When Meryn and John Turner saw this Victorian homestead in the heart of the misty KZN Midlands, they knew they had to buy it. ‘It was definitely the house and its wraparound veranda that drew us in,’ says Meryn. ‘The garden was pretty nonexistent except, of course, for the beautiful, established trees and gorgeous old steps and pathways.’
At the time the couple were living in Babanango, Zululand, where they run an environmental education centre for children. ‘We spent the next four years commuting to the Midlands and totally transformed the house,’ says Meryn. The no-holds-barred renovation included re-wiring the entire home, updating the Victorian plumbing system, repairing the sash windows and reconstructing the veranda, which collapsed out of the blue one Easter. ‘This is a heritage home, so we had to work within strict guidelines. The ceilings, for instance, were repaired with the exact tongue-and-groove construction as the original.’
When it came to tackling the expansive three-hectare garden, the couple turned to local landscaper Sue Tarr for help with the hard landscaping. ‘Sue appreciated that we wanted to recreate an old English-style garden in keeping with the house,’ explains Meryn. ‘The idea was to develop a degree of formality, such as the terraced hedges, which run down the side of the house. The existing stone walls were repaired and new pathways laid out, and within this structure we pictured a less formal, free-flowing planting.’
Meryn drew up a plan of the entire garden, systematically tackling one section at a time.
‘There were so many magnificent trees to work around, including the magnolias, camellias, dogwoods, oaks and our huge London plane with its piles of autumn leaves. The old entrance way where the carriages once arrived is lined with large stinkwoods and yellowwoods, after which the home was named.’
The couple also inherited an orchard of Methley plum trees named after the family who originally built the house. Add to this the vistas of rolling blue hills and neighbouring indigenous forest, and you have a setting that is quietly breathtaking.
‘I like a garden to have special rooms, with surprises that draw you from one area to another,’ adds Meryn. Using colour as a guide, these rooms include a white garden that envelopes the wraparound veranda. Here, a pale profusion of Winchester Cathedral, White Spire and Iceberg roses are combined with Queen Anne’s Lace, Helleborus and foxgloves. In stark contrast, an archway at the bottom of the main lawn is entwined with the Blossom Magic rose – a swathe of bright pink against the distant hills. ‘I lost count of our roses at over 400 but still know each one that we planted by name,’ says Meryn. ‘After a rose tour of England, David Austin roses became a passion. We were also fortunate to visit Monet’s garden at Giverny and were so inspired by the water lilies, irises and large-span, rose-covered archways.’
Recently, the Turners came across some photographs of the garden taken in the early 1900s. ‘In its heyday there were no less than five full-time gardeners!’ This grande dame has a rich history and over the years Yellowwoods was also home to the Pennington family, two members of whom were rectors at Michaelhouse school nearby. ‘We planted a section with deep burgundys and reds as a tribute to the school colours,’ says Meryn.
Looking ahead, the couple plans to reinstate more of the old stone walls and flower beds to recapture the garden’s Victorian past. ‘It’s beautiful in all seasons,’ they say. ‘Autumn is just glorious and the winters are cold enough for English snowdrops and bluebells to flourish. It’s an absolute privilege to live here.’
Sue Tarr, 082-448-8246
MERYN’S TIPS FOR LARGE-SCALE GARDENS
- Have the discipline to begin with the hard landscaping. We spent months reading books and magazines before planning what to plant.
- Create ‘eye catchers’ to draw you through the garden. These could take the form of moss-covered walls, winding paths, stairways and old gates.
- The best advice I got was to keep the intense planting, such as annuals, closer to the house, with lower-maintenance plants farther away.
- Create easy access to perfumed beds to enjoy the scent.
- Use colour for impact: try blending different shades of one colour, then pop in a contrast for interest.