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Photo Essay: Exploring Old Nectar Estate and Its Magical Gardens

I have always loved wandering around gardens and beautiful natural spaces. So the Western Cape, where we have access to the gorgeous Cape Winelands’ gardens, is a joy to explore. That is why, when I first stumbled across Old Nectar Estate online a few months ago, I was enchanted.

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This beautiful estate, which has the most glorious gardens, was immediately added to my ever-growing travel list.

Now, I have visited this haven during the height of autumn and all its myriad hues.

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So, let me introduce you to the beauty of Old Nectar:

Old Nectar Estate Gardens: Perfect Paradise along Jonkershoek Road

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As you enter the stunning Jonkershoek Valley, there, just outside Stellenbosch proper, exists a veritable – and surprisingly secret – garden paradise: Old Nectar.

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Old Nectar Estate has been the home of the Van Der Spuy family since 1941, when Kenneth and Una Van Der Spuy acquired this beautiful farm. Over time, Una’s interest and love for gardening blossomed (quite literally) – and from 1941 to her passing in 2012, she lovingly maintained, cared for and improved Old Nectar’s grounds.

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The result? The stunning, four-hectare garden that you find spread across the estate grounds today.

Over the years, Old Nectar has inspired gardening greats – including the geniuses behind businesses like Stoddels and Ludwig’s Roses.

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And now, at last, this garden utopia is open for the public to enjoy year-round. (Except on Christmas and New Year’s Day.)

Old Nectar Estate Gardens: The Place Time Forgot

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As you drive along Jonkershoek Road, through the dappled sunshine, passing wine farms and places of forested beauty, it’s easy to miss Old Nectar. The white pillars and gate peep out almost shyly.

And yet, once you enter its gates, you feel as if you have left your world – and indeed, modernday time – behind.

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There is something about Old Nectar that hints of yesteryear. Of a time and a place when life was slower. Even though firm traces of our everyday world, like the gorgeous accommodation villas and modern cars at times parked opposite its cellar, are also found on the estate.

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Old Nectar has a nostalgic, timeless air to it. This is just one of the many treasures about this outdoor paradise.

Mountain and Cape Dutch Views Aplenty

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Along with the estate’s own historic Cape Dutch manorhouse – which is exquisite and available for long-term rent – the views are unparalled.

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You get to enjoy both the scenic Cape Dutch-meets-vibrant-garden landscape and the most breathtaking views of the Jonkershoek Mountains.

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This is especially true from the manorhouse lawns – which are soft, lush and neatly edged by English garden-esque beauty – and the pretty Pergola Walk.

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The surrounding garden- and mountain-views are the first thing that render you breathless with wonder – though not the last.

Grab a Complimentary Old Nectar Estate Map and Tree List and Explore

Once you have parked (there is parking near the entrance by the old quarry or opposite the cellar, where I parked), head to the cellar.

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Here, you fill in a COVID-19 checklist (including temperature check and car registration), sanitise and pay the R50 per adult entry fee. Happily, for under 18s, the gardens are free to visit.

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Then, grab one of the complimentary, beautifully illustrated Old Nectar garden maps and tree list and explore!

While the garden map was indispenable to me (you can also download a PDF-version from their website), I didn’t refer to the tree list as often.

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However, it lists up to 160 identifiable, numbered trees. So it could be fun to wander about Old Nectar in search of them all.

The trees planted in this garden hail from places all over the globe. Everywhere from Asia to North- and South-America and Europe.

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I did, however, seek out a few special trees. These included the historic oak trees, Japanese maples and mighty Redwood tree. (Yes! The Old Nectar estate gardens even have a giant Redwood tree.)

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Stellenbosch’s Special Old Nectar: Where Cape History Meets Garden Paradise

Old Nectar is more than just a pretty place though. This unique estate also has a rich Cape- and Stellenbosch-history, something you can read up on using the map. (The reverse has wonderful, detailed snippets on the estate and each of the 15 or so numbered, key garden sections.)

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The Old Nectar manorhouse, wine cellar and even the beautiful guest villas are all iconic examples of early 1700- and early 1800-Cape Dutch buildings.

Even the 150-metre walk from the main gate up to the manorhouse is lined noble oaks that were planted in the mid-1800s.

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History is literally alive and breathing at Old Nectar. Much of this is thanks to the love and dedication of the Van Der Spuy family, particularly the late Una.

While maintaining this estate under its complete former glory, this family have also cemented its Cape heritage and living roots for generations to come. More importantly, they have made their farm accessible to all. πŸ™‚

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In addition to preserving the past, Old Nectar also offer luxury, long-term rental accommodation.

This accommodation would no doubt make for dream stays for digital nomads, visiting international/business travellers and those staying off-site due to home renovations and such.

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Following the Map to Unearth Old Nectar’s Garden Highlights

Perhaps the best part about Old Nectar and its four-hectare garden and beautiful estate grounds is the prevailing peacefulness felt here. Honestly, it is like you just breathe more deeply in this magical place.

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And, everything from the beautifully tended garden sections to the old Cape buildings (which have interesting little murals, benches and more dotted about their breadth) is a joy to discover.

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It is impossible to touch on each of Old Nectar’s garden sections in a single post. (Plus, it would spoil the experience for you.)

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Still, I would like to share some of my personal favourites after my solitary Sunday afternoon visit.

Take a Walk Beneath the Pergola

Surrounded by the Magnolia Walk, Azalea Garden and Bench Garden (and some tree highlights like the Japanese maples, silver birch and flowering peach), is the beautifully scenic Pergola Walk.

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This 200-metre-long walk feels very Secret Garden-esque, just with the majestic Jonkershoek mountains rising up alongside it in the distance. (You can even discern the mountain waterfalls and hear the baboon calls from this section.)

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Built in 1942 by Italian prisoners of war, this garden walk has 22 pillars, which are entwined by climbing roses. (It is a sight to see even in autumn.)

Fun Fact:

In the 1920s, this was actually one of the original roads into the verdant Jonkershoek Valley.

I really enjoyed strolling along the Pergola Walk, admiring the roses, mountain- and secluded manorhouse-views and garden surroundings as I walked.

A Rose Garden of Note

Set on the side, just below the manorhouse, Old Nectar’s Rose Garden is another personal highlight for me.

Even donning a cloth mask, I could actually smell the deep, sweet scents of the blooming roses, as I explored this beautiful circular garden.

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This rose garden was created by Una in the early 1940s.

It is home to some richly scented ‘golden oldie’ gems, such as Crimson Glory, Peace, Charlotte Armstrong and Michele Meiland.

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Fun fact:

Through her passionate, self-taught gardening work and books, Una inspired many other gardeners and horticulturists during her lifetime.

And, because she loved roses so much, Ludwig’s Roses mastermind, Ludwig Taschner, even named a rose after her.Β 

A Touching Memorial

Another of my favourite parts of the garden is the Memorial Bench section.

Here, beneath a towering Auracaria tree, planted by Una in 1944 in her husband, Kenneth’s honour, lies the memorial bench and a plaque dedicated to Kenneth Van Der Spuy.

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From alongside the plaque (which touchingly describes to the reader Kenneth’s passions and life aspirations), you enjoy the most beautiful views across the garden.

It overlooks the rose garden, as well as the manorhouse, with the 1815 manorhouse gable, and distant mountains beyond.

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More importantly, it shows Una’s love for her family. In my view, that makes it even more special.

A Redwood Tree in the Old Nectar Estate Gardens! Really?

Perhaps one of my best finds at Old Nectar, though, was the mighty Redwood.

Ever since I was a small child, I have loved Redwoods from photos and stories my mum would tell about her family’s visit to the States.

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I honestly never thought I would see one growing happily and healthily in the flesh though.

Planted on a hill overlooking the back of the manorhouse and cellar buildings, near the indigenous garden (started in 2014), the Redwood commands a special corner of Old Nectar.

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Poignantly, this Redwood was planted by Una from a seed in 1950 to commemorate the birth of her youngest son, David.

Judging by how huge and vast it is – both its trunk height and width are amazing – the Redwood is very happy living in the Cape. πŸ™‚

Too Many Garden Gems to Mention

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Honestly, I loved every inch of Old Nectar’s impressive estate gardens. Una and her family have created a true haven in the midst of Stellenbosch. (And one that, surprisingly, not many people seem to have heard about.)

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There are too many beautiful garden gems to write about or mention in detail – but I also loved the two-hectare Arboretum Garden and free-style garden; the Millstone Terrace and the almost secret Waterfall Garden.

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I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the 2.5 hours or so I spent exploring Old Nectar, map and camera in hand.

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This is one of the most beautiful gardens anywhere in the Cape.

It is perfect for families (please just mind little ones near the water features and ponds), garden lovers and friends to visit together.

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Even for a solo traveller (like me), this is a safe, enclosed estate to visit.

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Important Information on Old Nectar Estate Gardens

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Below is some important information for anyone planning an Old Nectar garden experience:

  • Old Nectar’s gardens are now open almost year-round to the public, including on Sundays and public holidays. The gardens are only closed on Christmas (25 December) and New Year’s Day (1 January).

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  • Old Nectar is free to under 18s. Adults pay a very reasonable R50 per person fee.
  • Guests are welcome to bring their own picnic or snacks to enjoy at Old Nectar. Please just tidy up after yourselves and do not litter this gorgeous place.

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  • If you don’t take food and drinks with, Old Nectar is close to many Stellenbosch wine farms and cafes. This includes Stark-Conde’s Postcard Cafe. (It is literally just around the bend from Old Nectar’s main gate.)
  • No bookings are required. However, during COVID-19, management prefers a phone call in advance. Β 
  • Garden guests are limited to 10 people per visiting group.

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  • Old Nectar offers long-term accommodation in its villas and manorhouse. However, if the manorhouse is unoccupied when you visit, you can sometimes explore inside.

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  • Both the manorhouse and villas house residents at times. Please be mindful and respectful of their privacy when visiting the estate and gardens.

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  • Old Nectar’s gardens are generally open daily from around 09:00 am until sunset. (Except on Christmas and New Year’s.)
  • Old Nectar’s beautiful gardens are designed to be enjoyed year-round. This means that you can visit during any season. However, the garden is especially beautiful during springtime and autumn.

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For more information on Old Nectar, please visitΒ their website.

You can also contact Old Nectar on: +27 (021) 866 1133 or email them at info@oldnectar.com.

To visit Old Nectar for yourself, please head to: Old Nectar, Jonkershoek Road,
Jonkershoek Valley,
Stellenbosch.Β 

Special Thanks to Old Nectar

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Although I was a paying visitor, I wish to extend my thanks to the Old Nectar management (including Louie and Johann) and the Van Der Spuy family for sharing their natural paradise and farm with us all.

We are so privileged to be able to share in the beauty and living legacy that Mrs Una Van Der Spuy left behind. πŸ™‚

Author: Tamlyn Ryan

Content writer by day and blogger by night, Tamlyn Ryan passionately runs her travel blog, called Tamlyn Amber Wanderlust – Travel Writing and Photography, from her home base of Cape Town, South Africa. Despite having a national diploma in Journalism and working as a content writer by day, Tamlyn’s preferred niche remains travel writing.

Tamlyn is a hopeless wanderer, equipped with an endless passion for road trips, carefully planned, holiday itineraries and, above all else, an innate love for the great outdoors.

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