Under the Influence of Gardens at The Cellars-Hohenort

Spend enough time in a garden with a friend and you will witness something rather peculiar take place. A sort of transformation… Because it’s not possible to enter the space of enchanted forests and blossoming rose orchards and not feel a change take place inside you. I noticed this in my own nearest and dearest on a stroll through the gardens at The Cellars-Hohenort in Cape Town.

While my camera and I immersed ourselves in the estate’s rose, herb, vegetable and citrus tree gardens, I couldn’t help but notice something a little less expected.

I saw friends, usually quiet and composed, frolicking like fairies. I saw the talkative turn silent. I saw city folk soften with the touch of nature. I saw the tired come to life. I saw followers become leaders, racing along the winding paths and encouraging others along. I saw children where adults once stood.

Quite simply, I’ve noticed, you never leave a garden the same person you enter as. Of course, it isn’t just any garden that creates such an effect. It takes one like The Cellars-Hohenort’s – with its bougainvillea, agapanthus, plectranthus, hydrangeas, clivia, camphor trees and daffodils; its resident porcupine and duck family, Cape Dwarf Chameleon colonies, squirrels and Cinnamon Dove, Cape White-eye, Lemon Dove, African Paradise-Flycatcher, and Forest Canary; and its 950 wine-producing vines.

While initially birthed under the curation of Liz McGrath and with the caring hand of co-creator Jean Almon, today the gardens are maintained by Head Gardner Leigh-Ann Louw and her team.

We’ve caught up with a few of the greenfingers that have contributed to the making of The Cellars-Hohenort gardens over the years – namely Jean Almon and Niall Mckrill – and today we share insight into Leigh-Ann, the woman helping to transform all who walk through one of South Africa’s most beautiful gardens.

Q&A with Leigh-Ann Louw

What’s your favourite part of The Cellars-Hohenort garden?
There are so many… but I have to say the herb garden because as soon as you step into it, the scent of all the different fragrances is so amazing. I also enjoy having the chefs of The Conservatory and Greenhouse invading the garden too.

What are some of the summer highlights in the garden?
It’s the flowering time of many of the plants, and I love the sound of the bees buzzing around the blooms.

What’s popping up in the veggie garden at the moment?
Lovely fresh spinach, cabbages and green peppers.

Do you have a favourite gardening quote to share with us?
‘Gardening always has been an art, essentially.’ – Robert Irwin

Your perfect day looks like…
Coming in early in the morning and walking around the property to think about the week ahead. I have a wonderful team where I set out the work for each gardener as well as for myself. Just working in the gardens makes my day more than perfect.

Your top three Cape Town gardens are…
The Cellars-Hohenort
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Green Point Urban Park

Any advice for novice gardeners wanting to improve on their gardens?
When you pick your plants choose ones that are adapted to your climate, the soil type and the amount of sunlight that enters your garden. It’s always best to do the research first. And… never forget to take a moment to look and smell at whatever you’re growing in your garden.

Describe yourself in three words
Honest, trustworthy and a hard-worker

The Beauty of Solitude at Sunrise

I want to tell you about the sunrise, because you weren’t there. You were 5000 kilometres away and I was alone on Paje beach on the east coast of Zanzibar, still expecting you to take your place next to me. I waited for the sun to peep out of the darkness before I stood up and decided to take the step forward, to explore, by myself. If you weren’t going to join me, I would enjoy it for the both of us. I would explore everything.

I know that it is often that which first appears quiet or dark that holds the greatest mystery. And it did. The stillness of sunrise revealed a whole other world to me. People always say that sunrise and sunset stand like bookends on the tale of a day, but I realised that they hold stories of their own, if you take the time to look closely.

Sunrise is a different story across Africa, but on a beach in the Indian Ocean, I have found it often to be quite the same.

Sometimes you have been beside me, sometimes not, but you’ll remember me telling you about the waters of low tide that initiate the dance of local men and women heading out fishing in the morning – by boat and foot. I’ve sat with my camera to my face, tracing this dance – in Mauritius, in Madagascar, in Pemba Island, and here, in Zanzibar.

The beach is a different animal as the sun begins to rise and break across the clouds. It is still but moody, like a lion starting to wake, like you before your morning coffee. The ocean is darker, not yet the light turquoise that will coax other travellers from their sun loungers at midday.

I stood silently on shore. There were no foreigners yet, only the local Zanzibari that have moved across these waters for generations. I listened to the women talking among themselves as they tended to the seaweed farms scattered across the low water. I listened to the men heading out in dhows. Their Swahili was lost on me, but not all stories require words to be told. Soon the tide would rise and the women and men and dhows would disperse and the story would end, like the fire of sunrise. But I would have understood the moral. The lessons.

Since you weren’t there to give a voice to my thoughts, I’ll try now. I felt then a deep almost dazed peace wash over me like the sea slowly moving over the shore and I was reminded of something I’d forgotten. I was reminded that in me is a stillness that needs not only to be alone from time to time, but to be truly still, watching and listening, not thinking, analysing and anticipating.

I also realised that out here in the early morning, I had only myself to rely on. I was the sole narrator. Back home, I knew I would tell you about what I had seen and you would add your own views, your logic and knowledge. You would make sense of it all and my mind would be broader for it. But until then, I could tell myself whatever I liked. My imagination was free to run wild.

That’s the beauty of being alone on an island at sunrise – lost in translation with the few locals out and about. There is a sweet sense of freedom and dare I say valour of venturing into the unknown. But I did it for us both, remember that.

Keep following our blog for more tales and photos from our recent adventure in Zanzibar, while staying at the beautiful Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas & Spa.


10 Questions with 20 Degres’ Sud Maitre de Maison

The islands of the Indian Ocean hold a special allure… each one is different from the other, with a cuisine, landscape and history all of their own. We wanted to discover the island of Mauritius through the eyes of a local, not as visitors, but from someone who lives, loves and works on the island.

In our ten questions below, 20 Degres Sud‘s Maitre de Maison, Rackib Jeewoth gives us the glimpse we were looking for.

10 Questions with 20 Degres Sud Maitre de Maison, Rackib Jeewoth

1. What has working at 20 Degres Sud taught you about life, love and yourself?

I have grown up with the Establishment over my 24 years of employment with 20 Degres Sud. It has taught me that achievement of your goals can be reached with hard work and commitment.

2. How did your path lead to 20 Degres Sud?

I was born in Mauritius. After a first course in the Front Office in the 80’s , I started as Receptionist in a local Hotel. I then pursued a  Degree in hotel management and I was offered a career by Dubai Sheraton Hotel where I worked in the Room Division until 1992 and returned back to Mauritius. I restarted at 20 Degres Sud Hotel in 1993 and have gradually grown to take the position as Hotel Manager.

3. The best thing about island life and living and working in particular in Mauritius?

We have a good climate, polite people, and all the other advantages of living on an Island. As a professional, it is possible to lead a peaceful life here in Mauritius, while still working hard.

4. Favourite meal and drink on the menu at the hotel?

Drink: Cocktail Le voyageur. Starter: Lobster opened ravioli, cream spinach and cauliflower puree, bouillabaisse emulsion flavoured with curry leaves. Main course: Black crust half cooked tuna, tomato artichoke salsa with teriyaki espuma.

5. What makes 20 Degres Sud and the North Coast so special?

20  Degres Sud is proudly the only Relais & Châteaux on the Island and conveniently located at Grand Bay. The age limit of 12 years makes it a peaceful place to enjoy a quiet holiday. The Northern coast is known to be the most loved side of the island by travellers.

6. The best time of the year to visit 20 Degres Sud and why?

It’s convenient to travel between November and February for the best weather conditions. September to November is known as the autumn period with the blooming of  the Flamboyant trees. Nevertheless, our exclusiveness as a boutique Relais & Châteaux property, makes our piece of paradise attractive all year round.

7. How have the latest renovations changed the face of the hotel?

A  recent refreshing renovation in July 2017 has brought more functional comfort to our guests. As such, we are now concentrating on further upgrading planning to attend  a 5 Star rating in the near future.

8. What is your relationship with local producers and how do you try to support them through the hotel?

Our chef does his best every single day to make Mauritian products shine, with the help of the island’s passionate artisans. We source fresh sea products after early morning fishing and vegetables often produced specially for our chef’s cuisine. The restaurant also exhibits local artists, musicians and craftspeople every week.

9. Your favourite time of day here?

Morning time to meet all the guests at breakfast

10. Your ideal way to spend a day off?

I love to head out early for some jogging and to catch up on time with my family .