Looking down the Beech Borders
 Roses in the Beech Borders
Looking up the Beech Borders

There is no doubt about it – this week belongs to the Beech Borders, planted with pink roses. There are lots of old fashioned roses, most of which we grew from cuttings, with the Damask rose Ispahan dominating at present. But you will also find Belle de Crecy,  a Gallica, Jacques Cartier, a Portland, Mme Ernest Calvat, a Bourbon and New Dawn, a climber from 1930. Other roses include more modern roses and David Austins like Gertrude Jekyll as well as two rather feeble little pink roses which I grew from seed. The Beech Borders reach down from the seat under the beech tree to the waterlily pond, where more roses climb into the small indigenous ‘blinkblaar’ tree, Rhamnus prinoides. Then the axis cuts across the valley and up the other side, where a swath of blue hydrangeas will later flower in a cutting through a forest of poplar saplings. You can see it here in a long blog on hydrangeas. Below is Ispahan. And in due course I will add more rose pics!


MY RONDEL GARDEN – or: To let go or to hold on?

Rondel in bloom 1999

I scanned this view from a 1999 slide. Let me start by saying: I’ve never once in the 14 years of its existence taken an overview photograph of my Rondel Garden that really pleased me. They all lack a focal point, and the effect is always bitty, and the glorious old roses with which the garden is filled, no matter how lushly in bloom, look spotty. Besides, the garden has been in terminal decline for years, and I don’t know where its future lies…

But let me start with its inception – or rather its conception, which had an air of the immaculate about it that still fills me with wonder, and is reason enough to resurrect it.

Creating the Rondel Garden Laying out the Rondel Garden

I lift the text which follows from a post at Moosey’s. At that stage my trusty Frans Seale was still the gardener in charge here, and the sense of loss was not nearly as acute as it is now. Since then the irrigation system was damaged and the problem not picked up till several roses had died and there has been disastrous pruning, some on my direct instruction (the Sequoia tree now looks like one of those artificial monsters that hide mobile phone antennas :(…) Time has not stood still for me either. This garden is essentially a shrine. Is a shrine to be considered holy, or merely a marker on my path through life? Here then the story behind the Rondel Garden; you will understand why going to Sissinghurst was so important to me…

Rough plan of Rondel Garden with seating area at the bottom of the circle

An old plan of the Rondel Garden. The tiny circle at 12 o’clock represents the Sequoia tree. There is another outside the circle at 3 o’clock.

20 October 2006

Yesterday I took the first photos of the season in the Rondel Garden, and it is time to tell the story of this most personal of all the spaces in my garden.

The Rondel Garden is where the ashes of Francois, the first love of my life, are buried. I dreamt of the garden in great detail, right down to the name, a week before he died of cancer in 1994. When I went in to the hospital I told him about it, he liked the idea, and we spent many happy hours planning it together. He had originally asked to have his ashes buried across Freddie’s Dam from my stone cottage under the round slab which marks the centre of the Carpet Garden. I built it at the same time as the cottage in 1989, the first of the formal features on the farm, as a surprise tenth anniversary present for him. It is the point where everyone stops to look at my house across the dam, and it troubled me a little that they would be standing on him. View across Carpet Garden towards Rondel Garden

  View across the Carpet Garden towards the Rondel Garden in 2006.The Sequoia tree, not much more than a sapling when the garden was being laid out, has since been pruned higher to let more light in on the garden. It now looks horribly artificial. The cottage is out of frame to the right.

 When I built the cottage I was adamant: it would stand between the pine trees on the edge of the meadow looking out over the dam, and there would be no garden – only herbs, a lemon tree and three climbing Iceberg roses in the pillars. I was gardening all over, but not near the house. In the back of my head was the possibility of a flower garden 60m away behind the house, where there were some graves, only one of which had a headstone. It is dated 1892: the nephew it seems of the person to whom the farm was originally deeded. There were a few graves in a block, then a space of a few meters, then a tiny grave of a child with a crudely carved headstone which must have contained an inset plaque, long since vanished. Nearly five years on I was still vaguely thinking about the possibilities of this garden. 1996 This 1996 photo shows the house still surrounded by pine trees in its meadow.   The raw Rondel Garden can just be discerned  to the left of the lone pine, and  the pine that obscured the view frames the left side of the picture.

Francois and I shared a love of gardening and of roses in particular. For our thirteenth anniversary, some weeks after the cancer was diagnosed, he gave me the most beautiful book ever produced in South Africa: Gwen Fagan’s “Roses at the Cape of Good Hope”. This beautiful book was our introduction to the old-fashioned roses, and the start of our last great shared passion. We would set off in late October to see the old roses and, until exhaustion would suddenly set in, rush around the few nurseries and gardens where they could be seen. I started reading more widely about the old roses, discovered Sissinghurst, and then in the serene summer of 1993-4 I sat reading about great gardens and gardeners in the perfection of our suburban Johannesburg garden which we had created together, and occasionally went in to check on him where he now spent most of the day sleeping like a new baby.

That is the background to the dream. The dream, an incredibly detailed and realistic one, was this: a round garden up where the old graves were, a stone at the very centre in the space between the graves, marking Francois’ ashes, and a series of beds each containing a different type of old-fashioned rose – gallicas, albas, centifolias etc. There would be a path below the graves dissecting the circle, with pie-shaped beds below that. There would be a seating area looking down on the stone across a small thyme lawn and then across to the Carpet Garden, and two larger beds on either side of it. There would have to be a fence (roses need to be fenced against the deer) and a hedge all around the circle. And it was to be called the Rondel Garden.

Frans in the Rondel Until he retired, looking after the Rondel Garden gave Frans Seale great joy. The thyme lawn was at its best when this photo was taken.

Francois made suggestions: use a selection of the old single-flowered HT roses for the hedge; plant a bay tree on either side of the seating area. I still have the original drawings I made to explain the Rondel Garden to him, and the notes I made as we discussed it, including these requests.

Dainty Bess Irish Elegance

Golden Wings

Mrs Oakley Fisher The hedge consists consisted of four plants at a time of these four single HT roses from the 1920-30s: top left, Dainty Bess – still commercially popular, Irish Elegance, Golden Wings and left my favourite Mrs Oakley Fisher. These roses suffered the most when some of the irrigation stopped working and no-one checked on them till many were dead…





It was a few weeks after Francois’ death before I got to the farm.

Needless to say, as soon as possible I went up to the old graves. I stood where the stone would go, and looked over towards the Carpet Garden. I could not see it. There was a huge old pine tree at the bottom end of the meadow, and it was directly on the axis. What is more the axis moved awkwardly, diagonally across the slope and at an odd angle to the line of the graves. The central concept in the design could not work! I pondered; I looked around; I moved a few meters this way and a few that way; I measured. And before too long I had my answer, and it was in all ways an improvement. Axis from gate into Sawtooth Oaks The plow at the end of the axis from the second Sequoia, across the stone, and through the gate and the oak trees. Right front the turn towards the Carpet Garden.

Growing within the circle, and at a point perpendicular to the main axis which runs below the graves and through the stone, was a young Sequoia tree. By moving another young Sequoia 5m it would be outside the circle at the end of the main axis; the main axis ran parallel with the planting of a grove of young sawtooth oaks (Quercus acutisimma); my circle was perfectly quartered. By taking the axis into the grove a few meters, then turning through 90 degrees, I would face the Carpet Garden – not at an odd angle, but square on, and directly across the contour. Extending the axis from the gate into the trees, I placed the old mule-drawn plow on a plinth. Thus the dogleg approach was born, and within the expanse of beautiful nature, a formal series of perpendicular axes fell into place; the dream had only to be very slightly tweaked before it could be turned into reality…

The approach to the Rondel Garden The approach to the Rondel Garden. Looking back from the top of the steps, the eye travels across the meadow towards the Carpet Garden.

Here we are now, 10 years next week since the party I gave for many of our friends where we unveiled a plaque on a stone in a garden dripping with old fashioned roses and nicotianas. How has that garden matured?

The answer, I too often think, is: not well. Most of my beds are hopelessly too small for the blowsy old roses. The circle should have been twice the diameter (but of course it couldn’t be.) The garden is not well enough cared for, with often unsatisfactory pruning and feeding regimes. The roses peak at the same time as our rainy season starts, often resulting in a total mess. By mid-summer the garden is a depressing tangle full of black spot and mildew, with most roses no longer flowering. Several important roses have died; others have had to be moved as they were simply too big or too close together. And yet.Lamarque on the approach arch Lamarque on the approach arch when the garden was in its hayday.

 It is a magical spot, the coming-into-being and the geometry of it carrying almost psychic significance, the very shortcomings adding to the romance. As I stood this morning photographing it – after a night of soft rain so that every plant was heavy with water and bowing in thanks – I was overwhelmed by the lushness of it, the opulence and the promise of delights to come. I felt it was the most beautiful thing I have ever created.

Footnote: before the garden was completed, but after the main structures were laid out, a freak wind tore the old pine apart and it had to be cut down. The line of site between the Carpet Garden and the Rondel Garden was open…

Rondel entrance gate Said to be the most scented rose in the world, Madame Isaac Pereire grows across the entrance gate. The stone under which the ashes are buried lies at the centre of the circle, with the second Sequoia at the end of the axis.

And here we are, back in the winter of 2010. I hurry past the Rondel Garden, eyes averted, depressed at the sight and overwhelmed by the implications. There are many reasons to rethink this garden. The scale simply does not work. There is too little sun for the roses…

Do I move out all or most of the plants as I’ve been thinking to do, creating large informal island beds to house them? What do I then do with the delightfully symmetrical bones of the garden which will not be too difficult to uncover? Turn it into a garden of easy annuals? Low perennials? Vegetables? (too far from the house, too close to the monkeys…) Low clipped shapes only? I don’t know. But soon I must decide if the revival is to happen within the next six weeks or wait another year…

Time. Time and money. Sigh. Oh for 40 hours in the day and a bottomless pocket!




For weeks I’ve been gathering material for this post, but the more I got, the more random the theme became; it has not been a good year for rose photographs, and there is not really the time to delve through my archives, so this is it – a selection of the season’s better pics…

‘Buff Beauty’ is one of the most charming of all roses, and one of my favourites.  Her colour can vary from a dull straw to apricot, depending on the light and the temperature. She is a graceful climber and sweetly scented.

Here she grows with ‘Veilchenblau’ on the Wisteria Arbour in the Anniversary Garden. As they get bigger it becomes less of a contortion to get them both into the same shot. I must remember that come the pruning season!

I am certain that ‘Veilchenblau’ is an ancestor of ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, one of the most talked about of recent introductions. The way they have a red rather than a grey undertone, their velvety purple aging and their lime green foliage differentiate them from most other “blue” roses.

I’ve spoken before of Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’ and here the various colours, from bud to dark maturity and faded old age can be seen. A glorious rose; and of course, a species rose not a hybrid… amazing, isn’t it!

Rosa rugosa is another unmistakable species rose, repeat-flowering all season, with heavily corrugated leaves and a suckering habit. It has single  magenta flowers, which are not to everyone’s taste, especially when seen with the huge orange heps – a startling combination!

Usually R. rugosa comes true from seed, but this is a hybrid! However it won’t make my fortune as it is a little shy to flower and the blooms don’t last very long or produce any heps. A curiosity for my garden only!

After all the lack of genealogy… a bit of breeding. This is a Hybrid Tea known as ‘Garden Queen’ or (in the USA) as ‘Buxom Beauty’. She still stands in her unglamourous bag near the front door. I  thought she might be the answer to my prayers, but her shrill pink colour and flaunting shape don’t appeal to me as they ought. I’ve come to appreciate subtler beauties. I guess she’ll find a spot in the Beech Borders. Yes, I did say bEEch. She was intended for the Ellensgate Garden, but I think something less of a trophy will work better in that comfortable and intimate space…

‘The Squire’ on the other hand has no pretensions to grandeur. He knows he represents the Best of British and happily stood around in Trudie’s Garden for a year before I gave him a more permanent home there. Now, of course, in a quiet way, he lords it over the other roses. He is, after all, one of David Austin’s English Roses…

R. roxburgii plena  is a strange Chinese fellow and was originally thought to be a species, until the single form was introduced and he had a plena added to his name. In fact he is so strange that there are those who question whether he should be called a Rose at all… His buds are covered in spikes, giving him the names Burr Rose and Chestnut Rose  ( you can see one top right) and his silvery bark tends to peel in a most unroselike manner. He has 12 tiny leaflets to a leaf, although that is not nearly as unusual as one might think amongst the species roses.

My ‘New Dawn’ roses are all grown from cuttings. They strike more easily than any other rose I know. The one below the waterlily pond has had literally hundreds of blooms over the last two months – of the softest pink. It is about as typical a rose as one can get, and possibly one of the easiest flowering plants to grow, relative to its contribution in the garden. You do realise that I rank this rose rather highly, don’t you?

‘Tausendshon’ – thousand times beautiful – is an aptly named rose. Almost thornless, it flowers continuously with flushes of apple-blossom pink blooms. Another easy rose from cuttings, although a little prone to mildew with me. But I have yet to spray it; it pulls through of its own accord.

This is not, I guess, a close-up. At least not of the roses, not even quite of the foxglove.  But I’ve been wanting to show you the Anniversary Garden, where mauves and yellows combine. Most of the roses in this shot are ‘South Africa’, a very disease resistant and robust soft orange rose which I can’t praise highly enough, bred by Kordes of Germany.

Here it is in close-up. Worthy of oohing and ahing over…

I’m certain David Austin waited a long time before he dared name a rose after Graham Stuart Thomas, the doyen of old-rose specialists.  He made a good choice.  I believe this has become the most popular yellow rose in the UK.  In South Africa it is best grown as a climber.  After trying to contain my two bushes for three years, they are now blissfully happy on  reed structures, each about two meters high and three meters long.

I said the theme was yellow and mauve, didn’t I? I’d actually misplaced this shot of ‘Veilchenblau’, (taken last year and sought out for this post), but I’m pleased it happened that way. I think it rounds of this little show quite nicely!


I’ve been asked about my red foliage and my roses, so I’ll identify my roses in this post and tell you a little more about other plants. And I’ll take you to a number of other spots around the garden, but let’s start again in the Beech Borders.

All the roses you see here I grew from cuttings from stock first planted in the Rondel Garden in 1996. From left to right they are: the bright pink of the Damask rose Ispahan (early 1800s) which featured often in the previous post. A few blooms of the  Bourbon rose Mme Ernst Calvat (1888) peek out from behind it and look rather similar. The pale pink is New Dawn, one of the best climbers of all time. In 1930 it sported as a repeat-flowering version of a 1910 introduction – one of the most fascinating rose sports of all time, as for the rest they are identical. To its right the rich pink of the Gallica Belle de Crecy(+-1850s) All these roses are wonderfully scented. Towards the back, more Ispahan. The red shrub is Berberis thunbergii atropurpurea and the pink flowered shrub which I love to mix with roses is Spirea x bumalda ‘Anthony Waterer’. They too are grown from cuttings; when you garden on this scale doing your own propagation is necessary 🙂 ! The background is a row of seven now mature Acer palmatum (Japanese maples – a glorious sight in autumn) and to the right is Acer davidii, one of the snake-bark maples.

My nephews aged 16 and 14 were here from Namibia last week. They crept down to The Embarkment to get to the water with good grace. They knew that cutting the plants that had fallen across the path was out of the question –  an Abelia x grandiflora and two roses: the common moss rose Rosa centifolia muscosa (before 1700) and the Four Seasons White Moss Quatre saisons blanc mousseux (1835)

Another of these impressively named roses holds its own across the water after (I must admit) being dumped there some years ago when the area was much more open in the hope it would survive. To its left Acer palmatum atropurpureum with Rhododendron luteum  and Exochorda x macrantha below and Salix babylonica ‘Crispa’, the lovely Ram’s Horn Willow to its right.

Here is a view of my house through the Four Seasons Whie Moss, the camera held above my head. If nothing else this photo proves that it was not pruned last year, but survives quite happily nonetheless! ‘Four Seasons’ is a bit of an exaggeration – it repeat flowers slightly in autumn. Which was, of course, very unusual when it was first introduced…

Whilst on the far side of the dam, a view of my house and yes, my vehicle: a Malaysian designed Toyota Condor 4×4 diesel: it works like a slave, can carry 7 passengers or a load of plants or cement or even take a full-sized mattress when I go camping. Irreplaceable, it has been superseded by vehicles that are hopelessly too sophisticated and expensive to play such a multi-purpose role! (Anyone from Toyota reading this??) White climbing Iceberg roses (1968 – had to add a date for this modern classic!) grow left and right onto my house, with a Clematis montana adding to the show on the right. Overhanging the dam at the entertainment area are two Félicité et Perpétue roses, a lovely old climber from 1827. Penelope, a Hybrid Musk from 1924, graces the Cottage Garden below the Condor.

Here is another view across the Cottage Garden to where we have just been; the green  rod in the right quarter has me baffled. I suspect it is a rather potent Watsonia – but it will come as a wonderful surprise when it flowers. (No, I’m NOT going to identify the trees to the right of the willow right now!)

Near the garage the Wichuraiana rambler Excelsa scrambles up into a pine; wonderful if the mildew doesn’t do too much harm to it!

As  I’ve said before, the Rondel Garden, home to my original old-fashioned roses, commemorating Sissinghurst in its name and Francois in its existence, is in need of serious replanning… This is Rosa moyesii ‘Geranium’. I’ve never seen a single one of the famed flagon-shaped hips on it. Climate? Or just my bad luck to have an infertile strain? Iceberg on the house.

Still in the Rondel, Pink Grootendorst (A Dutch surname meaning ‘big thirst’ – there are three members in the rugosa family!) has flowers frilled like a carnation and dates from 1923. To its left in the rugosa bed is Frau Dagmar Hastrup from 1914. Prunus cerasifera in one of its many forms provides a plummy background.

We now move to the end of the wisteria arbour in the Anniversary Garden where the Polyantha climber Veilchenblau (1909) lives up to its name which means ‘Blue veil’. Below it the wonderfully subtle strawwy yellows of Buff Beauty (a shrubby climber from 1939) can be seen. Veilchenblau is beginning to climb up into the Japanese maple. I can’t wait to see the effect five years from now!

I planted New Dawn in the Upper Rosemary Border by mistake, thinking it something else. It has scrambled about, reaching for the sun through the thick planting of smallish shrubs, and set off especially well against Abelia x grandiflora. The species Rosa rugosa has been a mixed blessing next to it, suckering whenever the roots are damaged during cultivation. However the flowers are a perfect colour match with Spirea x bumalda ‘Anthony Waterer’ and the rose flowers continuously, later producing startling orange hips at the same time as its magenta flowers. I enjoy the unsubtle colour mix and the birds enjoy the food. Win-win, I’d say.

Here is another view, taken from the Rosemary Terrace; I’ve written enough and you’ve read enough. No more details on the planting.

This is the first year I’ve even noticed the Tausendschön (Thousand beauties, 1906, a Polyantha climber) in the purple crab-apple. It must be five or more years since I planted it there. It repeat flowers in a good spot. This can’t be one. But it will grow through the tree and in years to come give greater joy.

Gosh, this walk is exhausting me! We are now up in the arboretum where I planted a number of tough roses some six or more years ago. The rather garish pink was incorrectly marked ‘Compassion’ but has proved itself to be tough alright. Behind it is South Africa. I will sing its praises (the best rose since Iceberg???) in a future post. A single flower is all that can be seen of Rosa chinensis mutabilis about which I will tell you more when I post close-ups soon.

And so down we go and across the Makou Dam to the old stone barn. Tausendschön,  the mother plant of many on the mountain, absolutely loves this sunny spot where I planted it nearly 20 years ago. Beyond it another repeat-flowering pink rambler-like climber grows on the fence of the vegetable garden. I’ve known this rose all my life here on the farm and in neighbouring gardens. Unlike most climbers – and definitely most ramblers – it has an incredibly long season, being one of the first in bloom and carrying on right into winter. It is very happy here where it steals the sun from the veggies, happier than its mother plant, and being a sucker for charm and beauty I allow it to keep pride of place.

We end our walk (pant, pant) at Trudie’s Garden outside the big house, where I reiterate what I said at the beginning of the previous post: I like roses where they can grow as huge as they like and flop over complimentary shrubs and be voluptuous and abandoned. This might be a rather more elegant lady, a prim and sophisticated hybrid tea called Germiston Gold, but she too benefits from the arm of a dapper shrub to show off her assets…


It is rose season at Sequoia Gardens, a time of extremes of joy and despair. It is not really a rose climate; it tends to be too damp when the roses are supposed to look their best. In addition this past season I’ve not always provided the necessary support with feeding and pruning (I don’t do any spraying anyway). But walking through the garden recently and looking at the scene below, I knew where the strength – and the future development – of my roses lay…

Fact: I will never be a neat gardener. Fact: my roses often need to fend for themselves. Fact: roses in an unneat garden having to fend for themselves are a disgrace. Fact: my roses often succeed in being superb despite all these facts! How and why? My best roses flop heavily onto other shrubs, or have a strong supporting cast when they aren’t capable of taking centre-stage. Many are once-flowering old-fashioned shrub roses. Many are tough as nails – what Ludwig, South Africa’s Mr Rose has coined Eco-Chic roses and marked with a red ladybird in his wonderful colour-catalogue. I must stop thinking along the lines of outdated rosebeds! (Except of course for Trudie’s Garden, where that is part of its charm, and where I do try to do the high maintenance thing.) I must accept that the Anniversary Garden is a 60% rose flop and fix it, not as a rose garden, but as a colour-themed garden with many roses. I must nurture the roses in mixed beds if (but only if) they are happy. And I must develop a large area where the old-fashioned roses can grow as huge as they like and flop over complimentary shrubs and be voluptuous and abandoned… the Rondel Garden is too small for most of the old-fashioned roses! And because of the editing nature of photography I can go SNAP! and make it look as though this has all already happened!

Already the Beech Borders display this philosophy rather well. Refine and expand will be the motto here – there is an area of some 30 by 70m next to this that I’ve been wondering about for years now…

It lies in the rectangle between the Standen Walk and the Beech Borders which you can see in this panorama…

At the bottom of the Beech Borders lies the Waterlily Pond…

And beyond that the New Dawn rose is spectacular for the first time this year….

Now let’s reverse back up the Beech Borders…

…until we are under the beech. The round pot contained Raubritter, the wonderful globular pink rose, to mark the intersection of the gardens. It died of neglect. 😦 Down the bottom the magnificent tree fern is a bit of a bind because it narrows down the view of the pond. Ah well… count your blessings. It was there long before my garden, after all!

One of the tricks I wish to explore is the combination of red foliage with pink roses – in fact any foliage that compliments the blowsy badly behaved roses I adore. In my next post I will show you more in other parts of Sequoia Gardens!