Steenberg gardens’ medieval-inspired potager garden
Tucked away in the north-eastern corner of Stellenberg Gardens in Cape Town, uncover the symbolism and romance in a kitchen garden inspired by ancient medieval principles
The walled garden on the southern side of the Stellenberg property – now called the Garden of Reflection – was originally earmarked to be the site for the kitchen garden by the late highly-acclaimed designer, David Hicks. Ideas evolved over time and ultimately an unutilised 17x12m area to the north-eastern boundary of the property was felt to be more manageable in size and known to receive just the right amount of morning sun required for planting vegetables, fruit and medicinal herbs. The new position maximized the available space and forced a more considered plant list where nothing would be wasted. ‘Everything that is planted is eaten or used in some way in the garden’ says head gardener, Athol Mclaggan.
The garden references ancient medieval monastic gardens of the fifteenth century and is inspired by the more recent orsan Gardens at the Prieuré d’orsan in central France. Tenets of the monastic garden state that everything grown should not only be practical and useful but also display a beauty and simplicity that speaks to the heart and soul of the garden. In this kitchen garden it is the simple details that echo this sentiment, such as the crafted plant supports by gardener Sikhangele Langa, topped with Eucalyptus pods ‘to prevent one from being poked in the eye whilst picking vegetables and herbs,’ he says.
The design elements also hold true to the medieval sentiment running through the garden. The main access paths were designed to reflect the sign of the cross and a hand-chiselled stone water feature, centrally positioned, embodies the monastic principle of water being the source of all life.
In terms of planting, the garden is as it should be – an abundance of seasonal vegetables, fresh fruit, medicinal herbs and flowers. Quince trees hedge the western side, bright strawberries cover the beds in summer, rhubarb, leeks and salad greens jostle side by side in diagonally planted beds and the fragrant, colourful blooms of rose, viola and foxgloves pop through rows of medicinal comfrey, sage and the all-healing Prunella herb. This corner is very much a functional and hardworking area of the garden – providing an endless supply of fresh, seasonal produce to the family kitchen.
despite all this activity it remains a tranquil and rejuvenating space true to the spirit of medieval gardening. nourishment for mind, body and soul.
clockwise, FROM TOP left Delphiniums; metal-edged pathways retain the loose gravel surfacing and lend an air of formality; rhubarb