The Rosy Buds of May and Beyond

Yes, it’s May, and the garden is bursting with fresh spring colour. Greens are still bright, pests haven’t yet made serious inroads, and there’s still a sense of anticipation about what the rest of the spring season holds.  And on that note, why shouldn’t it hold some pink?  (Especially since I promised you ‘pink for May’ in my 2016 New Year’s resolution!)

Light Pink Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

The word ‘pink’ is believed to come from the Dutch phrase pinck oogen or “small eyes” and was used to describe flowers of the Dianthus genus that we know as pinks, with their small coloured eyes. Plants like this little Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria) that pops up along my path at the cottage at Lake Muskoka….

Dianthus armeria-Deptford pink

….or the common grass pink (Dianthus plumarius), with its deliciously spicy clove perfume and lime-loving ways.

Dianthus plumarius-grass pink

Its use in colour terminology, i.e. ‘pink-coloured’, dates from 1680, referencing the same genus of plants, but increasingly coming to have other meanings and connotations, such as “in the pink” for health, relating to complexion and the 20th century “pink for girls and blue for boys” social construct that saw everything from maternity ward bracelets to toys and furniture divided into two camps. Interestingly, pink and blue are conjoined in Panatone’s 2016 Colour of the Year, which I blogged about a while back.

PANTONE-2016-Rose Quartz & Serenity

The use of pink plants in garden design schemes seems to have had its heyday in the 1980s, when pretty pastels and combinations of pink-lavender-purple-blue-silver were popular. That “pink for girls” look subsided considerably over the next few decades, when hot colours, dark foliage schemes and green-on-green designs came into their own. But pink-inflected borders are still lovely, and a hallmark of the June garden, when pink peonies and the complementary blues and purples of lupines, irises and other early-summer perennials create a romantic mood, as they do below at Toronto’s Spadina House.

Spadina House-Peonies & lupines

There are loads of pink-flowered perennials and I’ll tackle some of my favourites another time. But in this blog I want to talk about hardy shrubs and vines with pink flowers.  It seems reasonable to do that chronologically, so I’m starting with my favourite pink magnolia, the enchanting and exceptionally early-blooming little ‘Leonard Messel’ Loebner hybrid magnolia. A cross between white-flowered Magnolia kobus and the pink form of star magnolia Magnolia stellata ‘Rosea’, it is very hardy and utterly enchanting, with its starry pink flowers.  Put lots of glory-of-the-snow (Scilla forbesii formerly Chionodoxa) under this one!

Magnolia x loebneri 'Leonard Messel' (1)

‘Leonard Messel’ is best in a protected spot away from wind and weather and lovely with the first spring bulbs. However, a killing frost in early spring in colder regions (twice in 10 years in Toronto)  will turn those brave flowers brown, so caveat emptor.

Magnolia x loebneri 'Leonard Messel' (2)

Japanese cherry trees (Prunus x yedoensis, P. serrulata, etc.) are an iconic – if fleeting – sign of spring in many parts of the temperate world where sakura flower-watching is enjoyed. In colder regions, like Southern Ontario where I live, the choices are somewhat limited, but there is one that I love for its abundant pale-pink flowering show in late April or early May. Prunus ‘Accolade’, shown below, is a 1952 hybrid from England’s Knapp Hill Nurseries, a cross between a form of Prunus x subhirtella and the very hardy, northern Japanese hill cherry Prunus sargentii, aka ‘Sargent’s cherry’, named for its American collector Charles Sprague Sargent.  As a bonus to its flowering, it will also usually turn soft apricot-gold in autumn.

Prunus 'Accolade'

The flowers of ‘Accolade’, below, are exquisite, and arguably the tree is one of the hardiest available for northern gardeners (apart from the early Yoshino cherry, Prunus x yedoensis and the later, double-flowered and rather harsh pink Prunus serrulata ‘Kanzan’). But there’s a little hitch: if winter temperatures flirt with historic lows in the mid-to-low -20s Celsius, the flowers will often blast without opening.  Even in a mild winter without excessively low temperatures, if the mercury drops unseasonably in early spring as the buds are plumping up – as it did in Toronto this April – Japanese cherries will not flower profusely; some will not flower at all. But that’s the chance you take.

Prunus 'Accolade' closeup

An early, pink-flowered shrub to consider is Farrer’s viburnum (Viburnum farreri). I have this in my own garden and it sometimes opens in March in an unseasonably warm spring. Even better is the hybrid Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’, below, which is a 1934 selection by Bodnant Nursery in Wales of their cross between V. farreri and V. grandiflorum.

Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn'

‘Dawn’ is also favoured for its early nectar by bees and overwintering butterflies like the mourning cloak.

Bombus on Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn'

Rhododendrons are a mainstay of the milder west coast and the warmer regions of the northeast into the Carolinas, but there are many that are perfectly hardy for us here in USDA Zone 5 (Zone 6 Canadian zones). Among the best pinks are the ultra-hardy, small-flowered rhododendrons bred by Weston Nurseries in Massachusetts. Indeed, I once had eleven of these – a combination of Rhododendron ‘Aglow’ and ‘Olga Mezitt’ – in my front garden for a spring show that brought the neighbours around to ooh and ahhh. In time, the prairie perennials I grew for my ‘second act’ in summer crowded and shaded out these spring lovelies – and in truth, they were never happy with the soil, which was essentially alkaline clay. But they’re highly recommended for people who don’t mind the somewhat brash neon colour and can’t bear the thought of cosseting the big-flowered rhododendrons to protect them from winter sunshine and resulting leaf dessication. Look how lovely ‘Olga Mezitt’ was, with its pink tulip and blue forget-me-not companions.

Rhododendron 'Olga Mezitt' in my old garden

A closeup of the beautiful flower truss of ‘Olga Mezitt’.

Rhododendron 'Olga Mezitt'

And here is ‘Aglow’ at the Montreal Botanical Garden. Spectacular, isn’t it, for a shrub that can survive -30F (-30C) unprotected without bud damage?

Rhododendron 'Aglow'-Montreal Botanical Garden

The Eastern redbud tree (Cercis canadensis) is one of the most beautiful of the native northeast sylva. It seems like a little miracle that those pea flowers should emerge on bare wood, transforming each limb from drab winter brown to brilliant raspberry-pink. This little grouping of redbuds at the Toronto Botanical Garden includes two pinks, a white-flowered form and the weeping dwarf cultivar ‘Covey’.

Cercis canadensis-Toronto Botanical Garden

A closer look at Eastern redbud at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

Cercis canadensis-Toronto Botanical Garden2

And here’s a better look at Cercis canadensis ‘Covey’ (trade name Lavender Twist – and don’t get me going on the misuse of “lavender” as a colour term), which seems like it was born to cascade over this stone wall!

Cercis canadensis 'Covey'-Toronto Botanical Garden

Moving along through spring, we have the gorgeous tree peonies and interspecific Itoh hybrid peonies. You could easily find dozens of beautiful pink tree peonies and Itoh variaeties, but it would be hard to beat Paeonia Itoh Group ‘Morning Lilac’, shown here with catmint (Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’).

Paeonia Itoh Group 'Morning Lilac'

And ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’, below, is another beautiful pink Itoh peony.

Paeonia Itoh Group 'Yankee Doodle Dandy'

One of the most elegant, pink-flowered spring shrubs is Calycanthus x raulstonii ‘Hartlage Wine’.  This superb selection of a hybrid between Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus) and the Chinese species C. chinensis was developed at the North Carolina State University arboretum headed by the late J.C. Raulston. The hybrid honours Raulson, while the selection is named for Richard Hartlage, the grad student who made the cross.

Calycanthus x raulstonii 'Hartlage Wine'

I do know that weigelas (Weigela florida) are not much in fashion these days amongst the horticultural cognoscenti, given that they were much overplanted in decades past. But they are largely problem-free, gorgeous in flower, and quite attractive to pollinators, especially bumble bees. (Incidentally, my friend Rebecca Alexander, erudite librarian at the University of Washington Botanic Gardens Center for Urban Horticulture, points out that the genus should be pronounced VYE-guh-la, since it’s named after German Botanist Christian Ehrenfried von Weigel –and certainly not wuh-JEE-lia. But imagine the looks you’d get at your local nursery as you ask for Vyeguhla!) I think they are lovely shrubs with exciting variety in their flower and leaf colours and forms, especially the beautiful variegated-leaf cultivar ‘Variegata’. Skilful pruning immediately after blooms fade helps maintain a vigorous shrub, but rejuvenation pruning may be required every few years to remove the oldest wood and keep the shrub at a reasonable height.

Weigela florida

I’ve also seen weigela grown as an unexpectedly attractive flowering hedge.

Weigela florida hedge

Mmm…. lilacs. Everyone loves lilac season, with those magnificent perfumed trusses of the deep-purple, reddish-mauve, white or soft lilac flowers that gave that hue its name. While true pink isn’t seen in the many named lilacs descending from the common lilac Syringa vulgaris, it is found in a class of late-bloomers generally called the Preston lilacs (Syringa x prestoniae). The name honours Isabella Preston, the Canadian plant breeder whose work in the 1920s and 30s with crosses of the late Syringa villosa (shown below) with Syringa reflexa resulted in so many excellent and hardy shrubs, mostly known as the Villosae Group.  Lightly-scented (of privet, rather than the typical lilac scent), they flower 10 days to 2 weeks after common lilacs.

Syringa villosa

Other breeders worked with these lilacs too, such as Dr. Frank Skinner in Roblin, Manitoba, who developed the beautiful pink-flowered ‘Hiawatha’, on the left below, in 1932. On the right is ‘Isabella’, developed in 1928 by its namesake Miss Preston.

Syringa x prestoniae 'Hiawatha' & 'Isabella'

Syringa x prestoniae ‘Miss Canada’ was introduced, appropriately, in Canada’s Centennial year 1967, by Dr. William Cumming at Manitoba’s Morden Research Centre, a cross between Syringa josiflexa ‘Redwine’ and S. x prestoniae ‘Hiawatha’, above.  What a pink beauty she is.

Syringa x prestoniae 'Miss Canada'

Syringa x prestoniae ‘Ferna Alexander’, was introduced in 1970 by Boston horticulturist John H. Alexander, who recommended appreciating these late lilacs for themselves as exceptional shrubs, rather than comparing them to the familiar common lilac and its selections. I photographed this rare beauty at the top of the Lilac Dell at the Royal Botanical Garden, Hamilton, Ontario, on June 10, 2011.  It’s named for the grandmother of current Arnold Arboretum plant breeder J.H. Alexander III, so a tip of the hat to the breeding talents of the Alexander family.

Syringa x prestoniae 'Ferna Alexander'

Here’s another beautiful pink Preston from John H. Alexander – ‘Alexander’s Aristocrat’. It seems to me that the RBG and other lilac gardens should be propagating these unusual introductions and making them available in commerce so we don’t lose them for future generations.

Syringa x prestoniae 'Alexander's Aristocrat'

Finally, while I’m immersed in pink lilacs — and I could go on and on with pink Prestons I’ve photographed:  ‘Alice Rose Foster’, ‘Danusia’, Romeo’, etc. — let me finish up with a beautiful pink, Chinese species lilac from the David Lam Asian Garden at the U.B.C. Botanical Garden in Vancouver (though hardy in cold regions as well): the spectacular Syringa sweginzowii.    If that doesn’t knock your socks off, I don’t know what will.

Syringa sweginzowii

Can you imagine the joy they must have felt at the Arnold Arboretum that day in June 1915 when beautybush (Kolkwitzia amabilis) flowered for the very first time in North America? The seeds had been collected fourteen years earlier near Hubei China by Ernest Wilson, but there was no foretelling that this stunning pink apparition would be the result. Wilson himself was so fond of it, he said: “Among the deciduous-leaved shrubs that central and western China has given to American gardens Kolkwitzia stands in the front rank.”  I agree – and feel so lucky that my neighbour planted two beautybush shrubs along our property line, which I get to enjoy as borrowed scenery each June.

Kolkwitzia amabilis as borrowed scenery

Though the species itself tends to be a pale, almost fleshy-pink, the one below in Toronto’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery has the rich colour of the selection ‘Pink Cloud’, a 1946 introduction from the Royal Horticultural Society at Wisley.

Kolkwitzia amabilis-Beauty bush

My final pink-flowered favourite is Robinia x slavinii ‘Hillieri’, a pretty 1930 selection of the hybrid ‘Slavin’s locust’ developed by New York breeder Bernard Slavin, who in 1919 crossed pink-flowered Robinia kelseyi with the large, white-flowered North American native black locust, Robinia pseudocacia.

Robinia x slavinii 'Hillierii'-habit

With its wisteria-like pink flower clusters much sought out by bumble bees, it’s a lovely sight in early June, though it does bear prominent thorns.  I photographed it at Mount Pleasant Cemetery down the road from my home in Toronto, where choice plants have been grown by the arborists on staff for many decades. Sadly, it appears that this tree is not easily found in North America – a  shame, really, because it’s a good choice for a small garden.

Robinia x slavinii 'Hillierii'-closeup

I could continue indefinitely with pink woody plants for spring, including crab apples, hawthorns, deutzias and, especially, roses (tune in next time for pink clematis & roses). But it’s May, and there’s gardening to be done.

Safari: Kicheche Laikipa – Part 3

If you’ve read my first and second blogs on our safari at Kicheche Laikipia, in Kenya, you’ll know that it is now late March 2016, on the cusp of the rainy season. We’re the last guests in this intimate 6-tent camp near Nanyuki, which will close for the season in just two days.   This morning we’ve slept well and are ready for the 5:30 am knock at the tent door and the tray of coffee, hot chocolate and biscuits. Within 40 minutes of waking, we’re with our guide Albert Chesoli out on the savannah, awaiting the sunrise. As yesterday, Mount Kenya is clearly visible on the horizon; later in the day, it is almost always shrouded by cloud.


Slowly, the sky turns pink….


…. and finally, the sun rises. Though we don’t have the lovely giraffe silhouettes we saw yesterday, there’s always something interesting on the horizon at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, like these zebras grazing amongst acacia trees in the distance.

Sunrise-Ol Pejeta

It isn’t long after sunrise when we’re rewarded with what is our best sighting in all of our safari excursions. We spot two cheetah brothers (Acinonyx jubatus), the remaining pair of three brothers born six years earlier.  They are amazingly synchronized in their behaviour, heads turning at the same time….

Cheetas-Ol Pejeta1

….lying down at the same time, then meandering off through the grasses together to sit, one marking a tree to establish territory.


Albert positions our van as close to them as possible, then turns the engine off. For the next half-hour or so, we are utterly absorbed watching them in this quiet corner of Ol Pejeta.  Like the cats they are, one sharpens his claws on a dead tree trunk….

Cheetas-Ol Pejeta2

…while his brother watches for prey, preferably an antelope or gazelle straying from the pack.

Cheetas-Ol Pejeta3

What beautiful markings on their faces!

Cheetas-Ol Pejeta5

Soon they begin to relax – a snooze, perhaps, in their future.

Cheetas-Ol Pejeta4

The cheetah brothers are so transfixing, I’ve been switching between still photos and video.  Because of weight restrictions on the small planes, I only brought my ‘small’ camera, the Canon PowerShot SX50HS with its powerful 50x zoom lens (now replaced by the Canon SX60HS with 65x optical zoom), but it’s perfect for recording these two stunning animals interacting playfully and lovingly with each other like the bonded 6-year olds they are.

When it appears that lolling around wrestling and grooming each other, rather than hunting, is on their agenda, we turn on the engine and head back out on the savannah…..

Ol Pejeta Conservancy

…. but the other animal sightings this morning are somewhat anti-climatic after our cheetah experience. We decide to stop for our picnic breakfast, and Albert finds us a clearing near a spring-fed stream and prepares to sets the table.

Albert Chesoli-Kicheche Laikipia-picnic

This morning’s menu features Scotch eggs, a delicious combination of spicy sausage and boiled eggs, with crepes and mango chutney.

Safari breakfast-Kicheche-Laikipia

As I sip my coffee, I notice a little glimmer of bright-red in the grasses. It’s the tiny flower of an indigenous hibiscus, H. aponeurus. In my later reading, I discover this little flower was used by the Maasai in witchcraft!

Hibiscus aponeurus-Ol Pejeta

Besides the acacias, the other predominant shrub on the savannah is Euclea divinorum, which is widespread on the African continent.

Euclea divinorum-Ol Pejeta

The morning has warmed up considerably and many of the animals seem to be hiding from the heat. So we drive back to camp – pronounced Kee-cheh-chay – to put our feet up for a while before lunch.

Kicheche Laikipia Sign

After lunch, I read on our tent porch and watch a cape buffalo at the water hole. But when I approach with my camera, he galumphs off through the mud…..


….. so I photograph the cattle egrets on a dead tree instead.

Egrets-Ol Pejeta

In mid-afternoon, I’ve arranged to meet William Wanyika, who not only works in the Kicheche camp administration but is the resident beekeeper, something he’s been doing for most of his life. (Photographing honey bees is one of my great passions.)

William Wanyika-beekeeper-Kicheche Laikipia

William shows me the flowers of the abundant euclea, which are providing most of the nectar flow for the bees at the moment….

Euclea divinorum flowers

…and I ask him to talk a bit about his beekeeping while I videotape him. What a treat to have this opportunity to learn about something I’ve chronicled at home.

Soon it’s time to set out on our 4 pm game drive, our final safari outing. Albert decides to head over to the far side of Ol Pejeta Conservancy, quite a long drive. En route, we spot two black-chested snake eagles (Circaetus pectoralis) in a tree.

Black-Chested Snake Eagles-Kicheche Laikipia

As we get closer to the Sweetwaters Chimp Sanctuary where the majority of lodges and hotels are, we find lots of crowded safari vehicles on the road; one driver pulls close to tell Albert about a lion sighting nearby  On our way to find it, we come upon a bull elephant (Loxodonta africana) drinking at a pond. It’s clear by his partially-unsheathed penis that he has also recently been (or is about to be) urinating. From his vantage point, Albert doesn’t think he’s in musth, but with my telephoto lens I can capture him at a safe distance and later see that there are secretions from the temporal glands at the side of his head which seem to indicate that he is.   If so, his urine contains much higher levels of testosterone than usual, and dribbling it around signals his musth status to other males.


Unlike the female elephants that congregate in matriarchal communities with grandmothers, daughters, aunts, female cousins and the youngest male and female calves living together, young male elephants are kicked out when they reach their adolescent years (about 14) and will live in “bachelor clubs” with other males and a dominant bull male, from whom they learn behaviour. When females are in oestrus, musth males can detect it from far away.

Once the elephant saunters off, we go in search of the lions, finding them resting in the trees near the road, likely waiting for darkness before going hunting. So we drive on.

Lion-Ol Pejeta

Next we find a pair of grey-crowned cranes (Balearica regulorum) doing their courtship dance….

Grey-crowned Cranes-Ol Pejeta

….and a southern white rhinoceros drinking at one of Ol Pejeta’s water troughs….

Southern White Rhinoceros-Ol Pejeta

….and some newborn zebras, below. The common (Burchell’s) zebras (Equus burchellii) usually give birth during the rainy season in East Africa. The mare will separate from the herd before delivering in order to protect the vulnerable foal.

Zebra & foal-Ol Pejeta

Albert points out that zebras have evolved long enough legs for a newborn that when standing behind their mothers (and combined with the visually confusing stripes), lions cannot easily detect them.

Zebra mother & foal leg height-Ol Pejeta

As we drive on, we see a group of safari vans parked along the road, all the cameras trained on a lioness She yawns…..

Lion-yawning-Ol Pejeta

….then saunters off, and we decide we’re a little tired, too. Time to head back for a drink – the traditional safari ‘sundowner’ – before dinner.

Tomorrow, we fly home and this is our final sighting at Kicheche Laikipia and Ol Pejeta Conservancy.  But I’ve collected video of a lot of the animals we’ve seen over the past few days, and put it together so I can enjoy the feel of the savannah here any time I want.  I hope you enjoy watching it, too..

On our last morning, we sleep in a little (no safari drive today) and have breakfast in the main tent before packing for home.

Camp breakfast-Kicheche-Laikipia

We say our goodbyes to Andy & Sonja Webb, and Albert drives us into the little airport at Nanyuki and watches until we’re safely up in the air. These flights are often milk runs, and the sleepy passengers settle in as we head to Wilson Airport outside Nairobi via a stop at Lewa Downs, where we began our Kenyan adventure one week before.

Air Kenya plane

As we fly over Laikipia, I gaze down at the landscape below us.  The patchwork farm crops…..


….the wheat fields…..


…and the great forests and acacia-dotted plains of the conservancies and parks where Kenya’s magnificent animals roam free.


It is a land like no other, and one we’re so fortunate to have experienced.


Postscript:  Given the vagaries of airline schedules, a total of 41 hours will elapse between awakening at Kicheche Laikipia and going to bed In Toronto.  To pass some of the hours before our Nairobi-London leg, we’ve booked a day room at Macushla House on Nairobi’s outskirts, where we stayed for 2 nights more than a week ago on our arrival in Kenya from London.

Macushla House1

We can sit and read in an easy chair….

Macushla House3…while enjoying the unique furnishings, like this cool owl support post….

Macushla House4

Or sip a gin-and-tonic at an outdoor table with lunch…

Macushla House2

…after a swim in the pool.

Macushla House5

Eventually, it’s time to brave Nairobi’s traffic to Jomo Kenyatta airport to begin the flights home to Canada. As always, East Africa has bewitched us, its people have enchanted us, and its majestic animals have served as powerful reminders that there are still beautiful places in the world where ‘wild’ is more than just a word, it’s a covenant with nature.

Safari: Kicheche Laikipia – Part 2

After our initial game drive yesterday on our arrival at Kicheche Laikipia from Lewa, we’re almost eager to rise-and-shine as we hear “Good morning, Jambo!” from the darkness outside our tent. We unzip the flap and greet our pre-dawn messenger, who places a tray with coffee and biscuits on a low table.

Wake-up tray-Kicheche-Laikipia

There’s no time to shower now, just a fast wash before dressing in layers of clothes to keep us warm (it’s barely 50F-10C outside), gulping the coffee, and heading down the path behind the guard’s flashlight beam. (Since many animals can and do wander through the various camps, when it’s dark outside there is always someone to escort you to the parking area, to dinner or back to your tent for the night.) Albert bids us good morning and we climb into the vehicle. Having been on safari before in vans crammed with 8-10 people all vying for the best camera angle, it is nothing short of luxury to be on our own with just our driver. Soon we are out in the open and the sky is beginning to lighten on the eastern horizon where the rugged profile of Mount Kenya juts into the sky. At 17,058 feet (5199 m), it is second in height only to Mount Kilimanjaro (19,340 feet or 5895 m), Africa’s highest mountain.

Mount Kenya at dawn-Ol Pejeta-Kicheche

Suddenly the van shakes a little and we hear a noise close by. Looking down, we see a young spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) trying to eat the tires. Scoot!

Hyena chewing tire-Ol Pejeta-Kicheche

With the sun about to rise, Albert sees three reticulated giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata) nibbling on salt-rich soil (necessary for their diets) and quickly positions us to the west. They take turns standing guard while each bends its long neck to reach the ground.

Girafffes at dawn-Ol Pejeta-Laikipia

I wait patiently and as the sun begins to rise, all three stand erect. Click!

Giraffes at sunrise-Ol Pejeta-Kicheche

As we drive on, the sky grows progressively brighter but there’s still a chill in the air, especially with the roof open and the windows down for photography. Fortunately, Kicheche Laikipia has thought about that and furnished the van with two hot water bottles. I borrow Doug’s to keep my legs warm!

Water bottles-Kicheche-Laikipia

We surprise a little flock of helmeted guinea fowl (Numida meleagris) on the road. They’re common birds, but quite beautiful – and so nervous,it’s hard to get a photo.

Helmeted Guineafowl-Ol Pejeta-Kicheche Something about the way the gazelles are acting piques Albert’s curiosity.

Albert Chesoli-Kicheche-Laikipia His professional instinct is rewarded when he spots a lone cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) ambling away from us. Cheetah1-Ol Pejeta-Kicheche We follow it, then lose it.

But somehow, with some tracker’s sixth sense, Albert finds it resting in the grasses amidst eucleas and whistling thorns. He radios the other Kicheche van with the two guys from San Francisco, and like some human GPS map, carefully explains our location to the driver. Soon they join us and we quietly sit and observe this beautiful big cat.  But since he doesn’t seem anxious to move, we decide to press on, backing out through the grasses and heading down the road.

Cheetah2-Ol Pejeta-Kicheche

Then Albert points to the top of an acacia, where a sweet little lilac-breasted roller (Coracias caudatus) sits in the morning sun.  I’m so excited! This is one of the “must-see” birds for safari-going ornithologists.

Lilac-breasted rolle-Ol Pejeta-Kicheche

A little further, two female waterbucks (Kobus ellipsiprymnus) stop their grazing and stare at us.

Waterbucks-Ol Pejeta-Kicheche

Down the road, we spot a secretary bird (Sagittarius serpentarius), no doubt hunting for snakes, their principal food (and reflected in their species name). What great feathers!

Secretary bird-Ol Pejeta-Kicheche

And a little black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas).

Jackal-Ol Pejeta-Kicheche

We drive past trees, like the one at the top of the photo below, festooned with myriad species of birds. This one has grey-crowned cranes (Balearica regulorum) at right and spoonbills (Platalea alba), sacred ibis and hadada ibis at left. Below are closeup shots of sacred ibis (Threskiornis ethiopicus), left and hadada ibis, right (Bostrychia hagedash).

Birds-Ol Pejeta-Kicheche

Next, we come upon a large troop of olive baboons (Papio anubis) just descending from the big trees where they’ve spent the night.

Baboon troop-Ol Pejeta-Kicheche Infant baboons learn to hang onto their mother’s fur at about 1 week.


We pass a pond where the African spoonbill (Platalea alba) is fishing.

African spoonbill-Ol Pejeta-Kicheche

A little further on, a migratory European white stork (Circonia circonia) watches us carefully.  It will fly back to its breeding grounds in Europe soon.


A male impala (Aepyceros melampus) gathers his harem together protectively as we drive by……

Impalas-Ol Pejeta-Kicheche

…while the common eland (Taurotragus oryx) pays us no heed whatsoever.

Elands-Ol Pejeta-Kicheche

A pair of southern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum simum) keep an eye on us. Note the square lips that give it its other common name, the “southern square-lipped rhinoceros). Southern White Rhinos-Ol Pejeta-Kicheche

Ol Pejeta Conservancy is also home to the only remaining northern white rhinos (Ceraotherium simum cottoni) in the world: three individuals for whom breeding attempts have so far failed, given the age and health of the two females. A December 2015 meeting in Austria explored options of frozen tissue and spermatozoa and other technologies that might help conserve this subspecies in the face of its imminent extinction.

We watch a Jackson’s hartebeest (Alcephalus bucelaphus lelwel) who’s watching us back!

Jackson's Hartebeest-Ol Pejeta-Kicheche

We’ve been out a few hours and our tummies are telling us it’s time to eat. Albert finds a clearing and removes the back floorboard from the van, which transforms itself, presto, into a picnic table!  He sets up three camp stools and brings out a basket filled with a sumptuous assortment of food, with juice and coffee.

Kicheche Laikipia picnic breakfast

I set my camera on the back seat and hit the timer button. Click!

Picnic Breakfast-Kicheche-Laikipia

After breakfast, we spot a black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) and her calf. Note the red-billed oxpecker on the mother. From the starling family, its preferred diet is blood and blood-engorged ticks from the skin of these big mammals.

Black Rhino & calf-Ol Pejeta-Kicheche

It’s late morning and we’re ready to head back to the camp for a rest before lunch. As we drive, Albert points out the lion’s preferred food - a baby gazelle playing a little too far from its mother.

Baby Thomson's gazelle-Ol Pejeta

Back at camp, we put our feet up for a while. Then it’s lunch time. Sonja Webb loves buying cookbooks and having her cooks try out all kinds of gourmet recipes.  So we’re treated to a delicious homemade pizza and salad……

Kicheche Laikipia-Lunch1

…. and grilled pineapple with homemade peanut ice cream for dessert!  Mmmmm…

Kicheche Laikipia-Lunch2

At 4 o’clock, we’re back out on the savannah, where we come across a herd of Cape or African buffalo ( Syncerus caffer).  Such grizzled old faces on these beasts.

Cape Buffalo-Ol Pejeta-Kicheche

Then we spot a small group of elephants munching on vegetation. Albert tells us they need to eat 250-300 kilograms a day.


There are lots of common zebras….

Common Zebras-Ol Pejeta-Kicheche

…and Albert points out a hybrid zebra, below right, that displays the characteristics of both the common and larger, more rare Grevey’s zebras. I later learn that there are four of these on Ol Pejeta Conservancy.

Hybrid giraffe-Ol Pejeta

A giraffe walks gracefully in front of us.

Reticulated giraffe-Ol Pejeta-Kicheche

And we spend a lot of time watching families of spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) playing around their den opening.

Hyenas & den-Ol Pejeta

As the sun is setting, there’s barely enough light to capture this spotted eagle owl (Bubo africanus) roosting on a tree.


Then the sun goes down…..

Sunset-Ol Pejeta

….. and we head back to camp where there’s a lovely surprise awaiting us. Instead of dining alone at the big table in the main tent, they have set a romantic table for two in our tent, complete with candles, wine, and wildflowers strewn across the tablecloth.

Tent dinner-Kicheche-Laikipia

Time for bed. That 5:30 knock at the tent door comes early!

Tune in for Safari-Part 3 in a few days, when we’ll watch a pair of cheetah brothers play with each other on film and visit with Kicheche Laikipia’s resident beekeeper!

Safari: Kicheche Laikipia – Part 1

On March 28th, 2016, after 4 days spent at the 62,000 acre Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, in Isiolo, Kenya, we are driven to the Lewa gates by Francis and pose for a farewell photo with him….


…. before getting into the van that was dispatched from Kicheche Camp-Laikipia to make the 2-1/2 hour drive southwest to their tented camp on Ol Pejeta Conservancy. When we planned our trip, we looked for a small camp within driving distance of Lewa and in view of Mount Kenya, the highest peak in the country.

Here’s the map of Laikipia showing the route from Lewa to Ol Pejeta.


Soon we’re driving through rolling hills of the countryside, listening to our driver Albert Chesoli, who will also be our safari guide for the next three days. Note the greenhouses, upper right. Laikipia has a thriving cut flower industry, particularly roses.

Laikipia-GreenhousesAfter maize, wheat is the #2 grain produced in Kenya, and these rolling, high-altitude (c.5,000 feet) hills are perfect for growing it.

Laikipia-Wheat Fields

Staying in a wildlife conservancy tends to isolate you from the neighbouring villages and farms outside the gate. The poverty rate in Laikipia is 46% (2006 figures) which puts it about middle of the pack in Kenya. This is something that is often difficult to square with a luxurious safari stay, and many visitors pack a suitcase with school supplies or make donations to neighbouring communities a part of their journey.


We pass a donkey cart carrying supplies……


…. and a produce stand by the side of the highway.

Laikipia-Fruit stand

The shops are small and colourful!


Passing through Nanyuki, the market town that services many of the safari lodges in the Mount Kenya area, I notice a garden centre with plants that look surprisingly like many we can buy at local nurseries.

Nanyuki-Garden Centre

After negotiating the road repairs near Nanyuki, we pull into the gatehouse of Ol Pejeta Conservancy while Albert registers us. Their mission statement:“The Ol Pejeta Conservancy works to conserve wildlife, provide a sanctuary for great apes and to generate income through wildlife tourism and complementary enterprises for re-investment in conservation and communities.”  Throughout the 90,000 acre conservancy, there are more than a dozen lodges, tented camps (of which ours is one), guest houses and campsites. The most famous site within Ol Pejeta is Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary, established in 1993 by Jane Goodall to give refuge to orphaned and abused chimps from West and Central Africa.  (I had visited the sanctuary in 2007, on our previous trip to Kenya, our 30th anniversary tour of several conservancies and national parks.)  Security is high here, with elephant tusk and rhino horn poaching a constant threat.

Ol Pejeta-Rongai gate

A short time later, we pull into the parking area at Kicheche Laikipia and after a refreshing drink, we’re taken to our tent, one of just six on the property……

Kicheche-Laikipia-Batian tent

….with a hammock outdoors under an acacia….


…. and an excellent view of the water hole…..

Tent view of waterhole-Kicheche-Laikipia…. which is behind an almost invisible electric fence…..

Kicheche-Laikipia-electric fence

…that, nonetheless, does a good job of keeping the elephants on the far side.


After a review of the camp procedures with Andy Webb, co-manager of Kicheche Laikipia with his wife Sonja, we join him and the other few guests for a lovely lunch served by Stephen outdoors under a tree. As it’s the very end of the season, (safari camps in the region close for the rainy season in April and May, when the roads become impassable), we only have one night with other guests – the next two nights we’re on our own here!

Andy Webb-Kicheche-Laikipia

From lunch time to tea time on safari, which precedes the 4 pm game-viewing drive, guests take the opportunity to read, nap or wander around camp. I decide to get a better look at the families of elephants drinking on the far side of the water hole.

Our afternoon drive is rather quiet. There are common zebras, of course – the mainstay of the savannah…..

Zebras-Ol Pejeta

…..and a lovely tawny eagle (Aquila rapax) up in a tree.

Tawny Eagle

We engage in a staring contest with a warthog….

Warthog-Ol Pejeta

….and manage to catch the end of a turf war between two groups of lions, with this one skulking off to her own territory.


It’s the end of a long day, with dinner in the main tent……

Kicheche-Laikipia-main tent

….. and early lights out, for the friendly “Jambo! Good morning” comes at 5:30 am tomorrow, followed by our 6 am game drive.  See you then for Safari-Part 2!

Remember Forget-Me-Nots!

Okay, corny headline. But I do want to use this blog – the second of my “blue for April” blogs – to  ‘remember’ how much I adore the effect of forget-me-nots in the spring garden. Sometimes, on a lovely May morning, as I’m looking at the robins bathing in the lily pond in my back garden, I’ll squint a little and imagine what it would look like without that lacy froth of light blue under the ‘Red Jade’ crabapple tree.  Dirt, that’s what it would look like, and the emerging green of perennials, of course. But not nearly as enchanting as the soft blue cloud that floats around the lily pond.


Forget-me-not – Myosotis sylvatica. The botanical name comes from the classic Greek word for the genus, muosōtis, from mus- ‘mouse’ +ous, ōt- ‘ear’. And the specific epithet sylvatica means “of the forest” or woodland.  So, mouse-eared plant of the woodland.  As for the common name, it comes from the German: Vergiss-mein-nicht (appropriate, because it’s a European plant)   I can’t think of another plant that gives so much and asks so little. Reasonable soil with a little moisture, that’s it. And when I say “soil”, I’m measuring in square inches, because that’s the way forget-me-nots plant themselves. Biennial, they only need a tiny patch of ground to germinate those prolific seeds in late spring, content to grow their roots and develop a small rosette of leaves in the first summer.

Myosotis sylvatica-Forget-me-nots

Then next spring, up they pop and away they go, flowering for weeks on end, their sky-blue blossoms a tonic with all the yellow spring lavishes around – like basket-of-gold (Aurinia saxatilis), seen here.

Aurinia saxatilis & Myosotis sylvatica

But speaking of yellow, forget-me-nots exhibit an interesting evolutionary trait developed in order to attract pollinators. But first, some basic botany: they are protogynous, meaning the flowers initially have a female phase, then a male phase. The nectaries are located below the ovary, which is at the base of the corolla. Around the opening to the corolla is a fleshy yellow ring which is a nectar guide. Once the bee has spotted that yellow ring and zeroed in on the nectaries and/or pollen (if in the male stage), the plant has ensured its succession. (Oh, how they ensure their succession, with copious seeds.)  Even cooler, once the flower has been pollinated, the yellow ring fades to a creamy brown – a signal to the bees that there is no longer any nectar. It should be noted that honey bees will not come to your garden for just a few forget-me-nots; they need loads of them to make it worth the while of the ‘scout’ honey bee whose role in the colony is to find sizable populations of nectar- and pollen-rich plants and then do the ‘waggle dance’ to instruct the forager bees on how to locate them.  (For more blue plants for bees, have a look at this blog.)

Apis mellifera on Myosotis sylvatica

Forget-me-nots offer up another sweet vignette in my pond garden: insinuating themselves innocently into my Japanese hakone grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’).

Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' & Myosotis sylvatica

For many years, my front garden in May was a candy floss confection of the small-flowered pink rhododendrons ‘Olga Mezitt’ and ‘Aglo’ with loads of pink tulips and blue grape hyacinths. But it was the forget-me-nots that were the frilly icing on the cake.

Rhododendron 'Olza Mezitt' & Myosotis sylvatica

And much as I loathe their wanton (wandering?) ways, the lily-of-the-valley, below, do look rather fetching in the embrace of forget-me-nots. Still, sweet-scented though it is, little Convallaria majalis has proven to be a tenacious invader of much of my garden, and, unlike forget-me-nots, cannot be uprooted easily.

Convallaria majalis & Myosotis sylvatica

When I visit Toronto’s spectacular Spadina House gardens in May, I am captivated by the billowing cloud of blue beneath the brilliant spring flowers in the borders surrounding the four-square potager. It brings all those colours together into a cohesive, beautiful picture.

Spadina House Gardens-Forget-me-nots

Here they are with beautiful white bleeding hearts (Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Alba’), formerly Dicentra)….

Spadina House-Bleeding hearts & forget-me-nots

…and a closer look at that lovely duo.

Lamprocapnos spectabilis & Myosotis sylvatica

Here are some more sweet Spadina House forget-me-not pairings. This is very early, with Arabis caucasica ‘Rosea’.

Arabis caucasica 'Rosea' & Myosotis sylvatica

Then come the tulips, like pretty yellow Tulipa batalini ‘Bright Gem’….

Tulipa batalini 'Bright Gem' & Myosotis sylvatica

…and these wonderful ‘Daydream’ tulips. That’s lungwort (Pulmonaria saccharata) at the right, rear.

Tulipa 'Daydream' & Myosotis sylvatica

One of the early hardy spurges, creeping Euphorbia myrsinites, looks quite fetching with a sprinkling of forget-me-nots.

Euphorbia myrsinites & Myosotis sylvatica

And forget-me-nots flower for such a long time, they’re ready and waiting when the late-flowering poet’s narcissus, N. poeticus ‘Recurvus’ starts flowering at Spadina House.

Myosotis sylvatica & Narcissus poeticus

I often travel to my old home province of British Columbia in spring, and when I stop in at Butchart Gardens in Victoria, it’s abundantly clear that nobody does forget-me-nots like them.  Look at this lovely carpet under lily-flowered tulips.

Butchart Gardens-Tulips & Forget-me-nots

Although I’m happy with the garden variety forget-me-not that’s been with me for years, there’s a seed strain with more vibrant blue colour called ‘Victoria Blue’. I suspect that’s what’s growing here at Butchart with orange wallflowers.

Butchart Gardens-Wallflowers & Forget-me-nots

Forget-me-nots come in light pink and pure white, often occurring naturally in naturalized seeds. But you can also buy seed of those colours to have an effect like this with tulips, at Butchart Gardens.

Butchart Gardens-blue & white forget-me-nots

Finally, a little duo from Victoria’s Horticulture Centre of the Pacific (I’ve blogged about HCP and their lovely Garry Oak woodland before). Isn’t this sweet? Bright-pink chives (Allium schoeneprasum), likely ‘Forescate’, with forget-me-nots.  Easy-peasy for the herb garden.

Allium schoeneprasum 'Forescate' & Myosotis sylvatica

Happy spring!