Photographed by Elsa Young
A visit to Stellenberg Gardens is the plant equivalent to stepping into a second-hand book store. A green library of the most cherished classics, where books and botanical prints come to life as real-life plants and delicate flowers such as hyssop, penstemon, columbine and meadow rue.
The Stellenberg nursery started almost 25 years ago and evolved as a practical extension to the magnificent gardens created by Sandy Ovenstone, on the historical property of the same name. The style of the nursery grew very simply out of the need to supply the garden with plants and allow a space for the rehabilitation and propagation of those plants in the garden that had passed their prime.
By using only traditional horticultural practises and everyday garden conditions, the array of shrubs, softly scented climbers and enchanting perennials may look delicate but are tough as a result. As the number of plants in the nursery grew, and along with it, the team’s infectious desire to share the love of plants and gardening, it was a natural decision to open to the public.
Visitors have always been a key element at Stellenberg. The house and its garden are of historic importance to both Cape Town and South African garden heritage. As a result, a wide range of visitors has crossed through the gates: local and international horticulturalists and gardeners, historians, artists, artisans, diplomats and royalty. The most important though, have been the people who have supported the Gardens Open Day, and the many garden clubs who have visited Stellenberg.
With all of them have come enthusiasm, questions, advice, stories, seeds, plants, books and gifts. ‘Gardening brings out the generosity within us and it has always been and always will be the visitors to the nursery and gardens at Stellenberg who keep that spirit of generosity and care alive. Plus, there’s nothing like the visitor appointment book to keep us all on our toes and the secateurs sharpened!’ laughs Sandy. One gets a true sense of these values when visiting the nursery, something that equates to a mix of hospitality and the kind of know-how gleaned from many hours spent in the garden.
The boundary walls of the nursery have all but disappeared into a well-established hedge and a collection of mature trees – a Ficus nitida on the Western boundary and a line of Alnus trees, Phoenix canariensis, an old Taxodium distichum and Avocado pear tree to the north. Whilst wandering the rows of tree fuchsias, leggy brillantaisias, Geranium dalmaticum, foxgloves and Turkish sage, it is clear that this nursery is tended to by passionate gardeners intimately connected to the garden with first-hand experience of their plants, how they grow and the conditions they thrive in.
The nursery is open from Monday to Friday, 8.30am-4.30pm. For garden tours, call the nursery manager on 021 761 2948 or visit the ‘Garden Visits’ page on the Stellenberg Gardens website, www.stellenberggardens.co.za. Due to Covid-19 protocols, there might be changes to times and days, so please be sure to call ahead.