Darkness and cold have arrived in our northern hemisphere, but I escaped it for a while by visiting beautiful South Africa. I was surprised that the country has a lot to offer when it comes to stunning gardens. Throughout the coming months I will share some of these places of beauty. We start off with the Babylonstoren Estate, located somewhere between Franschhoek and Paarl in the Cape winelands.
Babylonstoren’s history is closely connected with that of the Dutch East India Company that in the 17th and 18th century used the cape region as one of its hubs on the spice route to the east. Near cape town they started the Company’s Garden, a patch of land where food was grown for their ships passing by. Soon this garden wasn’t enough and new settlements were founded in the inland of the cape. Settled in 1692, Babylonstoren is one of the oldest farms in the country. The oldest buildings still in place date back to 1777. The rich history is still embraced by the current owners, but the estate is now a contemporary sanctuary. You can stay here in beautiful cottages, do some wine tasting and have delicious food in one of the three restaurants. But for me the main draw is the beautiful garden.
The garden, created in 2007, is the work of French garden architect Patrice Taravella, who caught the attention of current owner Karen Roos with his design of the kitchen garden of Notre Dame d’Orsan in France. The direct influence of the design is the historical Company’s garden in Cape Town. The garden is divided into a clear grid with straight walk ways and clear cut hedges. The slope of the garden made it possible to also make an ingenious water channel system that can irrigate large parts of the garden. Although Babylonstoren is situated in zone often hit by drought, the constant water flow from the nearby mountains provides it with sufficient water. The garden is not only there to delight the visitors, but it also provides fresh fruits and vegetables to the restaurants on the estate. I can strongly recommend to book a table at the Babel restaurant to have a taste of what the garden has to offer.
When you enter the garden through a small gate you get struck with the scale of the garden. First you pass an olive and citrus orchard and just behind the Guave trees 12 large squares contain a large array of vegetables. At the left side of this is the poultry quarter. This is where the white ducks house. Babylonstoren tries to be as sustainable as possible and instead of attacking the snails in the vineyards with pesticides, it’s the ducks that go out every morning to feast on the snails. Next to this you can find an ancient mulberry tree.
Next stop is a prickly pear maze (don’t come too close) and the central citrus block. In this central part four squares, crossed with irrigating channels watering the trees. And in the middle a shallow pond lined with Delft-inspired tiles and an Afrikaans poem “My nooi is in ‘n nartjie ” about the scent of women. At the left there is a vegetable garden that provides you with loads of inspiration when it comes to companion planting and structures for climbing plants.
Up next : the stone fruit section and subtropical fruits. Some of the squares here are filled up with fragrant herb ground covers (camomile, thyme,..) and you are invited to take off your shoes and walk the patches barefoot to have a lovely scent sensation. In other squares another hint to the past can be found. A persimmon tree surrounded by a mosaic inspired by Delft pottery. During creation of the garden many pieces of this old porcelain were dug up. By now you will probably also have noticed the 49 towers of about 6 meter high that are highlighting the grid of the garden. They are covered with different varieties of roses and bring some welcoming shade on hot days. As there were almost no old trees when the garden was created, they also bring height to the garden.
Almost at the back of the garden we now enter the Garden of San. A garden divided in 4 parts where three biospheres where created of places where the San tribes used to live. The Thicket Biome of the Eastern Cape, The phantom Karoo of the Northern West Cape, the succulent Karoo and the surroundings of Simonsberg. Some African Walnut trees, with their distinct red flowers, bring some shade in the middle of this all.
When you take a seat on the lovely terrace of the Greenhouse for a drink or a light lunch, you might think you have seen it all. But some lovely surprises are still waiting for you to discover.
Right behind the terrace of the greenhouse you enter the healing garden, the work of Gundula Deutschlander. This beautiful garden links back to the medicinal plants grown in the original company’s garden. Each raised bed, filled with the medicinal plants, is nicely labeled with the relevant body part or health issues . In the middle of this all, two bamboo pavilions, situated above a Koi pond, provide the perfect setting for an herbal tea ceremony.
Hidden behind the nursery and already outside the garden walls you can discover another highlight. A large wooden structure, providing shelter to an enormous collection of succulents. This Wonderfull place is often visited with some exotic looking birds feasting on the nectar of the succulents. At the end of the structure the view opens up towards the surrounding fields and mountains. It’s breathtaking !
To go back to the beginning of the garden, you can take the puff adder tunnel, an interesting snaking structure, that will bring you to Clivia walk along the shady riverside. Under the old oak trees 9000 Clivias are planted and this must be quite a spectacle in September when they are all in bloom. Further down the river it’s the Cycads that get all the attention. These dinosaur plants are a real living fossil. Walking through the Guave avenue you come back to where you started. Don’t miss the ponds with some local fish and water plants (some also served in the restaurant, like the Waterblommetjie)
All good things come to an end, and so is this visit. Luckily plenty of nice foods, drinks and stylish souvenirs can be bought in the farm shop. Keep tuned for more South African gardens …
Babylonstoren : Babylonstoren, Klapmuts Simondium Road, Simondium, 7670, South Africa