‘You are number two in the queue…” – Fortunately it’s a Sunday afternoon and few people are trying to get telephone numbers out of Telkom’s 1023 hotline.
When I do get through I easily get the number for Starke Ayres’ Rosebank branch and the dear person who helps me there goes beyond the call of duty and rings me back with the address for Klein Optenhorst (make note to return to Starke Ayres as they’re really very, very nice).
We’re perched halfway up Bainskloof Pass at the time of the call. The flyer we picked up on a previous weekend at Starke Ayres, whilst buying plants, indicated the garden was in the vicinity. Just where in the vicinity, it soon becomes obvious, is a little beyond us. The garden is clearly not going to jump out and announce itself. Klein Optenhorst is apparently an insider secret. Or you need the directions…duh!
Before long we’re back down the pass and turning right at Bovlei wines in a bid to track down the farm. Not that we mind. We’re in the heart of the Bovlei Valley just outside Wellington, surrounded by mountains and an autumnal light that lends to everything a gentleness that summer’s over brightness fails to do.
Before long we’ve taken a wrong turn again, in through the gates of Optenhorst with no sign of Klein Optenhorst. Worse still, we’re in convoy with friends of ours and leading them on a wild goose chase. A couple of three-point turns later, with scrambled directions from local farm workers, and we get there, turning down a narrow and rather unassuming tree-lined driveway to the home of Jenny and Naas Ferreira.
It’s late afternoon by that time. The light is perfect and the garden, an unanticipated delight. More so because we’ve arrived with no expectations, beyond a description that informs us that it is a terraced garden worth visiting.
Klein Optenhorst is home to a nineteenth century farmhouse that overlooks a large dam the Ferreira’s have installed at the bottom of their terraced garden. The gardens are overlooked by the Groenberg Mountain and divided up into numerous nooks and crannies filled with incredible shade plants, many of them in bloom (unusual for autumn) and most in the colour palette mauve and purple.
The garden is alive with colour and the calls of birds. In front of the farmhouse closest to the driveway where numerous cars are parked we pay our R35 entrance fee, which goes to charity, and then take a minor detour through the nursery, where there are various unusual plants for sale, although it looks as though the best of them have already made their way off with enthusiastic gardeners on the Saturday.
Klein Optenhorst is probably best known for its dedication to Salvias. The garden boasts one of the largest collections of this group of plants in the country. Salvia is a genus name for almost a thousand species of plant. But if you, like me, don’t know your salvias from your elbow, then its easiest to associate them with sage, or Salvia officinalis (common sage to you and I). The ornamental species of the genus are commonly referred to as Salvia.
I get a quick run-down on Salvias from my proficient gardener-husband and discover that Salvias are easy to grow, bloom abundantly, are drought tolerant, are usually ignored by garden pests, and look great in any garden. They also seem to really love the shade in this particular garden, which rests under a series of towering trees that must have been here for hundreds of years.
It’s a little like stepping into a piece of England. I follow my nose past an incredible large pot filled with fish and floating water plants placed beautifully in line with a garden urn and a tall tree that simply invites a moment of contemplation. The water feature is beautiful.
We head down the side of the house, and shy away from the farmhouse – the veranda of which is busy with people exclaiming over various plants, wine glasses in hand.
Down here, through bowers of overhead tangles, our sides brushed gently by various shrubs and enticing looking plants and flowers, we pass a beautiful little guest suite that the family keep for friends and guests. It has its own little mini garden that, whilst remaining part of the larger garden, creates a sanctuary.
Down on a lower terrace, having followed a path beneath a wooden archway and past a pomegranate tree in full bloom, the fruit temptingly above our heads, there is a moment of utter glory where purple Salvia meets cerise pink roses in a manner that is at once wild and cultivated. Above the heads of the roses are yet another series of pink flower that we cannot identify, its light hue capturing the sunlight in a happy display of abandon.
Now we are on the banks of the dam. Above us are a series of poplar trees and oaks and a myriad weaver nests over the water. The sound of water rushes as at our feet where a water viaduct stream water.
Wherever there is a nook, there is a little statue or urn – a surprise that draws the eye and adds relief to the feast of flowers. We exclaim over the giant leaves of a Gunnera tinctoria, or Chilean rhubarb. One of our party has been trying to find such a plant and wonders if it grows well in the type of soil he has in his garden. And a Salvia discolour we’ve never seen, with a really sticky stem and almost black bean-like flowers, provides further speculation until a woman with a wine glass ambles past and puts us in the picture.
The symmetry created down the centre of the garden lends a grace to the garden that is possibly its foremost feature. Steps hewn into the terraces lead down from the central veranda to the dam, on the other side of which is a wooden gazebo perfect for the weddings Klein Optenhorst is known to host. Up from the veranda the views out over the water, the mountains in the background, is beyond words.
We sit for as long as we can, without totally overstaying our welcome, at the table on the veranda, feasting on scones, strawberry jam, cream and tea. The Ferreira’s son-in-law is proffering glasses of Klein Optenhorst’s Brut Rose – that the farm has added to its production of Pinot Noir by wine maker Graham Beck. A limited number of bottles were produced and it looks as though the last are on sale here at the open garden.
But it’s a sign of the time of day that we’re not pressed upon to sample the wine. He is busy trying to burp his youngest child and intent on setting back home by the time we grace the veranda with our presence.
Klein Optenhorst’s vineyard is one of the smallest in the country and has only 3000 vines, which produces about 1200 bottles a year. The vines were planted in 1990.
Before long the last of the visitors have left, the family and extended family begin the unenviable task of herding everyone into their respective cars and for a moment, a breath held, the veranda and the garden is totally ours…
and on the out breath, people return. And the moment, and our visit, is over.
Klein Optenhorst is usually open to the public during a weekend in autumn and then again for for the Open Garden season in Wellington. It is also on the Wellington wine route but you will need to contact Jenny to make an appointment.
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