On Tuesday last week Sally and I started potting on the Amaryllis belladonna seedlings the seeds of which were sown into a tray last autumn. They will not flower for at least another year but by potting them on they will be rejuvenated and can replace the pots of two-year olds I recently planted into the garden. The fruits of this bulb look like large cloudy pomegranate seeds. In place of a pip they have a tiny white shoot which will form the roots, leaves and, when its time comes, the unabashed flower of it’s future. Once an adult plant, the leaves are released from the bulb only after the pink flowers have postulated, been sexed and sown their seed. Amaryllis belladonna is native to the fynbos of South Africa, the equivalent of our phrygana and flowers in the baking summer. Therefore these bulbs will be perfectly happy living amongst the drier stony parts of our garden. We have had them planted in the terraces which are irrigated and fed by mulch and compost but I recently planted some into a patch that will get no irrigation apart from the blessed rain. Even though I did not water them in they are happy as Larry. It is best to plant them in full sun otherwise the flower stalks stress and strain towards the sun. Producing bulbs from seed is, admittedly, a slow and pretty inrewarding process for the first year or two. It requires patience and enough space where the pots, bare for much of the year, can be left to obtrusively go about their business. Yet ultimately, like growing any plant from seed, it is infinitely rewarding. The bulbs will live for years, multiply vegetatively and produce more seed.
Another plant that resembles the habit and behavior of A. belladonna is Haemanthus coccinea. This is one of the most wondrous; even horrific, plants I have ever seen. The gigantic bulbs disgorge a single flower in the summer that is the colour of blood, (Haemanthus translates from the Greek as bloodflower). These evoke more than just one of our liquid components, their fleshy stems remain naked of leaves until after the seed has been set. After this has taken place these corporeal flowers shrivel and darken but retain an image of their past self like the shed skin of a snake. While these effigies linger their ovate leaves emerge from the tightly pursed and gigantic bulb like a small insolent child sticking out its tongue. These will quickly become extremely long on a comical though somewhat sinister level. Everything about this plant brings to my mind the ominous world of Mary Shelley or Bram Stoker. Both authors described horrifying situations and beings while also arousing in the reader a sense of empathy for the beast.
Now, with the reference to the self-styled god Dr. Frankenstein and the murderously loving Count Dracula in mind, let us return to our gardening activities at Sparoza. On the evening that Sally and I were transplanting those saucy teenage Amaryllis belladonna seedlingsa sizeable delivery of plants (34 in all) arrived from the nursery of Olivier and Clara Filippi in Meze, France. Among them were plants that we had never heard of. Our excitement was sparking but twilight was upon us and rapidly seeping into darkness so we quickly unpacked our sweet new arrivals. Cooing and fussing over their unique forms we gave them all a refreshing soak and let them rest overnight, oblivious to the pains their happiness would drive us to.
The instant love and resolute protectiveness for all these new plants has overcome all the frustration and physical pain we have suffered over planting them this past week. Do not think that I am complaining. I had been duly prepared by many a source of the tight grip with which Sparoza clings to the rockface of the hill and I have loved every moment of teasing the land to co-operate with our plant layout plans. The Sparoza terrain out-with the garden terraces is shallowly under-ridden by beautiful bedrock which, in places, even breaches the soil surface creating ancient platforms; thinker’s rocks. This bedrock must be acknowledged and avoided or hacked
at, broken and removed with a pickaxe; or dynamite as Jacky Tyrwitt found when planting the garden’s trees about sixty years ago. The Mediterranean-climate landscape and flora are notoriously inhospitable and competitive. The integral objective of this garden is to create a synergistic, experimental and natural being. And so, plants here are encouraged to exist freely, resulting either in vigor and beautiful plant associations or weakness and even death. This then gives us an idea of our mistakes but also the capabilities of each plant thus benefiting and embellishing Sparoza’s own ecological setting and in turn providing answers and inspiration for other mediterranean-climate gardeners across the globe.
The pickaxe and my own cupped hands are now my tools of choice when it comes to digging holes at Sparoza. Through the dogged want for these plants to prosper and some hard graft my beating on this anvil of rock and scrabbling on my knees in the dirt has not gone to waste. At least not so far! About 10 days have passed and our new plants, unique to the garden, are happy. Shortly I will tell you about them. I will not describe all of them but instead talk about the ones that I, invariably prejudiced as I am, found to be the most morphologically interesting and the ones with which I have formed particular bonds.