If “gardens are a form of autobiography” (Sydney Eddison in Horticulture magazine), the charming gardens at The Cellars-Hohenort in Constantia, Cape Town are not only a most splendid legacy left by the late Mrs Liz McGrath, but also bear her remarkable stamp in a number of ways.
We were delighted to discover that the Key to The Cellars-Hohenort Garden, which is available at the hotel’s reception desk, includes a personal message from Mrs McGrath about the gardens. “What you see today,” writes Mrs McGrath, “has evolved over the years. We have had virtually no professional help, just relying on a great deal of love and dedication from myself, Jean Almon and our five gardeners. We have tried to produce a garden worthy of its setting on the slopes of Table Mountain.” And they most surely have succeeded! In 2010 The Cellars-Hohenort garden was the honoured recipient of the Relais & Chateaux Garden Trophy.
Although the Cellars-Hohenort estate has a history reaching back to 1693, it was only in the early 1990s that the gardens began to be tended – virtually from scratch – when Mrs McGrath purchased the Hohenort portion of the estate. Happily, several very old camphor trees had survived history’s various uprootings and demolitions, and these are older, even, than those along Camphor Avenue in the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. They hold rank as the second oldest camphors in South Africa. Many old oak trees are also anchored on the estate, creating sturdy homes for squirrels, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a few elves and fairies also have their chambers in the great bough-cavities of these venerable old oaks.
“We try to keep the planting old fashioned and relaxed, in the Edwardian style,” explains Mrs McGrath, and indeed the gardens are deliciously alive yet at the same time in a state of gentle and abiding repose.
Roses were very special to Mrs McGrath, and so they have been planted by the several thousand. The pride and joy is the exquisite Relais & Chateaux 60th Anniversary Rose, chosen by Liz McGrath and rose grower Ludwig Taschner to be named in celebration of Relais & Chateaux – of which The Cellars-Hohenort is a member. Another star-bloom is the Liz McGrath Rose, dedicated to her by her family. Another feature of the rose scene at The Cellars-Hohenort is the mass-showcase of iceberg roses creating great pure splashes of white in their bloom-time.
Other blooms to be seen – depending on season, of course – are bold bursts of pink bougainvillea, mauve strewings of agapanthus and plectranthus, Christmas-season displays of hydrangeas, fiery clumps of clivia and dazzling flashes of azalea. On our visit we were smiled upon by the sun-yellow perfection of daffodils – scores of them!
There’s a special wrought-iron gate in the garden, handmade over a period of a year and embellished with frogs, snails and lizards. And there are fabulously secluded little sitting nooks here and there, places to sit and be mindful of the beauty of this space.
Meandering along the shaded pathways of the Fern Walk / Hydrangea & Camellia Walk on a winter’s afternoon post-rain, admiring the bright cerise fallen blooms at our feet, I was reminded of Buson’s haiku:
Camellia petals drop
Ducks are revered inhabitants on the estate, and the staff tell us that Mrs McGrath loved them. So much so that the duck-motif has found its way onto staff attire in a playfully stylish way.
The gardener’s cottage is another interesting corner, and we paddled and peeked around there too.
The estate also has its own vineyard, preserving an important part of the property’s history as an early wine producer at the Cape. The vineyard sports Hanepoort, from which several hundred bottles of Vin de Hohenort are produced annually.
An hour or two in this garden revives all the senses. Explore the Rustic Garden, Herb Garden, Azalea and Rhododendron Walk, Fountain Garden and all of 24 areas demarcated on the garden map. Take a guided garden tour, or discover the delights in your own way. Look, listen, touch and smell, and taste the sweet sylvan silence perforated now and again by the fall of an acorn or the gossipy-quack of ducks.
Mail us to book a stay at The Cellars-Hohenort, or call +27 21 797-7122 (international) or 0860 102 907 (local).