Vergelegen Estate Gardens, South Africa

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.

Formal lines at you enter the garden at Vergelegen

Formal lines at you enter the garden at Vergelegen

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 most perfect looking pears at Vergelegen

The most perfect looking pears at Vergelegen

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.

Those mountains, those trees...just stunning

Those mountains, those trees…just stunning

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!

I loved the jumble of colours at Vergelegen

I loved the jumble of colours at Vergelegen

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
Long vistas provide strong structure at Vergelegen

Traditional ornamentation and herbaceous borders bring a classic feel to this section of the garden

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
Incredible camphor trees, said to be at least 300 years old at Vergelegen

Incredible camphor trees, said to be at least 300 years old – just look at the bases of them!

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 aggies at Vergelegen Wine Estate gardens, Somerset West

The aggies at Vergelegen Wine Estate gardens, Somerset West

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
Map of Vergelegen gardens

Well-thumbed map of Vergelegen gardens

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.

An interesting play on the surrounding vineyard at Vergelegen

A playful link to the surrounding vineyard in the gardens of Vergelegen

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.

Pretty mixed borders at Vergelegen

Pretty mixed borders at Vergelegen

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!

Not my favourite part of the garden but the Jacaranda, Hydrangea and Begonia combination really took me back...it could not have been more Sydney if it tried!

Not my favourite bit of the garden but the Jacaranda, Hydrangea and Begonia combination really took me back…it could not have been more Sydney if it tried!

16 thoughts on “Vergelegen Estate Gardens, South Africa

  1. germac4 says:

    Lovely gardens…it made me quite nostalgic for South Africa…I think the design and the age of the gardens and those gorgeous trees and mountains in the background….perfect combination.
    I’ll fill out your questionnaire, hope I can do it justice!

    • jannaschreier says:

      Oh, those mountains. I think it was the shapes they made along the skyline that really got me. So, so special. They are just kind of there…quite settling in some way. And thank you ever so much for doing the questionnaire, really, really appreciated. Every single person can absolutely do it justice; there are no right or wrong answers. I’m just building up a picture of our thoughts so the more I have, the more accurate a picture it will be (if you have any gardening friends……!!). Thanks so much.

  2. Suzanne says:

    Another beautiful S. African garden. I REALLY finally understand why our early settlers collected plants from the Cape to bring with them to the harsh foreign shores of Australia. They were good choices too; the plants certainly did very well…far too well!
    While I prefer the naturalistic planting of Helderberg the layered historicism [love that term] is engaging. The camphor and oak trees are stunning as is the agapanthus ‘meadow’. I do believe history is an essential element of historic houses/gardens/farms/towns and so on, and, in WA at least, it is often obliterated. It seems that Vergelegen has achieved a good balance in this garden.
    I have completed the questionnaire but forgot to add the bit about being happy to elaborate if my prattling is nonsensical [Ollie was helping!]

    • jannaschreier says:

      The Cape was a very fortunate stop off for the early settlers in terms of enhancing their plant supplies, wasn’t it?! Imagine landing there and seeing it all, having experienced nothing but European flora before. Oh, the excitement! As you say, the history is such a big part of this garden, on so many levels: the towering trees, the architecture, culture… The South Africans seem to be very proud of their heritage, with large signs stating the year each estate was founded and many historical information boards. It was fascinating to learn about it all and very refreshing how honestly it was portrayed. Details of the slave trade (which built this estate) were rather confronting but I very much admired the fact that they didn’t try to change history, as I have seen elsewhere on my travels!

  3. Jill says:

    All I can think of when looking at all those Agapanthus is to pity the poor person who has to dead head them. I have done your survey – hope it helps.

    • jannaschreier says:

      That’s funny – what a job it must be! Although probably quite satisfying; imagine how much neater it would look once complete, a bit like weeding! You remind me how lucky I was with my timing, too. Agapanthus really don’t flower for that long, do they? And thank you VERY much for doing the survey. You are all very kind. I’m extremely grateful.

  4. rusty duck says:

    I love the long central vista with the mountains at the end. But it makes my two agapanthus that I struggle to keep alive look fairly pathetic. You’re getting me more and more hooked on visiting South Africa!
    I’ve done the survey and forgot to leave the email address. But you have it anyway so please send me a copy of the summary!

    • jannaschreier says:

      Oh, I’ve still plenty more ‘hooking’ to do of you yet! Three more posts I think. Yes, not sure each of these Agapanthus will be getting the tender loving care that yours do!
      Thank you so much for doing the survey. Will send you the summary report.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Thank you, to you too, Kate. I’m overwhelmed by how kind people are to find the time to complete it. Well over 100 responses already, which is amazing. And as more responses come in, the story is becoming clearer and clearer. I’m loving it…just so passionate about how gardens can impact us!

  5. Adriana Fraser says:

    Gorgeous gardens Janna – I love the way the mountains sit so perfectly in the background of this stunning garden. The field of Agapanthus?l I have dug out as much as a field full in my various Victorian Aust gardens — being a declared weed here – but they are stunning in the right place (and just secretly between us – I still have a few!). Some of the sterile hybrids are just fabulous.. Now to Vergelegen aahhh! Even the ‘modern’ pronunciation is changed and is not like its original Dutch — you need to produce a couple of gutteral ‘g’ -s and pronunce the v halfway between and f and a v then we’re talking! Hopefully we can catch up in June/July and I can demonstrate. Good luck with your Master of Hort – but you won’t need it.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Even better. Not only do I finally get to meet you but I get taught some Dutch, too! I actually did German GCSE which I’d have thought would help me a little with Dutch, but apparently not. Totally unintuitive to me. But the gardens. Aren’t they great? Shows what a great structure can do. Don’t we all wish we had the ubiquitous mountain backdrop of the Cape to our gardens though? Oh, and thanks for all your encouragement with my Masters.

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