In the Rose Garden

Text Gill Cullinan Garden Editor René Slee Photographs Michael Hall A pretty, old-fashioned, pink rose climbs the pergola outside Jean Almon’s office, a picturesque cottage overlooking the herb and vegetable garden at the  Cellars-Hohenort Hotel in Cape Town’s Constantia. Jean and horticulturalist Bruce James are telling me about the roses in this spectacular 3.5-hectare garden. ‘There are roses around every corner,’ smiles Jean. ‘There is even a rose named after Mrs McGrath.’ Cellars- Hohenort’s owner, Liz McGrath, consolidated neighbouring properties to create this expansive garden and Jean has overseen it for the past 22 years. The original driveway was redirected and it now circles a white rose garden filled with Iceberg roses, white arum lilies and camellias. There’s a ground cover of alyssum and miniature white agapanthus on an inside bed and tall, upright ones on the outside bed. The hotel’s little white ducks add charm to the scene, but aren’t encouraged by Jean because they cause chaos among the plants wherever they go. ‘Icebergs generally need sun,’ comments Jean, ‘but the best ones in this garden are grown in the shade near the front door.’ Bruce adds, ‘They get very tall because they look for the light.’ Beyond the white garden is the formal rose garden, which consists of three terraces, each with a different colour theme. The garden is bordered on two sides by a low, white wall, and a eugenia hedge encloses the other two sides. Brick and gravel paths lead through the garden, which starts with a yellow section of mostly Tawny Profusion roses, then beds of red ones, and a final terrace of pink blooms. ‘We plant for a show of roses,’ says Jean, ‘and they look their best at the end of October and the beginning of November. We also have a second flush in March.’ The roses in this garden are so overwhelmingly beautiful that they make rose growing look easy, but Bruce and Jean laugh  at the thought. ‘It is hard work,’ says Bruce. ‘We prune from 15 July to 15 August, and in summer we deadhead them two or three times a week to promote further flowering and to maintain their shape.’ The roses are grouped because they need to be sprayed every two weeks with Ludwig’s cocktail and fed every month with Vigorosa, and it is easiest to do them all at once. We leave the formal rose garden and walk past the hotel bedrooms, overlooking the main lawn: each has its own patio with climbing roses like Mutabilis covering the pergolas and others spilling out of big, wine-barrel pots. ‘The roses on the patios include Mermaid, Albertine and New Dawn,’ says Jean, as we stroll across the lawn and under an archway of towering camellia bushes, into the shade of the fern walk. ‘The snowdrops were lovely in spring and the daffodils grew thigh high,’ says Jean. Now there are Spanish bluebells and a burst of clivias ranging from light orange to red, and yellow to almost white under the camphor trees and tree ferns. The rustic garden has low-growing, old-fashioned roses planted alongside alstroemerias, Japanese anemones, bromeliads, daisies, English lavender, aquilegias and agapanthus. A series of wisteria-hung archways leads to the old Hohenort house, where two Banksia roses climb up to the second-floor veranda. ‘Gwen Fagan [South African rose aficionado and author] told us that the one rose is almost 100 years old,’ says Jean. ‘Ten years ago I planted the other as its companion.’ The roses in this garden keep Jean, Bruce and the volunteers who come in twice a week very busy. And it shows. Jean’s Rose Tips • Feed monthly • Spray fortnightly • Water three to four times a week • Deadhead frequently Jean gives guided tours of the garden every Tuesday from 10.30am for R65, which includes tea or coffee and the famous Cellars scones. The Cellars-Hohenort Hotel;, 021-794-2137 This article was originally featured in the December 2011 issue of House and Leisure.