Garden of the Spirits

Text Gill Cullinan Garden Editor René Slee Photographs Athol Moult When Rozanne and Kenneth Ross’s daughter, Candice, got married, it was in the white garden of their farm, Cavers, in the Cowie Valley nearBedford in the Eastern Cape. In honour of their Scottish roots Kenneth and their two sons, Kim and Bruce, wore kilts and the bride arrived to the sound of bagpipes. ‘It was gorgeous,’ says Rozanne, who is the gardener responsible for the three hectares of lush garden surrounding their homestead. The family has a long history on the property, as Kenneth is the fourth-generation Ross to farm at Cavers. His greatgrandfather, Reverend William Ross, a missionary, arrived in South Africa with Dr David Livingstone, and William’s son bought Cavers and built the stone house in 1850. Since then successive generations have farmed livestock; Kenneth’s grandfather established a pedigree Holstein-Friesian dairy herd in 1926, which Kenneth continues to farm. The original ivy-clad house was opened as a guesthouse in 1994 and guests are free to roam through the property. ‘I enjoy the pleasure that other people get from the garden,’ says Rozanne. ‘There’s a lovely soft ambience here because the garden doesn’t jar with its surroundings, so visitors find it easy to relax.’ In addition to the all-white section, there is the main garden and another area surrounding a thatched guest cottage. ‘The garden was not formally designed,’ says Rozanne, ‘but has evolved naturally around the people who have lived here and their activities. What’s really lovely is the natural progression from our house at the top of the property, with our swimming pool, which was once an old reservoir, to the guest cottage, then the stone house and its large pool and then the tennis court. And of course we look out over the pastures.’ The garden is deliberately unfenced so that it merges into the surrounding farmland. ‘This way it fits into the landscape,’ says Rozanne. As a farmer’s wife she is kept busy, juggling her gardening work between running the guesthouse and attending to farm business. ‘We get up very early because Kenneth is a dairy farmer,’ she says. ‘And the most important time for me is the early morning, when I go into the garden and plan what needs to be done that day. It’s also when I collect and propagate seeds.’ Rozanne has been gardening at Cavers for about 20 years, having taken over an established garden and made changes over time, as well as embellishing the white garden that Ken’s mother initiated. ‘It’s mostly white with just a touch of grey,’ she says. ‘The grey softens the white and lifts it, as opposed to all-green foliage. ‘I garden mostly by colour, so the white garden has lavitera at the back in the shade, because it doesn’t like the heat, white scabiosa, agapanthus, daisies, white tobacco and verbena. For annuals I plant alyssum, petunias, white violets and candytuft. I particularly love my white hibiscus – it looks like a bridal bouquet because it is so covered in flowers. I only have one, but I plan to take some slips and grow more.’ The garden next to the guesthouse is mainly blue (various blue salvias, heliotrope, purple aquilegia, agapanthus, verbena, blue iris, solanum, westringia, blue violas, sage, linum blue dress and delphiniums) and yellow (daisy, alyssum bidens, abelia ‘Francis Mason’, cream/ yellow iris, Johannesburg Gold, Molineux roses and golden privet). Rozanne chooses plants that she likes – and plants plenty of them. But the price for having no fence is that the wildlife in the area wanders into the garden to eat them. ‘I like oldfashioned English flowers,’ she says, ‘but I find it difficult to grow roses in the herbaceous borders and lower parts of the garden, because the bushbuck love roses. And the bush pigs make an awful mess when they come for the fallen acorns.’ Because there is wonderful birdlife in the garden, she uses sprays only in the formal rose garden. ‘I planned it so that I could have my own roses to pick.’ The garden includes plenty of established trees, including American ash and white stinkwoods. ‘We’re really lucky to look onto an indigenous forest of ancient yellowwoods, blackwoods and stinkwoods,’ says Rozanne. ‘There are fountains on the mountain and a stream also runs along the bottom of the garden, so I have access to fresh water.’ Every October the garden is open to the public as part of the Bedford Garden Festival, and she takes it as a compliment that many visitors like her garden because they feel they could achieve something similar. ‘I am not a perfectionist,’ she says, ‘and I think that the garden has a genuine feel about it that people respond to. I find the gardening process incredibly creative and rewarding.’   CREATING A WHITE GARDEN
  • Keep it simple by choosing your favourite plants and repeating them.
  • Keep it fresh by constantly slipping and replanting.
  • Treat perennials as annuals, otherwise they tend to look moribund.
  • Make sure you have a reasonable amount of shade, so that the garden doesn’t look too stark.
  • Plant white scabiosa, white agapanthus, white verbena, white valerian and white daisy bushes.
  • For grey, use lamb’s ear, snow in summer, lychnis and lavender.
  • Use snow in summer as a groundcover.
  Cavers Guest House 046-685-0619, 082-579-1807   This article was published in the May 2011 issue of House and Leisure.