

A happy ending

Patterns

From as far back as I can remember, I have been drawn to patterns. The reassurance in the repetition of a design. A sequence that keeps repeating itself is somehow comforting – unbroken, ‘safe’. The familiar track laid down like a visual mantra, creating a sense of calm through the frenetic and ever changing busyness of life.

I was one of those children who shrunk away from too much sensory stimulation , it was overwhelming and confusing for me. I preferred a quiet and familiar environment in which to daydream and explore my creative nature.

Of course as one grows up, the busy responsibility of adulthood shapes you and one learns to cope with the stresses of everyday life. Becoming a parent adds a whole new dimension to the toughening up process, whether you like it or not.

I still like patterns though.

When choosing fabrics for my ‘Nyoni art’ range of bags , fabric buckets and cushion covers, I inevitably choose our South African ‘Shwe shwe’ cotton prints. The designs are repetitive – which I like, and the colors have now been extended . From the traditional blue, red and brown shades, one can now choose from luscious pinks, lime greens, vibrant turquoises and sunshine yellows to name but a few. Something for everyone.

Nyoni Shwe shwe buckets and bags at a Christmas market

Whilst working on my ‘Nyoni’ range in preparation for a Christmas market these past few weeks, I have been thinking about the ‘patterns’ in my life. Not just the visual and physical patterns that I can see and touch, but also the deep rooted patterns that have become embedded in my life. Patterns that have perhaps been passed down through generations. Habits, personality traits and also choices. Choices so ingrained by the implicit bias of genetics, cultural heritage and experience, that they have become a subconscious automation.

Ingrained patterns of behavior that have influenced not only the way I think and behave, but also important life choices that I make. Choosing a potential life partner for example. What starts out as feeling right for me has often been the habit of choosing what has become familiar to me, not necessarily right for me. So the old patterns have been repeated, subconsciously even, until eventually of course the relationship does not/ cannot work, and I am left wondering why I am alone and heart broken once again.

Sometimes though, just sometimes, if you are lucky, you may chance to turn your head just a few degrees, and out of the corner of your eye someone has attracted your attention in their gentle and unassuming way. Here quite suddenly is a new pattern that intrigues and beckons. A new choice, a new chance at something better.

You are surprised and delighted and amazed, for here is a pattern that is familiar in a new way. This time however the familiarity is because there is a parallel thread in values, beliefs, interests and in depth. A familiar rhythm, one that is harmonious and in tune with yours. A synchronicity that flows naturally because it is a good fit.

And so I am learning that patterns can be changed. That thinking in a new way can open doors into wonderful new chapters, and if these are only the beginning, I cannot wait to fall into the rest of the story…

“Most of your healing journey will be about unlearning the patterns of self-protection that once kept you safe” – Vironika Tugaleva

Cloudy skies and happy surprises

Finally the clouds have come to stay awhile and have blessed us with abundant rain. The glorious sound of thunder and lightning once again and downpours through the night.

Making my way up the slippery path I breathed in the heavenly damp smell of the earth. The air thick with a steamy humidity as the sun gently warmed the rain soaked ground. Even though the green is still to come, the change is immediately apparent, there is a sigh of relief in the breeze. The birds have suddenly come to life with a renewed and frenetic energy and a flurry of song.

It was a happy run.

Making my way down the last steep slope a flash of brilliant coral red caught my eye, and I wondered off the path to investigate. ‘Erythrinia zeyheri’ is a subshrub that grows no more than 60cm tall and occurs naturally in the higher grasslands of Southern Africa and also in Lesothto.

Commonly called the ‘plough breaker’ or ‘ploegbreker’ in Afrikaans, because of it’s extensive and tough underground root system. The flowers closely resemble those of its cousin the common corral tree – Erythrinia lysistemon.

The leaves are covered in prickly spines, probably to deter grazers. In Winter the leaves and stems die down completely, disappearing, and eventually they make their appearance again in late Spring with their bold and striking display. The roots are used as an asthma treatment in traditional medicine.

Just when I think I know the mountain quite well it surprises me with something new.

‘Grewia occidentalis’, (also known as the ‘cross berry’ shrub – due to it’s distinctive four lobed fruits, and also the ‘donkey berry’ – I have no idea why) – is a pretty and hardy shrub. In cultivation it can easily reach 3 meters and is considered a small tree, here in the veld though it tends to be a small scrambling shrub, hugging the ground. This attractive shrub flowers profusely from October through Summer and has pretty lilac pink flowers.

It is quite a common little shrub and I always look forward to seeing it flowering.

The four lobed fruits or berries

I was however pleasantly surprised to see a white flowering Grewia alongside the path as I was nearing the end of my run. I clicked away happily taking photographs of my new find. As I turned to go again, I looked up to the right and lo and behold, there was an entire bank covered in white cross berry bushes that I had not noticed before.

Once home I scoured the net trying to find out more about the colour variations of this shrub. Apparently white is quite a rare find!

Still the mountain continues to surprise and delight…

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