Hydrangeas do very well in Cape Town as the cool moisture from the ocean suits them; at Stellenberg they are also fed with nitrogen followed by a rose feed once the growing season starts. Hydrangeas are known as the Christmas Rose because they flower in December and are used in seasonal, festive displays. Once the leaves start to fall from the deciduous trees they are blown straight onto the hydrangea beds, to act as a natural leaf mould. It also saves time picking up tons of leaves.
In 1989 the old tennis court was replaced with the formal Walled Garden, with a cool colour palette of blues and purples. Two plants I admired were Ruellia simplex and Solanum wendlandii, the low hedging was Myrtus communis, very similar looking to box.
I really enjoyed the wild jungle area, full of ferns and huge, ethereal Phoenix canariensis palms with stems snaking over the pathways and water rills. The garden has an extremely good groundwater supply, hence they can sustain such a rich, water-hungry flora in the garden.
I fell in love with a little Ginkgo biloba; it was grown from seed at Kirstenbosch, from the same plant that survived the Hiroshima bombing.
We arrived at the Vineyard by 3.00pm, plenty of time for me to grab some groceries before it got dark. The accommodation I would be staying in at Kirstenbosch is self-catering and after tomorrow I wouldn’t have easy access to the supermarket so it made sense to get some food shopping while I could.
Elsa was on her way to Woolworths, South Africa’s equivalent to the UK’s Marks and Spencers, so she gave me a lift which was fortunate.
As it was our last full day of the trip for everyone apart from myself, I organised a farewell meal for us at the Vineyard and invited Elsa, her brother William and his wife Winifred to join us – the rest of the group thought it was a great idea, the hotel were very accommodating and even gave us a private room upstairs to dine in. It was a great way to say goodbye and thank you to the whole group for their brilliant company over the past few weeks. Being a small group meant we had bonded very well, it was going to be strange being without them for the rest of the trip.
Goodbyes and hellos
Weather: Sunny, 27 ℃
I had a big last breakfast at the hotel and said a few final goodbyes before Elsa came to pick up myself and another group member, Jorun. Their flights were early in the afternoon and everyone else’s flights were late in the evening so the rest of the group went with Charlie to explore the waterfront for most of the day. We had time for a coffee down on the waterfront, it’s a very picturesque place but also very busy – it is peak tourist season for Cape Town after all.
The historical clock tower was a good feature, three storeys high with red bricks and pointed Gothic windows. The clock itself was imported from Edinburgh and became a landmark as soon as it was completed in 1882 as the first Port Captain’s office.
I was dropped off at Kirstenbosch by midday and met Felicity, Rochelle and Nawaal – we had communicated via email so it was nice to meet them in person. They showed me to my accommodation, I would be living within the grounds of Kirstenbosch at the foot of Table Mountain – not a bad place to call home! My annexe was cosy with a super comfy bed, there was no WiFi which was a shame but WiFi was available in one of the cafes in the garden. I was due to be at the Garden Office at 8.00 am tomorrow so I had a leisurely afternoon of unpacking and settling in before an early night, ready for the next part of the adventure to begin.
I would like to thank the Mediterranean Plants and Gardens Bursary Committee, RHS Bursaries and the Merlin Trust for granting me the funding which enabled me to go on this trip. Without this generous assistance being part of the trip would not have been possible, for which I am extremely grateful.
I would also like to express my great appreciation to Mediterranean Plants and Gardens and Elsa Pooley for organising and leading a truly amazing trip.
My heartfelt thanks go to everyone else in South Africa who helped make the trip run smoothly, including our Cape Town tour guide Charlie Ratcliffe, our coach driver Praveer and drivers for Sani pass, local garden guides and B&B owners. The trip would not have been as enjoyable without their warm welcome, generosity and enthusiasm.
A final message of thanks goes to the other trip participants, for being joyous, engaging and humorous company. Special thanks go to Jorun Tharaldsen, Celia Jones and Cathy Rollinson for being unofficial tour photographers and providing photos of me for this report.
Photographs: Becky Cross, Celia Jones, Jorun Tharaldsen