Styled “Queen of Flowers”, roses have inspired poetry, song, art, strange beliefs and fables. On our daily garden tour one of Gundula’s favourites is the antique climber Souvenir de la Malmaison – do stop to pick and smell, where it rambles up the towers along the grapevine pergola, ’tis a sweet delight.
This rose is named for Château Malmaison, once the country seat of Empress Josephine of France, wife of the Great Nappy. An avid collector of exotic plants, she spent wads of money importing them into France. In her own private haven the Empress became absorbed in the subject of botany, going as far as to heat the greenhouse with coal-burning stoves during harsh European winters.
Much to hubby’s dismay, she had a crush on the English garden, or jardin anglais. Josephine sourced numerous species from a London nursery owned by James Lee and Lewis Kennedy. It is said that even during the war , Kennedy was bestowed a special passport to run the Continental Blockade with the Empress’ treasured plants and enter France undisturbed.
From 1804-1814 Château Malmaison boasted the largest collection of roses in the world, with 200 varieties. Josephine commissioned famous artist and botanist Pierre Joseph Redouté to paint watercolours of the rose collection at Château Malmaison. To be enjoyed.
We recently welcomed thousands of wingy guests on the farm! No less than three species of parasitic wasps found a new home in our vineyards and citrus orchards.
They’ll play a big role in keeping our crops healthy, by preying on mealybugs (“witluis”), a pest familiar to farmers all over the world.
Factoid for you: male mealybugs are as ineffectual as their human brothers; they pose no threat to crops – it’s the female that creates havoc. These femme fatales feed on exposed plant surfaces and can lay up to 600 eggs each. Infestation of mealybugs can cause fruit dropping, deformation/discolouration of fruit and can even kill the plant. Mealybugs also secrete honeydew that attracts ants and creates a growth medium for fungus.
By releasing wasps in our vineyards and orchards, we hope for a more natural alternative to pesticides. Three types of good-cop wasps, Coccidoxenoides perminitus (Cocci), Cryptolaemus montrouzieri and Anagyrus pseudococci, will be buzzing our vineyards and citrus trees.
We’ve released the wasps by hanging small, biodegradable boxes (size of a matchbox) in the vineyards and citrus trees. Inside more than a thousand pupae were set to hatch the following day. Then they’re lured by sunlight through the exit hole, and start munching on yecchy mealybugs. Let’s see if it works!
Benefits of biologically controlling mealybug:
It’s a completely natural process, similar to the way populations are controlled in in the wild.
Helps decrease dependence on pesticides
Environmentally friendly: safe for animals, humans and other species.
No contamination of groundwater
No requirement of mechanical means: no machines and fuels used
Warmer weather brings more buzz to our garden. Cape honeybees are VIP residents on Babylonstoren, and are now hard at work foraging for pollen and nectar. Not only do they produce honey for Babel Restaurant, they also play a key role in the garden ecosystem with pollination.
During a bee workshop earlier this month, visitors inspected flowers to see which bees like best. We saw a myriad of these six-legged sweeties on the flowering lavender, thyme, poppies, huilboerboon (African Walnut) and lemon trees.
However, pesticides and diseases are taking a toll on bees, and our diligent garden friends need all the TLC we can give them.
Here’s how you can help and get your own garden abuzz:
● Increase forage: choose varieties of plants that flower at different times of the year, to provide a flow of food for bees.
● Bees and herbs are an item: they feast on thyme, borage, hyssop, wild marjoram, chives, origanum and lavender – small flowers are usually best for bees rather than large ornamentals.
● Plant fruits with blossoms such as pears, apples and citrus. Added bonus: birds and butterflies will also come to visit.
● And don’t be hasty when removing the purple weed Echium Plantagineum, originally from Europe. Called Salvation Jane by beekeepers, it’s a culinary delight for bees with plenty of nectar and pollen!
● Also go for indigenous plants like aloes, buchus, ericas and coastal fynbos.
● A bee colony needs up to 20 liters of water a day for optimal functioning. Place some containers with shallow water in your garden, and add a stick of bamboo or a rock as a landing strip.
● Spray as little as possible. If you absolutely have to, spray after hours when bees are not active, or after the blooming period.
● Support your local beekeepers!
In the Historical Garden we have six hives in the walled garden, all different shapes – hexagonal, English, longstroth, top bar and two Dutch homes. Peek in when passing by (but please keep the door closed), and proceed to the insect hotel to see which celebs recently checked in.
There’s some orange blossom and bluegum honey from our local bees in the farm shop, R78 per jar.
Babylonstoren is a prime destination for recharging the senses. Question we get asked: “I’m coming to visit – how should I take in Babylonstoren?”
Recently we read this article on how to enjoy a museum. Seems sensible advice.
So a tip for making the most of your limited time at Babylonstoren: slow down! There’s too much to see to take in on the trot. What’s the point? When racing from one sight to another, you’re likely to miss too many treasures along the way. Rather take time to absorb a sight, a taste, a sound, a texture of what you are experiencing.
So when visiting us the first time:
- Grab a map, do a quick walkabout to get an overall feel of the farm.
- Pick a spot that appeals to you. Let your instincts lead you, and forget about what others find interesting.
- Enjoy the moment, rather than trying to squeeze in as many activities as possible.
Example: Currently some of the rose towers in our garden present a beautiful spot for a tranquil pause, especially in the stone fruit block where fragrant antique roses can be found. Pull up a Luxembourg chair, take a minute or ten to observe rose petal confetti making its way to the peach pip covered pathways. Another option is to disappear into the mulberry “room” and savour sweet black mulberries straight from the tree… An hour well-spent might leave you feeling content, peaceful and refreshed.
If you like this notion of giving fewer sights your focused attention, read this New York Times article: “A Museum of Your Own.” And chill.
Spring is a lively time of the year on the farm, with the garden and the orchards “waking up” after winter. Our herb garden is looking particularly lush and vibrant as perennial herbs make their return, inspiring a workshop celebrating the many uses of herbs.
Together with our own gardeners, Gundula and Constance, the buoyant and extremely knowledgeable Bridget Kitley, from Bridget Kitley Herb Nursery, explored some of the countless medicinal and culinary uses of herbs.
The trio demonstrated recipes and shared secrets and anecdotes, proving that these pungent plants are about so much more than bouquet garnis and pesto.
Guests enjoyed a guided walk with Bridget, picking, tasting and harvesting baskets full of herbs to be turned into herbal teas, tussie mussies, herb salt, soap and calming bath salts. Some even left the farm with a skip in their step after a cup of Constance’s bittersweet immune-boosting tea, a recipe passed down from her late grandmother…
(Recipe Bridget Kitley – adapted from Jamie Oliver’s recipe)
- 500 g coarse salt (the type you would use in a salt grinder)
- A handful of herbs, washed (we used thyme & rosemary)
- Rind of one lemon or orange, finely grated
- 1 chilli, finely chopped, optional
- Whole peppercorns, optional
- Dry the washed herbs using a clean kitchen towel or paper towel. Remove the stalks.
- Place all the ingredients, except the pepper, in a blender.
- Pulse for about 15 seconds (let it run a little longer if you want to use it as is, or leave it coarser if you want to use it in a grinder).
- Pour out on a plastic tray, smooth until pretty even, and leave overnight.
- Mix through the peppercorns and pour into grinders or store in airtight containers.