John Richardson Gardens   Garden Design and Construction

Vergelegen Wine Estate

Situated in Somerset West at the foothills of the Hottentots Holland mountain range, Vergelegen Wine Estate has roots that run deep into the bedrock of South African history. Once the private farmstead of the visionary farmer, Willem Adriaan van der Stel, a three day wagon-ride to what was then, the very edge of the Cape Colony, it is now a treasured cultural icon at the verdant heart of one of South Africa’s fastest growing urban areas. 

Not only has it survived the past three hundred years of its existence, it has flourished in doing so. Owned since 1987 by Anglo American, it is today a world renowned estate that is regularly visited by royalty, politicians, dignitaries, rock-stars and, of course, a great number of day-visitors, who come to dine in the fine restaurants and enjoy the magnificent gardens. The estate has seventeen diverse gardens covering ten hectares, with a cultural heritage area spanning six times that. Other features include a quintet of three-hundred year old Camphor trees - declared national monuments in 1948, these regal giants seem to grip the earth evermore tightly with each passing year. Then there are: Africa’s oldest living oak tree; an epic Mulberry tree; a certified International Camellia Garden of Excellence and what is undoubtedly the favourite of many, a Tolkien-esque forest of Camphor trees (Cinnamomum camphora ), under which elegant picnics are served at tables set  amongst the labyrinth of trunks and tree ferns with sun-light filtered through the canopy above.

It was into this rich history that, in 2012, landscape architects OvP Associates were commissioned to design a brand new East Garden as an extension of the recently completed Stables restaurant. A family–friendly, bistro style eatery, the restaurant naturally required a garden with wide-ranging appeal. 
Don Tooth, managing director of Vergelegen, explains. “The aim is to provide a garden of exceptional visual delight with recreational activities for the young and not so young, suitable for families with children.”  
In other words, a garden for wine lovers and ice-cream fanatics alike. 

OvP’s resultant design has a strong central axis featuring a linear water-feature with arbours on the one side and an expansive Agapanthus garden on the other. While classic architectural lines underpin the layout of the hard-landscaping elements, it is the bold use of Agapanthus in a non-traditional diagonal planting-pattern that lends dynamism to the space and gives it a fresh, contemporary feel.  The various blues, mauves and purples of these free-flowering indigenous plants also harmonize beautifully with the constantly changing hues of the distant mountains. 

Aside from these 12 000 agapanthus, consisting of 12-15 species,  there is also a South African take on the customary maze layout (using grape vines as screening plants), a vine covered pergola and a playful, celebratory wine-glass fountain that leaves no doubt as to the source of the estate’s prosperous longevity. 

In keeping with the brief for a family-friendly environment, there is also a captivating new adventure playground for children. Here brightly coloured rubber, sourced from recycled tyres, has been re-moulded into various shapes and forms for children to play on. Trickling water and hide-away spaces have also been incorporated. The play area is suitable for varying ages and physical abilities and has been thoughtfully laid out to accommodate children’s mental, physical and social skills. 

 “It offers far more than physical exertion,” says OvP’s Johan van Papendorp, “it is an opportunity to explore.” 

Further along the main axis toward the Hottentots Mountains, a traditional low farm-wall, or werf, separates the garden from where a new oak tree arboretum is planned. Oak trees (Quercus robur) have a long history at Vergelegen and in the gardens there are a great number. There are those of impeccable lineage, like the giant old tree grown from a single acorn, plucked from the last of the royal oaks at Blenheim Palace in England - home to the 11th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. And then, no doubt, there are trees that the squirrels have planted - by forgetting where they buried their stash!  All, of course, equally appreciated, celebrated even, in the delightful Acorn Sculpture (which any four-year old will confidently tell you, actually belongs to Scrat,... you know.... that hapless squirrel, from Ice Age 2)  which sits somewhat promisingly at the entrance to the future oak arboretum.

Levity aside, it is this facility to be solemn and playful, historical and current, iconic and yet at the same time, accessible, that will keep Vergelegen as vibrant, progressive and relevant today as it was when van der Stel first laid out his ambitious plans three centuries ago. 

“Vergelegen,” says van Papendorp.” has finesse. One needs to continue with that culture”

And continue, no doubt, it will.
Lourensford Road, Somerset West, South Africa
Phone : +27 21 847 1334 - Fax : +27 21 847 1608
Stables/Picnic : 021 847 2156 | stables
Camphors : 021 847 1346 | camphors
Wine Tasting / Cellar Tours : 021 847 2122 | winetasting
OvP Associates
Tel: 021 462 1262

Posted: 6/10/2013 (1:56:51 AM)

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