It is always the smallest towns – the ones often described as ‘sleepy’ with its handful of tarred roads creating the perception that there’s not much going on – that will bowl you out.
Bedford is one of those towns.
Situated at the foothills of the Winterberg Mountain Range and sheltered by the Kaggaberg Mountains, Bedford borders on the Eastern Cape’s Frontier Country.
Its geographical location shouts Karoo. And so does the warm hospitality and succulent lamb chops nurtured over the years by the area’s indigenous shrubs such as Kapokbos and Boegoekaroo. But upon arrival you realise this is not the typical Karoo landscape that you are used to.
Things look different here. Greener. Brighter.
More about Bedford’s Bed of Roses
Bedford’s history can be traced back to a time when the area was uncultivated and inhabited by the San and a variety of wildlife, including elephants, lions and even wild dogs.
With the arrival of immigrants and the Frontier Wars, the area has seen its fair share of struggles but amidst the infiltration and bitterness, Bedford blossomed into a place of hope over the years.
Because as it turns out, the place that is now known as the garden town of South Africa shares a few similarities to what it so proudly endorses: gardening. And to flourish over the years, Bedford – just like its plants – needed water, time, warmth, sunlight, fresh air, space to grow and love.
Home to the annual Garden Festival, there is a colourful tint and a delicate aroma of sweet to the town through its flowers embodying earth’s greatest crayons.
Bedford’s pride, the SA Rosarium, was birthed into reality through a group of passionate South African Old Rose enthusiasts who wanted to preserve, perpetuate and showcase the genetic trait of South Africa’s old roses that found their way into the country from the early 1600s.
It is a garden filled with numerous unique heritage roses, from the climbing Rosa cymosa (native to China), to the perennial Charles de Mills that can reach a height of two metres over three years.
And if you think that the SA Rosarium is a place manicured to perfection, think again. Thanks to organic growing principles, the rose sanctuary – which is also a teaching garden for local schools and the public – is a bit rough around the edges, allowing the true nature of the flower to blossom for generations to come.
Today the SA Rosarium is thriving and in its best shape during the Garden Festival in October with roses blooming left, right and centre. It is also open to visitors whole year round and through talented propagation fingers you can purchase a plant and take a piece of South Africa’s rich rose heritage home with you.
And of course, the garden experience doesn’t stop there as numerous private gardens – such as the Maasström Farm, The Long Garden, The Cooks Garden at Albertvale Farm and the Township Gardens – all open the doors of their lawns to the public during the festival.
Some gardens even serve meals, offer accommodation and there are numerous interesting tours available during this time when the small picturesque town is abuzz with visitors.
Needless to say, green fingers abound in Bedford.
Locals’ hearts are embedded into Mother Nature, invested in her soil and aware of her well-being through recycling, following the farm to table concept, educating the youth and modern day bartering of veggies, herbs and more.
At the old Victorian Hotel, the Duke of Bedford Inn, there is a garden that gives visitors – as well as children during school tours – the opportunity to learn how anyone can turn their backyard into nutritious food.
And then there is the Eagle Hout Padstal; an upcycling and repurposing haven.
At Eagle Hout Padstal you can not only grab a bite to eat, walk the labyrinth, browse through the gifts and selection of artisan solid wood furniture that is made onsite, but you can also wander around the Eco-brick and Herb Garden which is an upcycled garden built with a conscious green construction method from 8000 eco-bricks that formed part of an effort to keep the town sparkling clean.
Food – soul food – also plays an important role in this green-fingered community. You can taste the wholesomeness of the farm to table concept at The Village Farm Stall, Eagle Hout Padstal, the Duke of Bedford Inn’s Restaurant and The Apprentice Deli which, other than serving dainty treats and incredible meals, also plays a role in community upliftment through hospitality training.
For a bit of shopping you can visit the Hope Street businesses (forming part of the Duke of Bedford Inn’s hotel courtyard), and if you happen to find yourself in Bedford on the last Saturday of the month, visit the Bedford Morning Market where the.re are a variety of stalls
There is a strong feeling of community in Bedford. Whether you are stopping for a quick coffee en route to somewhere else or staying over for the night, it is easy to let go of time and get lost in conversation with one of Bedford’s locals who will most likely sport a sun hat, a digging spade and a handful of herbs peeking from a gardening-glove-covered hand.
There is not much to do per se in Bedford – you don’t go there with a list to tick off things to do or see – but the sense-awakening experiences (and mindful workshops throughout the year) are plenty.
And before you know it you are on your way home with newfound gardening knowledge, a plant or three, road trip snacks from The Apprentice Deli, a handful of herbs from someone’s garden and a reason to visit again.
It is always the smallest towns that will bowl you out.
And with the town being home to the privately owned Mill Cricket Ground which once hosted an international match against Bangladesh, it is no wonder that Bedford has the power to surprise, to wow and to bowl out the thought of “sleepy little town”.