10 November 2011

Old Nectar - Garden of Note

Old Nectar - Garden of Note

Sadly, Una passed away on
16/07/2012 - just 4 days before celebrating her 100th birthday on 20/07/2012.
A truly incredible lady, full of charm and grace.
It was indeed a very, very special privilege to meet Una and to enjoy her wonderful garden.

Every once in awhile, one stumbles upon an incredibly fascinating person who makes one feel that life is for living to the 100th degree and if we don't grab all our moments of joy we will live to regret our lost chances and opportunities.

It was indeed my extreme pleasure to be introduced to an icon in many eyes of the gardening world in South Africa, Una van der Spuy. An author of 10 books, with the latest being "Old Nectar - a Garden for all Seasons"
This book is a fascinating read of the life and garden of the van der Spuy family in their homestead which is situated in the glorious Jonkershoek Valley, just outside of Stellenbosch, South Africa.

To turn an accident (4 broken vertebrae) into an opportunity to write another gardening book at the age of 95, is a feat that I cannot even begin to imagine. It shows us all how even a "bad" happening can be turned around into something so amazingly positive that it defies description. The thought of spending 6 months on her back with nothing to do was too much for this grand lady who decided that she would need to write another book to keep her from becoming bored!!

Una's garden is a showpiece of note and is the only private garden in South Africa to have been designated as a National Monument in 1967. Una and her late husband bought the property in 1941 and it has been her labour of love ever since she first tackled the huge task of creating something of beauty with their 2 acres of land. Her lengthy span in this home brought many challenges and Una faced them all head-on it seems from the fascinating history of the garden and their life in the 1940's! Una's husband was in the military so she spent many months on her own with little or no help. Eventually she managed to get 4 Italian prisoners of war who came to help in creating her garden. None of them were gardeners, some quite lazy, but a 19 yr old showed enthusiasm and stayed with Una until the war ended. Una must have influenced this youngster to such a degree with her positive attitude that he returned to South Africa and eventually became a very wealthy man - first by starting off in a backroom making his Italian ice-cream - today all locals know the famous ice-cream brand of Gattis but many most probably don't know that Gatti helped start the gardens at "Old Nectar".

Una opens her garden to visitors at certain times of the year and she took our group around the garden herself. "Mind the steps here" she told us - "I don't want you to slip and fall" It put us all to shame - this slim lady, nearly 50 years older than most of us, was more sprightly than many in our group!
Una is full of stories and had us enthralled when she was relating how he husband found bathroom tiles lying in a brickyard of the Cullinan family of Pretoria. These tiles had been made during the 1914 - 1918 war and had lain forgotten for 24 years. These tiles were used in the house and the odd ones left in a cellar for many years. When Una's husband retired he put these tiles to good use in having a bench made - much to Una's dismay. Although it is not her favourite piece, it will remain in her garden and remind her of their motto  "Use everything, waste nothing"  This most unusual, colourful bench is now in the "Bench Garden" and the tiles are now worth at least R250.00 per tile!

The garden is divided into 7 different sections
The Front Garden, the Rose Garden, The Pergola, The Woodland Garden, the Bench Garden, the Back Garden and the Millstone Terrace. 

The book elaborates on the history of both the garden, house and family and has brilliant photographs of the garden in winter, summer, spring and autumn. Its a fascinating read for anybody interested in the living history of this incredible lady.

I was so fascinated by the scents, colours and stories that I ended up losing my glasses as I bent over to take a photo. Panic set in as I imagined driving back home without them so I gulped down my tea and proceeded to scratch in the garden where I thought they had fallen. No luck! I was about to give up when one of the other ladies offered to assist me and we were both just about to give up when I stood on a rock, something moved and there they were - luckily intact. With such dense plantings my glasses could have lain undiscovered for many years!

One tip which we were told right at the start of our tour, was to buy plants, not for the flowers, but for the textures and colours such as bronze, gold and silver. The concept certainly works at Old Nectar.

Thanks, Una for sharing your life's history and your incredible garden with us.
You are an inspiration to us all!

We wish you many more years in your glorious garden.

Sadly, Una passed away on 16/07/2012 - just 4 days before celebrating her 100th birthday on 20/07/2012.
A truly incredible lady, full of charm and grace.
It was indeed a very, very special privilege to meet her and enjoy her wonderful garden.

The brief history below is quoted courtesy of the link:

"Una Dorothy van der Spuy was born on 20 July 1912 at East London, South Africa.
Until the age of nine years she lived on a farm in the Stutterheim district. She then started school in King Williams Town (Bisho) and matriculated there in 1928, after which she studied at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, and later with Unisa. Her subjects were Economics and International Politics, with the objective of, at some future date, making a career in politics.
From 1938 to 1941, (during the first part of World War II) she lived in London and experienced the trauma of the bombing, both with incendiaries and high explosives.
She returned to South Africa in 1941 and she and her husband, General K.R. van der Spuy C.B.E., M.C., bought the property Old Nectar, an old Cape Dutch House with a few hectares of ground. As there was no garden she immediately set about trying to create one worthy of the house. In this, despite having no knowledge of plants when she started, she succeeded admirably, as the garden in due course was declared a National Monument, the only private garden to have been thus honoured to date. From 1950 she has opened the garden each spring to raise funds for various charities and it has become well-known and featured in magazines and books in many countries of the world.
Ten years after she arrived at Old Nectar Una started contributing gardening articles to magazines and a few years later she wrote her first book, Gardening in Southern Africa. In order to illustrate her books she learned photography and, over a period oft 12 years, she took about 10 000 pictures of flowers in order to produce pictures of good enough quality to use in the books. For many years she was active in the field of conservation and preservation, particularly with regard to old buildings which were being demolished at an alarming rate.
In 1992 the Cape Tercentenary Foundation made an Award of Merit to her for outstanding services to Conservation in the Cape. Una also received a medal from the Nurserymen's Association for Meritorious Service to Horticulture".
Her latest book, on her favourite plants, will be published soon"

© Judelle Drake

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