There were two strong themes in my horticultural experience of Western Cape. Firstly, there was the thrilling delight in the use of native species in public and private gardens everywhere. Secondly there was the prevalence of productive horticulture. The hundreds and thousands of acres of vineyards and orchards that radiate out from the suburbs of Cape Town were amazing (imagine the Yarra Valley wine region starting in Chadstone).Two particular gardens are worth noting here.

The VOC Vegetable Garden
Right in the centre of Cape Town is the famous Company’s Garden. The Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) set up a garden here in 1652 under the head gardener Hendrick Boom in order to supply their passing trade ships en route to Asia with fresh fruit and vegetables. At its largest extent the gardens were 18 hectares. It has been reduced signifcantly since then as the central business district of Cape Town has grown, but it remains a substantial city garden, with some venerable trees, such as a pear planted in the earliest years of the garden’s existence.

The system of irrigation channels and formally arranged productive beds of the original productive garden have been replicated in the VOC Vegetable Garden, which was opened in 2014. Planted out with heritage varieties of fruit vegetable and herbs, its purpose is to give visitors insight into the origins of the Company’s Garden and as a training garden to equip them with skills to establish their own edible gardens in their homes and communities.

VOC Gardens, Cape Town

 

Babylonstoren
Inspired by the Company’s Garden, the garden at the historic wine farm Babylonstoren (which means the Tower of Babel), an hour’s drive from Cape Town near Franschoek is focused on creating a productive garden on a grand scale. Established as a farm in 1692, the current enterprise is made up of vineyard, cellar door, hotel, spa, restaurant, bakery, farm shop and the productive garden. It is quite a complex of buildings— some original and some new—but all whitewashed and topped off with dark rooves in the Cape Dutch style of architecture. The stone work of low walls and guttering is constructed in the warm light brown of table mountain sandstone, while the crushed rock of the pathways is of the same stone. The disciplined use of materials in this garden contributes to the cohesive effect of the whole complex.

The garden is characterised by its formal symmetrical layout, within which there are mass plantings of a single species often matched with equally large numbers of a companion plant: masses of nasturtiums in the apple orchard, great sweeps of carpobrotus beneath the vase-pruned yellow guavas, citrus trees underplanted with long rows of oats and broad beans. The boldness of the planting evokes large scale horticulture, but the garden is still on a human scale and provides an opportunity for ongoing discovery as you make your way along the extensive gravel paths.

There is a healing garden filled with herbs and medicinal plants, there are beds and beds of healthy fresh cabbages and carrots and all the other vegetables you would expect to find in a kitchen garden at this time of year. There is a maze made up of Opuntia (prickly pear) varieties. There are rows of different citrus trees. There is a sizeable stone fruit orchard and a section for sub tropical fruit. There are rows of olives, rows of figs, rows of plums and apricots. It is the absolute archetype of vegetable gardens. I can’t think of anything they have left out. And everything is maintained to a very high level.

Livestock roaming through the garden was an unexpected delight. Chickens and turkeys and ducks create colour and movement and the sounds of the farm yard. No doubt they provide fertiliser and eat bugs and other pests as well.

A carob tree frames the Cape Dutch architecture and extensive vegetable gardens at Babylonstoren