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Sunbird Garden (self-catering accommodation close to Kirstenbosch)

This one-acre garden, which is 20 years old, is situated on a steep slope on the south-eastern side of Table Mountain, not far from Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.This garden is a naturalist’s creation grown out of passion and curiosity- it was planned and planted by Brigette Berg and the current custodian is Charlotte Rasson.This is a private garden open to guests staying at  Charlotte’s self-catering cottage. (for reservations phone +27(0)21 794 6690 ; e-mail: rasson@iafrica.com)



The view from the house is across a narrow lawn, partly shaded by a large Celtis sinensis, and up towards the slope. In this fairly inaccessible area is planted indigenous fynbos plants, initially mainly for practical reasons as they are adapted to the climate and essentially look after themselves, with exotic plants nearer the house.Inspired by Kirstenbosch, the focus is on indigenous species, most of which were chosen specifically to attract birds and insects.

This slope is like a colorful tapestry most of the year. A variety of Proteacea, Restionacea and Ericaceae are grown along with small shrubs and bulbous plants. A whole bank of Agapanthus praecox flowers blue and white in summer. There is a short dormant period before the appearance of scarlet Haemanthus coccineus and pink Amaryllis belladonna, which heralds the beginning of autumn and a new growth cycle. Most of the fynbos flowers in late winter and spring and the dominant bulbs then are colourful Watsonia and bright blue Aristea major.

Four species of Sunbirds are attracted especially to tubular red and orange flowers, hence the abundance of Leucospermum spp, Halleria lucida, Kniphofia, Cotyledon orbiculata, Leonotis leonorus, Tecoma capensis, aloes, Ericas with elongated flowers, especially the easy-to-grow Erica versicolor and E. glandulosa, to provide nectar all year round.

Brigitte said: ‘Our favourite garden feature is a natural-looking pond constructed around a large granite boulder, which was exposed during building excavations. The pond contains yellow Nymphaea spp, flowering in summer, Aponogeton distachyos, flowering white in winter, as well as purple and white Louisiana iris and Juncus spp. On either sidSunbird 6e of it there is a small bog garden with Wachendorfia thyrsiflora, Gunnera perpensa and white Impatiens (possibly I. hochstetteri). Pots containing bulbs which enjoy either winter or summer wet conditions are moved around accordingly, e.g. Crinum bulbispermum, C. campanulatum and Onixotis triquetrum (=O. stricta= Wurmbea stricta). Within days of being constructed the pond was inhabited by frogs, and with time we recorded several species of dragonfly which hatch from nymphs living in the water, as well as freshwater crabs, harmless water snakes and several other small species. The pond as a small eco-system never ceases to fascinate.’
Another distinct area of the garden is a small indigenous “forest”, about 70 square metres of closely planted trees, including those which naturally grow in the damp ravines of Table Mountain, Kiggelaria africana, Diospyros whyteana, Curtisia dentata, Rapanea melanophloes and Cunonia capensis. It is underplanted with shade-loving bulbs, shrubs and groundcovers, e.g. Scadoxus puniceus, S. multiflorus ssp. katherinae, Haemanthus albiflos, Psychotria capensis, Indigofera natalensis, Asparagus spp, Selaginella kraussiana and ferns.In May colourful toadstools punctuate the leaf litter.
Behind the house, in the shade of pre-existing exotic oaks (Quercus robur) and some smaller indigenous trees (Canthium inerme, Cassine peragua, Mackaya bella and Diospyros whyteana), runs a path flanked by long beds planted with orange Clivia miniata, which light up the area in spring.
A large bed near the house, the focus of our earliest gardening efforts, now contains a mixture of indigenous and exotic species, e.g. Betula alba, Cupressus spp., Escallonia, Berberis, Raphiolepis, disease-resistant roses (‘Russeliana’, ‘Mutabilis’, ‘Crepuscule’, ‘Iceberg’), aloes, Strelitzia reginae, including the yellow-flowering ‘Mandela’s Gold’, Euryops virgineus, Melianthus major, Abelia ‘Francis Mason’ and one of my favourites, yellow-leafed Coleonema ‘Sunset Gold’, both of which are kept clipped round. Amongst these grow various perennials including Agapanthus, Zantedeschia aethiopica, Alstroemeria and Hemerocallis. Cape bulbs including Sparaxis bulbifera, Ornithogalum ssp. and Babiana spp. come up every spring. This bed is irrigated once or twice a week in summer.
The swimming pool is situated on a platform on the edge of the fynbos slope. Above it is a steep 3m-high retaining wall built of concrete blocks – a difficult area which gets no sun at all in winter and full sun in summer. After many false starts a mixture of Eriocephalus africanus, Cliffortia odorata, Helichrysum petiolare, Chrysanthemoides monilifera and the scrambling rose ‘Excelsa’- a cerise shower in November- now hides the ugly but effective blocks completely.

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