More and more there are gardens grown and maintained not only for the joy of those who establish them, but also for the public to whom the gardens are made available, simply for the joy of it.
These are unofficial gardens that individuals have planted themselves. They are not botanical, although gardens like the Stellenbosch University Botanic Garden could easily belong here (small, not that well known, really worth a visit).
Which is not to say that the botanical gardens are not worth a visit. They are. And each is beautiful in its own way. But these gardens are idiosyncratic with a distinctive signature left by the people who grow them. There is something almost voyeuristic about visiting, and one can’t help but leave inspired.
Gardens With a Difference – Alternative Gardens to Visit
Below is a list of gardens from around the country that we’ve visited, or those that strike us as wonderful alternative spaces that deserve to be viewed by others who love gardens. We’ve not included the wild flower gardens on the West Coast. This is rather a list of alternative gardens that aren’t on any official route.
The list is by no means exclusive, so if you know of others you think we could mention, let us know in the comments below.
Babylonstoren, Paarl, Western Cape
This is a garden taking the Cape by storm. It’s a highly original concept of an 8 acre vegetable and fruit garden, coupled with a restaurant known simply as Babel, brought into being by the Koos Bekker and his wife Karen Roos (former editor of Deco). The farm has one of the best preserved Cape Dutch farm yards with a homestead dating back to 1777.
The produce grown in the gardens (inspired by Company of Gardens of the Cape that used to supply fruit, vegetables and water to ships en route between Europe and Asia) not only grace the plates and menus of Babel, but guests who stay in little cottages on the farm can also pick for themselves and experiment in the kitchens in which they cater for themselves.
Grown as biologically as possible, the garden boasts over 300 varieties of edible plants, harvested all year round. You won’t want to leave. Tours are at 10am daily (Wed to Sun). Book ahead.
Telephone: +27 (0)21 863-3852
St Pieters Roche, Western Cape
More commonly known during summer as Tea under the Trees, you can visit this beautiful garden filled with oak trees and colourful hydrangeas in Paarl between October and March of every year. The farm grows organic grapes largely for export whilst Reliance Compost operates from the back side of the hosue, started when the farmers needed organic compost for their vines.
The beautiful period farmhouse opens its veranda and garden to visitors who come to sip tea and eat light meals and delicious cake, whilst drinking in the garden. In amongst the trees find strategically placed swings, bird cages and delicate benches. Time your visit for early January and you might just manage to nab a box of grapes too.
Telephone: +27 (0)21 872-5962
Dik Delta at Solms Delta, Western Cape
The Franschhoek wine estate of Solms Delta imagineered into being the veldkos culinary garden of Dik Delta. Most of these plant species are now under threat, although the Cape’s first settlers – the Khoi – who made this are their home, would have both fed themselves and cured any ails using these same plants. Solms-Delta speak of the garden as the ‘edible side of heritage’, and the aim of the garden is essentially for use by the estate’s Fyndraai Restaurant that produces almost exclusively the Cape genuine food traditions and Afrikaner boerekos mixed with ingredients for which the restaurant is well known.
The 2 hectare veld food garden is part of a larger 15 hectare fynbos/renosterveld park still under development, but when complete will include indigenous trees, shrubs and plant species that helped sustain the Khoi and San people of the valley. Join one of the incredibly interesting farm tours to see the garden.
Telephone: +27 (0)21 874-3937
Vergelegen, Western Cape
Ah, the gardens of Vergelegen. They’re a paradise for visitors, and whilst the Cape Dutch house and winery are open to the public, it is the gardens that, by far, steal the show. They’ve been here since Simon van der Stel’s time and today take the form of a series of seventeen themed gardens that include some of the oldest trees in the country – certainly the oldest oak tree, and an ancient white mulberry.
And the camphor trees under which picnics are held are a sight for sore eyes. Herbs, roses, open lawn, formal and informal gardens and the famous camellia garden that has earned the estate international renown, make a visit here obligatory if gardens are your thing.
Telephone: +27 (0)21 847-1334
Old Nectar, Western Cape
Owned by Una van der Spuy – who just last year, at 98 years of age, published yet another book about gardening – is the only private garden in the country that is also a national monument. It is open to the public during spring of each year or at other times, but you’ll need to make enquiries. If you are lucky, you may still manage a tour with the grande dame herself.
The garden is a showpiece, belonging to Una and her late husband since 1941, the two acres on which it rests are ablaze with seven different gardens that make the most of all four seasons of the year. The garden is planted with what Una terms are plants that please her, rather than what grows natively.
Telephone: +27 (0)21 948-1744
In the town of Graaff-Reinet you will find a rather unusual garden. Only recently open to the public, the gardens are a private love affair between Johan Bouwer and a whole collection of cacti that take up the better part of a residential block in Bresler Street. The beautiful garden is brimming over with cacti of every description and is the result of 40 years of enjoyment by someone who did it just because he could.
Because there are no ulterior motives behind the garden’s existence, the little avenues, towering cacti, flowering cacti and prickly customers make a wonderful space in which to be.
Telephone: +27 (0)83 446-8687
Margaret Roberts Herbal Centre, De Wildt, Gauteng
Regarded as one of the country’s top ten gardens, Margaret Roberts’ herbal centre is dedicated to organic farming and one of few truly organic estates. The ‘great garden’, as it is known, are a series of huge gardens laid out into a herbal parterre, a kitchen garden, an indigenous and international medicinal garden, a cosmetic and fragrant garden and a series of smaller gardens that include a bird garden and de-stress garden.
Once a year the gardens are open for the ‘lavender festival’ – there are over 30 varieties of lavender here – but you can also visit every Wednesday and some Saturdays (you’ll need to phone ahead or check their website for details).
Telephone: +27 (0)12 504-2121
Brenthurst Garden, Gauteng
Visit 16 hectares of incredible garden in the heart of Houghton in Johannesburg between October and April of each year. The gorgeous gardens have existed over generations and include woodland, gardens of different style and mood, formal, informal and wild gardens, and a vegetable garden, all grown in an organic and ecologically friendly way.
Brenthurst is the garden of Strilli Oppenheimer, who has been the garden’s custodian since 2001. Join one of the regular garden tours or arrange a quiet garden retreat – Brenthurst is linked to the Quiet Garden Trust.
Telephone: +27 (0)11 646-4122