Well, if Paradise is a garden, as they knew from the Arabs to the Elizabethans, then Heaven is a garden-come-winery in the Cape. Babylonstoren it’s called in Afrikaans, Babylon’s Tower, or the Biblical Tower of Babel, and since so much has been written about Shakespeare at Phoenix Ark Press, nothing could have been more appropriate than to find a cutting from that Stratford mulberry tree in the Bard’s garden (apparently!), transported here to South Africa. It brought to mind too that 16th century painting by Lucas Van Valkenorch, The Tower of Babel, very possibly depicting the Rose theatre in Southwark, in the back of which they found an old map of walled London.
Babylonstoren is the brain child though of some modern ‘Rand Lords’, who made their huge wealth with an online website in China, hence the signs around Babel in several languages, including Chinese. If the world must speak different languages, here though they share the common language of Nature. They chose a garden designer who had cut his teeth in a French monastery, then took the design of a 17th Century Dutch garden at the Cape, indeed almost the official garden of the Dutch East India Company, renowned in its day but ruined, according to the blurb, when the British annexed Cape Colony during the French Revolution. The result, as you crunch through the sunlight across paths of old peach shells and wood clippings is an absolute delight. The myriad beds, vegetables gardens that serve the popular restaurants and Farm Hotel, pools, streams and walled enclosures, nestle among old vernacular style Dutch gabled farm houses and you might have stepped back five hundred years, or forwards a thousand.
Everything at Babylonstoren is superbly ‘organic’, with the trellises and borders made entirely of wicker and hazel, interspersed with fascinating additions, like an Insect Hotel, bee hives, dove Cote, ‘ puff adder’ half covered walkway hanging with strawberry baskets, or the snoozing white hedgehog we found in a box when we popped inside a shaded kitchen garden. In mid November it was the perfect time to visit and breathe in the scented airs, or look about the sweeping vineyards that surrounded the place, along with abundant peach, peer and apple trees. In the shops selling candles, soap or their own cheese, the spa, and of course the bright glass sided wine tasting centre everything exudes style, elegance and grace, but also a kind of natural humility. Of course the place is not especially cheap and there is a clever Company acumen yet there is also a delightful openness, and on the free garden walks they encourage you to taste the fair. Hundred year old trees were moved to Babylonstoren, along with reconstructed and new old-style buildings, but here is truly a place to touch a Universal language and find some peace out of the sweat and noise of it all.
The photos show a flower and vegetable bed, white hedgehogs and the half covered walk at Babylonstoren, South Africa.