Stellenberg’s history and gardens: The Ovenstones tell us more about their magical home

Stellenberg homestead

The Stellenberg homestead

More than R80 000 has been raised for St Joseph’s to date by the virtual tour of the Stellenberg Gardens. Since 2015, Stellenberg Gardens in Cape Town has held Open Weekends in aid of St Joseph’s. However, due to the pandemic the gardens have not been open to the public for some time and the virtual tour was launched to enable the fundraising to continue online.

Andrew and Sandy Ovenstone tell us more about Stellenberg’s history and the gardens.

Some history about the Stellenberg property.
The origins of the Stellenberg estate date back to the seventeenth century and early owners under Dutch rule included Francois van der Stel, son of Simon van der Stel, the first governor of the Cape. Jan de Wit and his son Petrus owned the estate from from 1742 to 1767, and built the present manor house. The arrival of the British in 1806 marked the beginning of more than a century under direct British rule and understandably, British influence increased at the Cape and the Regency and Victorian styles started to supersede the local Cape Dutch buildings, which became dated, and even dilapidated. However, Stellenberg was maintained to the highest standards of authentic Cape Dutch style by subsequent owners.  

Stellenberg old manor house

Stellenberg’s old manor house

When the Ovenstone family came to Stellenberg in 1953 they found classical Dutch architecture, already featured in books and paintings and gardens fashionable in the 1930s and 1940s: The original werf or square with its well and surrounding 18th century buildings, old walls, benches, and bridges. This was also the beginning of a period during which the restoration of Old Cape Dutch and Cape Regency buildings was encouraged. And to this end, some, including Stellenberg, were given national monument, now the Heritage status.

Andrew and Sandy Ovenstone returned to Stellenberg in 1973. After undertaking the restoration of an important outbuilding, which had been damaged by fire in 1971, Sandy understood that she did not have a blank canvas on which to redesign the garden, which at the time comprised lawns, English Oaks, rows of Hydrangeas and a large shrubbery with mature trees. She took her time, and only made minor changes for more than a decade, until she felt ready to embark on her garden story, by which time there was no doubt that she would use what was there as central to her design ideas.

Today, after some 48 years of hard work and dedication by the Ovenstones and their staff, incorporating a variety of ideas and inspiration, drawn from Andrew’s Scottish heritage and gardens in England, France and Italy which they visited frequently. There are 16 distinct areas in the gardens, namely the Garden Entrance, the White Garden, the Parterre Garden, the Vegetable Garden, the Garden of Paradise, the Herb Garden, the Shady Walkway, the main lawns and façade, the Wild Garden, the Upper-Stream Garden, Lower-Stream Garden, the Lime Tree Walk, the Garden of Reflection, the Vine Walk allée, the Walled Garden and the Pool Garden.

The Stellenberg Garden Plan

The Stellenberg Garden Plan

Where did the idea of opening up the gardens come from?  How many people have visited the gardens over the years?
A: We opened the gardens for charity in 1991, and were amazed to receive over 400 visitors to our first open week end. Since then the gardens have been open for charity every year until COVID’s intervention. Based on ticket sales, and an estimate of accompanying children who do not pay, approximately 2000 people now visit the garden over an open week end in favourable weather.

What part of the gardens is your favourite for either of you and why?
A: I am sure that Sandy would say that her gardens are like her grandchildren. She loves them all equally. My favourite sections are the stream gardens, quite  masculine, and wild but with enough continuity and structure. In the winter the stream gardens are at their best, while the walled garden becomes different, but Sandy loves its structure and the bare soil duly mulched in most of the planted sections.

How important are water and colour to the design of the gardens?
A: Colour and water are both important. Sandy has moved from bright colours to shades of green and white in some sections, with shades of green and blue in the pool garden, and brighter colours with shades of green in the walled garden. Eleven ponds or water features including the stream speak for the importance of water in the gardens. Sandy finds the sound of water calming.

How did you manage during the drought that we had in Cape Town a few years ago?
A: The drought was difficult. Even the old wells could not cope. Historically, parts of Stellenberg, including what are now the impressive Arderne Gardens, were known as the Stellenberg marsh. A high water table results in the gardens being wetter than normal in winter and not as dry in winter. We resolved not to change the design of the  gardens but to improve the efficiency of our irrigation practice with less daytime irrigation and more computerized night time watering, and to let the lawns take the strain.

Tell us more about your staff and their contribution to keeping everything so beautiful, especially during the pandemic?
A: We pay tribute to the dedication of our staff in the video. They all make a contribution, as do our regular contractors who maintain the property and the houses thereon. We like to believe that with time, they become skilled enough to more than hold their own anywhere.

Where did the idea of a virtual tour come from and who produced the beautiful video for you?
A: We thought about two things, namely, the motivation of our gardeners in the absence of visitors, and our inability to contribute as meaningfully to our charity, St Joseph’s Home, in the COVID-19 environment. The stress in managing the manor house and the gardens with one person, our senior gardener, Jonas, who quarantined here, for four months was great. We decided to make the video as a project to encourage all of us in a creative rather than a financial sense.

The production was done by PMC Films, Popcorn Post Production, Ignition Design and Juice Audio.

How long have you been supporters of St Joseph’s and what about this organisation made you decide to contribute this way?
A: St Joseph’s has been our chosen charitable organisation since 2015.

Anything you would like to add?
A: What were known as the Claremont Public Gardens, now the Arderne Gardens, were originally created by Ralph Arderne on land bought from the then owners of Stellenberg in 1845. These Public Gardens serve all our communities, and have several champion trees, and other areas of interest, including a restored wetland area and Gingko trees directly descended from trees which survived the horrific nuclear bombing of Hiroshima at the end of WW2.

We support the Friends of Arderne Gardens, (FOTAG) without whose work the gardens would be neither as safe nor as well maintained, and encourage our visitors to also visit the Arderne Gardens, or to join one of their regular guided tours.

Stellenberg's White Garden

The White Garden

The Vegetable Garden at Stellenberg

The Vegetable Garden

 

The annual Stellenberg Garden Tour has gone virtual for St Joseph’s Home!

Beauty and history at its best for a great cause!

The annual open weekends of the Stellenberg Gardens in Cape Town have gone virtual and currently everyone can enjoy these spectacular grounds from the comfort and safety of their homes and contribute to a great cause at the same time.

Since 2015, the Stellenberg Gardens, the home of Andrew and Sandy Ovenstone, have held Open Weekends in aid of St Joseph’s Home for Chronically Ill Children, a paediatric care facility giving children with life threatening illness a second chance at childhood.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they have not been able to share the beauty of their gardens to raise funds for St Joseph’s Home. Like many charities, COVID-19 has negatively impacted the operations at St Joseph’s who rely on donations to provide free 24-hour specialised and general nursing care and rehabilitation to those who need it most.

Stellenberg Gardens Virtual Tour

Click here for the Stellenberg Gardens Virtual Tour

Magical garden and history

St Joseph’s is very excited and grateful that a beautiful video has been made of the Stellenberg Gardens to enable anyone to visit by way of a virtual garden tour! It can be viewed on the GivenGain fundraising platform where donations can easily be made in aid of St Joseph’s. Thanks to donations from the many virtual visitors to the gardens, more than R80 000 has been raised for St Joseph’s to date.

The origins of the Stellenberg estate date back to the seventeenth century and Sandy Ovenstone and her dedicated team of gardeners have created a magical garden in harmony with the historical homestead that is unique in South Africa.

There are 16 distinct areas in the gardens, namely the Garden Entrance, the White Garden, the Parterre Garden, the Vegetable Garden, the Garden of Paradise, the Herb Garden, the Shady Walkway, the main lawns and façade, the Wild Garden and reservoir walk, the Stream Garden, Lower-Stream Garden, the Lime Tree Walk, the Garden of Reflection, the Vine Walk allée, the Walled Garden and the Pool Garden.

Join them for a leisurely and inspiring stroll through these magnificent gardens by viewing the virtual tour here: https://www.givengain.com/cc/stellenberg-gardens-virtual-tour2021/

The video can also be viewed via the Stellenberg Gardens website at: www.stellenberggardens.co.za by clicking on “Virtual Tour” and there is a donate button that links to the GivenGain fundraising page. All funds raised are carefully monitored and faithfully distributed.

To learn more about the history and the magic of Stellenberg and its gardens, read this interview with Andrew and Sandy Ovenstone on the St Joseph’s Home website. Click here.

St Joseph’s Home for Chronically Ill Children

Up to 500 children a year are looked after by St Joseph’s Home. A well-loved institution in Cape Town, it has provided post-acute, rehabilitative, restorative and palliative intermediate care for children with chronic life-limiting or life-threatening conditions for the last 85 years. The holistic, multi-disciplinary and family-centred intermediate care model further supports the children in their educational and psycho-social needs.

Located in Montana, Cape Town, and established in 1935 by the Pallottine Missionary Sisters, this 175 -bed beacon in paediatric care in Southern Africa has provided 24-hour general and specialised nursing care and rehabilitation therapy for over 23 000 medically vulnerable children. The most prevalent conditions treated are infectious diseases, neurology, malnutrition and trauma related injuries.

If you are interested in supporting this and other projects for St Joseph’s, there is more information here: https://stjosephshome.org.za/donate/

Contact:

Christa Robijn
Resource development manager, St Joseph’s Home for Chronically Ill Children
Tel. +27 21 934 0352
christa@stjosephshome.org.za 

Stellenberg walled garden

The Walled Garden

The Stellenberg Garden Plan

The Stellenberg Garden Plan

Stellenberg's White Garden

The White Garden

The old manor house at Stellenberg

The old manor house at Stellenberg

The Vegetable Garden at Stellenberg

The Vegetable Garden

St Joseph’s Home wishes you well, Sister Annemarie!

Going back after 52 years!

St Joseph’s Home said goodbye to Sister Annemarie, Provincial Superior of the Pallottine Missionary Sisters, at the end of January prior to her return to Germany in February. She was so much appreciated and loved by all at SJH and played an active part being a board member and representing SJH at a number of fundraising meetings and events.

Sister Izabela SAC from Rome said that Sister Annemarie was due to leave in 2010, but she stayed on, and referred to her as the “Hero of the Day”.

“We started building the house (St Joseph’s) and knew that the foundation was already there. The support during those times came from late Archbishop Henry and Archbishop Brislin, while I thank Thea Patterson (director) -soon to retire- for her 18 years of service. We are all here together today and feel part of this special family. History will show your work,” she said.     

After entering the Convent: Kloster Marienborn in Limburg an der Lahn in Germany (Pallottine Missionaries) in 1958, Sister Annemarie enrolled for her Nursing Studies (1963) in Erlenbach am Main for her Professional Nursing Diploma.

In 1968 she was sent to the South African Mission in Cape Town to help the Sisters to start the new extension of St. Joseph’s Sanatorium, now Vincent Pallotti Hospital. Her responsibilities included planning and managing the operating theatres. In order to improve her English and to implement my theatre knowledge, she enrolled for a postgraduate training diploma in Operating Theatre Technique at Groote Schuur Hospital.

During her later years she started a district practice, treating and visiting patients in their homes after they had been discharged from the Vincent Pallotti Hospital.  After retirement, she continued her calling, giving pastoral support to patients at the hospital.

She will now be returning to Germany after a service of 52 years in South Africa.

“I wish you as many blessings from the Lord as you can handle,” Sister Annemarie concluded.

 

Saying goodbye to her: Chirstelle Cornelius (incoming SJH CEO), Sister Annemarie SAC, Thea Patterson (SJH Director), Adrian van Stolk (Chairman), and from Rome, Sister Izabela SAC.