A South African vineyard’s classic country garden

An overgrown garden found a new lease on life with a formal layout of ‘garden rooms’ that maximise views of the vineyards beyond.
Pink rose bushes and lavender with hedges and distant vineyards.Photography: Karl Rogers

Four years ago, Gera de Wet and her husband Johann moved to De Wetshof, a celebrated wine estate nestled in Robertson, South Africa, which has been in Johann’s family since 1954. The house needed renovating and the garden had grown so wild you couldn’t see the surrounding vineyards from the front terrace.

“I’m a graphic designer who has branched into interior design, but gardening was something I had little experience in. Despite this, I flung myself into it,” she recalls with a laugh. “To me, a garden is an extension of the home and therefore, just as important. I realised that the sooner I started, the more time it would have to establish and evolve.”

Pink roses in baskets under the wisteria covered pergola.
From the start, Gera wanted the garden to be a lived-in space enjoyed by her whole family. In summer, meals are often languid affairs shared under the cooling shade of wisteria that clothes the so-called ‘Acropolis’. (Photography: Karl Rogers)

The task of redesigning the sprawling grounds seemed daunting, so Gera broke down the process into achievable goals. Step one involved removing and donating plants that were dead, overgrown or unwanted. Then a basic layout of the garden was designed, dividing sections into ‘rooms’ planned around the existing trees. “I envisioned a striking entrance leading to a series of formal and informal spaces,” says Gera, who approached the design as she would have a house interior.

Pink rose bushes and lavender with hedges and distant vineyards.
With plans for the area surrounding the ‘Acropolis’ to eventually become a rose garden, Gera’s initial plantings include ‘Just Imagine’, ‘Albertine’ and ‘My Granny’. Scented swathes of lavender have been established as companion plants for natural pest control. (Photography: Karl Rogers)

European garden inspiration

In the front garden is the so-called ‘Acropolis’, a formal arrangement of grassed areas and gravel paths bordered on three sides by hedges of viburnum and eugenia. At the centre stands a wisteria-covered pergola, its tall columns anchored by towering hollyhocks.

“These flowers are such a source of pride. I remember being captivated by them when I travelled in Europe and I made up my mind to one day make them fashionable in my own garden,” she says. “The fun part was selecting plants for the beds. I did a lot of research to ensure suitability to the climate and I gave careful consideration to the overall impression in terms of shape, height and colour.”

Rose-covered arch and pergola.
Wide gravel paths link the garden’s distinct zones and meander through the large estate. As an added benefit, they don’t need to be watered or mowed, which helps keep a lid on the consumption of precious resources. (Photography: Karl Rogers)
A wisteria covered pergola and timber table setting.
When not dressed in napery and ready to welcome diners, the wooden outdoor table setting serves as a handy spot for Gera to arrange blooms and attend to her many plants. (Photography: Karl Rogers)

For pest control without the chemicals, Gera prefers companion planting – the practice of growing different plants in close proximity to enhance each other’s growth and ward off blight. Here, beds of lavender neighbour Gera’s roses and act as host plants to protect them from aphids. Both love basking in full sun and enjoy frequent visits from the pollinators they attract.

Sustainable spotlight
Pergola with wisteria, lavender and roses.
Lazy family meals beneath the ‘Acropolis’ are beautifully perfumed throughout the seasons, courtesy of wisteria, lavender and roses. (Photography: Karl Rogers)
A formal front garden with hedges and views of the vineyards.
Manicured hedges and symmetry infuse the landscape with formal flair. (Photography: Karl Rogers)

Butterfly garden

An expanse of lawn spans the middle section of the garden between ‘The Acropolis’ and Gera’s butterfly garden, named because it helps attract pollinators. “My farm team was indispensable in helping me use as much of the existing garden as possible. We transplanted agapanthus that are almost 65 years old and ribbon bush, which was shaped into hedges to give the space some structure.” This ‘room’ illustrates Gera’s admiration of Italian and English country gardens.

A butterfly garden with perennials.
Homeowner Gera dedicated the pollinator-friendly butterfly garden to her children and spends a lot of time with them here. “I involved Daniël and Lilya from the start, teaching them the plant names and showing them how to grow flowers from seed. They even understand the term waterwise,” she says. (Photography: Karl Rogers)
Pink rose bush and arbour leading to vineyards.
Delphiniums and foxgloves form spires of colour, joined with pops of pink roses. (Photography: Karl Rogers)

The driveway features a row of orange trees planted in terracotta pots inspired by Gera’s visits to limonaie (citrus greenhouses) in Italy. “I chose oranges over lemons because I wanted to create a palette to complement the extraordinary sunsets we experience here in autumn,” she says. On the opposite side, running a length of 28 metres, an espalier of crab apple trees has been established, where Cape snowdrops provide a reliable winter spectacle below.

An arbour with views to the vineyards.
“I designed an arbour to add height to the garden and to frame a view of the vineyard, and on either side there are elevated areas where I’ve worked with a palette of white, blues and purples,” says Gera of her framed vistas. (Photography: Karl Rogers)

Gera’s most recent addition is a shade garden verging the vineyards, where fuchsias, hellebores and gardenias are the focus along with a variety of seasonal annuals. In late spring, a bank of relocated watsonias puts on a show under a soaring Norfolk pine. “I derive almost childlike joy from witnessing my garden evolve. It takes hard work and patience, but nothing could be more satisfying… except for gathering flowers with my children,” says Gera with a smile, adding a few more roses to the arrangement for the brunch table.

Pink rose flower arrangement between lavender bushes.
The flower beds produce a beautiful bounty of lavender and roses. (Photography: Karl Rogers)

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