You know you have arrived somewhere special when you drive down the oak tree lined driveway and approach the entrance gate to Vergelegen Estate. This historic farm was granted to Governer Willem Adriaan van der Stel in 1700. Here he built an estate that reflected the Renaissance influence of wealthy estates and palaces in Europe with their symmetrical plans and ornate gardens. Vergelegen was laid out with a double walled octagonal garden, radial avenues, and four flanking outbuildings - the slave lodge, water mill/stable, the wine cellar and the pigeon house.
I enjoyed exploring the octagonal garden - especially the pergola covered walkway along the perimeter. The compacted earth walkway has been overgrown with moss in some areas. To see an artist who creates beautiful sculptures that change over time as moss and fungi grow on them, see Mirella Bandini's work: http://iconosquare.com/mirellabandini
With landscape it's about what defines the space you are in: what is above you (pergola with wisteria or bougainvilla creeper) what is below you (moss covered walkway) what is around you (wall to one side, Plectranthus and Azaleas on the other). Designing a garden is like designing a house because you experience it spatially; instead of a roof over your head you have a tree canopy, instead of walls you have planting in the form of shrubs or hedges. Flooring is important - is the surface you walk on rough or smooth? Does it make a noise like gravel? The biggest and most exciting difference between a building and a garden is the seasonal variation - how does foliage and light change with the seasons? What colour variations are there as different plants start flowering?
There is so much to see on this beautiful estate! The Contemplation Garden is lovely and adjacent to the oldest living Oak Tree. We did the Yellowwood Walk which must be really impressive when all the Camellias are in flower - I didn't realise you got so many different hybrids. The view of the stream is very pretty here. The Rose Garden is a sensory delight. The Wetland Garden is lovely, but is quickly forgotten as you enter the spectacular Camphor Forest! You feel as if you could be in an Enid Blighton novel as you walk through this enchanted landscape. The trees are truly inspiring. I can't imagine having a picnic in a more beautiful place.
Enough about the gardens... The manor house has a passageway dedicated to the history of the estate and it was fascinating to read about the changes over the last 300 years. I was especially intrigued with the notable references to slavery.
One of the things I am most grateful for, as a South African, is my Freedom. My heart ached as I read the names of the slaves that were purchased for van der Stel and I tried to imagine what some of their lives must have been like. Can you imagine not owning your freedom? Can you imagine being owned by somebody, doing hard labour every day, never leaving the farm you work on, being deprived of ambition and hope? And then I read on... Unnamed from the Cape, Aged 1...Unnamed from the Cape, Aged 2.
Where did these tiny unnamed children come from? What happened to their parents and what became of them? Looking into the past has an unsatisfying way of making you curious about the details, but knowing that you will probably never know the full story. Vergelegen has a vast and rich history and a visit to this special estate is a rich and rewarding experience.