When you’ve worked in the heart of the Kalahari and along the arid Namibian coast, moving back to civilization can be something of a challenge. In 1992 renowned wildlife film-makers Richard and Karen Goss were looking for a small town with good schools where they could raise their two young children.
‘We’d grown so accustomed to our time in the wilderness that space, views and privacy were paramount,’ they explain. ‘Fortuitously, White River seemed to have everything we were after.’
They have a host of impressive films to their name, including The Sisterhood (an award-winning BBC documentary on the spotted hyena) and Meerkats United. After living in the town for five years they decided to move to the outskirts and this spacious, rambling property proved to be an idyllic retreat for both family and working life. ‘It turned out to be a fantastic base for us and a manageable distance for holidays in the Kruger National Park and Mozambique,’ they say.
What the Gosses bought was 28 hectares of lush lowveld garden that descended from a series of astoundingly large granite outcrops to a pecan forest in the valley below. ‘We inherited a large dam and added a wooden deck and walkway through the trees. It’s an excellent place for fishing and the children would spend hours rowing here,’ they say.
The garden, which is situated on the warmer southeastern side of White River, enjoys mild winters and with the onset of spring long-established azaleas and camellias burst into a profusion of colour. ‘The garden was filled with established jacarandas, which are spectacular in summer. We thinned these out a bit when we first arrived, adding some indigenous, water-wise options as the need arose. We also cleared the koppie of invaders such as blackjacks and lantana, leaving the endemic grasses and the aloes,’ they say. Agapanthus and irises have proved to be particularly happy here, as are the impressive tree ferns, fever trees and several species of bromeliads.
‘I think we especially loved the bundulike character of the garden,’ adds Karen, ‘and over the years our philosophy was that we would leave the existing plants to their own devices. Probably the biggest maintenance issue was keeping the natural meadow beneath the pecan forest mown and, of course, a fair amount of weeding and pruning.’
The Gosses are quick to credit their long-term gardeners Cousilet and Jan, who keep this extraordinary garden in its pristine yet informal state. ‘Much of the garden was informed by what was already here,’ says Karen. ‘There is an enormous variety of plants and some beautiful indigenous trees; we seldom needed to visit a nursery. It was also really exciting to discover new things that had been hidden for years. Cutting back the mass of growth from the previous owners’ tenure revealed the original stone pathways and walls – it’s all part of the home’s history.’
As with each of life’s phases, though, Richard and Karen are now moving on and looking ahead to their next adventure in Cape Town. ‘The happiest 18 years of our lives were spent here,’ says Karen, ‘and it took a long time to adjust to the thought of leaving. Our children are grown and it’s time to scale down. Thankfully we have many good friends in the lowveld who will put us up when we visit!’
With its sculptural boulders and towering trees – paperbark acacias, Natal lavender and a large Natal mahogany are just some of the indigenous varieties – this remarkable garden is a tranquil, timeless oasis. For the new owners, Pearl and Jaz, the sense of living in Eden continues. ‘The fact that it’s already so beautifully established is a huge plus; we fell for it the minute we drove through the gates,’ they say. ‘We do see this garden as a paradise; living here feels very much like being on holiday.’
Originally published in HL September 2015.