‘Gnidea capitata’ and surviving the paradox of creativity

This pretty little shrub I only just noticed a few trail runs ago because it had survived a fire break and did not seem the worse for wear despite it’s scorching. It is a new species for me. I can’t be sure which Gnidia it is – but because of it’s grey more hairy leaves I think it may be Gnidea capitata.

There is not too much information on the Gnidia either.  It is a grassland and coastal plant which belongs to the ‘Thyme’ family. The flowers are a lovely ‘butter’ yellow and they are a food source for insects and butterflies. Apparently it can flower for months and although an attractive garden plant it can only be sourced from specialist indigenous nurseries.

This is the only little shrub of it’s kind that I have come across on my mountain excursions. I hope to find some more, it is not listed as threatened. One of those overlooked  little plants which of course is why it appeals to me.

The last two weeks have been challenging. Between work pressure, UIF audits and the Winter sniffles – I sank into a horrible malaise. I felt demotivated and uninspired. A few trail runs later and some ‘down time’ – which for me just means dialing down the pressure to ‘produce’ or ‘create’ and just ‘be’, just do the necessary – did the trick.

So here I sit at 4:30 in the morning feeling excited and motivated about an idea I have for my botanical drawings. Creativity is a strange affliction at times. It can be both amazing and brutal. It can take you on a ‘roller coaster ride’ which can make you question your sanity.

I love this quote by Elizabeth Gilbert from her book Big magic. She speaks about the ‘central paradox’ of creating. “My creative expression must be the most important thing in the world to me (if I am to live artistically), and it must also not matter at all (if I am to live sanely).” Crazy true words! Somehow one needs to move between these two margins if one is to stay sane as a creative.


Aloe Arborescens – ‘krantz aloe’

Finally I have finished the Aloe arborescens drawing. This is a big piece of work – 60/90 cm and is a wash and pen drawing done onto masonite. It will be a partner for the Aloe maculata finished last month.

The krantz aloe grows into a large multi headed shrub – although it has been given a national tree no, no – 28.1. The flower spikes are usually various shades of orange, but sometimes one may be lucky enough to find bi-coloured or pure yellow ones. This one is a bi-colour and I found it growing near the top of Empati mountain.

All Aloes are an important nectar source for our sun birds and they are loved by insects and bees. The krantz aloe is highly adapted to many habitats although it does prefer rocky cliffs and bush veld.

Medicinally Aloe arborescens have special extracts in their leaves which are excellent for wound healing – especially burns. They have anti – bacterial, anti – ulcer, anti – inflammatory, and anti – carcinogenic properties.

These aloes are fast and easy to grow enjoying full sun. They hybridize easily with other aloe species.

I love not only their colourful flowers through winter but also their structural leaves – this one I enjoyed drawing immensely.

Spreadsheets and Gum trees

So right now I should be doing a spreadsheet. Especially as it is for an audit with the Labour department and it’s due on Friday. Yes, spreadsheets are important – and who doesn’t love spreadsheets. My creative right-brain just thrives on spreadsheets. So,to survive the dreaded spreadsheet – which will probably take hours, I had to go for a run up the mountain first for some much needed fortifying ‘Prozac’.

This morning was the coldest it has been so far this Winter and I made my way up the frosted path dressed like an Eskimo. My hands and feet stung in the icy cold. Halfway up the sun was peeping through though and felt glorious on my face as I continued resolutely with my escape. By the time I got to the top I had thawed out and needed to remove some  layers of clothing.

The spreadsheet will get done before Friday of course. On my run this morning however I saw a painting in some gum trees. I crushed one of the leaves and breathed in the sharp menthol scent and was taken instantly in a flash of memory back to my childhood. I found some Kudu spoor in the mud and I watched a ‘Greater collared’ sun bird flit through the aloe shrubs, stopping every now and then to feast on the nectar.

I came back down feeling alive and motivated again. Now for that spreadsheet!

yellow aloes

The Yellow ‘Aloe maculata’ are finally starting to flower.


Golden light and Weeping Sage

I only managed to fit in a trail run later yesterday afternoon. As always it was worth the effort. There is something so beautiful about late afternoons in the veld. As the sun starts to dip and the shadows lengthen everything becomes bathed in a warm honeyed glow. This golden light is juxtaposed against the deep inky shadows and the result is quite magical.

I made my way back down the trail admiring this gorgeous effect. As I went through the forested section I got the distinct honeyed scent of something flowering along the path. I stopped to investigate. It was coming from the Buddleja Auriculata or ‘weeping sage’ bush – as it’s commonly known. These have just started flowering. There are two Buddleja species on Empati. The Buddleja auriculata and the Buddleja Salvifolia. The latter has grey sage like leaves while this one has a more glossy leaf and a weeping habit. It is found on forest margins and rocky slopes. All the Buddlejas are good for attracting butterflies and insects which in turn become food for our insectivorous birds.

I have recently planted both species in the garden. When I went to take a look at ours once home, I was pleased to see that it has also started flowering even though it is only a meter high at this stage. This shrub is both drought and frost resistant and it flowers through Winter into Spring which is a bonus.

No time for drawing it as I am still trying to get the Aloes finished! I did take a photograph of the flowers from our garden. You can see how glossy the leaves are – quite different from it’s cousin although the flowers are very similar.

buddleja garden


Self worth

I had always thought ‘self esteem’ was important. Recently I have come to learn about – and am still learning about ‘self worth’. The two are very different things. ‘Self esteem’ is something volatile – it can swing too easily between insufficient and too much. ‘Self worth’ is something deeper and stable. It is not a product. It’s value is not negotiable with the world. It is a deep inherent birthright that we all share. Self worth is simply ‘being enough’.

Society has brain washed us into a ‘scarcity’ mentality. Lynne Twist write about this in her book – ‘The soul of money’. “For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is “I didn’t get enough sleep”. The next one is “I don’t have enough time.” Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it….”

We automatically assume that our self worth is something that can be measured. We measure it by our achievements, our ‘success’, our looks, our ‘somebodyism’, even our ‘good deeds’. The more we try to find sustenance and fulfillment this way the emptier we feel.

I will end with a quote by author Brene Brown form her book ‘Rising Strong’.

“No matter what gets done, and how much is left undone, I am enough…yes I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am brave and worthy of love and belonging.”

Lost photographs and misty mornings

Being ‘digitally challenged’ I somehow managed to delete all my Aloe arborescens photographs from my phone – they were meant for my next Aloe drawing onto masonite board. I set off yesterday feeling irritated into the misty morning to take new ones – the Aloes are on my trail run route.

I did not stay irritated for long. From the outside mist can look cold and uninviting, once you are in it however everything takes on an ethereal ‘other worldliness’ which is quite beautiful. It has the ability to transform ordinary things into something magical.

Firstly you notice the spider webs – how lovely they look, as if they are highlighted in silver, and how many there are! Then you notice the varieties of grass. How they are lit up in their finest strings of dewy pearls and diamonds. You start to pay attention to the details.

dew drops grass

Even the blackjacks – which I hate, were not left out and took on a whole new look.


It was beautifully clear at the top of the mountain and I managed to get some good photographs of the Aloes once again. I have safely stored them onto my computer this time! I started the drawing and composition work yesterday. Hopefully I can finish it this week.



Ceratotheca triloba – ‘wild foxgloves’

This pretty indigenous annual flowers in Summer and through the Autumn months. It occurs in grasslands, although being opportunistic, they are often found growing along the roadside.

They range from white to pale mauve and then a darker mauve. The flowers are shaped like those of the English foxgloves but they are in no way related. They are actually part of the ‘sesame’ family. In the garden they can get quite tall with regular watering – 1.5 – 2 meters.

Ceratotheca is used medicinally to treat all sorts of tummy complaints and they are a favorite of carpenter and honey bees. They prefer a rich, well drained soil with plenty of water in the Summer months. They can tolerate a little shade.

I found these pale mauve beauties growing alongside the road near Washbank. I have also seen some dark pink flowering ones near Paulpietersberg. The seeds have been collected for sowing in the Spring – can’t wait.


River Indigo seeds and the magic far away tree.

A few months ago I stumbled across a pretty pale pink flowering shrub on the Empati mountain run route. I mentally made a note of it’s location meaning to go back and photograph it. I never got round to doing that until this morning.

I decided to explore the same path today. Well, all was well at first but eventually the further I went the higher the grass seemed to get until eventually I was doing a kind of ‘breast stroke’ with my arms just to part a way through! I could have turned around but I had come this far already and it seemed silly to give up now. I tried very hard not to think of what could be slithering or crawling around my feet and bravely pressed on.

At last! I found my shrub but alas it had long finished flowering. I did triumphantly manage to get some seeds though. I think my shrub is a kind of ‘River Indigo’ although I can’t be sure until I see the flowers again. I shall sow the seeds in spring and hopefully they will germinate!

As I had made it this far I decided that I may as well climb out through the last steep stretch of the route. Just before this climb out there is the biggest cabbage tree – ‘Cussonia spicata’ or ‘Kiepersol’ that I have ever seen. It must be as old as the mountain. It is the ‘Magic faraway tree from Africa’. It’s trunk is huge and it’s branches twisted and gnarled. The bark is flaking off in big pieces like old skin being shed. The ends of it’s branches form a strange candelabra like structure of spikes, some of them withered like witches fingers with age.

I was starting to feel a little claustrophobic in the long grass however and did not linger to take photographs. I will do so when I’m not alone up there. The higher I climbed the shorter the grass became again and finally I was climbing through the forested section near the top. This little area is deeply shaded, cool and damp. There are a no of beautiful lacy ferns and bright green moss, ‘fairy grass’, growing like a thick velvety carpet on some of the rocks.

Here I did stop to take it all in. This ‘other world’ where time has stood still. These ancient rocks and trees were here long before me and will be here long after I am gone.

Finally I was out into the bright sunshine again.  I made my way back down, feeling content and frankly quite chuffed with myself.

cabbage tree  Not the original African ‘magic faraway tree’ – but a lovely one along the road up the mountain.


Aloe Maculata – ‘bontaalwyn’

Both the Aloe Arborescens and the Aloe Maculata are coming into their own now. There are some gorgeous colour variations. This was one of the first Aloe Maculatas flowering on the mountain this month. I have been wanting to paint or draw aloes for the last three years! Finally here is the first one finished. This is quite a big work so it took some time. The yellow ones have just started flowering so perhaps will make a nice companion for this one.

Aloe Maculata is widely spread and very adaptable and obliging – growing almost anywhere except dense shade. All Aloes are very medicinal and a valuable food source for our lovely sun birds in the winter months.

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