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Van Stadens 14.08.2013

There was lots of unfinished business today on the eve of our departure on a month holiday so we got cracking early.

Ellie had denuded our garden (not really) of plants for the entrance circle, mainly Pelargoniums for the Pelargonium patch and some crassula and we managed to plant them before Sheena and Sian O’Keeffe of Free Spirit Adventures arrived to discuss the trail run for our Open Day. They were very enthusiastic and it looks like it is a go. They will check it out on Sunday and let us know.

While we were planting Tony had come and inquired if we needed more soil and as the answer was yes he got Pottaman and his tractor to get us some more scoops and after our meeting we carried on shaping the horse shoe. In the meantime Neil had arrived and he also got stuck in and dug out some deep rooted strelizias to replant in a more appropriate place. Fortunately he shares our vision and comes up with some good suggestions.

This took us the rest of the morning and as we retired for lunch we were most surprised to learn that Sue had also arrived and, as she had promised, attacked a patch of Bryophyllum seedlings in the arboretum.

After lunch we loaded the leftover aloes into the trailer to be planted out in the arboretum in the cycad patch but we first wanted to finish our landscaping. While we were doing that Samantha and V (two of the students) also came to have a look and they got roped in to help with carrying the aloes to where we wanted to plant them. We were quite pleased with the result, it certainly enhances that part of the arboretum.

Lastly Ellie gave the one remaining picnic table a final coat of varnish while I made temporary repairs to the seat of the skedonk. We will need to buy a fair amount of timber to restore the two remaining tables to something a little more reasonable.

I was going to place some more signs for the biking trail, unfortunately we ran out of time and on the way home I realised I had forgotten to fix the faulty sprinkler in the nursery.


The Agapanthus Neil planted last week have taken well


A view of the Pelargonium mound. It does not look like much as yet but we’ll keep on planting. We need more succulents for the middle patch as well.

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Van Stadens 2013.08.07

Really too tired to be blogging but if I don’t it will lose its immediacy so here goes.

After the weekend’s hike up Ladyslipper with 17 people it was back to business today. It had rained during the night which made it impossible to start with varnishing the picnic tables so instead we started with the entrance circle. First we collected some more aloes in the nursery and proceeded to plant them on our ‘aloe heap’. Pottaman had brought more soil so we had plenty to work with and Ellie started on the Pellie patch extension while I did more rock work.

After tea we had a short interlude when we accompanied Jenny to the main picnic site to decide on locations for new trees. We noticed that the trees which were planted some years ago are not doing well at all so it will be important to prepare the holes correctly with lots of compost. The only trees that thrive are the bluegums. We chatted to a few visitors who were a bit over the top with their praise for our efforts, still nice to hear though.

Neil arrived and we returned to the entrance circle. It was a big help to have him planting more things and we made great progress.

After lunch the tables had dried out enough to go and give ‘Gwen’s’ table a final coat and the repaired table a second while I looked how to repair the seat on the ‘skedonk’ table. While Ellie was waving the brush I put up various cycling signs and we continued with that after she was finished until it was time for a short breather walk through the arboretum.

We were pleased to see a sunbird busy with its nest. Not easy to spot against the darkening sky.


It was also interesting to see an aphid farm near the nookie. First impulse is to spray it but of course we should let nature take its course.


Our last observation in the arboretum was that the veltheimas do a lot better there than in the rest of the reserve, reason to plant a lot more once they have died back in our garden.


Back to the Fovs room to collect some poles so I can plane a flat piece on them for signs and also to pick up a few more plants to dig into the entrance circle on our way out.

All in all another good day at the office.

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Van Stadens 01.08.2013

I need a bit of time to process it all, it was quite a topsy-turvy day. It started by Ellie being confused and getting out of bed an hour early and that gave us a head start. It was quite an interesting drive, when we left home it was 14 degrees and by the time we got to Van Stadens it had dropped to eight. The mist over Lake farm was quite a sight. Fortunately for us it warmed up quite rapidly after that.

There was a meeting planned at 8:30 and before that we quickly got to the arboretum to attach the piece of pipe to the Gem and try out the new stopcock. All went smoothly and the water came out at a good pressure until some hair roots got dislodged somewhere in the feed pipe and our outlet got clogged. By now we had run out of time and hurried to the meeting.

Goodman, Jenny, Rob, Neil and Tony were also there and the program for the open day got discussed so everybody is on the same wavelength. Rob got called away by working for water and ended up doing a five hour hike up the gorge to show them what needs to be done.

Neil got going with his brush cutter, Jenny with her greenhouse and we turned our attention to the picnic tables, first the fixed one on the main picnic area. I planed the inserted piece down by hand while Ellie fetched water and then we cleaned the algae of the table which was quite a job producing a thick sludge and one container of water was not enough to clean it properly. After that the final coat on the Mountain View picnic site, while Ellie was painting I erected the first cycle track sign:


Looks kinda cute I think but the pole is too short and will soon be obscured by the bush so I think the poles ex nursery will be better.

Lastly the main table at the Lookout got its second coat, starts looking ok.


We were hoping we could give the cleaned table a first coat but it was too wet still so we went for coffee instead and afterwards got back to the arboretum to sort the pipe out. Strange to think that after all this time it is actually all done, I can’t quite believe it. Later that was confirmed when Jenny told Ellie that it might be nice to have water on the main picnic site near the old water drum, yeah right!

During lunch Neil got called away for an interview so we had to tackle the entrance circle on our own. Pottaman had deliver a reasonable amount of soil so we could start with our landscaping. We managed to do some rock work, moved some soil and planted 5 aloes, hard work so I had enough at 3pm and we checked out our wet table which was now dry enough to paint, closed stopcocks in the arboretum and had a relaxing cuppa in the Fovs room.

On our way out we saw Goodman was still in the office and Ellie asked him if we could get more soil delivered and we ended up doing a site inspection of the entrance circle with lots of chatting so we got a bit more insight into the history of Van Stadens and Goodman’s plans.

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Van Stadens 24.07.2013

Some careful planning ahead of this bitterly cold day, on arrival it was only 12 degrees with a nasty wind blowing. Fortunately it warmed up a little later.

We first collected water at the arboretum, the stopcock had been open all week and no leaks, before going to the lookout picnic site to clean off the large table and then back to the mountain view site to give that one a second coat. Whilst Ellie was doing this I returned to the arboretum to prepare for the installation of the lower stopcock. I needed to dig back a fair bit to be able to bend the pipe enough to line the two sections up. It was too wet though to risk gluing it.

When that was done we went to one of the tables on the main picnic site to fix the rotten section in one of the planks, I had prepared a new piece but it was quite tricky to saw and chisel the old section out.

Halfway it was time for tea and we caught up with Jenny and Rob. Quite a bit to discuss about Open Day, Working for Water and entrance circle.

After tea Jenny and Rob were off to the arboretum, Ellie went and cleared most of the cowshit in the arboretum while I finished cutting out the patch and when Ellie joined me we glued it in. Next time I need to plane it a bit by hand and it will be as good as new.

I had also prepared a new leg for the remaining wreck of a table at the main picnic site and, with the help of the car jack managed to make it useable again apart from the one seat where a new support is in order.

In the meantime Neil came and had a look, he had been brushcutting to his hearts content near the entrance and quite satisfied with the progress.

Lunch was had and then we went with Pottaman to the entrance circle to explain to him what our ideas are and he promised to bring lots of soil. We intend to do the northern side first because we have some aloes that can be planted there.

Back to the lookout site to give the table its first coat and then to the arboretum to install the stopcock, do some weeding and general cleanup. Uncharacteristically we didn’t feel like ending off with coffee but removed some rocks for at the entrance circle to be used later on for the new rockery.

I’m sorry now that I didn’t take any photos, too busy for that.

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Van Stadens 2013.07.16

In hindsight we shouldn’t have visited the Reserve today to show Nick and his girlfriend what we have done lately as it turned out to be a bit of a downer.

It started at the entrance circle. We had enthused about how well it was coming along and how Goodman had promised for the staff to move the one heap and provide some soil. Well, obviously Pottaman had a go with his tractor and front loader only to make a total mess of the place with big ruts in the centre, skid marks all over the place and nothing to show for it.

We then went to the newly painted picnic benches to be pointed out how overgrown and messy things are around the bluegum trees in the central picnic area which we had to grudgingly agree with and then proceeded to show the pride of the place. the Xhosa huts. Need I say more.

I thought all would be redeemed by showing our greatest achievement, the Arboretum. This turned out to be a game of dodge the cowshit as quite obviously a herd of cows had made the arboretum their home for a good while, trampled all over the place including our newly cleared and planted ex-shade house. At least it is well fertilised now.

We met Ben doing his regular 25km bike ride around the Reserve and, even though he does enjoy the new tracks, he is weary because the stubbles are a bit long and we should dig the paths over, yeah right.

On the way out we passed a group of four dodgy looking characters which Ellie recognized to be our wayward workers. Don’t know what that does to visitors feeling secure.

The only positive note was that Nick tested the River Walk’s suitability for a trail run (ten minutes) and enjoyed that.

Ellie still sees the glass still as more than half full but for me it is getting rather empty.

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Van Stadens 10.07.2013

Quite a day (again). Charles from Fat Tracks had promised to be at the reserve at 10:00 for another try-out of the freshly mown tracks so we got off to an early start to paint some benches before his arrival only to find that they were way too wet from the dew. Fortunately I had prepared a piece of wood to fix another bench so we moved the activities there.


The left hand seat was supported by some cement blocks courtesy of Rob but we thought that seeing we are varnishing the surfaces we might as well fix it properly. Of course the coach bolts were rusted solid but with a bit of oil from our car’s dipstick I managed to get them loose and replace the broken piece of wood to support the seat. Ellie in the meantime applied her concoction to remove the years of accumulated algae and even though the fixing took longer than anticipated I still had time to go and fill a 25l drum in the arboretum to rinse the table off.

Charles had decided to cycle from PE to the reserve and he arrived a little later than planned and we set off on the tracks. It was quite difficult going with the soft soil after the rain we’ve had. The tracks got the thumbs up and we must now decide on some combined routes and signposting.

Charles left and we wished him good luck getting back to PE in the stiff easterly breeze and we chatted to some people who had just finished doing the River Walk before brewing some coffee in the arboretum. Ellie then put the third coat on the two picnic tables on the main site while I loaded the bicycles again. We still had a little time left before lunch so we went to the fixed table to check if it had dried enough for the first coat and, except for the seat which had been in the shade, this table was also done.

Off to lunch, some chatting, some flowers in the shade house and then armed with the chainsaw to the entrance circle to cut the last strelitzia stump. We were most astonished to find that it had already been done so we could start some plant rescue and reshaping of the rockery.

Another surprise, at 3:00 Neil arrived to give us a hand and he got to work quite ruthlessly to chainsaw a large rhus shrub on one of the mounds. We now have a good view of the whole circle and the ideas are solidifying. Luckily when we were on the way to put our tools back in the Fovs room we noticed that Goodman was still in the office and that gave us a good opportunity to discuss everything with him and the students. This necessitated a site inspection so we trundled back and explained everything to them. They all got quite enthusiastic and we have a commitment from Goodman for assistance with rocks and soil and, above all, labour!

Quite satisfied with the day’s varied proceeding we had one final cuppa in the Fovs room and got outta there at 16:30.

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2013.06.26 Van Stadens

Strange day, got a lot done and yet it didn’t feel like that. Got underway quite early and happened to arrive at the same time as Rob and Jenny who went to Ms White to talk about aliens. Not very conclusive as she does not seem to have a grip on reality.

We cleaned and sanded the table by the Xhosa huts and Ellie proceeded to give it a first coat of Nova14-meranti. Looks promising.


Off to the arboretum to install the fixed bit of pipeIMGP2693 near the nookie. We also checked on the bees and they were gone after the last poison attack.

Filled the big bucket and cleaned another picnic table with Ellie’s secret recipe, I doubt very environmentally friendly and went for tea, this time not in the Fovs room but by Wesly’s bench to commemorate that it has been a year since his passing.

It turned out to be extremely pleasant by the edge of the dam, watching a grebe and a pair of yellow billed ducks. Jenny had picked a beautiful arrangement to put by the bench for the occasion.


I checked on the float which was still going full tilt in spite of the level being where we want it. There is not enough travel on the arm to close it so I have to either dig it in substantially or lengthen the pipe so it is in deeper water, that’s for another day.

After tea we were a bit undecided and ended up walking the River Walk to put the 2km sign up. Great was our surprise when we found a 2km sign already on the trail at 1.5 km if that makes sense. We seem to be working at cross purposes here and need to talk to Goodman.

We had enjoyed teatime so much that we also had lunch by the bench and it was difficult to get going again but the second bench was not going to varnish itself. Just like last week there was a group of Muslims at the picnic site and they were again most unfriendly, this was compensated by Ben, one of the neighbours near the railway bridge who had come to the reserve to cycle 25km and I made him aware of the new tracks. He was most appreciative and will tell all his cycling buddies.

Last but not least the chainsaw was put to good use cutting the last strelizia  in the entrance circle down. I didn’t think I would be able to spare the pellie patch but thanks to some expert hinging cuts the tall branches fell just where I wanted them. The saw ran out of petrol with five branches to go which necessitated another trip back to the fovs room for a refill and the last branch fell at 15.45 with all cleaned up by 16:30. Probably will get some comment but we think it is a great clean-up and it opens up lots of possibilities for landscaping.


Ellie hard at work cleaning up after me


Dwarfed by the many, many branches


The last one falls, Timber!!

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Van Stadens 19.06.2013

After Sunday’s relaxing time trying out the cycle tracks and picnic for fathers day it was back to the grindstone today. Started off with some corner post supports in the Gem, some bee killing, removal of more wire mesh and broken pipe moving on to cleaning up last weeks logs and branches of the Widdringtonia. Ellie also cleaned the surface of the picnic table by the Xhosa huts in preparation for some varnish.

After tea we continued with what I had started last week and widened and mowed the Fynbos Ramble including around Wesley’s bench. It looks a whole lot better again. It was quite a bit of work so we had to finish off after lunch.

Goodman had confirmed in the morning that he wants the Strelizias in the entrance circle cut down so we went there to cut a few branches off and ended up doing the whole thing. Next time we must still cut the stumps a bit shorter and poison them before going on to the last and biggest one.

It got quite cold and windy so we returned to the arboretum to plant some Agapanthus in the Gem before doing the usual in the Fovs room.

IMGP2680On the way out the cat had found a good vantage point.

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Van Stadens 2013.06.12

Some great surprises today, as we entered the reserve we noticed that a lot of the proteas and ericas on the left had been cut down. Obviously Goodman has decided that this was better than taking a chance with a deliberate fire. There are a lot of seedlings coming up already so soon it will look good again. We then drove round the reserve on the other side of the N2 to see if Pottaman had kept his promise and yes, he has done a sterling job mowing the tracks, just right for cycling and too narrow for a car. The debris might make it a bit difficult to ride in the beginning but hat will soon rot.

On arriving at the arboretum the usual routine, connect the hose, switch on the water and check for a leak in the lower pipe. Surprise, no leak, more about that later.

Ellie planted a few things in ‘The Gem’ while I got some rocks out of the soil near the albizia to be used for a rockery some other time. They are rather large so a wheelbarrow might come in handy when we get to move them. Ellie also added some more rocks to the pond’s edge and we declared that finished.

We discovered that the bees nest has been robbed and whoever did it left quite a mess in ‘Neil’s nookie’

Not much to do further so we decided to cut down the dangerously leaning tree near the entrance. For that we needed the chainsaw so off to an early tea to collect it. I also loaded some poles in the trailer to cut bevels on them to take signs. Much easier at home. Also figured out how to put the saw blade on the bush cutter.

The tree went quite well, sharp chain and soft wood go well together and we quickly had a pile of firewood. Jenny arrived to nail more signs to the trees, soon there will be no more trees without signs the arboretum and Ellie showed her what we have done lately while I was off to the Fynbos ramble to try out the brush cutter. I was a bit disappointed that the new saw does not cope too well with the grass, perhaps too many small teeth?

After lunch resumed wielding the chainsaw, this time on the strelizias in the first circle, dying to cut some more down but I restrained myself and just cut the existing stumps shorter, quite tiring so we decided to call it a day after that and returned to the arboretum to clean the hosepipe up.

What? No water from the tap. Turns out that we had not closed the stopcock on Wednesday and Ellie had inadvertently closed it  in the morning. No wonder there were no leaks. We quickly connected everything again and it didn’t take long for Ellie to find the leak, quite a way from where we fixed it last time which makes me worried there might still be an intermediate surprise. Anyways, we dug it up and put a stopper on the pipe. We are now very close to finished.

Now it had gotten quite late so we swiftly returned all the equipment to the FOVS room, quick cuppa and off home.

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Van Stadens 2013.06.02

This was an our monthly meeting, announced as a gardening exercise. Better turnout than usual with Keith and Cathy, Michelle and Rasheed joining us.

The plan was to weed in Jenny’s circle, it took a while to get everyone in gear. Neil got going with the chainsaw to trim some smaller strelizias, Susan did her own thing cleaning up a strelizia behind the flower house whilst Keith and Cathy got stuck into the rockery in front of the flower house.

After a while Neil and I went to the first circle to cut down one of the large strelizias, while doing that the chain came off and that was the end of chain sawing. We carried on with the handsaws and managed to finish the one strelizia before also tackling the one by the gate. It definitely gave a better idea what to improve around the entrance.

When we finished we quickly went to the arboretum to take all the old chicken wire to the road, let’s see if the staff will clean it up.

On return the rest of the crew had just gone to tea so we joined them and Ellie made use of it to have an impromptu meeting, discussing Wessa, cycle tracks and various other issues.

Afterwards most of us still paid a visit to the arboretum to look at the flowering Sterculia and what else we had done, especially with ‘The Gem’ Don’t know if it was the bleak weather or the wintry look of the vegetation but there was little enthusiasm, especially Michelle was less than impressed with the whole setup. Makes one think if it is all worth it.

Lastly we still had a look by the entrance in spite of the biting wind and ideas were bounced around such as making the rockeries more horse-shoe shaped and putting gabions by the gate. We’ll discuss it with Goodman when we next see him.

When all had left Ellie and I returned to the arboretum to unearth the next leak which we found right in front of the nookie and we decided that we would make this the end of our pipe fixing quest. From here we will lead a smaller pipe to a tap by the nookie so we’ll have water by ‘The Gem’. When we left Rob and Jenny were still out in the forest nailing more name tags to the trees.