Spring flowers at Vergelegen Wine Estate

Posted on 8 September 2011

Spring is springing fast and, if you want to see these flowers, especially those in the International Camellia Garden of Excellence (one of only 17 in the world), you’d better get there soon, says Richard Arm, the estate’s horticulturalist. I went on one of his spring flower tours last year, wandering around the estate in a fine drizzle that brought out the deep hues of the blossoms beautifully. In between admiring the extensive gardens, we sheltered in the stately manor house amid the gleaming antiques, popped into the impressive library and warmed up with tea and scones in the restaurant.

It was a lovely way to spend a blustery spring day. Richard says they are replanting the herb garden at the moment in a fresh style. “˜There’s always a lot to see here.’ I love going there any time of the year. You drive into the historic estate up an avenue of leafy trees and through a woodland beside the Lourens River where arum lilies splash their white blooms against a palette of green in a restored wetland. Mauve mountains loom behind, swathed in clouds like doughty duchesses wearing floaty ermine furs.

Evidence of 310 years of history is everywhere: the ruins of an old water mill is propped up under oaks and first owner Governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel’s symmetrical grid layout for the gardens endures, as does the oak tree he planted, thought to be the oldest living one in Africa, hollow trunk and all. Lady Phillips’ white garden beside the restaurant named after her still has tulips you can tiptoe around, reflected in dark ponds.

The formal octagonal garden features a row of huge camphor trees, underplanted with azaleas. The giants on the other side of the house are among the most photographed trees in the country and were planted by Van der Stel between 1700 and 1706 as part of a commercial plantation, the wood being used to make kists that would deter moths from eating the clothes stored inside them. Those remaining have been declared national monuments and Richard needs a permit to prune them. “˜It’s said that any baby carried between these giants will be blessed for life,’ he smiled as he recounted the old legend.

Vergelegen was the site of the first meetings between the old Nationalist government and the African National Congress in the delicate days of the run up to our democracy. The estate, owned by Anglo American Farms since 1987, is proud of its connection to former president Nelson Mandela.

Entrance costs R10 a person and tours range from R120 a person for the fynbos walk (including breakfast in the restaurant) to R220 a person for a full moon vineyard tour (includes a light dinner). Tel 021-847-1334, www.vergelegen.co.za

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