Text Tess Paterson Photographs Christoph Hoffmann Driving the 12km from the village of Haenertsburg to Kuhestan Organic Farm in Limpopo first impressions are of a valley steeped in a rosy glow. Thanks to the abundant swathes of azalea bushes that line the road with colour, everything is pink. Bursts of pure white and apricot are thrown in for good measure but it’s the cerise and the crimson that really set the tone. Shahrzad and Brett Hone run a raspberry and avocado farm from this lush part of the world that’s bordered by an indigenous forest and an avenue of 100-year-old gum trees. Their home, factory and self-catering cottages are surrounded by a hectare of quietly spectacular garden, a project that’s been evolving for almost 13 years. Back in the early 1990s while working in the banking industry in Joburg, Shahrzad, who is Persian by birth, was drawn to these timeless mountains for weekend getaways. ‘I just fell in love with the area and eventually we contacted an estate agent and bought the second farm we saw,’ she explains. While they only moved to the Magoebaskloof permanently in 2005, the garden has been under Shahrzad’s watchful eye from the beginning. ‘As far as we know a Scottish botanist lived here in the 1940s and there has been a succession of gardeners on the farm,’ she says. ‘What we inherited was an expansive but weed-covered lawn, some hydrangeas, agapanthus and over 15 types of azalea. I soon learned that the weeds flourish just as well as the plants, thanks to the misty conditions and warm, rainy summers! This is exacerbated by the fantastic kraal manure used on our farm so weeding is an ongoing challenge. Flowers such as day lilies can easily multiply by a factor of 10, so you’ve got to be prepared to split them at least every other year.’ Shahrzad experimented with every plant that she was fond of, and those that didn’t make it were simply let be. ‘We introduced several types of iris, five varieties of fuchsia and 2 000 clivia plants, all of which have flourished. At the end of each August we plant up to 1 000 annuals, including salvia and begonias.’ It’s no surprise, then, that come the annual Magoebaskloof Spring Festival, this is one of the top show gardens in the area. Add to this the cherry-and-crab-apple-tree blossoms that abound and the whole effect is simply breathtaking. ‘As a child growing up with the harsh winters of Iran, spring was a time of wonder,’ says Shahrzad. ‘Overnight our orchards would come alive with blossoms and when I smell the crab apple it takes me right back there.’ Shahrzad has continued her family’s farming tradition and the decision to plant raspberry bushes for sale to nurseries has turned out to be a fortuitous one. ‘When we arrived all those years ago I noticed a lot of bramble bushes growing wild. We wondered if other berries might flourish, too, so I ordered 50 raspberry plants from a nursery in Cape Town. What arrived was a tiny box filled with what looked like little sticks. We planted them without knowing a thing and three years later picked around 300kg of fruit – it took us completely by surprise. Last year we produced close to two tons of berries and this is just one fruit used for our organic cordials, preserves and toppings.’ (They’re available for purchase at the farm.) Shahrzad’s affinity for plants extends to her veggie garden too – an abundant, sloping expanse that’s sheltered by trees and more azalea bushes. ‘We grow seasonal vegetables and intersperse these with herbs such as dill, coriander and Persian mint – a beautifully mild variety that’s also used in our cordials.’ With its high altitude, misty slopes and clean air, Magoebaskloof is a haven for nature lovers and is perhaps at its very finest in spring. ‘I still find it incredible that for a fleeting time all the hills and valleys turn pink,’ says Shahrzad. ‘It really is a fairy tale.’ What to do in the Magoebaskloof area:
- The 29th Magoebaskloof/Haenertsburg Spring Festival takes place from 21 to 29 September. Spectacular show gardens include Kuhestan, Cheerio and Sequoia.
- The Woodbush Forest Drive and Swartbos forests boast pristine expanses of indigenous Afromontane flora. It’s paradise for birders with ‘specials’ including the Cape Parrot, Black-fronted Bush-shrike and Narina Trogon.
- Enjoy a picnic at Debengeni Falls or hike through the Wolkberg Wilderness Area or along the Magoebaskloof hiking trail.
- Experience the George’s Valley gorge, either by abseiling or by taking the Magoebaskloof Canopy Tour. For more information, visit magoebasklooftourism.co.za.