This afternoon I spent a wonderful few hours exploring the gardens at Vergelegen Estate with a friend – we went specially to view the Camellia garden as we both love Camellias. The Estate, which is located approximately 40 minutes drive from the centre of Cape Town, has been a gardener’s paradise since the van der Stel era in the 1700’s and today, 17 beautifully themed gardens are on display for visitors to enjoy. But back to the Camellias …
The outstanding collection of over 1000 Camellia bushes at Vergelegen have been recognised as an International Camellia Garden of Excellence by the International Camellia Society. And when you wonder through this garden you can see why. The gardens include approximately 550 cultivars from as far afield as Australia, New Zealand, France, Japan, America and South Africa. But there is more to Vergelegen than the Camellia garden. Let me take you through a quick walk through the splendours of Vergelegen …
When you arrive the first stop is the Visitor Information Centre and Gift Shop which is housed in the former stable buildings. Next is the Wine Tasting Centre where you can sample Vergelegen’s award winning wines, some of which are rated among the best in the world. We were here to see the gardens so we didn’t stop for wine tasting, but for visitors new to Cape Town I would highly recommend the wine tasting and a visit to the Winery (booking essential). Next is the Interpretive Centre where exhibits on display in the former stable building give a detailed insight into the history and development of Vergelegen. But … we were here to see the gardens so we skipped this and proceeded along the Almond and Oak Avenue and went on to the Octagonal Garden which is a magnificent typical English garden with wonderful herbaceous borders. We did a brief walk through the Homestead which has been extensively refurbished with fine examples of early Cape furniture and textiles and provides a history of Vergelegen. We walked on to the Camphor Trees and great lawn. At the front entrance to the homestead are five magnificent Chinese camphor trees which were planted between 1700 and 1706 by Governor Van Der Stel – these are apparently the oldest, living, documented trees on the subcontinent and were dedicated as a national monument in 1942.
We made our way to the Rose Garden (not at its best right now, but beautiful nonetheless) and then on through the Yellowwood Walk and Water Mill to the Camellia Garden. You walk past the ruin of an old water mill, cross the river over a suspension bridge and then follow Camellia lined pathways through a yellow wood forest until you reach the Camellia garden. The Camellias are really quite magnificent and it was wonderful for me to see what I can expect my Camellia bushes to look like in a few years. Most impressive to me was a grouping of three Camellia shrubs – they were huge – taller than some of my trees! (see photo on the right).
Then a wooden boardwalk leads you through groves of tree ferns and arum lilies, gunnera and azaleas (also gorgeous!). This is known as the Wetland garden. Then there is the Camphor Tree picnic area – in season you can collect a basket from the info centre and a picnic in the Camphor Forest and I believe there is entertainment provided for kids in the form of a treasure hunt. Sounds like a lovely family day out to me.
Unfortunately it started to get late and chilly so we missed some of the other highlights which include the Margaret Roberts Herb and Vegetable garden. We went inside to the restaurant where we enjoyed coffee and scones (I had the most sublime cheese cake ever!) before we were warned that the gates would be closing at 6pm, so unless we wanted to be locked into the grounds overnight … we opted to leave and come back another day to explore some more.
Photographs (click to enlarge)
If you are interested in Vergelegen Estate their website provides a lot of detailed info about the history of the estate and the gardens. Website: http://www.vergelegen.co.za/