One Year On – Good Hope Gardens

IN

One year after the wild fire that surrounded Good Hope Gardens, South African forager and teacher Roushanna Gray recounts their journey through the year:

Its been a year since the fire and a lot has happened. Life picked up and carried on the way it does after any major or minor life event, ignoring any time needed for personal recovery and reflection. The wind blew, the sun shone and the tides continued to ebb and flow.

It was the middle of summer coastal foraging season when the fire hit, so luckily its damage didn’t effect any foraging events; we were focused away from the land and rather on seaweeds and were down at the beach with our feet in the rock pools most of the time anyway. Any wild herbs we needed to cook and work with were gathered from our cultivated edible and medicinal plant gardens.

Soon the week long blaze that had surrounded our home and work and the land that we love was just a smoky mist of memories triggered only by smells and stories and the thin black sooty dust found occasionally inside pages of books and on the rim of vases sitting high up on our shelves.

My promises of documenting the post fire regrowth were reduced to photos snapped on my phone in stolen moments of navigating my way through the new terrain of bright green shoots and exposed burnt roots. Along the new pathway things slowly grew back and the colour and textures of the fynbos emerged in between fire bleached tortoise bones and heat shattered rocks.

Corymbium africanum

The insect life returned as the plants grew and grew.

The insect life returned as the plants grew and grew, snakes were discovered all over the nursery (we relocated five puff adders one month in spring!) and all the birds and pollinators have been loving the little green oasis that the nursery provides. We had a good enough rainfall over winter for the seasonal streams to flow down from the mountain, with botanical surprises appearing virtually every day over the wet season – strange new plants happily creeping out all over the new space, trying to identify not yet flowering plants and familiar fynbos friends popping up too.

The alien vegetation clearing is still in place, our five year budget plan swallowed whole in just one year, but still we clear – so much so that if you look closely you can almost see the boundary lines of the property defined by the patches of Port Jackson stands growing around us.

A local pioneer Pelargonium cucullatum was one of the first aromatics to grow big enough to forage from. Its musky rose scented leaves smelt most pungent just moments before they flowered vividly in spring with its show-off magenta pink petals more vibrant than any of its family, visible all over the peninsula. A few are still holding on to the bushes now in summer time and others await having been foraged, dried and captured in glass bottles to be used out of season.

Aristea macrocarpa

It seemed to shimmer and wink at me. “I have to go” I said

The other stand out aromatic that regrew from their burnt roots were an array of wild Buchu’s. The species that are found on the mountainside around here have an impressive array of flavours including citrus, orange blossom and aniseed whose fragrance is released when the teeny tiny oil glands at the back of the small leaves are bruised gently with your fingertips. The flavour of this wild herb can be harnessed by imparting its scent as simply as steeping in oil, vinegar or honey, made into a tincture or syrup and used in all manner of sweet treats.

I was standing in the kitchen last Monday morning with my hands in the sink, deep in the domestic duties of getting ready for the early morning school run. Something caught my eye and I looked up out the window at the mountainside. It seemed to shimmer and wink at me. “I have to go” I said, turning around to Tom who was sorting out some seeds and drinking coffee. “Do you mind if I go for a walk right now?” Tom is amazing and can handle the school run as well as fighting a blazing wall of fire bare foot, and took over the filling of lunch boxes and finding a lost shoe and signing an overdue crumpled sports form discovered in the bottom of a school bag while I ran outside and up the mountain with the dogs.

Sometimes the plants call you and sometimes they shout and you just have to listen. Scanning the landscape, the colours led us on a wandering winding walk, picking out mauves and pinks and oranges as well as all of the blues in the world.

You know how it goes – as soon as you spot one interesting plant, the rest magically pop up into your vision. On that morning walk there were plants flowering all over the place in bright pockets – around the rocks, over hills, along stretches of the veld and right in the middle of the pathway, with the majority of the flowers a dazzling array of blue like a paintbox filled with all the jewelled hues of the sea and the sky – exquisite Agapanthus africanus, Aristea macrocarpa, Aristea africana and more.

Micranthus alopecuroides

The wild pantry

In celebration of this one year fire anniversary, the pioneer Pelargonium and the discovery of all things blue, here is a recipe designed to toast the occasion and a cheers to the wonders of nature. It can be recreated anywhere in the world with your own local wild flavours that you might have growing around you or created with moments of bottled time from seasons past that you might have lurking in your wild pantry.

The Pelargonium used in this recipe can be replaced with whatever local rose or floral scented plant you might have, the Cape Sumach or Calpoon berry infused gin can be substituted with sloe or blackberry berry gin and the Buchu cordial with anything with a sweet and citrusy twist.

A smokey and floral infusion


SMOKE AND ROSES

Makes 1 Drink

Ingredients:
¼ cup of dried rose Pelargonium leaves
a box of matches
10ml of Botanist gin
10ml of Calpoon berry infused gin
10ml of lemon juice
5ml of Buchu cordial
A sprig of fresh rose Pelargonium leaf
Sparkling spring water
Floral ice and flowers to garnish

Method:

Shake up the gin, berry infused gin, lemon juice, cordial and sprig of rose Pelargonium leaf and set aside. Collect the dried Pelargonium leaves into a little pile and set it alight with the matches. Cover the burning leaves with a glass until the flames have gone out and the glass is beautifully filled with smoke. Turn the glass the right way up and fill with flower ice, strain the liquid ingredients into the glass and top up with sparkling water. Garnish with flowers and enjoy the first sip with your eyes closed to get a true sensory experience of fire in florals.

Read Roushanna’s account of the fire here

If you want to learn more on Fynbos take a read here to start with this piece from Zoë Poulsen here.

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