Crackling, mesmerizingly warm fireplaces, fresh fruits, wonderful drives with fragrant fresh air crisply scented by pine needles, great meandering walks… this is how I feel about Nyanga. Although situated in our Eastern Highlands, “a touch of the Scottish downs comes to mind” as one dear friend put it recently.
“My dogs run through the fynbos and for the next two days, I can smell that wonderfully unique fynbos fragrance on their coats”, she mentioned as we reminisced about the love we have for this amazing country of ours. A visitor to Zimbabwe once told me: “Don’t mention the attributes of this this God-given country to any foreigners; it’s too special to have it inundated, pillaged and ruined!”
I have many memories of Nyanga… as the water seeps out of the ground, it shines on the rock formations as it tumbles or trickles through crevices, making its long journey to the seaside next door in Mozambique. The wind whispers through the pine trees as we walk, the sharp fragrance of pine needles ever present as we gather pine cones, either for our log fires or for Christmas decorations! As kids, we made forts in the pine needles, burying ourselves in them as we played.
It was the first place I ever saw a water wheel in a beautifully appointed garden with a stream running through the plants and shrubs. The homeowner made the most marvellous fruit preserves, jams and chutneys from fruits from the orchard she had nurtured for decades.
The churches are also unique. I recall a stay at Tintagenal Cottage, not far from the Casino Hotel. Every day for ten days my dear friend and I would take a walk, finding different paths and roads to explore as we nibbled on fresh fruits picked off fruiting trees along the way. We discovered a little church where the cross was a silhouette through the large windows. We watched an eagle flying over the mountains through the view behind the altar in the blue skies ahead and above.
One evening we ventured into the local country club for a sundowner. As two unaccompanied women, we felt shy, and giggled like school kids before plucking up the courage to put our foot forward and enter. A deathly silence greeted us. We were not locals! Who were these “newcomers?” We eventually learned we had presented the regulars with “free humiliation”, and posing no threat were welcomed with open arms. We had a few laughs with some very special locals before heading home.
I must mention the incredible variety of unique plants and flowers from Nyanga. In January, the white spider lilies appear. Look out for the pineapple lily (Eucomis autumnalis) and the Nyanga fire-ball (Scadoxus-pole-evansii). The samango and vervet monkeys adore earing the ripening fire-ball fruits, so do look out for that entertaining sight.
In February orchids, gladiolus and cosmos (an invasive plant) takes one’s breath away as the cosmos sway in the fresh mountain air and waves at you. The fungi group explode as mushrooms and toadstools abound, but be warned – many are very poisonous so do not take any chances.
Living on decaying organic material, the aptly-named stinkhorn (Clathrus archeri) produces up to seven tentacles and often oozes a slimy black sludgy extract from its red tentacles which upon close and personal inspection, smells like something very rotten! No wonder this fungus is also known as devil’s fingers or octopus fungus.
In March the hairbell (Dierama inyangense) blossoms. They look like angel fishing rods, and are one of my favourites. Begonias, proteas and various orchids come into their own during this month.
April brings travellers’ joy (Clematis brachiate), or the old man’s beard, spreading itself over vegetation while pink everlastings (Helichrysum adenocarpum) fill the “vases” in open spaces.
During May you will see plenty of ferns and tree ferns, most of which will not grow away from the Nyanga soils, so be aware of that aspect before deciding to take one home.
In June, pink heath (Erica woodii) shed puffs of pollen when they bloom to re-create themselves, while the aloes are in vibrant shades of yellow, red and orange. The bark of the Nyanga flat top acacia trees (Vachellia abyssinica) can be peeled off in layers, and a fascinating exercise is to write on the dry bark! Imagine a bark letter arriving in your post box instead of in your “inbox”! I would certainly appreciate a regression in time!
During July, look out for mosses, the sphagnum moss and beautiful lichen, true indicators of excellent air quality.
In August, the gnarled bark and vibrant colours of the new leaves on the Musasa trees (Brachystegia spiciformis) are a photographer’s dream.
By September the chocolate bells (Trichodesma physaloides) are very showy, and there are even more orchids – Nyanga is known as “orchid heaven”. Orchids survive by hiding near wet ground or close to rocks to avoid being killed by veld fires – another reason that nature is amazing!
In October, the coral tree (Erythrina latissimi) treats us all to a colourful flower display. The trumpet-shaped flower of the scarlet river lily (Crinum macowanii) is evident, its trumpet-shaped flowers adorning streambanks. Look for the tumbleweed (Boophane disticha); the flower is red and as round as a ball. As it dries, the stalk goes rigid before detaching itself from the mother plant and tumbling off in the wind to spread its seed. Be aware – this plant is very poisonous.
Come November and a splash of yellow daisies (Haplocarpha thanbergii), felted on the underside of their leaves, delights the view. December is the month of storms (we hope!) in Zimbabwe, and low and behold – our beautiful flame lily (Gloriosa superba) appears. The botanical name says it all! It is poisonous but how we fall in love all over again seeing our national flower in bloom. The flame lily is a protected plant, so please do not try to remove them.
The yellow arum (Zantedeschia albomaculata) appears in December. Porcupines enjoy the roots of the yellow arum, and it is not unusual to see an arum colony turned over as though a plough has visited when the porcupines have indulged in a meal.
Nyanga is a truly unique African and Zimbabwean experience and meets so many of our adventurous criteria.
Text and Photography by Roslyn Houghton
Roslyn Houghton is the mother of two daughters. She is a qualified horticultural judge affiliated to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), and has served on the RHS speakers’ register. She began taking photos at ten years of age and has not stopped. She is a crazy plant collector, with seven NALA (Nursery and landscaping Association) or National Gold Expo. awards for nursery and garden design. She loves laughing, travel, animals, people, photography, landscaping, plants and design… not all necessarily in that order!