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Fragrant flowers

Text Gill Cullinan Garden Editor René Slee Photographs Robbert Koene At Barkai farm in Elgin in the Western Cape there’s blossom on the apple trees and the scent of flowers on the breeze. In a leafy plane tree next to the homestead a paradise flycatcher sits on an exquisitely woven nest, his long tail hanging over the edge, and tiny wagtails nest in the eaves of the house. Barkai is the home of Linda and Corrie Keevy, apple farmers who have lived here for 27 years. Linda’s garden started modestly around the house, but has grown rapidly into a two-hectare delight. ‘It started when the apple industry hit a bad patch six years ago,’ says Linda. ‘I didn’t want to go back to teaching, so I thought about picking posies from the garden and selling them at the local farm stall.’ She put together five posies, which sold immediately, and the idea of gardening more seriously grew from there. Now Heaven Scent is a working garden that supplies 80 bunches of flowers a week to farm stalls and florists in the Western Cape. There’s no clear distinction between Linda’s ‘private’ garden and the ‘commercial’ garden, as she plants for pleasure rather than to make things easier for herself. ‘The garden is not run on commercial principles,’ she says. ‘I just do the best I can with the means at my disposal. The garden is secondary to the fruit farming. I’m not disciplined enough to plant everything in rows, which would have made picking easier. I feel that if you are working in the garden then it must be a garden. A friend of mine regularly throws up his hands and asks me for my business plan!’ When Linda and Corrie moved in, the pine trees grew right up to the back door of the house and the rest of the property was under orchards. Linda had the pines cut down to allow light into the house, removed four rows of apples that weren’t doing well and planted a garden. ‘I wanted to be able to pick flowers for my home,’ she says. ‘I started with roses and then added herbs and fragrant flowers. Then the search began for flowers that were easy to grow and would last a decent length of time in a vase.’ The wind in the area is a problem, but luckily the heat is gentle and the farm has its own dam, so water is plentiful. Now that Linda plants for 12 months of cut flowers she needs plenty of greenery and space to accommodate the blooms that don’t flower in summer. ‘As a result I’ve learnt about indigenous flowers and bulbs. For greenery I grow Viburnum tinus, V. odoratissimum, the eucalyptus ‘penny gum’, Ligustrum aureum, Pittosporum ‘Garnettii’, P. tenuifolium, and P. eugenioides – I would not be without the pittosporums. The indigenous foliage I use is Dodonaea – the sand olive – for its wonderful cluster of seeds. I also plant indigenous dogwood, as well as Agathosma (buchu) and various scented pelargoniums.’ The roses are pruned at the beginning of August so Linda has planted smaller protea varieties, including ‘Blushing Bride’ and pincushions, to take their place in winter. ‘It would be difficult to do posies without the indigenous plants, and we have amazing bulbs. We use nerines, clivias and agapanthus, which we intersperse with mint and lavender.’ The beds are bordered with living edges made from fruit-tree cuttings bent into the earth to keep Linda’s dogs, Wolfie and Toby, off  he flowers. Pests include snails, which she picks off daily (by the bucket load!), and snout beetles. She uses organic pesticides when necessary but everything is kept as natural and organic as possible to counteract the decades of spraying that took place on the farm in the past. The daughter of a fruit farmer, Linda can’t resist interspersing fruit trees among the flowers. ‘I have 50 pomegranate trees, Adam figs, six different types of peach, plums, blackberries and raspberries in the garden,’ she says. ‘I especially love the old-fashioned peaches with the white flesh and skin that you just peel off.’ The expansion of the garden and the depth of Linda’s involvement have increased her passion for gardening. ‘I have grown to appreciate the characteristics and function of some flowers that I didn’t even like before,’ she says. ‘When dealing with flowers to be put on display you become aware of their appeal. I love the scents; and love working with something that is so attractive,’ says Linda. She even has her friends scouting for interesting and unusual plants. ‘A friend of mine is going up to Bedford and I’ve asked her to be on the lookout. There are so many wonderful plants that are out of fashion, so finding them is the challenge.’ Heaven Scent, The Valley Road, Elgin, 021-849-8532, heavenscentnursery.co.za Open by appointment as well as for Elgin Open Gardens, 082-412-9352

Tips For Longer-Lasting Cut Flowers

  • Change the water regularly.
  • Rinse the stems to remove the build-up of algae.
  • If you don’t change the water, add a cleansing solution from a florist: Linda uses Elgin Roses’ solution, which is a mix of 10ml sugar, 5ml vinegar and 5ml bleach to two litres of water.
This article was originally featured in the September 2010 issue of House and Leisure