Size: 7 acres
Age: 50 years plus
Soil type: Acidic
Style: A natural, gently sloping wooded garden in English country style
Designer: John Nicholls
Many South African gardens rival the beauty of the most revered gardens around the world. The Hurry garden in Hogsback reminds us of exotic plants once loved (and maybe lost), and also of the history in which we are rooted.
Roz and Paul Jordan, the owners of Hurry, say that their garden was originally created by John Nicholls roughly 50 years ago. At the time the property was just a wattle and pine plantation, which John dug out over many years and replaced with beautiful meandering paths through swathes of spring-flowering shrubs, and misty woodland scenes created with trees from far-off continents.
John started building a cottage at the bottom of the garden, which he named Crash Cottage, for the family to ‘crash’ in while the main house was being built, which he called Hurry (probably for obvious reasons!). The Nicholls family travelled widely and brought back many plants, including a variety of beautiful maples from the Far East. John planted tirelessly and worked eight hours a day until he turned 94 years old. His ashes lie beneath his most favourite rhododendron in the garden. One of Nichols’ master gardeners, Limozen Menzes, still tends the garden today!
Hurry consists of mainly rhododendrons and azaleas of various types, and over 300 trees, including about twelve mature Californian redwoods, oaks, pin oaks, silver birches, and lots of maples species and varieties. One of Nicholls’ favourite trees in the garden was a mature beech tree (Fagus) on the lower lawn. He made the new owners of Hurry, who purchased the house in 2006, promise to never cut it down! Although the garden consists predominantly of rhododendrons and azaleas, there are also a few magnolias and camellias that supply flower power from late winter into spring in true country garden style.
The climate in Hogsback is very English, with a high annual rainfall, dense mists, cold winters, but typical African summers with soaring temperatures. This is why Northern Hemisphere bulbs like bluebells, snowdrops and daffodils naturalise very well here. Rozzie says that the beautiful stream at the bottom of the garden used to flow the whole year round with sufficient volume to power a ram pump, but now it unfortunately dries out for a few months of the year. It rains all year around, but very little in autumn. It is then when they have to water new plants.
“We are very privileged to have purchased this home with the exquisite garden, and we have added to it by planting a terraced rose garden that is a delight all year round, as well as a functional veggie garden that we have had to completely close in because of a baboon problem!”
I asked Rozzie about the general availability of Rhododendron varieties in the Hogsback area, as I have always loved these beautiful plants. She assured me that two local nurseries keep azaleas and rhododendrons in stock. In the Hurry garden they are propagated by the old-fashioned method of layering, which takes a few years before the new baby can be separated from the mother plant to be planted elsewhere.
Hogsback gardening in a nutshell
Thomas Summerton, an erstwhile gardener from Oxford and one of the earliest inhabitants of Hogsback in the late 1800s, left a legacy that still survives in the large, historic gardens in the village of Hogsback and surrounding areas,
nestling near the mighty Amathole mountain range in the Eastern Cape.
Although the area is known for dense indigenous forests and colourful, endemic veld flowers, Summerton attempted to recreate the English countryside with apple orchards, hazelnut-lined avenues, berry fruits and exotic flowering plants like rhododendrons and azaleas. The gardens of Hogsback are a popular tourist attraction amongst nature and plant lovers alike, and they are at their peak in early spring when plants from across the world burst into bloom.