11 10 2020

Normally I find going out to Mazowe to get import permits a bit of a chore but not this time. I guess I was just too pleased to get out of Harare and it’s farcical Covid lock-down. I took my time on the 20 minute drive to watch the countryside go by.

It’s desperately dry at this time of year despite being spring. The musasa tree (Brachystegia speciformis) colours were finished, they are spectacular for just a few weeks, and there was little evidence of the fire devastation normally found across the sub-region at this time of year. The image shown below indicates that other countries are ablaze as usual (that’s Zimbabwe in the middle of the image).

Sizeable fires in the sub-region (CSIR AFIS website)

The image comes off the AFIS website and is worth a look as it covers most of the world and offers fire prediction services.

The Plant Protection Research Institute in the Mazowe valley was quiet and had all the usual Covid screening processes in place. The trees in the car-park were in full bloom and were in a frenzy of bird activity.

Schotia brachypetala flowers. Everything loves them!

A member of staff helpfully identified the tree as a member of the Schotia genus (I found out later it was brachypetala species) which is indigenous so I stopped to have a look at the birds. There were at least 3 species of sunbird (nectar feeders) including the scarlet chested sunbird, the amethyst sunbird and the miombo double-collared sunbird and several other species I couldn’t identify. They were having a great old time with not a small bit of squabbling. The flowers were thick with bees and other nectar feeding insects too – not surprising as very little else around was in flower.

Having handed in my application for cotton seed importation from Israel (for a colleague who has business interests in the crop) I set about collecting a few seeds scattered around on the pavement. The gate guard soon came over to see what I was doing and offered to help. Curiously, the trees were in full bloom and producing seed from the previous season at the same time. The seeds have a fleshy aril (not shown) which is attractive to birds and the flowers are also eaten by monkeys. We live in a garden that has space for a few more trees so hopefully I’ll be around to see the tree seed grow out and form attractive flowering trees – apparently they grow quite quickly.

Schotia brachypetala trees in bloom

The gate guard waved a cheery goodbye with her covid mask around her chin. The indifferent police at the roadblock on the edge of Harare were similarly nonchalant – masks in various states of misalignment – along with most Zimbabweans who have shown scant regard for social distancing and frequently don’t wear masks at all. As of writing this Covid-19 has brushed us only lightly and has all but disappeared from the local news. As of 7th October there were officially 229 Covid-19 deaths. Given the disastrous state of the country’s medical health system this is almost certainly a low figure.

Earlier this week I drove past St Anne’s Hospital which was converted at not inconsiderable expense to a Covid-19 specialty hospital. There were all of 4 cars in the car park in the doctors only area and none in the visitors’ area. I’ve heard, unreliably, that there have been all of 7 cases that have gone through the hospital.

I covered possible reasons why the covid-19 impact might not be heavy in Where’s the Covid-19? post. Which aspect, if any, of this prediction might be true I’m not prepared to speculate but in the light of the lack of cases even the government has decided to relax travel restrictions.

It’s not officially over but…

Goodness knows the tourist industry needs all the help it can get but for many businesses it will be too late and I suspect only the most adventurous foreign tourists will travel in the absence of a proven vaccine.

The Zimbabwean economy still faces many challenges independent of a virus pandemic. It is almost entirely self-inflicted. The central bank and the Finance Minister are still trying to manipulate the laws of economics (and by extension mathematics) by controlling the exchange rate of the local dollar with the US dollar. Officially it’s around 81 of the local to 1 US$. Few if anyone is actually using that. It’s possible in theory to buy the hard currency on a government-controlled fortnightly auction (the rate is fixed) but actually getting the greenbacks is a challenge. The company my bookkeeper works for successfully bid for a tranche of US dollars but so far nothing has materialised.

It is perfectly legal to trade in US dollars or Zimbabwean dollars. The foreign ones are well circulated to the extent that they wouldn’t be acceptable in a first world country. However I’m occasionally surprised by the appearance of brand new, sequentially numbered notes.

The real stuff and new to boot!

Small denominations are, not surprisingly, difficult to find to the extent that businesses may ask one to pay the smaller amounts in local currency as they don’t have change.

The jacaranda trees that are ubiquitous in Harare are in full flower right now. They are showy, the bees love them and they care not a whit for Zimbabwe’s economy.

Jacaranda mimosifolia in full bloom

While I do have a preference for indigenous trees I don’t mind the jacaranda. It’s useful to the bees producing a mild, pale honey and is fantastic wood to work with if a bit dull. The flowers don’t do well in the rains and the roads become a carpet of mauve flowers that pop under the car wheels.

There’s rain around at the moment. It’s a bit early for the real season which starts mid November (usually) but it’s still welcome even if the early storms tend to be violent often with hail. So far it’s done a fair job of missing us.

The season ahead is looking promising.

ENSO – el Niño Southern Oscillation (Columbia University)

If the la Niña forecast comes to be, as is indicated above, we stand a good chance of better than average rainfall over the next 5 months. Goodness knows we need it but it’s never as simple as the charts make out. More than a few times over the past 20 years that I’ve had my nursery business it’s been a disappointment. It doesn’t make that much difference to my business – commercial horticulture in this part of the world is dependent on a good irrigation system for success. Still, we’d like to have a good season to replenish our borehole in the garden. The rain gauge is out on its stand already – here’s hoping.

(el Niño conditions are indicated by warm currents off the coast of the Galapagos Islands (eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean) and commonly cause drought in this part of the world. La Niña conditions are the opposite and indicate wetter than usual conditions – see What is el Niño?)

Ewanrigg Botanical Gardens – still there!

19 04 2012

“Oh and the aloes are out in the gardens and we saw at least 7 species of sunbird on them too!” the customer said as he turned to leave. I was pleasantly surprised that Ewanrigg Gardens were still extant so at lunchtime I had a quick meeting with the managing director and we both decided that I should take the afternoon off and go and investigate the photographic possibilities at the gardens out on the Shamva road, some 30km out of Harare. I was also keen to take a drive past the farm where I used to live before I moved into town. There was also nothing so urgent that it could not wait until tomorrow. Such are the benefits of owning one’s own business!

I hadn’t been out that way for a few years but I was not too surprised to see Chabweno Farm where I used to live when working at Hortico, derelict. The grass was higher than the fence, the maize such as it was shorter than the grass and all the tobacco barns were falling down. What a waste!

The sign for the gardens was almost obscured by the grass but the road, never great when I was living there, had recently been graded. I had to wonder if this was the doing of the National Parks who look after the garden or the fat cat who “farms” opposite. I had to plumb for the latter. The man at the gate was pleasant and hoped that I would stop on the way out to buy some aloes. I asked if there were any other visitors around but I had the gardens to myself.

The road up to the car park had definitely seen better days. I made a point of covering the binoculars that I’d brought along but decided not to carry as I remembered there had been problems in the past  with theft and set out with my fearsome hound, Kharma, on a lead as required.

The garden was looking a bit unkempt but there were people around tidying up and the grass had been mown so it looked as though someone was putting some money back into it. The aloes were not quite the display I’d hoped though it is a bit early in the season; they normally come into full flower around June/July.

Of course I only saw one sunbird that was gone long before I could get my camera out of the bag so I looked around for other things to photograph.

As I had come out ostensibly to see the aloes I at least had to take some photos of them!

Not everything in the garden is indigenous – I am pretty sure that this flower is not, but I was not too concerned about that. I guess at one time everything had labels on them but these had long gone and I only saw a sign saying that the taking of cuttings was forbidden. No surprises there.

Once a bit further away from the car park I let Kharma go – fortunately she is not the wandering type though I did keep an eye on her and a lookout for snakes which are common in the area being quite a lot warmer than Harare.

I walk looking at the ground; not because I want to but because I cannot feel my feet on the ground so I walk visually. Of course it’s a pain but it does mean that I see things that other able-bodied people would likely miss.

It does mean that I need to make an effort to look up! And I was rewarded with this view of some fine old indigenous trees!

April is a great time of year – cool nights and warm to hot days. Today was no exception but of course the clouds had to get in on the act and spoil my light. It was not too serious as I knew I had the whole afternoon off and just had to be patient.

I wasn’t really equipped to take photos of the very small so just had to make do with my monopod and just wait for the clouds to clear the sun. This flower was tiny – about 3mm across!

Nope, definitely NOT holly and I wasn’t tempted to taste these berries either! I guess they must be red to attract something, birds I guess, but the garden was curiously devoid of birds.

Up to this stage I’d only taken non-moving subjects and then I noticed this insect. I just HAD to try. Hmm, mixed success. A tripod was really necessary but I’d opted out of buying one just the other day so gave the monopod a chance. It sort of worked. I did say Sort Of!

Then it was time to go. One last photo looking north-east over the surrounding countryside and the granite kopjes (pronounced koppies) that are so typical of Zimbabwe. In fact the South Africans, who like to claim all sorts of things, cannot claim to have ANY. They don’t exist south of the Limpopo river. Like the msasa trees that I love so much!