iceberg roses

The War of the Roses

The ‘Iceberg’ roses in this marvellous garden have a story to tell.

Gardeners are interesting people and their priorities usually lie with everything leafy. If it has roots and leaves, it is probably at the top of their shopping list. This is definitely evident in the life of Johan of Roche House, and the story of the ‘Iceberg’ roses is a perfect example of this. But more on that later.

First the story of how the garden of Roche House achieved its state of grandeur. Queenstown is known for its long and colourful history, and Roche House has been part of it since 1854, just a year after the town was established. Johan and Michelle, his long-time friend and business partner, proudly display a copy of the original 1854 title deed in the entrance to the building. ‘Passionate creator of beautiful spaces’ could be a title bestowed on Johan, as he has taken a run-down garden and created a haven enjoyed by all who stay there.

When he and Michelle purchased the property in 2001 it was in a very poor state. The garden was virtually non-existent, except for a couple of privets, a huge palm and a neglected pride of India (Lagerstroemia speciosa). Having attended a landscaping course by David Stevens, Johan had no problem working with this blank canvas, and with the inspiration and knowledge acquired he used the old trees and existing layout to develop the vision he had for Roche House. Over the years he has constructed tranquil garden rooms and used mass planting in small places to create a sense of grandeur.

Keeping in tune with the architecture of the home, where the original stained-glass front door and windows, tiled floor and pressed-steel ceilings are still on show, Johan took this olde-worlde charm into the garden while Michelle built on the old character of the interior with antique pieces and original artworks. Johan has many interesting stories to tell about this garden.

Today 60 ‘Iceberg’ roses are the main stars in their Bed and Breakfast establishment, but the story behind their arrival is anything but tranquil. Johan was on a trip with friends (and two sausage dogs) to an art festival in Bloemfontein when he spotted Pretty Gardens Nursery. Lo and behold, ‘Iceberg’ roses were on special. Without a second thought, Johan bought 60 roses and loaded them onto the back of the bakkie, the dogs and all the bags joining Johan on the back seat. He says it was the longest four-hour drive of his life, with dogs and drool and bags adding to the atmosphere. But it was all worth it when he joyfully revealed the 60 roses to Michelle. Her reaction wasn’t what Johan had hoped for though, with disbelief rapidly turning to fury.

The trip had ended up blowing their renovation budget – they had needed that money for cement for the ongoing renovations… Thankfully the money was found to complete the building work, and Johan’s moment of madness paid off in the long run. Those same white ‘Iceberg’ roses now stand tall in two flower beds just off the front entrance, framed by low-clipped buxus hedges. At the end of these two beds is an archway enveloped by jasmine. When these flowers bloom the heady perfume transforms this area to a magical place best appreciated on a moonlit night. A silver birch forest behind the arch reflects the spectrum of white in this garden room.

Another story is of how the water feature was built and squirting water long before the first room at Roche House was ready for occupation. These days the majestic tiered water fountain echoes the tranquillity of the front garden, flanked by the ancient pride of India. Clipped to perfection as the stems show off the beautiful smooth bark, this rises up from a sea of formal buxus that mirror those of the ‘Iceberg’ rose beds. This element of contained structure is mimicked right through into the many other areas, where clipped buxus balls in ornate flowerpots and conifers adorn focal areas.

By combining their skills and passion Johan and Michelle have created a sophisticated yet lived-in place that is their home, and where friends and frequenters of Queenstown can stay over and relax. Natural stone inlays form meandering pathways and paved areas under shade. With the extreme temperatures in Queenstown, which can range from a few degrees below zero in winter accompanied by frost to soaring summer temperatures reaching 45°C, these shaded areas are a welcoming haven in the warmer months.

The recent drought in the Eastern Cape has been a challenge for the garden, but the borehole on the property has been its salvation. Thankfully Johan’s clever planting pallet is largely made up of plants that are drought tolerant. The colour scheme, which is predominantly white, gives a sense of coolness in the garden. Johan has played with plant textures (aspidistra and acanthus, white impatiens and primulas) to highlight selected areas. Cool greys and blues add to the light spectrum of planting. Lavenders border a raised veranda, where a collection of terracotta pots are displayed on an old table. It seems like a postcard picture from the Mediterranean.

Michelle has turned her attention to detail to the garden too, adding collected treasures to the different garden areas and making the character of the spaces come alive, just as the home has. Walking through this garden you would never realise that there is a bustling town just beyond its walls. It is an inviting space, calm and serene with a stillness that suggests you are in the country. The repeated clipped hedges clearly define the many different rooms, while pathways and pots lead you into sheltered areas where benches welcome you. We are there at sunrise, and a spectacular golden glow embraces the garden. It is a place to linger…

The Gardener