1. LIMPOPO: SEQUOIA GARDEN RETREAT, MAGOEBASKLOOF
Go in spring for the Impressionistic azalea and cherry blossom display, go in autumn for the Titian colours of the redwoods and oaks, go in summer for the rain, mist and silver dams. Just go. The gardens at Sequoia Garden Retreat are quite dreamy. In the heart of the Magoebaskloof, loved for its mountains and forests, waterfalls and streams, Sequoia comprises six hectares of wild and formal gardens and features two dams that reflect the seasonal colours.
Recently restored under new owners, the gardens were started nearly a hundred years ago by the Holloway family who first planted the seeds of the giant sequoias that now grow here. Explore knot gardens, herb gardens, fairy gardens, secret gardens, indigenous forest glades and thickets. Stay in one of three romantic cottages, the sexiest is Meadow Cottage, a stone cottage overlooking a moody, misty dam. Sequoia is self-catering, but you can arrange picnics and outings to neighbouring cheese farms and organic mountain cafes. There are hikes and trails in the surrounding mountains, and nearby is Zwakala, Limpopo’s first organic brewery.
2. MAGALIESBERG: QUIET MOUNTAIN, HEKPOORT
The grande dame of Magaliesberg is the ageless Quiet Mountain, whose 100ha estate is a seductive combination of charming English formal gardens around the lodge, and stretches of golden indigenous veld that lead to the mountain which is practically in the back garden.
The creeper-clad lodge, homestead and farm buildings date back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. Explore quiet pathways that lead to enchanting gargoyle and water features, swan ponds, benches and kitchen gardens filled with poppies and pansies and assorted herbs used in the kitchen. There are mixed formal beds, shade beds with clivias, bromeliads and lovely old trees. An hour or so from Jozi and you’re alongside the pool with bubbles and views.
This is a gentle weekend retreat – the suites are spacious and comfortable with antiques and fresh flowers, objet and paintings. Quiet Mountain is a delightfully decadent place. Chill at the pool, or head for the pool table, there’s a library in the loft for rainy days or afternoons playing games. And of course there’s that soul feeling when you’re in the Magaliesberg which is more than 2000 million years old and part of the Cradle of Humankind which is about 20kms away.
3. WESTERN CAPE: BABYLONSTOREN
Possibly the most inspiring garden in this country at the moment, Babylonstoren is an amazingly designed three and a half hectares of fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers surrounded by the mountains. Each of the 300 plant varieties has a medicinal use, and there are orchards, streams, greenhouses, knot gardens, olive gardens and a tea garden where you can do a healing ceremony.
A weekend here is pretty close to heaven if you’re a gardener or a romantic. Babylonstoren is inspired by the Company’s Garden in the Cape in the 18th century, which supplied sailing ships of the Dutch East India Company with fresh vegetables and fruit during the days when the Cape was a halfway station between Europe and Asia – and it has mythological lashings of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
Babylonstoren uses sustainable organic methods – and the produce is harvested all year round for use in two “farm-to-fork restaurants”, as they’re dubbed. Stay at the Farm Hotel or the Farmhouse, with thick whitewashed walls, elegant gables and hearty fireplaces.
There are daily tours at 10am – and you’re invited to smell, touch, taste, pick while you walk. +27 (0)21 863 3852.
4. WEST COAST: PAPKUILSFONTEIN FARM, NIEUWOUDTVILLE
Time your visit with the spring flowers for an unforgettable soul experience. Papkuilsfontein Farm is romantic and charming with Provence-style stone cottages, a gorgeous canyon and a hundred-metre waterfall and is set in Nieuwoudtville is dubbed the Bulb Capital of the World since it has the highest speciation of indigenous bulbous plants in the world.
The profusion in spring is astonishing – and this is because within an area of some 20km stretching east from escarpment end, there are four different soil and vegetation types - True Cape Fynbos, Renosterveld, shrub Karoo, and a Dolerite sill. Take a picnic to the rock pool, go birding or hiking to see San rock art hidden in the eaves of caves in surreal sandstone rock formations. The greatest floral spectacle happens in spring but the landscape is rewarding throughout the year. Papkuilsfontein will advise on the best routes and spots.
5. KZN, KLOOF: MAKARANGA GARDEN LODGE.
Picture an extensive garden in the rolling green hills of Kloof outside Durban, cut with meandering streams, eighteen ponds and indigenous and exotic pockets. Take a moment at Venus Pond or Long Pond, the waterway in Makaranga, or head for quiet walk in the one km long labyrinth.
The gardens here feature a range of bronze and marble statues imported from Italy, and an impressive collection of Zimbabwean stone sculptures. The Japanese Garden boasts bridges and walkways set out in the ancient Japanese tradition; and stone lanterns and hand carved figures imported from Japan. Stay in a spacious luxury suite with gorgeous artworks and décor, each one opening onto the lovely Makaranga gardens.