FIRE TO FLOWER : a Chronology after a Wildfire in Fynbos by Ruth Garland and Greg Nicolson, published by the Paardeberg Sustainability Initiative, 2016.
This large, heavy, stunningly beautiful hardback is both an exquisite visual record of how fynbos regenerates after wildfire and an important contribution to South African botany, and that of the Cape Floral Kingdom in particular.
In Jan 2011 a fire broke out on the Paardebeg, that lone mountain that looms up on the plains between Malmesbury, Wellington, Paarl and Durbanville. Some 75% of the mountain above the farms was burnt, and, being the first fire in 25 years, the event offered a fine opportunity to record and observe the plant species as they germinated and flowered after the destruction.
On the historic Vondeling estate, one of the Voor Paardeberg farms, Dr Bridget Johnsen set about transforming opportunity into reality: She succeeded, but as we can see, it finally took more than five years to achieve in the form of this unique volume. She engaged botanist and photographer Greg Nicolson to observe, record and photograph the plants over 18 months, in consultation with the Compton Herbarium at Kirstenbosch. Not only did Nicolson identify 1 000 species, but discovered one new to science. Walking the mountain for the best part of 2 years gave him a amazing overview of the animal, bird and insect inhabitants as well, and appealing photographs of these are included . As Dr Eugene Moll notes in his foreword, the book’s contents capture the very essence of life on and around the Paardeberg, then interprets and portrays a complex ecosystem in simple every day language.
For this, praise must go to Ruth Garland, a writer whose passion for natural history started early in life, thanks to her parents who raised her in Zululand. Setting the scene through geology and climate, she moves on to discuss flora and fire, the latter so critical in the cycle of life in this region.
After the fire, which raged for five days, Bridget Johnsen, along with neighbouring farmers, established the PSA or Paardeberg Sustainability Initiative which prioritises both flora and fire: The Paardeberg Fire Protection Association now provides support services to farmers in terms of tools, staff, safety and training, alien control and fire breaks, and was recently amalgamated with the Greater Cedarberg Fire Protection Association.
Vondeling estate has become renowned for its fine wines, among which are two named after endemic fynbos: Babiana, a fine chenin-led white blend and Erica, a spicy shiraz-based blend, both worthy tributes to their floral sources. A new limited edition red blend, named Philosophie will be launched in March, featuring a painting of a rare Paardeberg flower.
From the sepia tones and acrid smoke of the post-fire landscape, readers are led on a seasonal photographic journey as plant life emerges . Starting in autumn, with the”ploegtyd blommetjie” the little plough –time flower appearing first, followed by oxalis and waterblommetjies, and later the early-flowering bulbs, we see a gradual transformation of the mountainside that continues in a diverse procession of colour, texture and beauty to late summer. For those amateur (and professional) botanists who want more information, another section offers detail on the species illustrated.
For those who just love beauty, the close-ups of petals, leaves, stamens and stems provide a visual feast that is heart-stopping and seldom seen. As a valuable record, the title is unique. As an inspiration to generations of present and future guardians of our flora, this substantial tome will prove to be priceless.
Among the many people to be thanked for their contribution, is one of Vondelings’ partners, Briton Anthony Ward who sponsored the cost of the publication.
Note: This review will also feature in Book Choice on FMR on Monday January 16.