With two successful Djuma Bush Lodge safaris under my belt, I next set about the task of beautifying the camp. The rooms or chalets as we would start calling them were already kitted-out with brand-new beds and linen, which I had screen-printed with animal designs. I was remarkably naïve as to how much more energy would be needed to bring them up really to scratch, but as the saying goes – ignorance is bliss!

Extract from the 1993 business plan:
“Renosterhoop has six huts of which five will be used for guests up to a maximum of eight at a time. Each hut will be furnished in a luxurious, yet rustic style. Log pole furniture will follow a distinct style throughout the camp. We have decided on this type of furniture since it echoes the building style of the camp in general. Bamboo blinds, African prints and traditional carpets will complete the picture.”

However, I did see it was necessary to make a garden and so soften the harsh realities of our piece of bush. Creating a garden in the bush is no easy feat, I can assure you, with more than one’s fair share of obstacles blocking the way: heat, poor soil, saline water, insects, and animals, to name but a few. Okay, so you think a cute little scrub hare is all I’m complaining about? No way! A variety of antelope -bushbuck, nyala, impalas - monkeys and baboons, buffalo and elephants are some of the pesky critters that could be termed “garden pests” in the bush.
Now I do know I have a green finger or two, as I have turned many a cement-filled dump into an oasis, but that was in Cape Town and Johannesburg, where garden centres and friendly neighbours with tons of advice abound.
Right, so along came Djuma Bush Lodge, an area of about 2500 square meters, much larger than any scrap heap I had previously enhanced. Because the camp had been abandoned for many years all traces of lawn and small shrubs had died from neglect and lack of water. It was far easier for the earth to just be swept clean than to maintain a garden.
The whole area had also just experienced a few years of very low rainfall, which made watering out of the question, as the ground-water tables were also pretty depleted. All that there was were some well-established trees, such as tamboties, acacias, leadwoods, zebrawoods, buffalo thorns, and albizias. There were one or two baobabs and marulas that had been planted ten years ago, but due to cramped root balls were very stunted in height.
There was also, draped over the old pantry building a spectacular deep pink bougainvillea, which had been planted some thirty years before. While I wanted the bougainvillea to stay the pantry had to go as it blocked the view of the main building from some of the chalets. As was to become our custom when we needed large tasks to be done we called on our friends for help. This also served as a way of separating our real friends from those just wanting a free weekend in the bush: as a matter of fact, the ‘pantry bashers’ were never seen, or heard from, again!
Exotics (bougainvilleas, not the has-been friends) have sufficient tenacity to survive hardships. In fact, it seems to me, the worse the treatment they get the better they fare. One of our first guests to venture to Djuma Bush Lodge equated bougainvilleas to the walnut trees in an old adage . She said something along the lines of “A good man beats his wife, his dog and his walnut tree!” Make what you will of that, but I have regularly bashed this specimen and it keeps on putting up a vivid display each winter through to spring.
Two factors that struck me emphatically when starting up in the bush was firstly, that we had very little water to spare on a garden and, secondly the extreme heat, which was made worse by the sun reflecting off the white sand. However, the then sorry excuse for a landscape was not what I wanted to surround guests as they enjoyed the supposedly tranquil haven of a game lodge!
With the purpose of beautifying the area for the arrival of our first official guests Abel Mkansi and I set off on a 200km round-trip journey to Skukuza nursery to buy some plants. I had phoned around and heard that the cheapest indigenous plants were to be found there, at the “capital” of the Kruger National Park. A Mrs. Davies ran the nursery, having propagated most of the plants from seed or cuttings. To my joy I was able to buy, amongst others, my all-time favourite - fever trees - for a mere R7, 00 per tree! I probably bought about fifty plants, including trees, thinking that would be plenty. Little did I know that the vast expanse of space I needed to fill would hardly even notice such an insignificant impact. Also among the first vegetation to be added to the garden were about thirty trays of LM grass lawn-plugs from a nursery in Pretoria.
Let me digress for a moment to comment on the terrible soil with which we had to deal. The camp is positioned on a sodic site, which, basically, is rock hard, fine-grained, clay-like sand with no organic matter at all. To plant the lawn I called in the help of temporary labour, among whom was Maurice Mgiba, to break the surface with pickaxes to the depths of a couple of inches! We added kraal manure for organic matter, super phosphate to aid rooting, and then spaced the lawn plugs in the ground. All watering had to be done by hand: we could not waste a drop of this precious resource.
Planting trees and shrubs was an entirely different scenario. Owing to the rock-hard nature of the substrate it took several days to produce a hole big enough to be of any use. Initially a pickaxe was used to dig a few inches down, and then this indentation was filled with water. Sometimes it would take a good couple of hours for the water slowly to seep into the ground before a session with the pick could again become possible. I knew that we would need “larger than the norm” holes and they had to be square, to avoid root-bound spiralling that would stunt normal growth.
I shrugged off the looks I received from the labour and got stuck in, which may have explained the ‘crazy city woman’ image that has gathered around me. The finishing touch to each tree planting was a piece of PVC pipe with holes drilled down its length. The pipe was inserted upright into the hole as a means of watering and feeding the plant below root depth. Elephant and rhino dung served as very adequate mulch!
Some very special little specimens need to be mentioned here. I was at a party in Johannesburg a while before starting our Djuma years when I spotted an interesting looking pod being used as a coffee-table ornament. It was a pod from a baobab tree. My Botswana safaris had exposed me to these strangely beautiful-looking trees with their fleshy trunks and seemingly upside-down posture. To me they have the look and feel of a nice plump woman. The host of the party gave the pod to me as a parting gift. The following morning I opened it to expose many seeds embedded in the sweet powdery crème of tarter interior. Having gone this far, I decided I had to plant them. Within a few weeks they had germinated and started growing quite rapidly. By the time Djuma Bush Lodge’s garden was being planned the saplings were ready for planting. I saved some of them to try out as bonsai baobabs. The remainder were planted out in the lodge’s garden.
Then, with the rudimentary planting in place, the total onslaught of a zoological kind was launched on my garden. First it was bushbuck and duiker, that ate the new shoots of the shrubs, and pulled the lawn plugs out of the earth. The first time I saw them in the garden I thought it was so cool to have wild animals take an interest in my place, but that turn of mind changed very quickly. I knew that putting up a fence around the camp was out of the question as it would spoil the view, so physically giving chase to the animals was the only option. I think with their swift speed this must have provided a fine amusement for them: they returned as soon as the coast was clear.
The extreme heat and water restrictions made plant growth very slow, but when things started to transform, the sense of accomplishment was undeniable. And then, winter set in and, while the bush beyond the camp started drying out and turning golden brown, my struggling green patch of garden became an open invitation to herbivorous diners!
One of the most intrusive of these was a lone dagga boy, or buffalo bull. (The term dagga boy comes from the way buffalo rub, and coat, themselves in mud, or dagga, as a protection from the sun and biting insects.) This buffalo bull Rose became so named not from any sort of deviant behaviour, but from the pink colour on his boss (horn base) acquired from rubbing his head against the bark of many of my tiny, now splintered, saplings! He would afterwards retire to the safety of the lawn patch in front of chalet 4 to sleep off his make-over before foraging about the camp. As was only to be expected wildlife in the camp was a recurring event, but sharing quarters with one of the most feared of the “Big 5” was not what we had had in mind.
Another “Big 5” garden pest came in the form of elephants, and was also something unimaginable! Owing to their vast size they could consume my entire garden in one sitting, but they still came back for more. What they did not eat they trampled. During winter months they would often come to drink from the swimming pool, usually draining at least a third of its contents at a go, but the problem was greater than that. Remember the newly planted lawn? Well, after quenching their thirst the elephants’ spoor left behind these huge craters in the so-called lawn, with scattered miserable little grass runners needing to be planted all over again. Most of the fever trees that escaped being uprooted got such a severe pruning to this day they are the oddest shapes.
The garden always gave me a creative outlet to counter balance the needs of the guests. It was a place where the tiniest proofs of growth immediately made my new way of life seem worthwhile.

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Our African Way