Text Gill Cullinan Production Rene Slee Photographs David Ross
When a mongoose runs across the lawn in the garden at Bartinney, a spectacular wine farm high on the mountains overlooking the Banghoek Valley in Stellenbosch, owner Rose Jordaan says, ‘That’s what I’m talking about. It didn’t take long for the birds to return to the farm, and the small animals followed.’ Rose has spent the past six years removing alien vegetation and reintroducing fynbos and endemic trees and plants at Bartinney. ‘For years the farm had been sprayed to protect the fruit and the vineyards,’ says Rose, ‘and there were very few birds and insects. Once we moved here and used biological control rather than pesticides, the birds returned and the porcupines and rooikatte (caracals) came back. We have a resident Cape (silver) fox and I’ve even seen leopard paw prints.’ Both Rose and her husband, Michael, grew up on Cape wine farms: Rose in Somerset West, and Michael on Bartinney. They were living in Johannesburg when they discovered that the farm, which Michael’s father had sold nine years previously, was on the market. They couldn’t resist buying it and Rose, an architect for 12 years, took over the farm management. Her approach was significantly influenced by her father, who introduced her to the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Wine and Biodiversity Initiative. ‘It’s about working in harmony with nature, and we get a lot of guidance from the WWF,’ says Rose. She started by removing 17ha of alien forest, and began replanting fynbos. She sees her farming and gardening in an integrated way, and interventions are carried out in accord with the ecological systems in the valley. The existing English-style garden around the house had some very old plants and one or two feature trees. She kept the favourites, such as the begonias and an unusual Japanese maple, but introduced plectranthus in the shade near her front door. ‘The plants around the house came from a time when the gardeners in the area shared their plants, and I didn’t want to destroy the history of the place,’ says Rose. ‘The new areas of the garden are semiformal, and I’m only introducing endemic plants.’ The new plantings of fynbos form an ecological corridor that runs from the lofty Botmaskop down to the Zevenrivieren River. Gardening on such a grand scale means that Rose needs a large supply of plants, so she started her own nursery. She also sources plants wherever she can find them, so an area of blushing brides came about as a result of a chance find at a sale. To date, she has planted 6 800 (mostly indigenous) trees, offsetting carbon emissions. Bartinney is now carbon neutral. Another project involved the removal of 2ha of vineyards at the top of the farm and the cultivation of a buffer zone of proteas between the vineyards and the mountains to discourage the local baboons from raiding them. Besides the influx of birds and animals onto the farm, Rose and Michael have noticed other results of their conservation efforts. When the final blue gum above the house was cleared, a spring that hadn’t flowed for 40 years began to flow again and when Rose cut back the undergrowth around the spring, she found an old swimming pond. She created a garden next to it, which she has filled with plants that belong in the area, such as grasses and restios. For Rose, doing the right thing by the environment means that she and Michael, and their daughters, who are the fourth generation of Jordaans on Bartinney, will leave a legacy. ‘We are creating something that, in 100 years’ time, will have relevance,’ she says with delight. This article was originally featured in the June 2012 issue of House and Leisure.