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DeMorgenzon Farm

Text Gill Cullinan Photographs Robbert Koene Hylton and Wendy Appelbaum’s house on their Stellenbosch wine farm, DeMorgenzon, is perfectly situated to enjoy the morning sun, after which it is named, sitting as it does at the top of a hill overlooking vineyards, mountains and distant sea. The 91-hectare farm was established in 1699, and the couple bought it in 2003 and built their home there in 2006. Fifty-five hectares of the land is under vines and the remaining areas are dedicated to swathes of renosterbos, meadows of wild flowers, lakes and a nursery. Hylton, an avid gardener, admits that at first he had grandiose plans for the garden, but found them impossible to implement when faced with the area’s relentless winds, desiccating heat and poor soils – great for vines but hostile to roses. He has more than met the challenge, however, and now gardens on a vast scale, with 400-metre mixed borders, vineyards edged with trailing wisteria, terraced gardens and his current project, a series of seven interconnected dams. ‘Gardening on a large scale means that you learn very quickly to work with plants that are totally reliable and that give colour for as long as possible,’ says Hylton. ‘We can’t manicure everything without a legion of gardeners, and we work with perennials rather than annuals. One has to repeat-plant, otherwise the garden would turn into a fruit salad.’ He says that DeMorgenzon is a romantic garden in the sense that nature is allowed expression. ‘I use a lot of indigenous plants but I’m not a purist,’ he adds. Almost everything in the garden has been grown in the farm’s nursery. ‘How else could I get 30 000 cannas?’ he asks. Even the cypresses lining the drive winding up to the house were grown from cones collected by the couple while holidaying in France.‘The basic palette of the landscape is blue sea, purple mountains and blue sky,’ says Hylton, ‘so I tended to use blue and purple as a constant and thread things around them. However, I like surprises, so there’ll always be something interesting.’ He is sparing with colours like orange and yellow, but he has used swathes of red cannas in front of the tasting room and new wine cellar, where he plants mainly red and white (along with his favoured blue and purple). You’ll also find beds of red cannas – some green-leafed and some contrasting black-leafed – next to the ponds, which have been built to direct the water that bubbles up from a natural spring. They are a haven for water birds, and each one is filled with different plants, from blue water lilies to lotus plants, yellow water poppies and yellow water lilies. ‘The lotuses are Wendy’s pride and joy,’ says Hylton.‘You should see them in flower.’The beds alongside the wine cellar are multilayered with roses, lollipopped jacarandas and cannas. The colour range includes faded purples, browns and salmon pinks – what Hylton calls a ‘faded tapestry’. Iceberg roses are forbidden. ‘We use the roses as a pre-indication of downy mildew,’ says Wendy, ‘because they go before the vines do, but you don’t have to have traditional red and white roses. The mauves, buffs and browns are much softer.’ DeMorgenzon is a member of the WWF Wine and Biodiversity Initiative, and Hylton and Wendy are committed to encouraging biodiversity. Aliens have been removed and renosterbos has been restored, and Hylton has planted a variety of trees to provide different habitats for chameleons and other creatures. One of their more interesting experiments is playing Baroque music in a block of their vineyards 24 hours a day. ‘We can’t prove it, but we are convinced that music makes an extraordinary difference to the growing of vines,’ says Hylton. ‘The vines budded more slowly but more evenly, and conversely the flowers grew faster and bigger.’ As he says, you can expect surprises at DeMorgenzon This article was originally published in the July 2011 issue of House and Leisure.