a magic place

There is a magic space in  Klein Joostenberg where you can lose yourself completely in an almost sacred union between nature and human creativity.

For many years I would walk into each nursery I visited and ask my standard question: “Where are your indigenous plants?” I was always met with a blank look. One day, I always thought,  people will understand and things will change. Then I found the rarest of  gems, Van den Berg Garden Village not far from Stellenbosch.

We had hardly parked outside this beautifully laid out, rambling place when I noticed how distinct it is from any other nursery I have ever visited. All manner of natural art greets you as soon as you arrive — trees shaped into creatures peep at you with old eyes and there is furniture fashioned from raw timber that makes you feel as if you are in an ancient, unspoiled forest. Not a single spot has been left untouched by the highly skilled and deeply creative owner.

Toos van den Berg hails from the Netherlands where she studied horticulture before travelling around Europe, arriving eventually in Africa. It was in the Cape that she met her late husband, and here she has stayed.  After developing nurseries in Dieprivier, Durbanville and Kirstenbosch she then moved to this charmed space and began to perform the magic that will surround you. You need to see this for yourself.

Here is a masterpiece by a genuine artist of the soil who paints and sculpts with plants and the result of her creative vision, her years of practical  experience and her encyclopaedic knowledge of plants will transport you to another reality. Literally hundreds of different types of plants ranging from proteas and leucodendrons to locospermums are grouped together into spirals, rainbows  and shapes that drift into novel configurations around waterfalls and fish ponds with little benches on which to sit and dream. Though 80% of the plants in the nursery are indigenous, she also grows intriguing exotic plants including orchids, shrubs and trees from all over the planet. “The birds don’t know the difference,” Toos remarks wryly.

“So often, seedlings die when they’re planted out as their roots are damaged in the process,” says Toos. Nowadays, to minimise casualties, she fashions bio-degradable seedling containers out of newsprint. “You simply put the plant, still in its paper container, directly into the soil,” she explains. “This keeps the roots fully protected from harm and keeps the young plant surrounded with moisture.  Successful planting has never been even easier and this way you also save a lot of water,” says Toos.  “The roots soon work their way through the paper container, which then becomes compost. ”

Do yourself a favour and treat yourself to an unforgettable family outing to this enchanting little village, where among other delights you will also find a comprehensively stocked delicatessen, a bistro, a Bali shop and a rose nursery. You could spend an entire Saturday here, basking in the tranquillity, listening to the birdsong and taking home with you a diversity of treasures with which to bless your own space.

John, Mutare, Zimbabwe. September 2009.

(Click on the pic for a larger image. Photos courtesy of Desiree Harding.)

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