Joburg winters are harsh. Temperatures often drop below freezing at night but our houses aren’t insulated, windows don’t close, and central heating doesn’t exist. The air is punishingly dry. Our weather is close to perfect for ten months a year, but the other two months are cold and we hate it. There are a few upsides to Joburg winters, though: bright blue skies, warm sun in the afternoon, and — best of all — blooming aloes.
Like the jacarandas in late spring and the cosmos in early autumn, the aloe is a quintessential feature of South African winter. But I still remember my first winter in Joburg, when I witnessed the aloe ferox tree in my backyard bursting into bloom for the first time. I had never seen such an unusual, magnificent flower. I photographed the blooms every day as they grew taller and brighter, marveling at their beauty.
Since then I’ve tried to do at least one aloe photoshoot each winter. And this year I finally made it to the Mecca of aloe photography: The Aloe Farm near Hartbeespoort Dam.
The Aloe Farm is to the aloe what Ludwig’s Roses is to the rose. It is THE place in South Africa to see, learn about, and buy aloes of every possible variety. And there are dozens, maybe hundreds, of varieties.
Every South African knows the most iconic flowering aloe, the aloe ferox, with its tall, dark-orange cones, but aloes occur naturally in a plethora of other shapes, colors, and sizes. The plant breeders at the Aloe Farm are constantly working to create new aloe varieties, just as the people at Ludwig’s are constantly creating new roses.
Communing with Aloes
The Aloe Farm is about an hour and 15 minutes from central Joburg, not far from Hartbeespoort Dam. I went late on Sunday afternoon, when the light is best, with Thorsten and his mom. It was totally worth the drive.
The Aloe Farm is a photographer’s paradise. In addition to the traditional covered plant nursery that you’d find at a normal garden center, there is a huge outdoor garden bursting with aloes. At this time of year the garden is humming (and chirping) with feasting birds and bees — the Aloe Farm is paradise for them, too. The nearby Magaliesburg Mountains provide a perfect backdrop.
I ambled along the dirt track that winds through the garden for ages, taking a million pictures. It made me so happy.
We think of aloe flowers as being mostly orange. But they are also red, yellow, brown, green, whitish pink, and sometimes even multiple colors. The bright yellow ones are my favorites.
I’m also fascinated by the varying shapes of the aloe flowers.
Many photographers go to the Aloe Farm specifically to photograph birds. I stupidly didn’t bring a good wildlife lens so bird (and bee) photography was challenging — those little guys move fast. But I did capture one or two.
Oh, and of course @theThinking_Hand made beautiful aloe flower sketches.
And that was our visit to the Aloe Farm. Note there is a small snack bar at the farm but no restaurant. The farm is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The farm is also holding an Aloe Festival from June 24th to July 9th — details are on their Facebook page.
Thanks for making me happy, Aloe Farm.