The heady perfume of roses, the eye-catching colours of many different perennials, the rich swathes of different grasses and the controlled formality of a parterre garden, greet you at the Fairholme garden gate. It is horticultural agony for a plant lover to decide which ‘garden room’ to visit first.
When you realise where Fairholme is situated your first thoughts might be that it can’t be that difficult to create a gorgeous garden in one of Mother Nature’s most fertile and breathtakingly beautiful valleys. The Elgin Valley is 300 metres above sea level and enclosed on all sides by huge mountains, the tallest being the Nuweberge range.
The soils range from gravelly clay to free-draining sand stones. The climate is temperate, cool and wet and, despite the fact that the vegetation on the nearly pristine mountain slopes is almost entirely natural Fynbos, it is possible to grow an unusually wide range of plants very successfully.
Surely, with all this in place, it cannot be that challenging? Well, the conditions may be ideal for many plants, but a garden like Fairholme happens only with a lot of planning and hard work.
It’s all in the Family
How the garden reached its current splendour is best explained by Duncan Henderson: “When we decided to sell Duncan’s Roses we looked for a property where we could carry on growing lavenders and perennials, a hobby that my wife Liz started when our children left home.
We were lucky to find Fairholme, a small property in the middle of the Elgin Valley, which suited us perfectly even though the house required rebuilding and the garden needed major reconstruction. The new house was completed in October 2003.
Re-designing the garden was a collaborative effort between Liz and me and our daughter, Mary Maurel, a landscape designer based in Cape Town. Mary’s formal training is in architecture and she was responsible for the layout of the garden.
She enabled us to create and unify the various components, including the parterre garden, rose garden, walkway and grass garden, by providing us with an overall concept plan. Within this framework, we have been able to use our love of plants to bring the various themes to life.
We are very fortunate to have a wholesale nursery on the property that houses a large collection of perennials, English cottage garden plants and ornamental grasses. These have been used extensively in the garden.”
You do not need ‘baboon legs’ to get around this large garden because the steep slope is tamed by the wide terraces that accommodate the different themes and garden rooms. Natural pathways lead one through the large patches of informally planted perennials and grasses that are so typical of an English cottage garden.
It was in November 2009, just after the annual Elgin Open Gardens weekends, that we visited and found so many early summer-flowering perennials at their best. Fairholme is one of nearly 24 gardens in the Elgin, Grabouw and Vyeboom districts that one can visit during the open gardens.
The garden is not solely reliant on seasonal colour; there are also lots of backbone shrubs, including Duranta ‘Sheena’s Gold’ and Plumbago Auriculata ‘Royal Cape’. Huge English oaks and Podocarpus Falcatus (Outeniqua Yellowwood), beloved and traditional in this area, also abound.
Roses and hundreds of Day Lilies just beginning a summer flowering flush contributed to the yellow and white colour theme around and inside the parterre garden when we were visiting. The garden is defined by low hedges of Ligustrum Ibota.
A parterre, a style of garden that originated in France in the 16th century, is a level garden where low boxed hedging, massed flower beds and gravels are used to create a highly symmetrical pattern that is best viewed from a higher elevation.
Large beds around the wide veranda of the house are filled with ornamental grasses in shades of cream, icy blue and bronze. Their strong foliage is softened by perennials and ground covers with dainty flowers, including Verbena and Euphorbia species and Erigeron Karvinskianus