A Visit To The Magical Stellenberg Gardens

Stellenberg Gardens

‘To Plant A Garden Is To Believe In Tomorrow.’

– Audrey Hepburn

Have you ever wished you could time-travel? Just walk right back through history to experience a taste of what once was and is no more? That’s exactly what it’s like strolling through the Stellenberg Gardens.

Except, of course, these glorious grounds of old-world charm are very much still in existence. Even with the worst drought the Cape region has experienced in decades, these historic gardens nestled in the heart of Kenilworth, Cape Town, are looking more beautiful than ever!

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Stellenberg’s main homestead has long been considered by architects and historians to be one of the most stunning examples of Cape Dutch houses in the Cape. Builders and gardeners from all over the world flock to these renowned grounds, finding inspiration, ideas and beauty.

‘Her Heart Was A Secret Garden

And The Walls Were Very High.’

– Le Gassick

This past weekend, owners Andrew and Sandy Ovenstone once again opened the gates of their magnificent four-acre plot, giving visitors like myself the opportunity to wander back in time through these internationally acclaimed grounds that go all the way back to 1697. And that is exactly what my friends and I felt we did during this enchanting day-outing into the Southern suburbs of Cape Town!

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The house itself has fulfilled many functions throughout its history, ranging from being a farm dwelling and country retreat to a manor house and patrician residence. Today, it is both a family home and provincial heritage site.

Originally in 1697, Simon van der Stel granted this estate to Jacob Vogel, but soon afterwards it was transferred to his youngest son, Frans. After Frans and his older brother Willem Adriaan van der Stel were banished in 1707, the estate ended up being sold to Christina van Canarij – a prominent and leading former slave who had been freed by Simon van der Stel himself. As the timeline of this estate increased, so did its acreage.

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It’s believed that the U-shaped house presently on the grounds was built after being owned by one of the first Englishmen to settle in the region, John Stanton White, locally known as Jan de Wit, and his son, Petrus, during 1742 and 1768.

After their ownership ended, renowned architect Louis Michel Thibault’s skills were employed, as can be seen in the flawless portions of the house’s façade, its front gable and in the piers and decorative urns on the gateposts. His influence is also notable in the enclosed backyard’s vase-topped columns and distinctive peak railings. Another noteworthy influence is master-sculptor Anton Anreith who is credited with the interior glazed screen – said to be one of the first of its kind in the Cape region.

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During the late 1800s, the Feltham family saved the Stellenberg homestead from being ‘Victorianised’, a process suffered by many of the old Cape Dutch houses. Although a lot of the land has been sold off through the centuries, the original yard and gardens remain. The Ovenstones acquired Stellenberg in the 1950s and have protected its heritage and indigenous beauty for over 60 years.

‘No Occupation Is So Delightful To Me

As The Culture Of The Earth,

And No Culture Comparable To That Of The Garden.’

– Thomas Jefferson

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In addition to the historic homestead, there are four other houses on the estate, each with their own gardens and swimming pools. The houses themselves are rich with detail, and would make the perfect location for a South-African fairy-tale romance!

The atmosphere and scenery of both the gardens and the houses seem to whisper of time long past, of a time when technology was nothing more than a myth and nature ruled supreme.

It literally feels like walking through history…

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The enchanting gardens themselves are laid out similar to the interior of the old main house, with the old walls and natural features of the area structured together much like rooms, either inter-leading or linked by walks. The current design of the gardens is the brainchild of owner Sandy Ovenstone, who began to execute her designs during the 1980s. Since then, however, many experienced gardeners have visited Stellenberg, their suggestions regarding proportion and design carefully noted.

I myself admired how natural the layout of the gardens was. Despite having man-made features, the gardens didn’t scream of human dominion. Rather, it brought to mind the garden of Eden, when man and nature lived in harmony and grew around each other. There was little sign of city life or the hustle-and-bustle one encounters every time one leaves one’s bed. It was like a completely different world, a different reality.

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Upon arrival, visitors received an information packet, including a map of the gardens and information on the gardens’ content, history, design and care. There are currently 16 individual areas in these extensive gardens, with every one of them finding the perfect balance between vintage and modern planting patterns and gardening designs.

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  • the Garden Entrance
  • the White Garden
  • the Parterre Garden
  • the Vegetable Garden
  • the Garden of Paradise
  • the Herb Garden
  • the Shady Walkway
  • the main lawns and façade
  • the Wild Garden and reservoir walk
  • the Stream Garden
  • the Lower-Stream Garden
  • the Lime Tree Walk
  • the Garden of Reflection
  • the Vine Walk allée
  • the Walled Garden
  • the Pool Garden

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Of them all, the White Garden was by far my favourite – although the Shady Walkway was very welcoming once the heat of a summer’s noon came up! Every section of the gardens was precious in its own way. Each had its own distinct and unique features, both natural and man-made. The Vegetable Garden for example had the most adorable little rabbit figurines scattered among the vegetable patches, bringing to mind childhood tales of Peter Rabbit!

‘Every Flower Is A Soul Blossoming In Nature.’

– Gerard De Nerval

As we moved through the different garden areas, we could really appreciate Sandy’s aim of creating different moods while maintaining an overall sense of peace and tranquility wherever we went. Sandy and her team have managed to preserve a historical manor while creating a truly South-African, magical woodland where time seems to stop, nature takes hold of the soul and romance blossoms under every tree and around every corner…

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I managed to capture this perfect photo of my friends (one of many!) as we travelled through the gardens. They were very kind in giving me permission to post this photo. Thanks guys!

I have to admit that I had trouble choosing which photos I wanted to post… all of them were so beautiful!!! But, no matter how perfect my photos of the gardens are, trust me when I say they do not do the real thing justice!

‘My Garden Is My Most Beautiful Masterpiece.’

– Claude Monet

Slumbering amongst the foliage, are a myriad of flowers and blooms, with every possible colour imaginable… I’m not much of an artist. I can write. And talk a lot (as you’ve probably noticed by now!), but I’m a complete klutz when it comes to using my hands.

But if I were an artist… Oh, if I were an artist…

If I could draw, these trees would be my focus. If I could paint, these flowers would be my subject. And if I could sing, this garden would be my melody.

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The multitude of plants, trees and the foliage they provide aren’t the only treasures waiting to be discovered! As you follow the pathway that winds itself through the gardens you will come across several sculptures, each one of them with their significant meaning…

The Cape Eagle Owl sculpture by James Doran-Webb looked like something one might see on Game of Thrones, the Hobbit or in Hogwarts. Keep an eye out for this ‘Silent Strength’ in the Upper Forest Walkway.

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Whereas the Cape Eagle Owl was crafted using long dead wood that has withstood the test of time along with frost and tropical extremes in the Philippines, the Gatekeeper is as South African as her maker, renowned painter and sculptor Wim Botha.

Upon finding her in the Herb Garden, you’ll find yourself entranced by the simplicity of her endless details and patterns. The closer you look, the more you’ll see…

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The 6 sculptures blend in perfectly with their surroundings, as though they too had just popped out of the ground one day. Simple hedging plants plays a major role in the gardens from a design point of view, acting as barriers and walls throughout the gardens.

One of my favourite features of the gardens, however, was the jasmine blossoms as far as the eye could see in several of the separate garden areas. Wherever the jasmine blossoms were, the air was sweet with their heavenly fragrance!

‘I Was Just Sittin’ Here, Enjoyin’ The Company.

Plants Got A Lot To Say,

If You Take The Time To Listen.’

– Eeyore

These gardens are the ideal venue for a small, intimate wedding – not that they yet appear to be available for functions. A guest house set in these gardens though, would no doubt soon be very popular! (Nudge-nudge wink-wink, Mr and Mrs Ovenstone!)

I have but one regret with regards to this visit… and that is that on the Open Day the gardens were so filled with people and their noise as they bustled through the grounds. There was very little time and opportunity to just sit in solitude, watch as the butterflies flitter by and melt into the quiet serenity of the gardens. Definitely something to keep on mind for my next trip!

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Many of the plants seen in the Stellenberg Gardens originate from Stellenberg’s very own nursery. The Stellenberg Nursery was established in 1996 for the propagation of plants from seeds and plant cuttings for use in the gardens and to sell to the general public. The nursery specializes in herbaceous perennials. Visitors can purchase plants, the book on this garden’s rich heritage (Stellenberg: The Story of a Garden) and Stellenberg’s very own candle range.

Crafted from 100% pure eco soy wax, these candles are scented with high-quality oils produced from the most refines ingredients in South Africa, making them the ultimate South African candle and Cape floral sensory experience. For more information on the nursery, visit the Stellenberg Nursery page.

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All in all, the trip to the Stellenberg Gardens was a mesmerising one, a completely out-of-the-world-as-we-know-it experience. It was a day my friends and I will never forget. I know that I will visit again in the future!

For this excursion, we each paid a budget-friendly R80 – R50 for entry into the gardens and another R30 for a scrumptious and refreshing garden tea. The garden tea’s snacks were more than adequate and tasty enough, but it was not a full meal nor did it adhere to any dietary requirements. Therefore, be sure to eat a good breakfast and bring your own bottle of water.

‘We Might Think We Are Nurturing Our Garden, But Of Course It’s Our Garden That Is Really Nurturing Us.’

– Jenny Uglow

I also recommend wearing comfortable walking shoes, preferably closed shoes, to avoid muddy bare feet. Although more than half of the garden has great patches of shade, one burns quickly in the areas exposed to the sun, so be sure to use sunscreen! Other than that, do not forget your camera! These gardens make the perfect setting for an informal photo-shoot (as you can see from my selfie with one of my friends above!).

Take a look at the slideshow below to see more of my gorgeous finds during this ethereal adventure!

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The Stellenberg Gardens are kid-friendly and present a great opportunity to teach your children more about protecting their environment and respecting Mother Nature. For anyone visiting the area or new to South Africa, these grounds are an impeccable representation of one half of our heritage. If you’re an artist looking for inspiration, a flower-child or garden as a form of therapy… you need look no further than this.

And if you’re a curious, little plus-sized critter like me who enjoys the chance to get out and explore without the threat of huffing and puffing before you’ve even made it half way, then this destination is a very good choice for you!

‘Look Deep Into Nature…

And You Will Understand Everything Better.’

– Albert Einstein

Don’t wait till next year’s Open Day to explore this floral wonderland! Make an appointment with the Stellenberg Nursery for an organized tour now!

The Stellenberg Gardens are located at 30 Oak Avenue, Kenilworth, Cape Town. You can contact them at +27 21 761 2948, email them at stellenberggardens@ovenstones.co.za or visit their website at www.stellenberggardens.co.za

Until next time, much love and green hugs! Lize Xx

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P.S.

I’ve never been someone to boast of my faith to others, nor to try and persuade them to share my beliefs if they aren’t open to it. But if ever a non-believer were to come up to me and ask why I believed in the majesty of God, in His very existence, I know what my reply will be.

Of all the reasons I believe in God and love Him, His Power of Creation from a desire to love is the main one. So if a stranger ever crossed my path and asked me why I was a Christian, I would direct them to these gardens and after they’ve experienced the sheer beauty and wonder of it for themselves, I would ask them… ‘How can you see something so perfect and feel the life around you and not believe God is real?’

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