Clean and green at Vergelegen on World Environment Day

Winter-blooming camellias in the Vergelegen International Camellia Garden of Excellence.

World Environment Day takes place today, Wednesday June 5, with a focus on clean air and limiting air pollution.

As trees clean the air, absorb CO² and filter pollutants, Vergelegen wine estate has compiled a list of some of the 319-year-old estate’s most spectacular trees, and where they can be spotted. All locations are clearly signposted.

Take a drive: Liquidambars (sweetgum) are some of the first trees you can spot, as younger specimens have been inter-planted with the oaks along the entrance drive. Large liquidambar specimens are also located in front of the Camphors restaurant, and one is in the Octagonal Garden.

The Big Five: Vergelegen has five enormous camphor trees (Cinnamomum Camphora). Planted by former Cape governor and Vergelegen owner, Willem Adriaan van der Stel between 1700 and 1706, they were proclaimed national monuments in 1942 and should live for another 150-200 years. Find giant camphors in front of the homestead.

Camphor forest: Seedlings from Vergelegen’s “Big Five” have been sourced to create a shady camphor forest. Site of the estate’s summer picnics, this is also a great place for children to explore in the autumn. Explore the camphor forest near the rose garden.

Historic yellowwood: Vergelegen is the home of an Outeniqua yellowwood, estimated to be 150-400 years old. It’s an easy walk from the homestead, and is a majestic sight. Cross the swing bridge over the Lourens River, and walk the Yellowwood Trail to the tree.

Spot some old oaks: A hollow old English oak, about 300 years old, is believed to be the oldest living oak in Africa. View it from the nearby bench, then walk to the Royal Oak. This oak was planted decades ago when the estate was owned by Sir Lionel and Lady Florence Phillips, friends of the Duchess of Marlborough.

Marvellous mulberry: Vergelegen boasts an ancient specimen of white mulberry (Morus Alba) that is the only surviving relic of van der Stel’s attempt to start a silk industry at the Cape. This white mulberry has renewed itself over and over again as the old trunk has grown and produced branches that flop over and take root. Find the mulberry outside the Camphors restaurant.

Camellia garden of excellence: The estate has numerous camellia trees that comprise South Africa’s first and only international camellia garden of excellence – one of only 39 such gardens in the world, and the only one in Africa.

There are about 1 000 specimens comprising about 550 cultivars, many of them decades old. The camellias are in three main areas: at the bottom of the great lawn; near the Camphors restaurant; on the banks of the Lourens River, after you have crossed the swing bridge.

Marvellous maples: About 50 different varieties of maples (genus: acer), sourced from nurseries around the country, have been planted in the gardens. The saplings grow near the ruins of the historic water mill, near the Lourens River.

Go Ginkgo: Two ginkgo tree saplings, grown from seeds of a 300-year-old tree that survived the 1945 Hiroshima bombing in Japan, have been planted on behalf of the Green Legacy Hiroshima (GLH) initiative. These trees not only represent a message of hope and renewal, but also mark the start of an ambitious initiative to develop an extensive arboretum at the estate. Find the saplings at the end of the East Garden.

Vergelegen opening hours Monday to Sunday are 9am to 5pm. Entry costs R10 for adults and R5 for pensioners and pupils.