Yes, yours can flower again… and again!
Even gardeners tire of life in the city – just ask Corné Pretorius and André Beaurain, who put down their roots in the Riebeek Valley 15 years ago.
You’d be forgiven if you missed the Riebeek Valley Garden Centre entirely as you drive out of Riebeek West on the R311, the main road to Riebeek Kasteel. The sign is barely visible behind a lush barrier of shrubs.
There’s nothing about the place that suggests that the enthusiastic, engaging owners have been approached by some of the Boland and Swartland’s most eminent residents to design and plant their gardens. Because Corné Pretorius and André Beaurain are as happy helping people with a bag of potting soil as they would be advising someone on their glum-looking rose garden.
Mention their names in the Riebeek Valley and people will probably ask you, “Have you seen their garden?” Or they’d tell you that Corné and André designed the local ACVV’s garden, as well as the splendid gardens at Merindol House and Caribou House, two well-known private residences in Riebeek West.
The nursery owners themselves would tell you that they specialise in gardens with indigenous and endemic plants, how they both adore rare plant species
and that an extremely rare bulb grows right here in the mountains behind the nursery.
“I remember plant names better than those of people,” André says. “I only read plant books. You never stop learning, because new things are being discovered constantly. I can’t even tell you what my favourite plants are – I must have about a thousand. Plants never let you down.”
Their nursery is tiny compared with the large franchised garden centres you get in the city, but the tidy yard is crammed with an impressive variety of plants. You’ll even find a vanilla orchid or an Aloe polyphylla for sale here. Or, from January 2016, a welwitschia seedling. And you wouldn’t have to pay extra to have Corné or André explain to you that you shouldn’t plant garlic and onions near beans and peas, or mint next to asparagus…
In the early years they didn’t have time to buy plants from wholesalers, and they had no choice but to cultivate their own plants. Nowadays they have such a big output that they sell to wholesalers.
“It’s always been my dream to have a nursery,” says André. “I think it’s any horticulturalist’s dream.” Yet he has no formal horticulture training – he simply got a job at a nursery and taught himself.
“We wanted to make a life here, because we’re both from the platteland,” says Corné, who grew up in a nursery in Magoebaskloof. “The Riebeek Valley is beautiful and it’s a wonderful place for a gardener. There is no frost and plants grow easily – anything from a mango, avo or pawpaw tree all the way through to peach, pear and apple trees. As long as you have water, you’re sorted.” He pauses briefly before adding, “But that doesn’t mean it was easy.”
Fifteen years ago their lush premises was an unremarkable patch of bluegum trees where Corné and a friend ran a struggling nursery. André was working for a large garden centre in Durbanville and had built up a good reputation as a landscape architect in his spare time. But he wanted a change.
“I knew about Riebeek, because I’d done work here,” André recalls, “and I’ve always wanted to come and live here – or in Swellendam, probably because of the mountains. Then a mutual friend told me of Corné’s nursery, and asked if I wanted to get involved. So I arrived… and it was love at first sight.”
At the time Corné had a plan to grow flowers in plastic tunnels for the European market, but André convinced him rather to start designing gardens. This gave them a whole new market for their plants.
“The nursery opened in 2000 but it didn’t make money. Those were four years of bleeding,” Corné recalls. “Then André arrived, with his knowledge of landscape architecture and his training in interior design, which he’d married with 10 years’ experience in nurseries. He became the driving force behind the business. His experience gave us the confidence to tackle bigger designs, to go from a R5 000 flowerbed here and a R10 000 fence there to projects worth hundreds of thousands of rands. And with that, we could hire good staff and start building a reputation.”
“We’re also lucky,” André adds, “because we’re the only nursery in the valley.”
With the growth in the property market from the early 2000s, more city dwellers bought plots and built >
Nursery owners Corné Pretorius (left) and André Beaurain’s recipe for success: never give up, avoid debt as far as possible and always look for the good in others.