Marking the entrance to Delaire Graff Estate is a vast stone amphitheatre, radiant with layered colour and foliage: leaves shimmer, sunlight pours through gold and amber petals, and a regal three-ton sandstone head by sculptor Anton Smit gazes out across the Banghoek Valley.
As part of Laurence Graff’s vision to turn the Estate into South Africa’s leading premium wine, hospitality and art destination, he brought in the country’s foremost landscape artist, Keith Kirsten, to create an authentic Western Cape garden that would provide eye-catching colour year-round. The garden was designed to provide a living backdrop to the Graff art collection on the grounds, showcasing South African sculpture by artists such as Deborah Bell, Dylan Lewis and Anton Smit.
Kirsten is well known internationally for his designs. His many books, public appearances and lectures are enhanced by his effusive personality and passion for anything with roots. “It’s nature: it’s that bud opening; it’s seeing the Crepuscule roses growing along the wall at the entrance to Delaire Graff Estate. When I drove in this morning, that whole wall of apricot colour put a lilt in my step. It’s everything, from the changing seasons to the smell of the lawn being cut. Plants and flowers: there’s nothing like them.”
Kirsten leans towards a relaxed gardening style, often making use of indigenous plants, always being water-wise, and planting to suit the contemporary space. In came Madiba hybrid king proteas, intense yellow Mandela’s Gold Strelitzias (Bird of Paradise), mature cycads and a cluster of statuesque aloes. More than 350 varieties of indigenous plants populate the garden including under-appreciated South African plants, such as restio grasses, cabbage trees and the vibrant coral tree, are tended to by a team of 11 gardeners and a senior horticulturalist.
For the team at Keith Kirsten Horticulture International, including well known designer Raymond Hudson, designing and replanting the site for the Estate’s official opening in June 2009 was a three-year process. “Laurence Graff is a man of exceptional detail,” explains Kirsten. “He passionately wanted to create a fantastic garden and design experience.”
A patron of the South African National Water Conservation campaign, Kirsten stresses the importance of environmentally conscious gardening. With semidrought conditions already a reality in the Cape, many of the Estate’s water-sapping alien bluegum trees were removed. “We removed dozens of huge Eucalyptus trees that used to line the old road over the mountain pass, which is now the main entrance to Delaire Graff Estate,” explains Kirsten. “They were old, dangerous and not at all water-wise or in keeping with our design philosophy. We could never have planted a garden like this under them; they would have robbed the soil. The results now speak for themselves.”
“I’m very against planting anything that is unsuitable or ecologically incorrect,” Kirsten states. He is, however, a fan of happy horticultural marriages – which meant, in this case, importing non-invasive plants from the Mediterranean, Australia and California, and settling them beside similar indigenous plants.
This holistic philosophy permeates every aspect of Delaire Graff Estate, even within the restaurants. Fresh produce, fertilised by the on-site wormery, is picked daily from the Estate’s herb, salad and vegetable garden. The lush surrounds also encourage biodiversity. ‘You’ll see sunbirds on those pincushions, and birds’ nests in the protection of the walls covered by Virginia creeper,’ Kirsten notes proudly. Indeed, it seems as though these natural jewels have found the perfect setting.