Ou BrulparraJanuary 25th, 2022
They lurk by the side of the lavender patch and tilapia ponds … motionlessly awaiting the heat of the day when youngsters draw near. Spirals of stone create a pleasant distraction as little ones hop-scotch over into their midst. Once close enough – snap! – a spurt of river water catches you right on the nose!
The Old Bullfrog – or Ou Brulparra as we love to call him – is like your favourite grandpa. There may be a big mole on his nose and bumpy skin on his arms, but he’s the gentlest soul you’ll ever know. And, like any ol’ Grampy, he has a naughty side too …
The Old Bullfrog water spiral at Babylonstoren is fitted with motion-sensing water pistols that spray water from the various reptile and amphibian sculptures arranged in the feature. The shrill laughter of children can be heard from afar as they try to dodge the spurts of water. And that’s the beauty of the sculpture.
It was designed specifically to capture the joys of childhood in our South African summer (reminding us of running through the garden sprayer on those hot summer days of yore!) and is one of the most-loved spots in the Babylonstoren garden. Alongside the fun it inspires, the sculpture also encourages a positive narrative for the creatures depicted here, some of which come with a bad reputation.
Creatures & Critters
At the very centre sits Old Bullfrog himself, a giant replica of the African bullfrog. These creatures are among the world’s largest frogs, with males weighing up to 1,4 kg. In nature, bullfrogs can be voracious carnivores, feeding on insects, small rodents, reptiles, fish, and small birds. A few guttural toads can also be spotted in the spiral. These little hoppers are found throughout southern Africa, occurring in thickets, grasslands and in urban areas, especially near garden ponds.
The Cape terrapin is another local favourite and can be seen in living form in the tilapia pond across the water spiral. Also known as the African helmeted turtle, this omnivorous eater has fine claws on its feet to tear its prey. The angulate tortoise, or “rooipensieskilpad” as it’s known in Afrikaans, is the terrestrial turtle of the spiral. It is the only species on the African continent with a single throat shield and is known to live for more than 30 years!
The big fish with its large, eel-like body is indeed, a fish out of water! “It’s a bit of a mythical creature with characteristics of a dolphin and catfish,” says Katie Lewis, estate architect of The Newt in Somerset who helped design our Old Bullfrog feature. “Created by sculptor Alasdair Rennie, the creature is based on various mythical references but also links back to the original inspiration for the water feature, as similar squirters can be found at Peterhof Palace, Tsar Peter the Great’s water gardens,” Lewis says.
Southern rock agamas and are the social bunch of the spiral. They typically live in small colonies on rocky outcrops, with the males having very conspicuous bright blue heads (hence its Afrikaans common name “bloukopkoggelmander”). Despite their quirky looks, these little critters are good-to-haves around the house as they are natural predators of small insects such as ants, mosquitoes, and termites. Black girdled lizards or “skurwejantjies”, as they’re aptly called in Afrikaans, are also some of the local representatives in the spiral.
The most notorious of the water spiral bunch is most certainly the slithering Cape cobra. A dangerous and highly venomous species endemic to southern Africa, this snake will lift its head when threatened, displaying the common cobra hood. It has fixed front fangs and will bite – it does not spit. The venom is neurotoxic and a bite should get urgent medical care. It typically feeds on rodents and birds, as well as frogs and lizards…
The area surrounding the croaky folk is equally interesting. A total of 380 000 small river stones were collected by hand from Doringbaai along the South African West Coast and laid here, again by hand. The stones are packed in two shades to create a spiral pattern leading into the centre of the feature. With Old Bullfrog at the heart of the spiral, the design was intended to represent a swirling pool which the giant bullfrog drinks down, Lewis says.
When you’re next in the garden, take a moment to appreciate our water spiral for the summer solace it provides. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a lick of gelato while watching the kids play.