Piano in paradise

2009-10-06 00:00

THOSE attending the garden concert being given at the Trout Bungalow near Nottingham Road are in for a real treat — not only is Christopher Duigan playing twice during the course of October 10, but visitors will be able to enjoy the sight of thousands of azaleas in bloom in what must be one of the most beautiful gardens in the midlands.

I didn’t know what to expect when I drove out there last Friday. “Trout Bungalow” sounds rather prosaic and accordingly my hopes were not high. What I found was an unexpected paradise perched on a hillside above the Mooi River. A paradise created and presided over by Rieta Johnstone.

Over the years it has become a ­mecca for gardeners in the know while also occupying a special place in the heart of every trout fisherman in the country.

As you enter the garden you first encounter a small monument “erected to the memory of John Clarke ­Parker by lovers of the gentle art of trout fishing”. That’s because thanks to Parker’s “untiring efforts, trout were first introduced into Natal circa 1884”.

For the fly-fishing fraternity this is hallowed ground, and as you look up from the monument you see the Trout Bungalow. And it’s far from prosaic. A green-painted corrugated-iron structure, it began life as a British ­officers’ mess in kit form which was shipped out to India and assembled. It was later dismantled and sent to Harrismith to do duty during the ­Anglo-Boer War. Thereafter, it was bought by Harry Singleton, owner of the Nottingham Road Hotel, dismantled once again, and brought by ox wagon to be reassembled on the site where it stands today.

It has been restored to its former glory by Johnstone. Robert Kirby, writing in his Fly-Fishing in Southern Africa, comments that Johnstone ­“deserves some sort of award for her imaginative restoration of the Trout Bungalow, for she has brought a little bit of history back to life.”

Saturday’s visitors are as likely to feel like giving her an award for the garden, currently a riot of colour thanks to the thousands of azaleas in bloom, many of them rare and ­unusual varieties.

Every step provides a new vista, of colour, of cascading streams and ­hidden grottoes. Artfully placed benches allow the visitor to sit and soak it all in.

“Through the years Rieta has created a garden of sheer beauty,” says Nancy Gardiner, the doyenne of ­gardening writers.

Duigan intends matching the music to the setting, playing a selection of popular classics, including Mozart and Chopin.

This is a charity concert and the proceeds will go to children’s homes in the area, especially to the Othandweni Project in Bruntville.

“This provides real homes for ­orphan children,” says Johnstone. “The children live in separate houses with a house-mother and [the project] ­desperately needs to build more ­houses.”

PERFORMANCES are at 11 am and 3 pm. Entrance is R100 per person. Inquiries: 033 266 6417 or 083 799 5672. Tea, coffee and snacks will be on sale.

Directions: Drive through Nottingham  Road towards Ros­etta and take the road to Sani Pass and Loteni (on the left). After about 20 kilometres a sign on the right indicates the road to Trout Bungalow which is four kilometres further on.

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