MRS Award winning exhibit at ‘The Witness’ Garden Show – by Gail Birss

MRS Award winning exhibit at ‘The Witness’ Garden Show – by Gail Birss
Floral arch at Garden Show
The floral arch ‘entrance’ to the exhibit. Photo-Susan von Zuilekom

The theme for this year’s Witness Garden Show was ‘Articulture”.  I googled it to see what that meant. Briefly, is using plants and flowers in different types of arrangements to create some form of art. But what to do?? Then I thought about the Royal wedding (Meghan and Harry’s) and that magnificent arch outside the church at Windsor Castle. We had to recreate that and of course with weddings, you do use flowers in different ways.

A sub-committee was formed with Susan von Zuilekom, Dawn Pellew, Louise Arthur and Mary-Anne Elstob and they all agreed that a wedding was our answer. Susan spent hours on her computer, ‘photo-shopping’ old churches and then painstakingly putting photos of roses from her garden to create the arch. She created a masterpiece!!

I contacted Flamingo Flowers in Kenya and they once again donated 2500 roses!!! Elizabeth Thornton-Dibb agreed to transport the roses from Johannesburg to Maritzburg on the Tuesday, collecting them from the South African agent in Krugersdorp as well as fetching more greenery from the Johannesburg market.


I contacted member, Sandra Tretheway from Farmgirl Flowers in Wartburg and asked if she would like to join the sub-committee. She agreed.

While we were debating where and how we would build the floor, she suggested doing it on their farm. From then on things changed and only got better and better!!

We have for years done everything when preparing our stand, from sawing wood, hammering in nails, building walls, plastering walls, fetching, carrying, pushing, pulling. You name it, we did it! Sandra Tretheway arrived with her staff who did all these things for us. I suggested a small ‘hanging thing that they have at weddings’ over the table. Sandra asked why just over the table but why not over the whole stand and so it was made on the farm, brought to the show, and hung up.

We arranged the flowers all around the edges and in the centre with the 2 sides draped. Her staff then hoisted this huge steel contraption up. She also supplied us with more foliage, more roses and more flowers.

So many members arrived to arrange the stand and when it was completed, it took your breath away. It was magnificent!!! The public loved it, we loved it and as Nancy Gardiner said, “For impact you should have got 38 out of 35!”.  But the remarks and accolades we received were wonderful. As well as receiving a Gold Medal for our exhibit, we won the People’s Choice by a huge majority!!

My thanks to everyone involved in creating this masterpiece, but especially to Susan for her backdrop and Sandra for her huge contribution. A magnificent team effort!!

Gail Birss


Mistlea, Hogsback – by Dave Pledger

Mistlea, Hogsback – by Dave Pledger
A magnificent display of roses at Mistlea – Photo David Pledger

Jane has a long association with Hogsback, having spent 13 of her childhood Christmas holidays with her parents at the Hogsback Inn. To commemorate these happy years, we decided to spend Christmas at the Inn on one of our “off” Christmas’s (Our children would be with their in-laws).

One day after prolonged mist for days, we got cabin fever and decided to drive around the village.Down Orchard Lane, we saw that Mistlea was for sale. The gate was open, so we walked in and just wandered down a central, rough path to the ponds. The garden was completely overgrown, but Jane saw that it had once been a grand garden. It turned out that the owners, of some 30 years, had both passed away and their 2 children were divided about selling the property. The result was that it was let to many dubious characters for 10 years without any maintenance of the garden.

Jane later realised that she had never seen Hogsback in Spring and we resolved to come back for her birthday, the 26th October the next year. On this visit, Jane was interested to see what Mistlea looked like in Spring. Lo and behold – it was up for sale again and with gates locked this time. We contacted the estate agent and said we were “interested” (pretend, pretend!) He told us that a retired lady had bought the property but for health and other reasons, decided not to settle at Hogsback. Jane was forced to view the derelict house and cottage, while I sneaked off to the garden, much to her chagrin! There was one path open around the outside of the Yellow Wood forest (the garden is about 2 ha in size) We thanked the estate agent and then went back to the hotel. About 3 hours later, I said to Jane “We have to buy Mistlea”. She said “I know “, and so began the adventure of our lives…

Jane worked as a landscape gardener in Port Elizabeth and we have a large country garden there. My job was keeping the garden equipment in shape and a bit of pruning and tree cutting (never trusted our staff with a chainsaw!) Coming to Mistlea was like starting over again – 90% of the plants and trees in the garden were new to us but common to northern hemisphere gardens, so I was happily dragged into the project. Mistlea was established in the 1950’s and contained beautifully mature Rhododendrons, Azaleas and other shrubs as well as trees like Chestnut, Copper Beech, Dogwood, Crab Apple, Liquid Amber, Maple, Red Oak, Pin Oak, Silver Birch etc but the rest of the property was waist high in grass and brambles and overrun with Black Wattle, Blackwood and a nasty invader called Bird Cherry (a Prunus varietal from South America).

My first job was clear – get rid of the invader trees and start clearing the rubbish! Bearing in mind that we were coming to Hogsback for 4 days per month, I generated enough rubbish to keep our one gardener busy carting and burning for the rest of the month.

Jane wandered around the garden for the first 6 months, not knowing where to start and defaulted to keeping an eye on the renovation of the house and the installation of watering points. We started clearing the areas closest to the house and having cut the undergrowth to the ground, we noticed a single daffodil flower appear. Jane figured that this must have been a flower bed and then shaped a bed with a hose as she would have done. Our gardener removed all the grass and by the next month, seemingly by magic, up came alstroemeria, dahlias, Chinese anemones, nerine, Michaelmas daisies, foxgloves, daylillies and many more. They had all been dormant under the grass and brambles!

Now Jane was on a roll and started the reconstruction of the garden – the house is at the highest point of the plot and faces the Hogsback mountain. The whole garden and forest slopes downwards to the ponds. Rough terraces had been previously made, but with loose rocks that had been rearranged over the years by the large baboon troops in the area. We kept a stonemason busy for more than 2 years and my new brief was collecting enough stones all around Hogsback to keep him busy!

At the same time, Jane had fond memories of her Mom showing her roses in the Hogsback gardens as a child but noticed that there were hardly any roses at Hogsback when we arrived at Mistlea. Having been voted in as chairlady of the Hogsback Garden Club within about 3 years, she made it her mission to bring roses back to Hogsback. We had 2 roses bushes at Mistlea at that stage, both General Gallieni. Jane bought in roses every spring for resale at a low mark up to local gardeners. What she did not sell, went straight into our garden! So, after about 10 years, we had used more than a thousand bags of cement and endless stones and sand for the stone terracing, paths and steps and had planted about 3, 500 roses. Many other gardens in the area now contained roses and Jane had achieved her mission with the help of some very special people, like the late Heather Leppan, who once arrived at our home in PE with 92 heritage roses in a VW Golf!

Halfway through our project, we visited various English gardens and also bought an entire library of books from the RHS book shop at Wisley but were most influenced by 2 gardens – Sissinghurst and Great Dixter, the former giving inspiration for our rose arbour and white garden – well, almost white – some of the daylillies turned out to be yellow!

In her capacity as chairlady, Jane purchased many Azaleas from a local nursery for planting in various public areas. After one of these buying missions, she came home and proudly announced that we were the new owners of an Azalea nursery, as the current owner was leaving the mountain! I won’t reveal my exact response, but I eventually conceded defeat and started clearing the area now occupied by our nursery.

Mistlea continues to challenge, energise and inspire us (often beyond our ailing physical capabilities !!!) and we are as excited each spring as we were in our first year.

Mistlea is an open garden for the month of October as part of the Hogsback Garden Club fund raising for care of public areas, but as our first flush of roses is mid-November, we are happy to accommodate visitors by arrangement with Jane at that time when there are still some Azaleas and Rhododendrons in flower.

2018 National Convention – “Roses in Bloom” – by Barbara Wood

Cocktail fare. Pic Lizette Jonker

The ROSA National Convention had been in the planning stages for over a year with Joy Webb of the Western Cape Rose Society (WCRS) and her committee committing to the smooth running and preparation of the weekend.  At last the 25th October dawned and the Convention was underway.

Ruslamere Hotel and Convention Centre was very hospitable and helpful when I checked in and I was allocated a very comfortable and spacey room.  Because of the late arrival of the flight from Johannesburg, I went straight into the ROSA special meeting, which was actually just concluding, and then into the ROSA AGM.  There were not that many society members present at the AGM.  Sadly this is always the case.  However a sizeable number from Gold Reef Rose Society (GRRS), Heritage Rose Society of SA (HRSSA) and Midlands Rose Society (MRS) were present.  Having got the legal stuff dealt with, and receiving a very interesting report from the President, Gail Birss, the nominations for incoming President were shared with the delegates.  Barbara Wood (GRRS) was elected as the ROSA President 2018-2020.


Following the AGM, the ROSA Council met and the following positions were discussed and confirmed:

Vice President – Lizette Jonker (Pretoria Rose Society – PRS)

Secretary – Gail Birss (MRS)

Treasurer – Elizabeth Thornton-Dibb (MRS/GRRS)

Council members – Gill Wilson representing MRS, Sheenagh Harris representing Knysna Rose Society (KRS), Jackie Kalley, in her absence, will represent the HRSSA and Vivienne Black, vice president for Africa, attends council meetings but does not qualify to vote.  I would like to mention that ALL council members are also members of HRSSA.

The HRSSA AGM followed and Sheenagh Harris presented the report for the Society on behalf of Rae Gilbert.  Kim Van Niekerk from Bedford shared some recent happenings and events that have taken place.  Jackie Kalley was nominated and accepted as the incoming Chairman of HRSSA.



At 18h00 a delightful cocktail party took place in the convention room with a cash bar and plentiful snacks.  Pietman Diener from Rustenberg Manor Garden addressed us on “Heritage Roses in Old Cape Gardens and the education of a gardener.”  A humorous and interesting address.

And so the first day was completed.

Joy had warned us that we had to leave from Durbanville Rose Gardens promptly at 8h30 on Friday morning.  We dutifully turned up and the bus set off for Avondale Garden in Durbanville.  The garden belongs to Ronelle Shuttleworth but we were met by her landscaper and gardener, Chris.  An interesting tour of the garden to the orchid house, a “kopje” constructed out of the soil removed when the pool was being dug and now planted up with indigenous plants and succulents, a lovely rose garden where “Walter Sisulu” was blooming beautifully and then back to the bus for our next stop.  Babylonstoren.  Most of us knew Babylonstoren but were more than delighted to visit this amazing place again.  On approximately 8 acres it has something new and exciting to present every time you visit.  We were treated to a coffee or tea compliments of Babylonstoren.  Then it was onto lunch at “Lust” at Vrede and Lust Estate.  A light lunch of quiche and salad and for some of us, a refreshing glass of chilled wine.  We did not have much time to explore Vrede And Lust but it is nice to have something to look forward to on our next venture into the Cape.


The last garden of the day was Muldersvlei Estate.  A glass of bubbly greeted us together with the “bubbly” owner, Helen Starke.  Chris Bellingen, a WCRS member, was on hand to show us the 200 roses in pots that he has grown.  These are used for the decor at the many functions that are held at Muldersvlei.  And then an amazing tea/coffee on the lawns with smoked salmon and cucumber sandwiches and freshly baked cream scones.


Back to Durbanville to retire home or to our respective lodgings.


Saturday morning we were again on the bus at 8h00 and travelling to the Jonkershoek Valley in the Stellenbosch district to visit “Lingen”.  This is home to another WCRS member, Coreen Krige and her husband.  The rose garden was established by Coreen about 15 years ago.  The roses are grouped according to colours and the “Roberto Capucci”, “Avril Elizabeth Home”, “Forever Friends” to name but a few were exquisite.  Coreen and her husband had prepared a delicious tea/coffee/juice with homemade shortbread of various flavours which was enjoyed by the Convention delegates.


Rustenberg Manor House was the next stop.  This garden in Stellenbosch dates from the 1700’s.  There are over 200 different varieties of heritage roses to which they are constantly adding.  The roses growing in some of the trees were delightful.  Again tea/coffee or a juice with a cream scone was available for the delegates.  This is a very large garden with different vistas opening up around every corner and one really needs a whole day to explore and see this garden.


Our last visit was to Languedoc Farm, Firgrove.  This proved to be a challenge to find but eventually we were met by the owners Nicky and Martin Geberts and introduced to their lovely garden.  It was an extremely hot day and the garden was desperately in need of some rain but again a lovely older, private garden.  We enjoyed a pizza at Henri’s Restaurant in Somerset West and then back to Durbanville to tidy up for the banquet later that evening.


Klein Joostenberg was the venue for the dinner.  There were approximately 60 people attending and Cobus Coetzee addressed us on “International Rose Industries with special emphasis on the South African Market.”  An enlightening talk.  Nan Steyn was presented with the literary award which she won for her book “ROSES The Seasonal Guide to Growing Roses in South Africa.”  This award is presented by the World Federation and was announced at the World Convention in Copenhagen in July.  Two other awards were presented:

  • The President’s Award. Decided on by the ROSA President.  This went to Sheenagh Harris.
  • The Zoë Gilbert Award. Decided on by nominations from the various rose societies and finalised by ROSA Council.  This went to Gail Birss.

The flowers, the food, the venue and the ambience were a very special way to close the ROSA National Convention – 2018.


I would like to express my thanks and I am sure I speak for everyone that attended this convention, to Joy Webb and her committee for all the hard work and preparation they put into this very successful weekend.  Joy, the little things that you included in the goodie bags (especially the recipes for different rose products), to the delightful cards, calendars, prints etc that were on sale and also for the lovely bags holding all this paraphernalia made by one of the WCRS members, we salute you.  Thank you for hosting us and growing our LOVE OF THE ROSE.


Barbara Wood