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  • Shelley Dark

15. Adventures with Hanle

Mountains rise dramatically around Franschhoek and Stellenbosch

When I was planning this trip, friends Sandy and Derek Newton from Stanthorpe contacted me to say that their daughter Sam and her family live in Stellenbosch. Sam in turn contacted me and put me in touch with Hanle Hill, one of her best friends who is the official tour guide for the Dylan Lewis sculpture garden. Don't you love how things just fall into place?

The delightful Hanle picked us up at Leeu Estates yesterday, Wednesday, in their farm vehicle, an extremely comfortable twin cab Toyota utility. Her husband grows young fruit tree stock for orchardists.

We left the Franscchoek Valley (meaning French corner, after the Huguenots who first settled here) for Paarl and the famous garden at Babylonstoren (pronounced bab-ee-lon-stoooooren). It's owned by media mogul Koos Bekker and Karen Roos, former magazine editor and one of South Africa's style queens, just the recipe!

Babylonstoren dates from 1692 and is one of the best preserved farmyards in the Cape. Based on the design of the Company's Garden in Cape Town and the ideal of a Persian garden with flowing water, the eight-acre garden is divided into 15 rectangular sections of fruit, vegetables, berries, indigenous plants, fragrant lawns, bee hives, a prickly pear maze, ducks and chickens. Many of the outhouses date from the 1750's and the homestead was built in 1777.

This is Gundula Deutschlander, a passionate gardener who has been involved in this project since Koos and Karen bought the farm 9 years ago. She's quite fey, looks like Mary Poppins and speaks quietly and confidentially as if she has a magic secret she wants to share. I think she does. A gold star sparkles on one tooth.

How lucky can I be, to be here, she says. It’s paradise lost and found.

As we passed the citrus area, Gundela pulled leaves from the trees, inviting us to crush them in our hands to release the fresh lemon oil fragrance. All plants in the garden are edible, many medicinal. It's all organically grown with organic solutions for any problems.

This little dog stayed with Gundela every inch of the way, jumping up on anything higher than himself for a better vantage point. This water is gravity fed from the Berg River ten kilometres away.

She picked and ate the petals of the cape pond weed, or waterblommetjie - it's used in cooking, and looked wonderful in vases back in the produce shop.

This is a woven bird-watching pod, with comfy cushions inside, made by Porky Hefer.

They're not inexpensive! We had seen another in a gallery near the Silo Hotel in Cape Town.

Gundela led us like the pied piper along the garden paths. She really is quite enchanting.

This is a medlar tree, the first tree brought into the country by Jan van Riebeeck. It's been grafted onto four quince tree ‘legs’.

Koos loves trees with a story, and also has a tree grown from a cutting of Sir Isaac Newton’s apple tree in England.

There's a fun thornless prickly pear maze.

Did you know that cochineal comes from a scale insect that lives on prickly pear?

Karen employed French architect Patrice Taravella to help them design the garden. His influence is evident in the pyramidal rose arbors at the intersecting axes. Koos and Karen transplanted older trees to give the garden a head start. Guava trees over 150 years old were transplanted two years ago and are already fruiting heavily.

Spring is here! The plum trees are starting to flower.

If I ever knew it, I'd forgotten that the grey leafed melianthus major on the left is a South African plant.

Art installation or storage?

Transitions from one part of the garden to another are marked by changes in surface - from gravel, to lawn, to abalone shells, to fruit seeds.

The fabulous foliage of the Jerusalem artichoke in front of grey olive trees.

The conservatory was imported from France - this area with its metal chairs and tables is a little Paris.

Luncheon party anyone?