FOR THE HEART In the Cape Winelands val­ley of Welling­ton, a ter­raced gar­den abun­dant with salvias is a lush sanc­tu­ary for its new own­ers

House and Leisure (South Africa) - - Leisure Savour - TEXT CA­TRI­ONA ROSS PHOTOGRAPHS JAC DE VILLIERS

Around the dam at Mar­guerite and Lourens Steyn’s farm­house Klein Opten­horst in Welling­ton, morn­ing light suf­fuses the irises, wa­ter plants and oth­ers such as gun­nera, lady’s man­tle,

Salvia mini­ata and hostas. A wooden gazebo pro­vides a fin­ish­ing touch. Klein Opten­horst is a wa­ter-wise take on the English gar­den, with gravel paths and species such as echi­ums, eu­phor­bias, rose cam­pi­ons, phlomis and a wide va­ri­ety of salvias; indige­nous Hy­par­rhe­nia

hirta and other grasses in pale tones mimic the light­ness and del­i­cate na­ture of English herba­ceous borders.

In the 32 years Mar­guerite Steyn and her hus­band Lourens have been liv­ing in Welling­ton in the West­ern Cape, they’ve al­ways opted for a low­main­te­nance, struc­tured town gar­den – but Mar­guerite se­cretly wished for a sweep­ing green won­der­land over­look­ing a stretch of wa­ter. ‘Our daugh­ter was get­ting mar­ried and we couldn’t seem to find the right venue,’ she says. ‘Then Klein Opten­horst came on the mar­ket and my ears pricked up. Imag­ine a wed­ding un­der the big oak.’

It was the cool canopy of ven­er­a­ble trees that at­tracted Mar­guerite: a yel­low­wood, a south­ern mag­no­lia, wild olives in­clud­ing one gnarled spec­i­men roughly 400 years old, oaks and plane trees with weaver bird nests over­hang­ing the dam. Spell­bound, the cou­ple bought the prop­erty in April 2016.

Sit­u­ated on the out­skirts of the his­tor­i­cal Wa­mak­ersvallei in the Cape Winelands on dusty Bovlei Val­ley Road, Klein Opten­horst fea­tures an 1820s farm­house sur­rounded by farms and moun­tains. Here, pre­vi­ous own­ers Jenny and Naas Fer­reira cul­ti­vated a ter­raced gar­den which Jenny, a salvia ex­pert, opened to the pub­lic bian­nu­ally.

‘Jenny has a pas­sion for plants and gave her life to this gar­den in the 29 years she had it,’ says Mar­guerite, who’s com­mit­ted to learn­ing more about plants and is con­tin­u­ing to take cut­tings and grow saplings in the on-site nurs­ery with the aim of re­plen­ish­ing the gar­den. For­tu­nately, the Fer­reiras’ long-stand­ing gar­dener Solomon ‘Solly’ Franke has stayed on to as­sist.

From a sim­ple gar­den con­sist­ing of a lawn around the back stoep with a slope down to the neigh­bour­ing farm, the Fer­reiras ex­ca­vated, cre­at­ing three main ter­races: lawns at the top and bot­tom, a gravel gar­den in the mid­dle, and other in­ter­ven­ing ar­eas, in­clud­ing borders of flow­er­ing shrubs. A walk­way run­ning the length of the slope be­came the cen­tral axis, with cy­press trees on each side and a side gravel path to al­low wheel­bar­row and lawn­mower ac­cess to each level.

Rep­e­ti­tion and mir­ror-plant­ing pro­vide the struc­ture for a re­laxed, ro­man­tic look ac­cented with shaded seats, wa­ter fea­tures and stat­u­ary peek­ing through the fo­liage.

Sec­tions down the side of the house are planted with ferns, camel­lias, port wine mag­no­lia and sev­eral var­ie­gated plants. The botan­i­cal stars of this gar­den are salvias and abu­tilons, which thrive here in a rain­bow of colours: from afar, the bell-shaped flow­ers of the lat­ter give the im­pres­sion of roses, but have a softer look and are much eas­ier to main­tain.

In the gravel gar­den, plants suited to Welling­ton’s hot, dry sum­mers in­clude pride of Madeiras, Phlomis ital­ica, cis­tus and some of the 90 dif­fer­ent salvias that Jenny grew. She found Salvia leu­can­tha ‘ White Mis­chief’ and ‘Danielle’s Dream’ grow­ing on a small­hold­ing in the for­mer West­ern Transvaal and, with the owner’s per­mis­sion, in­tro­duced these un­usual white- and pink-flow­ered va­ri­eties to the gar­den­ing world; they are es­pe­cially pop­u­lar in the United States and Aus­tralia.

Salvias of­fer great va­ri­ety in size, shape, struc­ture and flower colour, and their abun­dant pollen and nec­tar lure bees, but­ter­flies and flocks of sun­birds. They are gen­er­ally un­flinch­ing in heat, par­tic­u­larly S. ca­narien­sis, cleve­landii, so­ma­lien­sis and des­oleana, as well as most of our indige­nous salvias, such as S. lance­o­lata, africana­lutea and dis­er­mas. As Jenny ad­vises, a good soak ev­ery seven to 10 days and a gen­er­ous mulch help in dry weather.

From the foun­tain at the top of the drive­way to the pond with its wa­ter spouts and Chi­nese proverb and the dam, wa­ter fea­tures bring sound, light, move­ment and re­lief from the heat. Klein Opten­horst’s wa­ter al­lo­ca­tion from the Kromme River fills the small dam built by the Fer­reiras in the clay area at the bot­tom of the gar­den. In­spired, their farmer neigh­bour later built a larger dam on the other side, and the Steyns now ben­e­fit from its over­flow.

Their daugh­ter’s wed­ding re­cep­tion was held un­der the sprawl­ing oak full of fairy lights a week be­fore Mar­guerite and Lourens moved in. ‘It feels as if we’ve al­ways lived here,’ says Mar­guerite, who ex­plores the gar­den’s se­cret places with her two young grand­sons. Among her de­lights are the birds on the dam and the sounds of farm life, of trac­tors and farm labour­ers chat­ting while prun­ing vines. ‘Look­ing out over a dam to Groen­berg moun­tain has al­ways been my dream,’ she says. ‘I al­most pinch my­self ev­ery morn­ing.’

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