In Search Of Harry Goemans – Elgins Open Gardens Reveal A Hidden Secret
Sunday in the Elgin Valley is heady. The weather is close to perfect, even if it can’t quite decide between spring and summer.
The Peregrine farmstall in Grabouw hums with an influx of visitors who use the stall as the start or finish to their trawlings through other people’s gardens. And the nursery is already doing good business as inspired individuals made off with various fruit trees for their own gardens (please note: kiwi fruit trees, pears and most citrus will not bear fruit in Cape Town!).
The Open Gardens‘ Route map on the floor at my feet, a bag of apples (you cannot visit Elgin without buying at least one bag) already open as we munch juicely, we outline the route to one of the furthest lying gardens – Boesmansrug – just beyond Eikenhof farm on Graymead Road.
Good choice. Filled with graceful old oaks the farm oozes old-fashioned understated wealth and history (in the barn, which doubles as a tea room, you can explore a number of boards of the Kilpin family history).
Whilst exploring rose and herb gardens, we witness the family chickens being subjected to a riotous display of colour by the resident peacock who may have been a little confused (with bad enough eyesight he might be forgiven for mistaking a chicken for a peahen, even if they ignored the poor chap completely).
Photographs — Left: The secret garden at Boesmansrug / Right: Herb garden at Boesmansrug
But the highlight of Bosmansrug was the secret garden – down an avenue of oaks, past a dreamy horse paddock, alongside an old tennis court and swimming pool – that was absolutely incredible.
An elegant Mrs Kilpin, walking stick in hand, is on the farm to greet us and indicate different parts of the garden we might see. Plant sales happen beneath a series of shady oaks outside the farm house, and we sit to enjoy a picnic (picnickers are welcome, one of the reasons we chose the farm as our initial destination, to coincide with lunch).
Perhaps the haunted peacock calls set the tone, for it was to be a rather serendipitous day. First we run into someone we haven’t seen for a while who, whilst describing directions to something entirely unrelated to the gardens, mentions Harry Goemans’ garden centre – ‘You won’t remember it’, she says to me, ‘It was before your time’. Which it was. We’ve only known the garden centre as the Spar centre on Main Road, Bergvliet where we visit the Health Connection.
But it is only at our next garden stop, ‘Harry Goemans’ obviously more deeply rooted in my immediate memory than I realise, that the fortuitousness of our apparent aimlessness (for our day simply unravels in a totally unplanned way) was to unfold. We reach Houwhoek Outspan via an alternative valley along the Bot River sand road.
Photographs — Left: The House at Houhoek Outspan
Houwhoek Outspan lies virtually on top of the Houw Hoek Inn. So much so that we think we’ve taken a wrong turn. The gardens are, well, let’s just say that there are a lot of flowers. Whilst pretty (for they are a tapestry of colour), lack any sophistication. But it claims no pretentions and is a family garden.
As with all things in life though, linger longer and explore what is not immediately apparent, and you unearth a hidden richness. For rather than beating a hasty retreat to fit in another garden, we follow the path to the nursery, only to find Peter Goemans, son of Harry Goemans, in residence in amongst the greenhouses with his two alsatians.
The house and nursery are his abode. With his former nursery and home now a supermarket, Peter breeds alstroemeria, which he imports in little test tubes from Europe, for sale around the country whilst climbing the mountains behind us over weekends. Stacked unobtrusively against a hedge, now left to the elements, lies an old Harry Goemans sign.
He is a delight to speak to and meet, keen to chat about his plants and, when we move on to a series of grape and fruit tree saplings, more than willing to explain which of these will grow in Cape Town and how to prune our grapevines.
We leave with a barrow full of fruit trees – grape, figs (two different varieties) and an almond. A thoroughly remarkable experience, perhaps. Or simply the joy of living in the moment.
Photographs — Left: Houwhoek Outspan / Right: Peter Goemans
For those of you who didn’t manage to get out to Elgin this past weekend, you still have this weekend (10—11 November) to take in the 24 listed gardens.
You will need the entire weekend, so we recommend finding somewhere in the gorgeous valley to stay, as in one day we only managed two gardens. But then we are prone to while away the time with picnics and long discussions about how best to prune your grapevine, with enthusiastic gardeners.