South Africa celebrates Arbor Week during the first week of September, encouraging people to plant indigenous trees and to celebrate some of the country’s oldest, largest and most culturally significant specimens.
Many prime examples of historic trees can be viewed at Vergelegen wine estate in Somerset West ‒ and to encourage people to plant indigenous trees, the estate is continuing its tradition of offering visitors free seeds during Arbor Week.
About 500 packets of seeds are sourced annually from its ancient Outeniqua Yellowwood (Podocarpaceae). The seeds are available until Saturday 7 September.
Garden manager Richard Arm says that collecting the seeds is made easier by the resident fruit bats. “They nibble at the seeds, which helps remove the skin that prohibits germination. The bats also tend to drop the seeds in certain areas of the garden, making them easier to find.”
Yellowwood is fast-growing, has an elegant shape, and is suitable for all gardens and seasons, says Arm. “It can also be planted in a large pot.”
Vergelegen has paid homage to the Cape’s indigenous trees and natural environment by clearing over 2000 hectares of dense alien vegetation on the estate. Some 1900 hectares, home to rare and endangered plants and grasslands, will be protected in perpetuity as a private nature reserve.
It also celebrates and protects trees that reflect the Cape’s layered history. Some fascinating examples to be found at Vergelegen include:
- The historic yellowwood can be reached via an easy walk from the homestead. Cross the swing bridge over the Lourens River, and walk the Yellowwood Trail.
- Liquidambars (sweetgums) have been inter-planted with oaks along the entrance drive. Large specimens can also be spotted in front of the Camphors restaurant.
- The Big Five: Vergelegen has five enormous camphor trees (Cinnamomum Camphora) in front of the homestead. Planted by former Cape governor and Vergelegen owner Willem Adriaan van der Stel between 1700 and 1706, they were proclaimed national monuments in 1942.
- Camphor forest: Seedlings sourced from Vergelegen’s ‘Big Five’ have grown into a shady camphor forest, now the site of the estate’s summer picnics.
- Old oaks: A hollow English oak, about 300 years old, is believed to be the oldest living oak in Africa. It can be found near the Camphors restaurant.
- The Royal Oak was planted decades ago when the estate was owned by Sir Lionel and Lady Florence Phillips, friends of the Duchess of Marlborough. “It is in full leaf already and looking splendid,” says Arm.
- The oak arboretum houses about 15 oak varieties and helps to conserve pure oak species, as the estate’s frost-free climate suits their propagation.
- Ancient mulberry: Vergelegen has an ancient white mulberry (Morus Alba). This is the only surviving relic of van der Stel’s attempt to start a silk industry at the Cape.
- Camellia Garden of Excellence: Numerous winter-blooming camellia trees comprise South Africa’s first and only International Camellia Garden of Excellence – one of only 39 such gardens in the world, and the only one in Africa.
- Marvellous maples: About 50 different varieties of maples (genus: Acer), have been planted in the gardens. The saplings grow near the ruins of the historic watermill.
- Ginkgo: Two ginkgo tree saplings, grown from seeds of a 300-year-old tree that survived the 1945 Hiroshima bombing in Japan, have been planted on behalf of the Green Legacy Hiroshima initiative. Find the saplings at the end of the East Garden, protected by two simple wooden sculptures.
- Almond avenue: A magnificent stretch of almond trees is currently in flower.
To visit Vergelegen: Opening hours Monday-Sunday 09h00-17h00 (last entry 16h00). Entrance R10/adults and R5/pensioners and scholars. Pensioners free on Mondays. Wine tasting daily 09h00-16h30, Telephone 021 847 2122. Heritage and garden tours (one hour) depart from the Wine Tasting Centre daily (weather permitting) at 09h30. Telephone 021-847-2122. The family-friendly Stables restaurant is open daily from 09h00-17h00 (kitchen closes at 15h30). Reservations are essential 021 847 2156. Find out more on www.vergelegen.co.za.