requested by the cacti and succulent gardener in Copenhagen
Botanical Garden to start an education as greenhouse gardener. It is
a three year, eight month education with both school and practical
training. Due to my former experience, I've been able to cut it down
to two years, two month. The Botanical Garden only takes second term
apprentice, so I have to find a first term practice place. Pinching
cucumbers for half year aren't me, but then I get this great offer:
Practical training at
New Plant Nursery in George, South Africa.
It is the biggest nursery in South Africa with indigenous plants.
It turns out, it is not that easy. The Danish educational system are only based on Denmark, and if is wild: Some of the countries of the European Community. I spend real long time trying to figure, how it can be done. I have to get the place recognised as a certified educational place, get an insurance, a flight ticket and get a working/study visa. It turns up, after a long waiting, I don't need a work visa, I just have to renew the three month visa while I'm there. Where I'm going to stay and details like that have to wait until I'm actually there. I have to sign up at the school, get the contract with the Botanical Garden, and last but suddenly not least: Get someone to look after my more than 120 plants from 87 different families. The gardener from the botanical garden take it on his shoulders. Many more details like mail, money and - stuff - takes me more than two month, full time, to sort out.
George, named after King George II, is located in the Western Cape, rather close to the Cape. It started out as a timber-town, but the only timber fund now, is pine trees and some Eucalyptus. Is the largest town on the Garden Route, with a population of 140.000, and expanding rapidly. It was founded in 1811, is the sixth oldest town in South Africa and has some nice old buildings. It is located eight kilometres inland in low hills. The mountains starts a bit further inland. To tourists it almost only known for the Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe; a steam train from 1928, which have been closed for some time due to landslides. When I first visit the town in 2005, it reminded me of any west Australian town. Calm British Colonial stile all the way. The surrounding nature is awesome: Fynbos, forest, Garden Route it selves, rough mountains - succulent's paradise.
The nursery it selves is located between George and Wilderness, five kilometres to each, it the fork between the costal highway and Victoria Bay Road, in farmland. The 70 employees grow 600 different plants, mainly for local sale. It is around 100.000 square meters.
29/1. I booked a British Airways flight through Travelstart. Due to a cabin crew strike (which neither BA nor Travelstart bothered to inform me about), I had to reschedule the Johannesburg flight, leaving one day before. Neither BA nor South African Airways could change the last leg to George, and Travelstart didn't bother. 26 hours in Jo-burg was not my dream, but what can I do? Got a mail half an hour before leaving; confirming the change. Then I just have to get a confirmation on the vital correction on my name on the tickets. Asked Travelstart to make it 14 days ago, but ended up doing it my selves, even though I can't. BA will try, they promised, Saturday. Gets it confirmed in the train, halfway to the airport. Then I just have to worry about the immigration.
Smooth tour until Johannesburg, where I'm are supposed to have a printed ticket. The E-ticket number I have is a British Airways number, and that does not work for South African Airways. Another unfriendly thought goes to Travelstart! Lot of talking gives me a screen-print, which with some more sweet talk transfers into a boarding card. Spent the waiting hour buying a simcard and some cell phone airtime.
Call the nursery from the George Airport, and Mandy picks me up. A huge improvement from the Danish snow I left; here it is 22 C and partly clouded. On the way to the nursery we pass by the giant mall to pickup my kitchen and some food for it. Here we meet up with Paul. Great people, this is turning out real nice. We get back to the nursery, but I can only manage to see some of the private garden and a part of the huge and extreme cosy house. Meets a lot of my new colleges, their two daughters and two dogs, but I'm afraid 5½ month will be too short for me to learn their names.
I get an new cleaned cabin in the back of the garden. A rondawel; a round hut, five meters in diameter with a small bathroom attached. Real cosy and "authentic". Same size as at home, but the surroundings are breath taking! Rolling fertile hills, surrounded by mountains. A beautiful garden with huge familiar plants. I get settled in, and go back to the large house and chat with some of the others.
Mandy and Paul invites me to dinner, and we talks to we more or less drop. It has been a long day, but I still have to write my diary. Plenty of insects play their music under the African night sky, and a full moon lights up the surrounding hills and mountains. Temperature drops only slightly to around 20 C.
30/1. A good nights sleep, and I'm ready to checking out the surroundings. The sun is shinning and the temperature climbs to 27 C. Spend some time trying to get the wireless internet connection I brought, to reach my cabin, but lack ten meters, never mind what I try. Wandering around Mandy and Paul's garden, which is more like a park.
Shoots some photos of the garden, colourful insects, sunbirds (Chalcoparia) and a toad. My camera starts to malfunction, which is some kind of a disappointment to me: Got it back from the third repair four days ago. Same error again: Can zoom, but not out again. Real annoying, and I will complain when I get home in 169 days.
Here are plenty of flowering plants, some known to me, some completely new. A fig tree with ripen fruits draw mousebirds (Coliiformes), starlings and white-eyes (Zosterops).
Easy evening cooking for the next couple of days and getting the photos sorted.
31/1. Up 6:30 and meet for my first day at work 7:30. My first assignment is repotting five Aloes. Could sound easy, but when they have been growing together in one vine barrow, and they are on my size, it is a bit more complicated. I break up some bricks in the paving, dig big holes, get them in, water them and most of the bricks back in place. Gives me blisters on my hands, a real read neck, bloody sweaty but also a good feeling of having accomplice something.
Half an hour lunch break, and next job is in the shadow, which defiantly is a good thing for my neck. Looking up the origin of all the indigenous succulents in the nursery. Coffee break and then out to make Pelargonium cuttings, interrupted by a employment meeting. Now I actually works here! More cuttings until 17:00.
Coffee and a much needed shower before dinner. Walk with Mandy and her daughter to Paul's parents next door. Fantastic garden and breath taking house. On the way, we passes the new guesthouse, which lays on a small hill, with it's own lake, and with a view to the sea on one side and the wood covered hills and the mountains to the other.
Evening spend with writing, photos and e-mails. I have to confess, not that surprising, I a bit used! Trying to get my web-bank to work: "Access your account every where in the world" turns out to be a too big mouthful for them. Their answer to my mail; asking for help is: Look at our page (the one I can't get in to), or call us (I did mention I were in South Africa). Then I try to get the Coolmenus on my site to work. They does not seem to work with Explorer 7.0, but then again: Even Explorer 7.0 does not work. The only thing I could use from that program is an uninstall function - which it does not have. Must be a beta version from a small and humble company!
1/2. Starts 7:30 in the succulent department with shifting some Aloes in 50 litres bags, and 1800 Portulacaria afra and around 180 different smaller Aloes. Finds crickets, toads, scolopendras, different snails and other small animals between the pots. Then I water 1250 different succulents and do some veeding in the patches between the beds. It is Friday, and I get off at 15:30. Been in the sun all day, and I feel like a schizophrenic beef: Both reed and well done!
A well needed shower and a cup of coffee bring me back to life. Mandy invites me to a tour to Wildernes to make a short visit to one of the employs. She have a house and a big piece of land between the river and a reserve. If that wasn't enough, she has a view to the forests to the third direction and the sea to the last.
On the way back, we take the scenic route between the hills, and a loop though a township. Defiantly the nicest I have seen. Well kept huts and green plants in between. More nature, and once again, I'm puzzled abut the fact: All the domestic animals roam free while the wild beast are all kept in enclosures, big ones, that is.
Home to a late and needed supper. Twelve hours with hard work and one cup of coffee gives a good appetite. Work on the PC for some time, and then connect the TV. After having tuned the canals (all four), I watches something...
3/2. Wakes up half past seven, and I am so aware about my body! It passes after a while, and I start enjoying the weekend. Talks with Paul about some ideas I have for trolleys and irrigation, and then I get a lift to the enormous mall. I need food, soap and other household things plus some electrical stuff. I always find it hard to find things in a new supermarket, and it sure don't help, you don't know any of the branches or wrappings at all. Anyway; it succeeded to find all, and I spend a whole weeks pay in less than one hour, and I can easily carry it in one hand.
Home to fix some bathroom tiles which fell off, when I got a water heater installed yesterday. Then I gamble, and install an old back-up to my PC: Anything to get rite of the bloody Internet Explorer 7.0! Seems to work, fingers crossed. Spending the afternoon by redecorating my rondawel and short visits out in the sun; I have plenty of a weird colour in the exposed areas!
Every evening, one hour before sunset, a big flock of guineafowls invades the lawn. A bit nosy, but nothing compared to the few black ibises out in the nursery at same time. Cook supper at eight, work on the PC and faint at half pass ten.
4/2. Sunday, and a perfect weather. Have a plan about a walk-a-bout, but get stuck-up in the Coolmenus again. Borrows the washing machine meanwhile, and walks with Mandy to Paul's parents. His father has restored cars for many years, and today he did the first run with a Hupmobile. Awesome veteran car from around 1913! Further back in his workshop is a complete Ford T, soft-top pickup, one out of four known. Other wooden-wheel cars in more or less collected and restored condition are scattered around.
Paul has fired up the barbeque, and I'm invited to braai (grill dinner) with the family and Paul's parents. Late afternoon is spend with a stroll around the area. It is a breath-taking area; Big green hills with lakes and forest scattered around. Plenty of birds; sunbirds, woodpeckers, amadines, guineafowls, buzzers, doves, weavers, pigeons, flycatchers, swallows and many more I don't know the names for. Back to the nursery, I give Coolmenu a last chance for another five hours. I'm might work, but I can't surely make it! This weekend went much too fast! Uploads photos and diary before the very late supper.
5/2. First job is to move 392 Plectranthus neochilnus, and prune 235 of them. Then I prune 216 Crassula spathulata, and get a well deserved cup of coffee. More sunshield on, factor 30, and then I'm ready for fertilizing 473 different Aloes. A handful of smelling Humac (nice name for chicken shit), and then watering it down. Cleans up the area, to make it perfect, and then it is time for second break, followed by spraying Roundup. Guess I would have to ware mask and not sandals, if I did it in Denmark?
Mandy asks me to photo some plants, which I gladly do; I'm still not total fit for this hard work, and even though I am covered in factor 30, I'm still burning. Shooting photos in the shadow house suits me fine. Process the photos, and send them off. Lungiswa, the succulent-boss, shows me what to do to morrow, while she is away, and I sneak of to get a well-deserved and needed bath.
While I cook my supper, I open a window. Scares a small gecko, which almost get eaten by a much larger spider. I had a dream of, it would be the other way around! It gets dark half past seven, and I start the daily work at the PC. Not really much else to do in the evenings, and that is fine; I have not much energy left anyway.
6/2. I start weeding the Bulbine bed I was told to. The soil is rather sandy, which makes it easy, except from the grass. Spend the first two periods with it, and finish up with fertilizing them. It turns up, it is very important to water immediately after. Actually; I should only fertilize ten square meters, and then water. Didn't know that, and left the whole bed dry, when I left for second brake. Luckily, it seems like none has gotten burned.
Talks with Mandy about it. I got a feeling of, that as long the fertilizer don't lie directly on the plants, and it kept dry, it won't hurt. The problem is, if they are watered, but not enough. Mandy is not sure, and I promise to make a test with 30 plants: Dry, slightly watered and total soaked.
Afternoon is spend at Paul and Mandy's river cottage. We are collecting some swamp plants, from along their river. Two of the workers have been digging them up, and now we transport them down river in a canoe and on our backs. It is a tough job; the stones in the river are extreme slippery, and the plants and especially their roots are heavy. Finally we loads them into the bakkie (pick-up truck), and drives up the narrow and steep, part gravel road, which once was the main coast road. The two wheel tracks have been cemented on many of the steepest parts, but the seems like it still washes away, when there are a heavy rainfall
It is a breathtaking gorge! Around 100 meters deep, dense forest on the very steep walls, and a twisted river. The area is called Map of Africa: Seen from above, the river forms the outline of Africa. Back to the nursery we unload, and others takes over. I feel very used!
The first sun is showing; I looks like a Bursera or Eucalyptus: Pealing my new own ten off again. Dinner is again a slight disappointment: Tried different things, but there are not really any taste in it. Bought an English HP-sauce, and that kick ass! After a week with next to nothing tastes, it tastes almost as Marmelite! To those who haven't tasted Marmelite: DON'T! Way too strong.
Eight o'clock, and I'm ready to hit the bed. Trying to work on the PC, but it just won't do as I want it to.
7/2. The working day starts with a Team Meeting. We are three from Succulents and three from Evergreen plus Mandy. After presentation, subjects like; store room for bulbs, weeding plans, hiring more people for evergreen, team uniforms, toilets and restroom closer to the working area and missing water taps comes up. The meeting is in English, Afrikaans and Xhosa. I would have preferred Danish...
I really don't like to wear a hat, but after a rather sleepless night, with a clear feeling of my hair being on fire, I give in. Gets a fine straw hat, and try not to look silly. Well: More silly than usually...
Then the work starts, I shift different plants to give them more room. A small frog jumps away, and it does not look like the numerous toads. It is to my surprise a Xenopus. I didn't think they would leave the water.
Then I fill gabs after sales, clean up after yesterdays weeding and all the black plastic bags with soil from dead plants. Lungiswa shows me how to plant seedlings into four litre bags, and I plant a small bed with them, and water them afterwards. Days last job is to weed some of the plants I Roundup'ed yesterday. They have been watered to day, and are easy to draw up.
Back to my rondawel to drink a litre of juice and get a bath. Not that I need it after a days hard work in 31C, but it just custom... Invades Paul's office to check mails and write diary. Get an invitation to go to the sea to have a swim with Mandy and their neighbour, but can't even find the energy to cook supper. Mandy invites me to take some of their spaghetti bolognese, which the domestic have made plenty of. Real tasteful, and I even find a bit of energy.
8/2. The temperature has dropped to around 26C, and the suns only penetrates the light sky once in a while. I start planting Portulacaria afra. The planting table is in a covered area, and the table is actually in a comfortable height. Then I shift some Aleos to make room for the new plants. I have never been that keen on Aloes, unless they are in the wild, and my lack of affection have just been lowered even more, if possible.
Based on my assumptions about Humac ability to burn or not, we set up an experience together with Evergreen. We apply 30 plants each; one third get Humac and no water, one third get Humac and little water and the rest Humac and plenty of water. The others claim the two first will burn, I claim only the mettle will.
Time for more planting, and the usual half hour weeding to finish off. I got to find a way to slow down; I have produced 17 hours work to day, and I'm not really tied like yesterday. Did promise Nanna to have a look at the nursery's web-site, and have arranged a meeting on Monday. Spend some of the evening to get familiar with it.
Then Paul turns up. I'm constantly using his office, which has the best internet connection. I'll politely ask him to get his own office, but it does not work. Then we have a long talk about stones. All from the minerals over gravestones and the way stone are shaped in a workshop to stone age tools. Paul had a nice collection from around the world, and I have some knowledge about the subject.
The whole family will go to Cape Town in the weekend, and I alone with a nursery, a huge house, three cats, three horses and two dogs. And a car, not to forget!
9/2. I keep planting all morning and afterwards watering "my" plants, I water a lot more. Then I cut some Portulacaria with large leaves. One of the chaps from the office comes around and ask, if he can use "my" car to morrow. They are a bunch going to a funeral. Of cause I can't refuse that, and now I just hope I can borrow a car this afternoon. My food supply have shrunken beyond what I like. Further more; I got my first salary; nicely packed in an envelope with the counting. I wonder what the Danish tax-office will think. Well, as long as they get their 50%, I guess they won't mind.
It starts to get windy, and around two, it starts to rain softly. The temperature drops to 20C, and I'm total soaked and cold when the weekend starts 15:30. Need a shower again, but this time for an other reason. Find the Danish summer dress, but lack the raincoat. Better buy one; worst that can happen is I won't need it.
Back to the big house, I find a depressing lack of cars. I'm not desperate enough to take a horse to the mall - but close. It turns up the family has left, and their other car was at the repair shop. Got it back half pass five, and hit straight for the giant mall. Turns out the shops are closing as I arrival, but Pick'n Pay, where the food are, is still open. Once again, I spend a weeks pay, and are able to carry it out in one hand.
Home to two very disappointed dogs and a real empty nursery. After having cooked dinner, I invades the big house: No room for two large dogs in my rondawel, and can't stand to have them lying outside it, in the rain. They settles down on the porch, and I enter the house where three very lonely cats greats me. Checking out the TV, and realising Danish TV isn't worlds worse after all. The guineafowls having a disappointing evening as well. Can't find the corn they use to get, and they do not appreciate the rice I give them.
The story continues in Diary 2