When Rosemary Alexander, principal of The English Gardening School in London did a tour of South Africa a few years ago, she mentioned on her arrival in the country that she had only ever heard of two gardens in Cape Town, Kirstenbosch and Stellenberg.
Among the internationally acclaimed gardens, Sandy Ovenstone’s Stellenberg Gardens in Kenilworth is most definitely on the map. Moreover, it was showcased by international gardening author and presenter Montagu Don in his 2008 BBC television series, Around the World in 80 Gardens.
Next weekend, the magnificent Stellenberg Gardens will be opened to the public to raise funds for the Neighbourhood Old Age Homes (NOAH).
“The Western Cape has the highest life expectancy in South Africa and this is increasing faster than other provinces”, says NOAH’s Jane Mills. “Of the population of the province, it is estimated that 8.6 percent (453 957) are 60 years and older,” she adds. NOAH provides houses, assisted living, primary health care and community centres to elderly people without means and depends on a range of charity fund-raisers every year to keep these services operational.
The gardens at Stellenberg were part of a farm granted to Simon van der Stel’s son, Francois, in 1697. The homestead in its current form was probably built in the 1740s by Jan de Wit (formerly John White) although alterations and additions occurred in the 1780s and 1790s.
The classical Cape Dutch home and its surrounding gardens have been home to the Ovenstone family for nearly 60 years. A passionate and informed gardener, Sandy Ovenstone has developed a number of different themes in the garden and substantial changes have taken place since 1987.
The philosophy behind the gardening is to plant each section with a different mood in mind, but always to give a sense of peace and serenity to the person walking through it.
Four of the six acres of the Stellenberg estate are formally laid-out gardens. A number of areas in the Stellenberg Gardens have been designed by top Cape garden designer Franchesca Watson.
The “Garden of Reflection” features a series of small ponds, while the ”Parterre garden” has been simplified to allow only four large, square boxed planting areas, boldy monoplanted.
One of the biggest highlights in the garden is the “Medieval Garden”. Primarily an organic vegetable garden with a central pond and symmetrical beds, the garden connects to the shady pool garden of Upper Stellenberg.
The David Hicks formal garden features obelisks and spectacular arches of New Dawn roses. The clipped hedges and lawns are always looking superb, a testimony to the meticulous work of head gardener Caroline Magowen and her four gardeners.
The 700m2 Stellenberg Gardens Nursery plays an important role at the Stellenberg Gardens.
“The nursery runs from the garden and for the garden,” explains Stellenberg nursery manager Doreen Dauberman. “We sow seeds and propagate plants for the gardens. Perennials are lifted from the garden, split and bagged. The surplus plants are sold to the public,” she says.
While gardening on the peninsula is not always easy, Doreen Dauberman maintains that there is basic horticultural advice which can assist any gardener to survive the dry heat of the coming summer.
Having had years of experience, Dauberman offers these good words of gardening wisdom for your garden.
* Avoid watering too often, too little. A single deep watering once a week will assist in drawing the roots away from the surface and will be the key to surviving the hot, dry summer.
* “I believe in a no-dig garden,” she says. “When you start a garden you need to prepare the beds, add lots of compost and establish the foundation. However, once your bed is settled down, digging only exposes moisture in the soil to the dry air.” Rather replenish borders constantly with a thick layer of mulch and fertilise regularly.
* When it comes to lawn fertilisers, check the numbers. The best fertiliser for a lawn has a ratio of 2:3:4. The 2 reflects the nitrogen ratio, the 3 is the phosphates and 4 is potassium. It is important to feed the roots every six weeks through summer. If you buy a lawn fertiliser that that has too high a ratio of nitrogen, all you are doing is feeding the leaves which get mown away every couple of weeks.
* Raise the level of your lawn mower in summer. To combat the heat, leaf blades should be at least 5cm long. Any shorter and your lawn could be burnt on a hot day.
* Stellenberg Gardens are open to the public on November 5-6, 9.30am to 5.30pm. 30A Oak Ave, Kenilworth. Tickets: R30 per person. Tea: R20. No dogs, no picnics. Plants for sale at Stellenberg Nursery. Contact 021 686 6817 or 082 931 0687.