By Di Brown
Many people like trees; some plant them, others hug them. Then there’s André and Corné of the Riebeek Valley Garden Centre who take tree love to a whole new level.
I love trees and first heard about Die Boomhuis while indulging in some light eavesdropping in a Cape Town coffee shop. ‘We went to this place in Riebeek West – the eggs benny was amazing. These guys built this restaurant around a baobab tree,’ said a woman.
Intrigued, I ventured to Riebeek West a few days later, in my enthusiasm, arriving before the Riebeek Valley Garden Centre was even open.
The building is Cape Dutch revival with deep green walls and white columns contrasting beautifully against the mountain backdrop. The huge main door opens into a soaring glass-roofed atrium with a tree in the middle, a small waterfall off to one side, and tables, stands and shelves of multi coloured plants filling the rest of the space.
Confused, I looked around for the baobab. Such a giant tree would be hard to miss. I continued outside, no baobab in sight. Disappointed, I went through an archway off the atrium where a slender tree grew, and into the Krem a Tart Restaurant for a coffee, cursing the silly women and their fake news. That will teach me not to eavesdrop.
Then I got chatting to Corné Pretorius, one of the owners, and over the course of about four hours, many coffees, and frequent interruptions as he assisted customers, a fabulous story unfolded of dreams, road-trips, a repurposed building, and a baobab tree.
Chasing the dream.
Corné is a big man with a personality to match. He insists that growing things is in his DNA, going back four generations, and as a man with endless stories he qualifies his statement with this tale:
‘When my family made the trek to the hinterland back in the day, my great grandmother tied a cactus to the bottom of the ox wagon. That same plant is still growing on a farm in the Magoebaskloof. It’s in my blood.’
In 2004, Corné and André Beaurain were running their nursery on rented land in Riebeek West. They had a dream to buy a plot and build something amazing, using repurposed materials. Their dream was kept alive by regular road trip adventures around South Africa, scouting for unusual items and building materials to buy or salvage for their project. Red tape and the messiness of life delayed things until 2011 when they became landowners. The delays around approving the plans added to their frustrations but they finally started construction in 2015.
‘The building was a stop-gap affair as funds, the weather and bureaucracy allowed,’ says André with a shrug. ‘But we did it. Apart from the bricks, which we bought locally, everything is repurposed and has a story.’
Building Die Boomhuis
Die Boomhuis is essentially a nursery, but with a difference: a baobab grows inside the building.
It’s designed as a hub for people to meet, gesels and enjoy life. The restaurant and coffee shop, barbershop, art gallery and The Pantry deli on site all serve to bring people together, which is exactly what André and Corné hoped to achieve.
The ordinary looking tree I saw on arrival was, in fact, a baobab. They live for about a thousand years, so this particular tree, at a mere 52 years old, needs another 50 years before it starts looking like a baobab.
This tree had a soggy start way back in 1969 when a rather ambitious resident of Somerset West bought and planted it. It endured various moves before rotting and falling over in the early 2000s. It was salvaged by a friend of Corné’s who managed to clean out the rot. It was eventually bought by Corné and André in 2015, when they built a nursery around it.
The building has its own story: the window frames were salvaged from the Knysna fires of 2017, the top section of the huge barn door at the back of the property was salvaged from the Cape Town harbour while the benches, mantelpieces and lintels were former railway sleepers.
The arched windows and doors were rescued from a nearby school that was being demolished, and the entrance from the restaurant to the baobab atrium boasts an intricate stained glass arch made for them by neighbouring artist Ebert Nieuwoudt of Glass Aloe in Koringberg. The waterfall and stone walls on the side of the building were made by a local craftsman using stone from the area. All the builders were local and the same team that started this mammoth project were the ones who completed it in 2019.
Address: 52 Voortrekker Road, Riebeek West
Opening times: Tues – Fri: 9am – 5pm Sat: 8am – 4pm Sun: 8am – 2pm
Contact: Tel 022 461 2002 riebeeknursery.co.za
- The only other baobab in the Western Cape is found in the Conservatory at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.
- The baobab is the largest succulent in the world (baobabs are not actually trees). Height: 15m to 20m. Trunk circumference: 25m.
- The roots extend deeper than the height of the tree to enable it to access groundwater.
- Living for more than a thousand years, folklore maintains that the baobab never really dies, it just returns to the earth, rotting from the inside and collapsing into a pile of pulp and fibre.
- A mature baobab is a masterpiece of nature, supporting a thriving ecosystem. Birds, bees, snakes, bats, and insects live in the tree, and elephant and giraffe get moisture from chewing the bark.
Corné Pretorius and André Beaurain
Corné’s enthusiasm for life is infectious. ‘Normal is just a setting on the dishwasher,’ says this horticulturalist who walked away from a successful corporate career to create his dream life in a small town in the Western Cape 21 years ago. Passionate about people, nature and living gently on the earth, Corné is happy to say that he thinks he is finally accepted as a local in the Riebeek Valley.
As a child, André’s ambition was to know the Latin name for all the plants in the world. A firm believer that you must surround yourself with beauty in order to create beauty; he has done just that in the nursery in Riebeek Kasteel. His qualification in interior design is evident in the “Boomhuis”, as is his awe of nature, which led him to do further studies in landscaping and garden design. The way he fuses the two disciplines speaks volumes about his talent and creativity. When talking about plants, his Latin is impressive, too.
Highlights in Riebeek Kasteel and Riebeek West
An hour’s drive from Cape Town via the N7 and the R46, Riebeek Kasteel and Riebeek West make up the heart of the Swartland. It is here that you will find some of the best olives in the country.
Olive oil tasting sounds a little unusual but it is fascinating and delicious when guided by Derek and Susan at the Olive Boutique (olive-boutique.co.za). They also teach you about EVOO (extra virgin olive oil), the cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet, considered to be the healthiest diet in the world.
Wine tastings at Pulpit Rock, Kloovenburg, Allesverloren, The Wine Kollective and The Riebeek Valley Wine Co Tasting Emporium offer diverse experiences that include pairings, restaurants and even blending your own wine.
No visit is complete without a G&T on the stoep of The Royal Hotel (royalinriebeek.com), or inside the 150-year-old bar.
There’s plenty of retail therapy to be enjoyed in Short Street opposite the hotel. Alleyways lead to secluded nooks for coffee and koek, handmade clothing, jewellery, knitted goods and crafty things.