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  • Writer's pictureTim and Lindsey

Tree Hugging in Vergelegen - Day 376

Tim got up to his usual, Tree Hugging in Vergelegen

Very close to here is #Vergelegen (which means “situated far away”), it is a beautiful Estate built in 1700 and Cicely kindly offered to take us there. She only had an hour, so quickly gave us a snapshot of the place. We instantly realised that Tim was going to be in his element, the gardens are full of ancient trees. Within a short walk of the car park, we saw five enormous camphor trees with huge bulbous trunks. These are believed to have been planted when the Estate was built and were declared National Monuments in 1942. They are more than 26m tall, bigger than 1,000-year-old camphor trees in their native China.

Our next tree was a beautiful old Oak. It was grown from one of the last acorns of King Alfred’s Oak at Blenheim Palace, back in the UK. On St George’s Day in 1947, King George VI paid an informal visit here, and when he heard about the story of the tree, he personally collected acorns from it and took them back to Windsor Great Park for replanting. Our Queen also visited here in 1995 and unveiled a plaque by this famous tree, and 16 years later Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall came for a visit as well. No wonder it is called “The Royal Oak.”

Cicely pointed out a somewhat hollow tree to us, and this is thought to be the oldest living oak tree in Africa at over 300 years old. How it has survived, I don’t know. The estate has about 15 different varieties of oak and launched an oak arboretum in recent years.

Before Cicely had to leave, she took us over a suspension bridge across the Lourens River and down a forest path. Here we found an incredibly old and quite wild Outeniqua Yellowwood. Its thick branches and even its roots seem distorted. Somehow this is accentuated as it is circled by much younger, very straight Yellowwoods which look as if they are either protecting the old tree or imprisoning it. This giant has been given a few names, depending on how people view it, such as “Witch” and “Mommy”. I have heard that trees never touch another tree, yet its branches have grown right against its offspring, even pushing and merging into some of the younger trunks. I definitely think it is trying to escape.

It was time for Cicely to leave and as we walked back to her car, a group of ladies from China were looking up at a tree. They called us over and there, sitting on a thick branch, was a Cape Eagle Owl. How wonderful. We said farewell to Cicely and went off exploring the place further.

There are 17 unique gardens here. The Octagonal Garden leads from the house and has a stunning wide bed of many perennials, very much in a style we’d see in Britain, with deep blue Delphiniums, orange Day Lilies, vibrant yellow and red Dahlias and various shades of Astramaris – stunning. Around the garden was a tall cream wall replacing the original one, which was high enough to keep lions out!

Keith had informed us about the splendid rose garden and hoped that it was in full bloom for us. Many were, some had been pruned. It was a fabulous display though and planted in a colour-wheel palette from white to yellow, then peach and orange onto pinks and deep reds. Delightful.

We returned to walk along the river, through an area full of ferns thriving despite the water shortage, with many gradually unfurling to beautiful green leaves. We saw a tiny Swee Waxbill and stopped to capture its beauty on camera. The landscape changed to thick pipes of bamboo, can you see me amongst them? Passing the old Yellowwood again, we found another wooded area with loads of Camellias along the pathway. This garden has been given a Certificate of Excellence, the only one in Africa and I can imagine that this area must look amazing when the flowers are in full bloom.

It was lunchtime, so we strolled through the herb garden to the converted stables, now a very spacious and light bistro. We sat outside, with wonderful views of the Hottentots Holland mountain range, enjoying a light lunch. Afterwards, we explored the gardens towards the mountains with hundreds, if not thousands of agapanthus and could see, what at first glance, looked like a short horse. Tim focused the camera on it and realised that it was an Antelope. It turns out that it was a Bontebok, which is relatively rare to see. Our first anyway.

The sun was getting hot, so we popped into the homestead, which is now a small museum. Some rooms have been authentically furnished, reflecting the various eras during its existence. A corridor with panels described the inhabitants, who have lived in Vergelegen in the last 300 years, including the many slaves who worked here. There were detailed accounts of the names, ages (ranging from 5 to 40 years old) and what countries the slaves were taken from and by whom. The families who lived here included Willem Adriaan van der Stel, a governor of the Cape who first created the estate. Sir Lionel Phillips, who made his millions in diamond and gold mines. He bought the estate for his wife Lady Florence Phillips, who transformed it from dilapidation into a place of beauty. The estate passed once more into caring hands after Lady Phillips death and was purchased by Mr Charles “Punch” Barlow and his wife, Cynthia. In 1987, it was purchased by Anglo American who now run this as a thriving farm, vineyard, and preserving this rural jewel for posterity. Lastly, we visited the Library, situated in a separate building, initially the winery. It now has over 4,000 books, mainly collections of Sir Lionel Phillips and we did discover that there was also a catalogue of Punch magazines, which “Punch” Barlow probably purchased. Tim’s Dad had a similar collection, fabulous old books that he saved from a skip many years ago. I think Tim’s sister may still have them, trying to find another loving home for them.

Our day ended back at Cicely’s. For some reason, we were talking about burns. I think this story is worth sharing as it may help someone in the future. Cicely told us that her father once had a third degree burn on his hand and quickly asked her to grate an onion and put the juicy pulp over it. It stung like mad but only for a few minutes. They covered the hand with a clean plastic bag and then put this in a sock to keep the onion in place (I am sure cling film would do). Replacing the onion regularly, within 10 days the hand was as right as new. These old remedies are worth knowing. Do you know any more worth sharing?

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