Elsa Pooley

Inspired by South African Indigenous Flora

I have been fortunate to listen to two presentations by Elsa Pooley: one hosted at Random Harvest Indigneous Nursery in 2015 and the other at the ILASA Conference held in September 2015 (See Previous Blog written on ILASA Conference). I also recently attended a course at The Cavern in the Drakensberg where I was able to view some examples of beautiful indigenous plants  and see examples of these plants growing in the wild.

Turrea floribunda flowering at Random Harvest Nursery

Turrea floribunda flowering at Random Harvest Nursery

To see more about the tree in the above image visit: http://www.randomharvest.co.za/South-African-Indigenous-Plants/Show-Plant/PlantId/112?Plant=Turraea%20floribunda  

Elsa Pooley is an advocate for using indigenous plants in public and civic spaces and strongly believes that any form of rehabilitation should exclusively make use of locally indigenous species. She has spent many years studying the indigenous flora of South Africa, particularly in Kwa-Zulu Natal and knows the great potential that South African plants have, but are unfortunately not commercially grown and therefore not well known by landscapers and home owners. Fortunately for us Random Harvest is one of only a handful of nurseries in the country growing indigenous plants, many of which have until now been unavailable.

An indigenous garden can have colour all year round and although this may not always be bright flowers it can come from foliage and the variety of colour and texture from different plants. Elsa mentions how South African plants are used throughout the world but we do not necessarily appreciate their true value as we prefer to make use of exotic plants in our designs. The temptation for landscapers is to use the same old plants they always use because they are easy and work well but there are so many other plants that we could be using.

Some plants I saw in the Drakensberg that I hope to use in the future in my landscape designs:

Pelargonium reniforme   (photographed at Engen Garage in Harrismith, all other images taken at The Cavern in the Drakensberg)

Pelargonium reniforme  (photographed at Engen Garage in Harrismith, all other images taken at The Cavern in the Drakensberg)

Helichrysum sutherlandii  - look at this wonderful grey foliage

Helichrysum sutherlandii - look at this wonderful grey foliage

Kniphofia northiae  - large Poker highly rated by Elsa, impressive flowers

Kniphofia northiae - large Poker highly rated by Elsa, impressive flowers

Hesperantha coccinea  - Pink Variety, normally Red Flowers

Hesperantha coccinea - Pink Variety, normally Red Flowers

Monopsis decipiens

Monopsis decipiens

Inulanthera calva

Inulanthera calva

Helichrysum hypoleucum  - likes a bit of shade

Helichrysum hypoleucum - likes a bit of shade

Merxmuellera macowanii  - beautiful ornamental grass ( Gomphostigma  on Right)

Merxmuellera macowanii - beautiful ornamental grass (Gomphostigma on Right)

Syncolostemon macratnhus  - tall purple pink flowering shrub

Syncolostemon macratnhus - tall purple pink flowering shrub

Helichrysum acutatum

Helichrysum acutatum

Metalasia densa

Metalasia densa

Gladiolus crassifolius

Gladiolus crassifolius

Wahlenbergia

Wahlenbergia

Lotononis pulchella

Lotononis pulchella

Thalictrum rhynchocarpum -  soft and delicate foliage for shady areas

Thalictrum rhynchocarpum - soft and delicate foliage for shady areas

Seriphium plumosum  (Bankrotbos) also known as  Stoebe plumosa

Seriphium plumosum (Bankrotbos) also known as Stoebe plumosa

Polygala virgata  (Purple Broom)

Polygala virgata (Purple Broom)

Clematis bracteata  (Travellers Joy) - beautifully scented dainty white flowers make this an ideal creeper 

Clematis bracteata (Travellers Joy) - beautifully scented dainty white flowers make this an ideal creeper 

I hope that you will also be inspired by these beautiful plants and experiment with indigenous plants in your garden!

Random Harvest Details: 

For directions please go to our website www.randomharvest.co.za : or call 082-553-0598

Hours of business 8:00 to 17:00 Monday to Sundays

I highly recommend subscribing to Random Harvest Newsletter on their website

The Cavern - Nature Journaling Course

The Cavern hosts a variety of activities on its events calendar throughout the year including: bird weekends, yoga retreats, photography workshops and mountain bike races amoungst others. I joined the course called ‘Sketching and journaling – creating a nature journal’ hosted by two well-known figures in the botanical field: Elsa Pooley and Gillian Condy.

The Cavern

The course was run from Wednesday 1 March – Sunday 5 March 2017 and we were blessed with wonderful weather over this time. A few late afternoon showers were well timed as this was when we were indoors drawing in the studio.

Beautiful scenery on our morning walks

Beautiful scenery on our morning walks

View of the Hotel from a vantage point on a morning hike

View of the Hotel from a vantage point on a morning hike

Wonderful hikes in the mountains

Wonderful hikes in the mountains

If you have ever been to The Cavern you will already be well aware of its reputation to fill your belly with the most wonderful and delicious meals as well as provide a relaxing atmosphere that makes you feel as if you have entered into a beautiful warm bubble where all you can think is “Life is Good”.

Always fun choosing what to have for dinner from the menu!

Always fun choosing what to have for dinner from the menu!

Our programme roughly involved breakfast at 8am followed by a morning hike into the beautiful surroundings where we would stop to draw whatever caught our eye (a dam, a tree, the bridge, moss, flowers, a bubbling stream) and then tea was brought to us at our location in the bush. We would head back to camp for lunch and then in the afternoon spend time in the studio drawing the plants we brought back with us from the morning walk. Some people drew flowers, others fungi, leaves, insects or seeds.

Working in the Studio

Working in the Studio

Elsa Pooley has the most incredible plant knowledge (which comes from her love of the area and having written several books on the subject) but it is her passion for plants that is completely contagious. She generously shares her knowledge of each plant we stop to admire, points out its special features and patiently answers all our questions (most often, “How do you spell that again?”)

Elsa showing us a beautiful locust

Elsa showing us a beautiful locust

Heading out for the morning walk and drawing session in the forest

Heading out for the morning walk and drawing session in the forest

Inspecting some flowers

Inspecting some flowers

While Elsa is the person to go to for any plant question Gill Condy is a trained botanical artist and gives tips and direction on how to improve your drawing skills. Both ladies are talented at water colour painting and it was a treat to learn some tips on how to use this medium for the first time.

Absorbed in our drawings

Absorbed in our drawings

Our nature journals were all very different and we had the freedom to make them into whatever we liked. It was interesting to see how each person took a slightly different angle and approach to the same subject and how everyone was drawn to different plant types.

Bridge in the Forest

Bridge in the Forest

Drawing in the Forest

Drawing in the Forest

We arrived on Wednesday afternoon not quite sure what to expect, and left on Sunday feeling inspired and rejuvenated. The fresh air combined with soul-inspiring walks through unspoilt nature, not to mention being fed and pampered (some even went for massages at the onsite Spa) made for a most amazing and memorable trip. Thanks to everyone for making it so special!

Such a treat to share this time with my dearest Mom!

Such a treat to share this time with my dearest Mom!

ILASA Conference - Re-interpreting Landscape

The ILASA Conference was held on 29 and 30 September 2016 at the CSIR International Convention Centre in Pretoria and attended by over 120 delegates. The theme for the conference was “Re-interpreting Landscapes” and the various sessions raised questions about what future landscapes will look like and how people will respond to them. Global environmental crises were discussed as well as the importance of landscape and the benefits it provides.

ILASA Conference

Some of the highlights of the conference included the following key note speakers:

Mario Schjetnan, received the Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe Award 2015 by the International Federation of Landscape Architects, which is the highest award of Landscape Architecture Worldwide, and is the first Latin American to be awarded this honour. Mario started his firm, Grupo de Diseño Urbano / GDU in 1977 and in his presentation at the ILASA Conference showcased several of their projects spanning over the last few decades. Mario highlighted the similarities between South Africa and Mexico and expressed how the various attributes shared by the countries can be used as opportunities (youth, the natural environment and rich biodiversity) in the rapidly changing landscape we are experiencing in developing countries. Two projects that he discussed in detail which I found intriguing were: Natura Garden, Bicentennial Park; an old refinery that was cleaned and recreated into a series of parks and Rehabilitation of Chapultepec Park in Mexico City. Chapultepec Park is a deeply historical park in the heart of Mexico City that is 686ha large and receives 50-70 million visitors annually. During one of its upgrades the lake was dredged in order to clean it and a whole host of unusual items were found, so much so that the National Museum of Anthropology took the paraphernalia and made an exhibition from it.

Mario’s work is truly inspirational and I am sure that every person at the conference wished that projects of this scale and calibre could be realised in South Africa. Mario closed off by sharing with the audience that he knows his projects are successful when he sees the following happening in his landscapes: people taking photographs, families visiting or young lovers kissing because then it means that they feel safe to be there.

ILASA Conference

Tunji Adejumo, president of the International Federation of Landscape Architects Africa Region (IFLA Africa) as well as co-founder of Generation Twenty One Consult in Nigeria, gave a theoretical presentation covering problems faced by landscape and suggestions as to how to introduce identity consciousness. He called for the creation of a national landscape charter to determine “what people were, what people are, and what they want to be”.

A good definition of landscape taken from his presentation reads, “Landscape is a special entity that develops from geomorphic conditions and historical usages for economic, social, recreational, transportation, religious and agricultural purposes.”

Astrid Sykes gave the presentation as a representative of Mia Lehrer & Associates as Mia Lehrer was unable to make the conference due to the birth of her grandchild. Astrid shared the design principles of the firm as well as examples of their projects.  The most inspiring project was the work that the practice is doing to rehabilitate and revitalise the Los Angeles River. The river is mostly channelized at the moment with industrial development along the main spine with buildings that have turned with their backs towards it. It is Mia Lehrer & Associates dream to see the Los Angeles River become a recreational green open space that provides connections within the city and opportunities for the community. The project is documented on their website and includes the following definition, “A bold commitment is made to restore riparian habitat and to reconnect park-poor neighborhoods to green space. The regional open space network will provide trails, parks, and bikeways along the length of the river. Making the river green and accessible is expected to transform an undervalued asset into a valued amenity” (http://mlagreen.com/projects/la-river; accessed 2016/10/10)

ILASA Conference

The local icons were just as inspiring and included the two key note speakers Patrick Watson and Elsa Pooley. Patrick Watson gave a visual presentation showcasing the vast number of exceptional projects he has been involved in over the past few decades. Starting with Coromandel, then resorts such as Sun City, Mount Grace, several game farms, Apartheid Museum, Apple store in Sandton, The Saxon, Stark Studios, North Island in the Sechelles, to only name a few. His work covers a vast range of projects in countries all over the world. His design style is unique and he shared that one of his sources of inspiration is the sub-conscious and that he allows this part of his brain to work when working on a design. He is currently involved with Steyn City and is busy planting thousands of trees there.

Photo Fun at the ILASA Exhibition Stand

Photo Fun at the ILASA Exhibition Stand

Elsa Pooley’s love for plants is evident and she challenged landscape architects to really “know your plants” – how they grow, where they grow and how they look in every season. Maintenance is crucial and while we do not always have a say in this aspect we can design with it in mind.

Elsa explained her involvement in the rehabilitation of the dunes at the Durban Beachfront and it is amazing to see the before and after pictures of the rehabilitation work done. She also used Olympic Park in England as a precedent study to show how beautiful a meadow garden using only plants indigenous to South Africa can look. She shared a variety of indigenous species that she believes would make outstanding landscape plants but are not commercially available. After listening to her speak I am itching to go to the Drakensburg (she shared some accommodation gems) to see beautiful wild flowers in their natural habitat and maybe even join one of her botanical art workshops. Apparently she is also working on a book that will hopefully be available next year.

ILASA Conference

Be sure to attend the next ILASA Conference if you get the chance, not only are the presentations inspiring and educational, you also get to network with a great community of landscape architects.