Bergview petrol station, Harrismith, South Africa

Bergview petrol station

“About once a week somebody will go to the trouble of finding our telephone number to tell us they liked the garden."

Usually South African petrol (petroleum = gas) stations have cookie-cutter gardens but not this one at about 1 700m (5 577ft) above sea level outside the town of Harrismith, close to South Africa’s border with the Kingdom of Lesotho.

In these gardens one’s overwhelming impression is of Alstroemeria (inca or Peruvian lilies), foxgloves, bright roses, pansies and violas. “About once a week somebody will go to the trouble of finding our telephone number to tell us they liked the garden,” Elize Pringle, whose husband owns a restaurant at the petrol station, tells me. The garden was started from nothing by Jo Jelliman-Brunzlaff in the 1980s. Mrs Jelliman-Brunzlaff was a hairdresser in Harrismith who, upon her retirement, took the gardens of Harrismith under her wing – 72 (seventy-two!) of them, besides her own, at one stage.

“People asked her to do the layout of the gardens and she would work with their gardeners, going around seeing all the gardens. She tried to at least look at all seventy-two every week,” her daughter Emelia Stanton tells me. “And you know what? She didn’t charge the garden owners anything. She used to go around town in a van that looked like a half-loaf of bread and when the minister saw her coming he’d say: ‘Here comes the Love Loaf.’ She is sorely missed.”

In 2000 Mrs Jelliman-Brunzlaff had a hip replacement and needed help with the Bergview gardens. Elize didn’t know much about gardening when she started picking up Jo in town for her mornings in the garden. “She told me that plants are like little children – they shouldn’t get too much or too little food.” Once a year sheep manure is brought in from neighbouring farms and left under a pine grove some distance from the garden. The manure is turned over now and then and after six months it has decomposed sufficiently to be applied to the garden. >>