A South African treasure

2010-03-31 00:00

I LOVE gardening and I love my garden, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I know what I’m doing. In fact I would classify myself as more of an enthusiastic gardener than a knowledgeable one, so when I look through books such as doyenne of gardeners Una van der Spuy’s Old Nectar I am simultaneously inspired and depressed.

I am inspired because my dream is to have a beautiful garden such as hers and depressed because I probably ­never will.

Van der Spuy wrote this book at the age of 95 and it is about her own ­famous garden and home, Old Nectar in Stellenbosch. The beginning of the book is essential reading as it gives a brief history of the estate and how and why the Van der Spuys came to acquire it. Van der Spuy manages to convey what it must have been like for a young wife of a military attach é , who was seldom home, to move from a “well-equipped” London flat to a country home with “few creature comforts”. Van der Spuy admits that when she ­arrived at Old Nectar she knew nothing about gardening, yet in five years, with only the help of four reluctant ­Italian prisoners of war and without the benefit of heavy machinery, she managed to complete the garden which is the only private garden in South Africa to have been declared a national monument.

The garden at Old Nectar is made up of seven different gardens, what modern gardening magazines would call garden rooms. A chapter is devoted to each section, illustrated with beautiful photographs which are captioned with detailed and useful information that you can use when planning or working in your own garden. Van der Spuy uses common names for plants she has used, which gives the book an accessible feel and of course makes it easier to understand and to find the plants should you wish to ­incorporate them in your own garden. I found part two of the book especially interesting as Van der Spuy shows how she has conquered the difficult task of making the most of the four seasons, allowing her garden to adapt to suit the changes of the seasons, thereby ensuring that it is beautiful throughout the year. Although the Cape seasons are different from ours, there are plenty of useful ideas and tips that KwaZulu-Natal gardeners can adapt to their own gardens.

As I read through the book I got a real sense that Van der Spuy’s life is inseparable from her garden and each life stage, from the day she moved into Old Nectar, can be linked to some ­part of the garden. Every plant, path, pot, view and even gardening mistake, has meaning and carries special memories — exactly how a garden should be.

This book is much more than a ­coffee-table book, a mere illustration of someone’s beautiful garden. It is also a gardening book in the true sense of the word, packed with useful information that will inspire and inform any enthusiastic gardener.

Old Nectar: A Garden For All Seasons by Una van der Spuy is published by Jacana.

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