John Richardson Gardens   Garden Design and Construction

Cavalli Stud Farm

Located just off the R 27 highway outside Stellenbosch, Cavalli Stud Farm sits atop a gentle rise like a prized jewel in the palm of the Helderberg Mountain Range. And although there are vines and olive groves, it is a landscape unmistakably informed by a love of horses. Mostly American Saddlers, these graceful and powerful creatures are bred for their genetic ability to learn an extra gait - a real smooth one, somewhere between a trot and canter. A bit like having a secret gear on your Bentley, or so I’m told.

“It is primarily a stud farm”, agrees landscape designer Ray Hudson who, along with horticulturist Keith Kirsten and architect (and client), Lauren Smith, collaborated to bring colour, form and a unique sense of place to every corner of this newly-established 110 hectare landscape. While it is this equestrian function that gives the place its essential character, it is the concept of sustainability that underpins the design of the farm on every level. All the architecture is designed passively, to best respond to the local climate, renewable energy is used throughout and all water is recycled. 

Regarding the landscaping, the indigenous planting was selected for both its biodiversity contribution and its water-wise nature. It is an expansive place, open and panoramic, interspersed with vineyards and water and criss-crossed with pristine white ranch fences. Brick-paved avenues flanked by profusions of planting stretch for miles across it, joining everything together.

“Our brief was to create a garden that was predominantly indigenous and natural”, continues Ray, “but with a modern twist. As a result we used more geometric, modern plantings around the stables and dressage areas, with clipped hedges, which are associated with gymkhanas, and other formal planting around the various buildings” 

Whilst this formality is evident in form, these spaces are by no measure the restrained and monochromatic transpositions of classic formality. On the contrary, these gardens are exuberant in their use of colour: the extensive use of flowering and colourful plants like Indian Hawthorne (Rapheolepis delacourii), Dwarf Nandina (Nandina pygmeae), Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), and even the strange and beautiful ‘Black Dragon’ grass (Ophiopogon planiscapes) gives even the most formal areas a vibrancy and energy not found in traditional formality. Or, if you like, that modern twist.

“We have tried to avoid all the usual wine farm clichés“ says Ray, “although there are other areas that are actually very much in keeping with the traditional Cape wine-farm style. Species of American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), London Plane (Platanus acerifolia) and Oak trees (Quercus species) were designed into avenues to compliment and preserve the panoramic views.”

Nowhere on the farm is this unique blend of contemporary and traditional, exuberance and restraint, more evident than at the entrance gates, where a modern gatehouse, built from concrete, glass and steel is offset by an old olive grove rooted firmly in a grid-planted lavender border. Together these two elements comprise an emphatic statement of modern elegance that “floats” on the boundary line, both inviting and ushering visitors towards the main avenue, up past the paddocks to the stables, the indoor arena and the gardens beyond.

Whilst some of the planting is exotic, more than 90 percent is indigenous. “It was the owner’s express wish that we use mainly indigenous plants,” says Hudson “and we even harvested seed (of endemic species) from a pristine reserve of Fynbos on the property, which we then incorporated into a hydro-seeding program along with the other instant plantings of Fynbos.” Lauren Smith elaborates, “The main background planting consists of carefully constructed fynbos groups – colour-coordinated with particular detail to texture and variety. The existing fynbos lands, interspersed between the working vineyards, dams and waterways, farmland and paddocks, abound with a large diversity of wild flowers, wildlife and atmosphere. And sightings of Guinea fowl, Chameleon, Waterfowl, Steenbok and other wildlife are a regular occurrence.” Indeed, the roadsides literally overflow with all sorts. 

Along the length of the avenue a swale was designed in lieu of a conventional concrete waste water drain, thereby preventing surface run-off and re-appropriating water back into the landscape. Large rocks and river boulders slow the flow to allow the proliferation of various sedges and other semi-aquatics, like bloodroot (Wahcendorfia thrysifloia), Juncus and Besemgoed (Calopsis paniculata). In other, drier, areas one finds a plethora of Arctotis , Gazania, vygies, (Drosanthemum sp.), Watsonias and Oesteospermums, amongst hundreds of others. “Cavalli” says Lauren,”hopes to contribute substantially toward the Botanic Biosphere of the Cape by planting thousands of species which will attract and feed more birds, butterflies, chameleons and other wildlife. Unbeknownst to many South Africans the region is a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the most diverse floral kingdoms in the world. It is under threat by development and agriculture. I feel it’s our duty to dedicate a percentage of our efforts to conservation.” 


And soon, I have no doubt, Cavalli will also be attracting and feeding a great many people - endemic or not. Because already well under construction, and rising rapidly from the earth atop the farms very summit, with panoramic views in all directions, is an incredible 80-seat restaurant and function facility that can cater for 270 people. It is a pilot project aspiring to be the first restaurant in the country with a Green Star rating, art gallery, herb garden, vegetable garden and, I’m happy to report, a comprehensively stocked whisky/cigar bar down in the cellar. You know, just in case you get weary of all the pretty things....

Designed by: Keith Kirsten and Ray Hudson 
Contractors: Keith Kirsten Horticulture International
Irrigation: Loxton irrigation 
Trees from: Habitat, Just Trees, Induli and Trees SA 
Decking: Wood4Africa
Paving: Grimmplatten 
Planters: Classic Stone 
Grass blocks: Terraforce 
Hydro-seeding: Vula Enviromental Services 
Organic Fertilizer: Wurmbosch

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Posted: 4/21/2013 (11:09:00 AM)

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