Stellenberg garden

by Diana Studer
- gardening for biodiversity
in Cape Town, South Africa

I bribed the Ungardener to visit an open garden, with the promise of tea and cake. Stellenberg dates back to 1700 and Simon van der Stel. Today a huge estate set among the leafy suburbs and stately homes of Cape Town. The Ovenstone family has lived, and gardened here, since 1953. 

Tea at Stellenberg Garden for the Lalela Project
Tea at Stellenberg Garden
for the Lalela Project

February 2015 was for the Lalela Project which 'provides educational arts to youth affected by extreme poverty, sparking creative thinking and awakening the entrepreneurial spirit'. Manning the ticket tables and serving tea were young people from Lalela. I'd like to see the photos by a man in a Lalela T shirt who was making serious use of the photo ops in the garden.


Lalela Project
Lalela Project

Stellenberg is a Cape Dutch house. The iconic gable was probably designed by the architect Louis Michel Thibault in the middle of the 18th Century.

Stellenberg Courtyard
Stellenberg Courtyard

Stellenberg's Cape Dutch gable
Stellenberg's Cape Dutch gable

Predominantly blue and or white, with a heavy emphasis on plants from Northern hemisphere horticulture set in formal gardens, with a wilder edge and more South African indigenous plants. We begin at the White Garden which runs along the stoep at the old house. The lush plants are the result of digging up the perennials each year, bagging them while revitalising the soil with compost and manure. Each year the arrangement and combination changes - and the plants are always displayed in their prime!

The White Garden at Stellenberg
The White Garden at Stellenberg

Along the edge are tall shady trees and a channelled stream. Distributed around the garden tall wicker baskets collect contributions for the compost heap. The trees once planted for privacy have grown too tall, and there are plans I look forward to - planting indigenous for the birds. Red lilies catching shafts of sun among the trees are Scadoxus. Imagine having the space to plant a Ginkgo tree!

Ginkgo and Scadoxus along the stream in the Wild Garden at Stellenberg
Ginkgo and Scadoxus
along the stream in the Wild Garden at Stellenberg 

The Herb Garden (by Graham Viney and Gary Searle) is planted as St Andrew's Cross. Enclosed by hedges, it smells delicious with pots of Tulbaghia as you walk down the steps.

The Herb Garden at Stellenberg
The Herb Garden at Stellenberg

Stone fountain reflects our roots in Europe and a grapevine speaks to the Cape's wine culture. Lemon trees in large glazed deep green pots, and a row of terracotta with Tulbaghia in the Medieval Vegetable Garden (by Francesca Watson).

The Medieval Vegetable Garden at Stellenberg
The Medieval Vegetable Garden at Stellenberg

The Walled Garden (by David Hicks) has a positive and a negative half. At first disconcerted by the quiet (boring?) parterre with just two plants alternating, on reflection I found it a peaceful interlude in a garden filled with 'interestingness'. The second side is romantic planting sparked by perfect topiary balls. (My inherited exotics will be corralled by topiary - an Australian brush cherry pyramid and balls of Indian hawthorn and Bougainvillea, the lemon tree and standard rose lollipopped, the garden bookended by spekboom hedges at the kitchen patio and the Karoo Koppie).

The quiet parterre in the Walled Garden at Stellenberg
The quiet parterre in the Walled Garden at Stellenberg

The romantic half of the Walled Garden at Stellenberg with grey Helichrysum balls
The romantic half of the Walled Garden at Stellenberg
with grey Helichrysum balls

A garden needs a signature colour for the benches, gates, fences and pots. Here I was caught by the gentle understated sage green grey. The soft green shimmers thru the grey only when neighbouring Artemisia, Santolina or sage call it out. (For our False Bay garden I plan seaweed red on the front door, the gate, and the random pots in need of new paint).

Sage green grey paint at Stellenberg with Artemisia and Santolina
Sage green grey paint at Stellenberg
with Artemisia and Santolina

In 2005 we first saw Stellenberg (the story of a Garden - Quivertree Publications). They open for charity twice a year and I'll link the November date when it is announced. We missed the lime walk - next time!

Pictures by Diana Studer  
of  Elephant's Eye on False Bay 

(If you mouse over teal blue text, it turns seaweed red.
Those are my links.
To read or leave comments, either click the word Comments below,
or click this post's title)

Comments

  1. Beautiful Diana....not sure if I could bribe my husband to go to a garden. That is a lot of work for that beautiful white garden, but I appreciate when gardeners do so much to make a beautiful spot for others to gaze upon.

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    1. The bagging and replanting of perennials applies across the whole garden.
      But it does support the extended families of skilled gardeners.

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  2. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed and appreciated this garden tour. The white garden was exquisite, but the mediterranean one really caught my eye. Lemon trees in deep glazed pots, the restful parterre. I felt as thought I were in Italy. I know you have a similar climate to the south of Rome and perhaps Sicily. What a lovely day you must have had. Thank you for sharing it. Susan

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    1. I felt as if I was in an English garden. National Trust, stately home?

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  3. Cute message about the bribery. :) Looks like it was well worth it. What a beautiful place! Wish I could be there right now!

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    1. that buttery yellow Gerbera in the posy, wanted to come home with me ...

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  4. A beautiful garden! That's impressive that they lift all those perennials. That must take quite a lot of gardeners to keep that up!

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    1. They have the months between the February and November openings to do it. But a huge undertaking!

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  5. such an amazing space, its so beautifully tended, so glad the Ungardener took the bribe!

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    1. looking forward to visiting more Open Gardens, now we are back in the city.

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  6. I love going to open gardens; they almost always provide with inspiration for my own garden. Thanks for sharing this one. -Jean

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    1. I am more and more drawn to the quirkiness of using our same old same old indigenous plants for a fresh version in meticulous topiary.

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  7. It looks so beautiful - both the house and the garden. Thank you for the lovely guided tour through this wonderful place. :-)

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  8. Those hedges look very crisp. In fact it all looks beautiful. Very British.

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    1. I wonder how they achieve the perfect curves on topiary balls.

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  9. Lovely estate! The white garden is altogether pleasant and looks like a possible transplant from the continent to your far north, but I really appreciate the ways the garden has been adapted to fit your climate, as with the Mediterranean plantings and unexpected subtle paint color choices. Is your choice of the term "indigenous" reflective of how local plants are described where you are? Here we use "native," but I'm liking your term better for its shades of deeper permanence and belonging. Thank you for the tour.

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    1. 'native' comes with a not-PC burden in South Africa.
      The word has sadly lost its meaning which it shares the province of Kwazulu-Natal. Once named because the settlers landed on Christmas Day.

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  10. For some reason, when I think of South Africa, a home such as Stellenberg comes to mind. I think I like the herb garden the best. This seems to be an enormous space that requires a lot of gardeners! I can't imagine digging up and replanting the perennials each year, but it would be a joy to work in such lovely surroundings.

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    1. Cape Dutch architecture is popular for travel or wine ads.
      It has a simple timeless beauty.
      We saw some of the gardeners on duty in the nursery.

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  11. That is stunningly beautiful...I love the classic look to the house. And the gardens are delightful! Loved seeing the Agapanthus bloom...I certainly miss them up here.

    Jen

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    1. The library in Aarau, when we lived in Switzerland, had a terrace with huge tubs of Agapanthus brought out to play in summer.

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  12. What a beautiful garden, I can't imagine the time involved keeping it so pristine. Is it really necessary to bag all those perennials yearly? Seems a huge amount of work and wouldn't the plants be a little upset with all the jostling. I have moved plants multiple times while working on my new garden and it seems to stunt them as they can't quite get settled. Maybe they know something I don't..

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    1. that was also my first reaction.
      But, she points out that the centre gets old and woody. If you harvest the vigourous bits around the edge - you have a few healthy plants, instead of one ratty one.
      Following her advice when the Ungardener dug up a huge asparagus fern, I harvested 8 nice new plants to spread around!

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  13. This garden is beautiful but it seems strange to see a formal European garden in South Africa. Is water so abundant in that area that they can maintain all that turf without an environmental cost?

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    1. We used to live in Camps Bay on the hot afternoon sun side of the mountain - where the pincushion protea has velvety grey leaves. The same species on this side of the mountain has green leaves. Kirstenbosch is also on the very wet in winter side - which is why they built a conservatory - for the succulents.
      Stellenberg would be making use of the streams coming down from the mountain - which are sadly usually directed straight into stormwater channels, and out to sea.
      http://eefalsebay.blogspot.com/2013/03/biodiversity-garden-green-point-urban-park.html
      Once to the Khoikhoi nomadic herders, the Cape Peninsula was Camissa – place of sweet water.

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  14. The house isn't English, but the garden sure is, Diana. The bagging and replanting of perennials is amazing. Enjoyed this tour so much. Warmed me on this frigid day. P. x

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    1. this winter in the US has been so fierce that I've discovered 21 foot snow rakes!

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  15. This is an amazing and serious garden, with seemingly no limits to the time and cost involved. Imagine removing the perennials and topping up the soil and putting them all back! Every year! And perfectly pruned and shaped hedging plants. The end result is superb. Thanks so much, Diana, for sharing a really special garden that I am unlikely to visit in real life.

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    1. I'll be 'doing a Stellenberg' once I can plant the empty beds along the house. Harvesting volunteers from within the garden. And delighting in being able to collect new indigenous plants again!

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