Winter is peak viewing season for Africa’s only International Camellia Garden of Excellence at the Vergelegen wine estate in Somerset West.
Local anthophiles can head off to the wine estate in Lourensford Road, which is a 322-year-old provincial heritage site in Somerset West, home to one of only 39 Camellia Gardens of Excellence in the world.
Vergelegen’s camellia garden, and Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens, are the only two camellia gardens in the Southern Hemisphere that enjoy this recognition.
“Winter is the prime time to view these beautiful blooms against their striking green foliage,” said Vergelegen horticulturist Richard Arm.
“We have over 1000 camellia bushes at the estate, comprising about 550 cultivars, from as far afield as France, Japan, America and South Africa.”
Some of the most beautiful and rare specimens include Laurian Brown from South Africa, Tama Electra from Japan, Francie L and Anticipation from New Zealand and Grace Albritton, Tiffany and Lasca Beauty from the USA.
According to Mr Arm, the camellia gardens should be a magnificent sight until early spring.
“The shrubs can be viewed in three areas: at the bottom of the Great Lawn in front of the homestead; near the estate’s Café Fleur restaurant; and along a meandering path beside the Lourens River and through the yellowwood forest,” he adds.
Vergelegen was named an International Camellia Garden of Excellence in 2010 by the International Camellia Society, a non-profit organisation founded in 1962. The estate’s inclusion on the list was renewed during 2020 for another 10 years.
Camellias were first planted at Vergelegen in the 1920s by owner Lady Florence Phillips. The later Barlow era camellia plantings consist of classic Camellia japonica cultivars, most of which are now large, mature shrubs up to five metres high. Another part of the collection was established from 1995 onwards with camellia plant donations to the estate.
Vergelegen’s gardens cover 10 hectares, within a cultural heritage area spanning 60 hectares. In addition, a 54 hectare arboretum is in development, with plans to plant about 7 500 trees over ten years.
Visitors can stroll through the camellia gardens at their own pace, or book for the daily garden and heritage walking tour. This includes the camellias and other plantings, significant trees, the restored homestead, and historic library.
The tour costs R50 per person and departs from the wine tasting centre at Vergelegen at 9.30am The duration is approximately one hour, maximum 20 people. The tour is weather permitting, book 021 847 2122.