Garden, Gardens

Mountain Eden

High on the Helshoogte Pass, between the Simonsberg and Jonkershoek mountains, a stream makes its way down the slopes into a garden of mature trees. Stately oaks, maples, liquid ambers, birch, Cape chestnuts and cypresses are just some of the trees found in Anne-Marie and GT Ferreira’s garden at their wine estate, Tokara. ‘There’s very little that’s as beautiful as an old tree,’ says Anne-Marie. ‘We bought this property because of the garden and the wonderful trees. Sylvia Clark, the previous owner, had planted special trees, such as ginkgos and copper beech, and we wanted to retain the feel of the garden that she had created.’ Planting an arboretum is a monumental task, but it’s one that the Ferreiras have embraced over the past 14 years. ‘We’ve changed a lot in the garden,’ says Anne-Marie, ‘but we have kept the woodland feel. Sylvia grew very interesting plants, which I love, and we have the space for them. I particularly like old-fashioned roses such as Cécile Brünner, which has a gorgeous scent. The trees were spectacular, too. Sylvia had real gems, like a beautiful old maple, so we added a few more maples. We’re constantly planting trees.’ From winter to summer, the stream flows through the garden into its original catchment, a pond next to the house where frogs croak and African black ducks hatch their ducklings. This is a pond with a history: in days gone by cannons would be fired whenever ships sailed into Cape Town harbour, to notify any Franschhoek farmers wanting to sell their fresh produce. They would load their wagons and head for the docks, along a road that passed in front of what is now the Ferreiras’ house. The pond was their stopping point, where horses could be watered and farming chit-chat exchanged. From the pond the stream continues through the shady forest garden, down a series of small weirs surrounded by masses of arums, tree ferns and clivias, and into a dam, which was built with earth excavated during the construction of the Helshoogte Pass. Here, grebe bob in and out of a blanket of pink and blue water lilies and an elusive otter leaves the remains of its crab dinner on the dam’s edge. A pair of Egyptian geese patrols the clipped lawn leading to a spacious stone boat house, where the Ferreiras usually entertain. Stone walkways and paths wind through the garden, past beds of day lilies, foxgloves, hydrangeas, poppies, buddleia, campanula and fragrant hedges of brunfelsia. ‘We’re lucky that it’s cold enough here to have rhododendrons,' says Anne-Marie. One walkway, heavy with wisteria, had to be reinforced, while elegant wrought-iron arches were added to the stone pillars of another. Clematis and roses climb the pillars, and jasmine creeps up the fence of a hidden tennis court. The garden is an endless source of surprises, and visitors could easily miss another small pergola, complete with table and two chairs, camouflaged beneath green foliage. The garden is home to owls, sunbirds, Southern boubous, coucals and flufftails. Waterblommetjies thrive in the stream, where Anne- Marie has seen the occasional snake. ‘My poor gardeners have to be very careful,’ says Anne-Marie, ‘as there are puff adders and cobras throughout the garden, but luckily they haven’t bitten anyone. When we find them we relocate them to the mountain.’ A garden of this size means that Anne-Marie has to plant on a grand scale. ‘I have to be disciplined,’ she says. ‘I can’t put in one of a kind, otherwise the garden would end up looking like a fruit salad, so I try to think where something will go before I buy it.’ For the past 11 years the huge vegetable garden has been managed by Mr Moses, the father of one of the gardening team. ‘The vegetable garden has grown, and now we produce a variety of vegetables and fruit, from strawberries and lettuces to artichokes and asparagus,’ she says. ‘We sell some in Deli Cat Essen, our deli, and we give some to a soup kitchen. Mr Moses definitely has green fingers.’ Monday is Anne-Marie’s gardening day, which she spends briefing her gardeners. Evenings are spent walking in the garden with her cats, Olivia and Oscar, checking progress and making plans. There is always more to do; besides the woodland garden there’s an indigenous section and a picking garden, and if there aren’t brambles to be removed from one section, there is replanting to be done in another. ‘I just wish I had more time,’ says Anne-Marie.

MR MOSES’S ADVICE FOR VEGETABLE GARDENERS

  • Gardening takes lots of love and work.
  • The plants speak to you and you must understand what they are trying to tell you. If they get too much, or too little, water, they’ll complain.
  • Interplant vegetables so that when one crop is finished, another is growing.
  • Allocate a patch of your crop to share with the birds.
This article was originally published in the April 2010 issue of House and Leisure.