Una van der Spuy

Una van der Spuy

Una van der Spuy's magnificent pergola (Photographer: Una van der Spuy)

‘‘I decided that there had to be a formal rose garden on the adjoining slope so there followed more pickaxe / shovel / muscle power / wheelbarrow work - moving four metres from the top of the slope to put on the lower part of the slope. What is now done by an earthmover in a day took the Italian prisoners of war about four months to complete,” she writes in Old Nectar. A garden for all seasons.

She was helped by four men of whom two became invaluable to her: Gatti, who returned to South Africa after the war and started a successful ice cream business, and Dante, who built her a pool which has never since cracked or leaked.

Throughout the years there must've been many helpers; one - John Mashati - is thanked in Wild flowers of South Africa for the garden.

She revealed very little of herself, even in her latest book. A short autobiography on a website devoted to writers of the Stellenbosch area contains all I know of her personal life: born on 20 July 1912 in the Eastern Cape; studied economics and international politics ‘‘with the objective of, at some future date, making a career in politics”; lived in London during the first years of the Second World War.

‘‘The garden at Old Nectar is the only private garden in South Africa to have been designated a National Monument.” Una van der Spuy has created a garden fit for a homestead of which its national heritage citation reads ‘architecturally one of the finest and best-known gabled houses of the old Cape type’. A life well-lived.