If you are anything like me, you might at this point be sitting, brow furrowed, wondering how on earth you pronounce ‘Vergelegen’. It’s almost impossible to even have a go at it. And after hearing the word many, many times, I still had to just cheat and watch a youtube clip to be reminded. It’s something like, ‘Fair-ke-lear-ken’. Obvious, really.
Fairkelearken, sorry, Vergelegen, means ‘situated far away’. The estate was originally owned by the Dutch East India Company and Willem Adriaan van der Stel, one of the Cape Colony’s first Governors, began development of the farm and vineyard in February 1700.
The estate is, today, best known for its award-winning wines, but a mention in the very hefty ‘The Gardener’s Garden’ didn’t get past my hyper-sensitive garden antennae. By some miraculous co-incidence (or perhaps due to me mentioning many, many times to our excellent travel agents, Trails and Travel, that I really liked gardens), this best-in-class garden was a short walk from both Helderberg Nature Reserve and our Somerset West bed for a couple of nights.
For Paul, one of his favourite moments of the whole holiday was sitting peacefully under the dappled shade of an old–reputably, the oldest in South Africa–oak tree at Vergelegen, enjoying respite from the hot sun. But Vergelegen has an incredible 18 gardens within a garden to explore, meaning we couldn’t sit around all day!
The gardens had a major overhaul in 1987, led by designer Ian Ford. There are four aspects of its design that particularly stand out:
1. Layered historicism
No, I’ve not been studying a thesaurus. Layered historicism is the name of the approach my Vergelegen leaflet reliably informs me was used in the restoration of both buildings and gardens at the estate. And whilst it is a bit of a mouthful, I’m quite liking the term. There’s always a dilemma when renovating historic properties: which period do you take it back to? Vergelegen chose to pick the best of all historic periods over the 300 years of its life and reflect a variety across its gardens. Given the expansive nature of the gardens–I’ve seen anything between 10 and 60 hectares quoted as the ‘garden’–it’s an approach that works incredibly well here.
2. Generous and intimate
The design brief asked for ‘generous and intimate’ garden areas to be developed. Two words that fit extremely satisfactorily with my definition of a great garden. Each and every bed had that ultra-healthy look of abundance about it and the majestic, towering trees provided a comforting, almost embracing, feel.
3. Contrasts of simple and bold
The Agapanthus ‘field’ was really something else and took the design statement of ‘simple and bold’ to its absolute limits. Admittedly aided by the dramatic mountains beyond, whether you are an ‘aggie’ fan or not, it’s hard not to draw breath at this sight.
4. Contrasts of formal and informal
The final design statement of ‘formal and informal’ was also strongly portrayed. A map of the garden clearly shows the strong structural lines of the design, yet neighbouring areas of grass and trees provide a contrasting softening.
It was interesting to compare this formality and selection of many exotic plants to the natural vegetation at Helderberg, just around the corner. Of course, we are lucky to be able to enjoy the breadth of both types of green spaces, but it was thought-provoking to compare, side by side, the different impact each had on us. How we emotionally engage with a garden is something I am deep into the depths of, as I work towards the completion of my Master of Horticulture dissertation.
Which leads me very nicely onto a small request I have of you (yes, you, if you don’t mind!!). I’ve completed my Masters’ literature search and now need to test my hypotheses, by asking your opinion. I’ve produced a short, ten-question survey, which I’d be incredibly grateful if you wouldn’t mind completing. It’s anonymous but I’d be delighted to forward a summary of my conclusions as a thank you, if you want to leave your details. Thank you very, very much in advance. Just click here. Thanks once more… you are helping me enormously!