With the Simonsberg, Du Toitskloof and Franschhoek mountains as backdrop, Babylonstoren in the Drakentein Valley of South Africa sits at the heart of the Cape Winelands. This restored Cape Dutch farm dates back to 1692. It’s renowned for its magnificent 3,5 hectares garden with pergolas, gravel pathways and water canals. The design was inspired by the historic Company’s Garden in Cape Town, which for centuries supplied ships sailing between Europe and Asia with vegetables and fruit. It also makes a playful nod to the mythological Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Those were (possibly erroneously) thought to have been created by Nebuchadnezzar in the sixth century BC, for his wife who longed for the mountains and valleys of her youth.
In 2007, owner Karen Roos commissioned French garden architect Patrice Taravella to plan the layout. At Prieuré Notre Dame d’Orsan near Bourges Patrice had reconstructed a medieval cloistered garden on the site of a restored 12th-century monastery. Karen was drawn to Patrice’s inherent discipline: “It’s Cartesian, in the tradition of classical French gardens. And Patrice understands the movement of people remarkably well: how to make a garden hold you and calm you down.” During 2009 the soil was improved and most of the planting done. Babylonstoren opened its doors to the public in November 2010. The garden divides into 15 sections that include vegetable patches, orchards of fruit, nuts, fragrant indigenous plants, ducks and chickens, bees for pollinating, a prickly pear maze to wander through and a palette of trees of historical or botanical significance. Gravity feeds water from a stream via rills into the garden, flowing through ponds planted with edible lotus, nymphaea lilies and waterblommetjies (a local winter flowering water plant beloved in stews and salads). There’s a Healing Garden with species said to cure an array of ailments (not all medically guaranteed, like those for a pining heart!). Also human sized, woven ‘nests’ from whence to view birdlife. Then a splendid succulent collection and the Spice Garden – which tells the story of the spice trade with the East, and exhibits the main spices. Along the edge of the garden, a natural stream flows from the Simonsberg mountain to the Berg River. In the shade of wild olives a collection of some 7000 Clivia lilies bloom spectacularly every spring. In early summer the chamomile lawn becomes a soft and aromatic carpet, while 41 rose towers are covered with fragrant heritage varieties. Diversity is a trademark of the garden, which is the only Royal Horticultural Society Partner in Africa. It features over 300 varieties of trees alone, thousands of plant species. Curiously, everything planted in the formal section has edible or has medicinal value.
Western Cape 7670