This story was first published on 13 September 2017 and was updated 8 October 2019.
Some 15 gardens will be open to the public for the 2019 Elgin Open Gardens festival which will take place on 26 to 27 October and 2 to 3 November.
1. The flowers, of course
There’s a glorious profusion of blooms in gardens on four different routes in the valley and all are a treat for garden lovers. Those on show range from large traditional country gardens, such as Fresh Woods and Belfield, to smaller gardens, such as the Stone Kitchen with its permaculture veggie garden in Grabouw village. Large modern gardens include those at Lothian Vineyards, where a rose arbour meanders beside a picturesque lake, and Fairholme, featured in a number of gardening magazines and which also sells plants from its nursery.
“We pride ourselves on the range of plants we can grow in the heavier soils of this cooler and wetter area,” says Barbara Knox-Grant of Fresh Woods, who is also the organiser of the event.
Roses do particularly well in the Elgin valley and heritage roses are a riot of blooms at this time, while Oak Valley offers tours of its cut-flower greenhouses.
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Apart from stalwarts of the valley such as the ever-popular Houwhoek Farm Stall restaurant, there are pop-up eateries at some of the Open Gardens. Some limit their offering to tea and scones and cakes, while others offer boerewors rolls. Keurbos Nursery Garden does light lunches as well as teas. On a grander scale, Iona is known for its four-course meals paired with their own wines (booking essential). Terra Madre hosts an artisanal food market where you can nibble on delectable treats both sweet and savoury. A number of gardens offer picnic spots, so you can stop in at Peregrine Farm Stall to buy some warm bread fresh out of the oven and some local goodies to make your own picnic.
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The cool climate is conducive to full-bodied, flavourful wines and there are plenty to taste on estates on the Elegantly Elgin Wine Route. At boutique operations such as Wallovale Vineyards and Corder Family Wines, you’re quite likely to get to chat to the winemaker himself. Pioneer Paul Cluver’s tasting room is always popular and at Beaumont Wines in Botrivier you can also visit a working watermill on the historic farm.
And if wine is not your thing, try a glass of apple juice at Lavenham or Windermere Cider, which is made with rooibos instead of sulphur.
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Wildekrans Country House combines roses and eye-catching sculptures by well-known South African artists that are dotted around the garden – some are quirky, while others offer biting comment on socio-political issues. This year, Almenkerk Wine Estate is hosting a special eco-art exhibition to create awareness around issues surrounding the decline of the honeybee population, curated by Alex Hamilton in collaboration with Dirk Durnez. And while you’re there, tuck into one of their yummy cheese platters and wonderful wines.
5. The countryside
The lovely green hills and dales of Elgin valley are dotted with vines, orchards and timber plantations. This fruitful valley is the cradle of South Africa’s deciduous fruit industry and more than 40% of all the apples grown in Elgin are exported.
Sir Antonie Viljoen, founder of Oak Valley farm, is recognised as the first commercial producer of deciduous fruit in the region and planted the first grapevines in 1908. His wine cellar closed in the 1940s, but today a revitalised Oak Valley is renowned for its premier cool-climate wines, as well as cut flowers and mountain bike trails.
Other agricultural pioneers were Kathleen Murray’s bachelor uncles, Harry and Ted Molteno, who established one of the largest deciduous fruit farms in the valley at Glen Elgin early in the 20th century.
Elgin Open Gardens
Barbara Knox-Shaw: +27 (0) 21 844 0154; +27 (0) 78 021 2101
Jessie Walton: +27 (0) 83 458 3790
The Elgin gardens are open from 10am to 5pm and entry fees benefit local charities.
Words and Photography Marion Whitehead