Still in Stellenbosch
Our first full day in Stellenbosch began early Saturday morning at Vergelegen. The name translates in English to: “situated far away”. Vergelegen is a 3000 hectare estate that includes timeless gardens, wise old trees, incredible vineyards, a lovely little restaurant, and magnificent views of Stellenbosch and its surrounding wine routes. The estate dates back to the 18th century when it was a homestead and the gardens produced fresh fruit and vegetables that were otherwise unavailable. Some areas of the gardens were separated by walls constructed in 1680, while others have more natural boundaries of 300 year old Camphor trees. There are plenty of these gorgeous specimens on the property as they were very functional years ago when people wore mostly natural fiber clothing. Often the timber was used to make chests and other furniture pieces for storing such items that were susceptible to damage from moths. The trees themselves stood tall, wide at the base, and were quite majestic, one of them was declared a national monument in 1947.
Because we are about to board the plane and have not had access to the internet at our hotel, I will have to continue this later.…please enjoy a sneak-peek with the images below….
Now in the Amsterdam airport, we are waiting to board with Delta and arrive in Detroit to catch our final flight back to Pennsylvania. Feelings are bittersweet.
To continue with Vergelegen, I want to mention a few of the stunning trees we encountered while touring the gardens. They do love their trees and have a particularly lovely grove of Yellowwoods, (Afrocarpus), which delicately grow just beyond the mountain-fed river and seem unworldly when one steps inside. Aftrocarpus falcartus, formerly Podocarpus falcartus is considered South Africa’s national tree, as it too was useful in so many ways. Another gem not to be left out is the impressive King Alfred Oak specimen( Quercus robur), which we were able to climb inside of and look from the inside out. The Oak is 300 years old, one of the foundation plantings, and work is now underway to build a boardwalk around its base to prevent soil compaction. Vergelegen’s horticulturalist and our tour guide, Richard, is busy working to keep this specimen preserved for future generations by seed propagation. One more specimen that cannot be forgotten is the 100-year-old Camellia that gained recognition from the Camellia Garden of Excellence. It is rare to see one of this size in the States , and it filled out the Camphor understory so perfectly that it seemed like these two plants have been rather fond of each other’s company all these years, like a beautiful friendship.
Day two in Stellenbosch was sunny and crispy cool. We were better able to view the surrounding mountains and valleys that lay atop the land as we made our way to see Una van der Spuy at her home, Old Nectar. It was a short, fifteen minute drive just outside of town and as we piled out of the cars and approached the house, a large dog by the name of “Simba” barreled out to greet us. We waited at the bottom of the stairs expecting an elderly woman to slowly make her way around the hedge. I was surprised as she almost popped out from around the corner to great us with a smile and an enthusiasm to begin talking plants with us. Ninety nine years old and she is prompt and professional, graceful and artistic. After a warm greeting, she immediately began talking Latin and naming some of the larger trees that serve as a frame to her colorful garden. With a rocky mountain backdrop, Una planted what pleased her and not necessarily what grows natively. Some of these were species that we see back home such as Gingko, Magnolia, and Elm. She quickly made the point that a gardener should not choose a plant for its flower, but rather for its foliage. She liked to use a theme of gold, silver, and bronze-colored foliage to bring further dimension to the landscape and to “relieve the background”.
She went on to give us the history of her garden, herself, Old Nectar, and South Africa in that particular region. She explained to us how she began the garden around the gable using little more than her own strength to complete construction. Most of the garden she expanded herself and still continues that way today, with the help of some friends along the way. We made our way down to the rose garden which comprised of 7 or more beds of different varieties, each lined purposefully with a silver border to enhance the brick pathway laid some 64 years ago. Una’s favorite rose is the German pink, which flowers into November and is pictured in the slides.
We wrapped up our visit with Una enjoying a cup of rooibos tea as she answered questions and talked about her first experiences using a computer for writing. It was a perfect morning with a perfect view, with an unforgettable woman and her garden.
The afternoon was reserved for visiting Stellenbosch Botanic. Here we enjoyed a leisurely view of the gardens and some of their private collections including two succulent houses, a fern house that offered relief from the hot sun, and a handsome collection of Bonsai that included a 70-year-old White Pine (Pinus strobus). One particular beauty that struck us was a blooming and budding specimen of Bromeliad (Puya chilensis), which is included in the slide show for your enjoyment. In total, there are 3500-4000 plant labels on the 1.5 hectares of Stellenbosch Botanic. There are three gardeners and one horticulturist on staff, they are thoroughly occupied as one can imagine. One of the newer areas of the garden focuses on plants endemic to the Stellenbosch area and it has a centrally located entrance that is more easily accessed by students and neighbors. This concludes our second day in Stellenbosch. We’ enjoyed Stellenbosch’s accessaability, food, and plant life!
Keep following along to hear about our last day, which put all things in perspective and gave us a new way to view plants and our relationships with them. It was emotional, somewhat heartbreaking, and entirely inspirational.
See you all soon!