Celebrating the Earth’s Bounty at the Gardens of Babylonstoren

Bean roots are transformed into golden swords of sunlight breaking through the soil. Clivias are not humble flowers, but jazz trumpets. Spekboom, an unassuming local succulent, is given red carpet status for its carbon footprint reducing abilities. At Babylonstoren, they plant stories, the best and most exciting of which you will be treated to during a must-do garden tour.

Dating back to 1692, Babylonstoren is a historic Cape Dutch farm that boasts one of the best preserved farmyards in the Cape. Set within 3,5 hectares (8 acres) of cultivated fruit and vegetables, the big garden at Babylonstoren is at the blooming heart of the farm. Divided into 15 sections that comprise fruit, vegetables, berries, bees for pollinating, indigenous plants, fragrant lawns, a prickly pear maze, ducks and chickens, and more. A secluded path runs along the stream where thousands of Clivias flower in spring. The garden also boasts a plethora of trees of historical and botanical import.

The Farm Shop & Garden Tour

Arriving on the brink of spring, we met our party of gardening enthusiasts at the Farm Shop, where, were it not for fear of missing the tour itself, one could (and should later endeavour to) get lost perusing the aisles of farm meats, cheeses, breads, tins of olive oil, fine linens, scented candles and soaps, preserves, and other perfect gifts you’ll want to keep for yourself.

But summoned by the allure of exploring a secret garden like environment, we made our way out, where Gundula Deutschlander, gardener extraordinaire and real life fairy (replete with striped stockings and flowers in her hair), wove magic with her tour. Pausing between each section, she’d choose a seemingly plain area and explain its importance, plucking leaves, tiny blossoms, sour Kumquats, and even Waterblommetjies from the their homes in the ponds; encouraging us to crush, sniff, taste and enjoy the natural bounty of the garden, her focus on local fauna and flora, so much of which is abundant in naturally healing properties.

We passed through avenues of ancient, gnarled Guava trees, under towering rose pergolas, strolled through the vast garden of Clivias, payed homage to the grandmother of the garden (a 400-year-old Mulberry tree), emerged in the giant Prickly Pear maze, removed our shoes to stamp on the soft and fragrant carpets of chamomile, and touched the delicate pink blooms of the plum trees. Poems were recited, Shakespeare invoked as we gazed in wonder at the Medlar tree (where he sent Romeo to dream of Juliette), recreated in the garden by the splicing together of apple, pear and quince trees. Newton himself, makes an appearance, apple trees born out of cuttings from the very same one he slept under, growing unassumingly next to the human-sized ‘weaver nests’ where one can curl up inside.

Visitors to South Africa might appreciate the indigenous gardens, where Babylonstoren’s green-fingered team have recreated our various terrains and natural terroirs in four unique quadrants, ‘Table Mountain’ present, as well as the Renosterveld.

Before leaving us to marvel at the wonder of nature, Gundula treated us all her ‘three friends of winter’ tea, made using pine needles, bamboo & blossoms. The plants revered by the Chinese for their resilience throughout the harsh winter months, this fragrant, delicate tea is also packed full of wonderful, healing properties.

The Healing Garden

Tucked away behind the Greenhouse, the medicinal Healing Garden layout follows the form of the human body with herbs to heal head, heart, lungs, digestive system, organs, skin, bones and feet. If you’re interested in learning more about ‘nature’s medicine chest’, join Gundula in the quiet space, for a lesson in the art of herbal tea blending. These take place every Tuesday, and lessons include snacks. Understandably, booking is a must.

Babel Restaurant

Garden strolls can be strenuous, which is why we highly recommend booking breakfast or lunch at Babel, Babylonstoren’s flagship restaurant. Housed in an old cow shed, the white interior is an edgy mix of contemporary glass and Cape Dutch architecture – a blank canvas upon which the bright, farm-fresh ingredients burst with colour. As the menu is always guided by what’s available in the garden, it changes with each season. While salads, vibrant with gooseberries, might dominate the summer menu, our wintery day called for something with a little more heft. Starting with a glass of the newly-released Candide white wine blend, we chose colour-coded starters aptly named ‘Yellow’ and ‘Red’. Nibbling on the oven warm bread, drizzled with the spekboom-infused pesto and olive oil, a tray of just-out-the-soil fruits and veggies were soon presented to us for selection, the “pick, clean and serve” approach made evident in the array of beets, blood oranges, naartjies and carrots in rainbow colours – a visual feast. Our chat about the unusual plants we’d never tasted before was interrupted by the welcome arrival of the starters. The yellow plate was adorned with the thinnest of root vegetable and citrus carpaccio, crispy calamari, and drizzles of creamy chervil, while the red involved lightly smoked Franschhoek trout with grilled radicchio, tree-ripened roasted Nonpareil almonds, with crispy shards of proscuccio adding a salty depth to the dish.

Mains were equally as moreish. Beef Fillet on the bone came served with a lickable roasted onion and Babel red wine splash, crisped Babylonstoren black olives and fresh wild olive berries, while my Whole baby chicken was glazed with sticky soy, honey from the garden, and stuffed with spicy apple and beetroot Kimchi. But it’s very possibly the roast potatoes that stole my heart. Served thick cut and liberally sprinkled with rosemary salt, I’d be quite happy to never eat them another way again.

Portions are large, so sharing is possible, which also means that one should go right ahead and order dessert. Divided into the flavour profiles, we selected the ‘Bitter’ – a dark chocolate fondant with espresso cream, ‘Bitter Sweet’ – sticky toffee pudding drizzled with a salty, rosemary toffee sauce, and the ‘Sweet & Savoury’ – a vegan miso ice cream served with wild olive berries. None lasted long but the dark chocolate fondant was quickly declared the winner (if there can only be one).

Babel books up quickly, but The Greenhouse, their lovely, casual eatery, is always there for those who wish to grab a salad, sandwich, slice of cake and pot of tea.

Wine, Olive Oil, Tours and Tastings

Paradise, in my opinion, definitely includes wine. So with bellies full, we set off to explore the Wine Cellar and Tasting Room, the walk another chance to take in parts of the garden we wished to linger in for longer. Making the last cellar tour by mere seconds, we joined the group and were led through Babylonstoren’s modern winery, designed by renowned Cape cellar architect Gerard de Villiers. Producing 13 grape varieties under 88 hectares, Babylon might be a relative newcomer to the winemaking scene, but are quickly making waves both locally and internationally, their winemaking approach led by their natural approach, aided by their gravity-fed production. Then it was out into the vineyards themselves, and down into the olive oil production plant, where they bottle their hand-harvested, eqsuite cold-pressed gold.

The Tasting Room itself sits adjacent to the Wine Cellar, offering views of the conical Babylonstoren Hill, Simonsberg and the Banghoek Mountains – the glassy structure a link between the Cape Dutch cellars. Despite its innovative appearance, the inside is made cosy with a fireplace, and intimate tables from where to taste one’s way through their selection. If you’re still peckish, order a tasting platter to accompany the vino. Steadily, we made our way through the lovely, light Chenin, the new releases Candide (lovely and balanced), the favourite Mourvèdre Rosé, Viognier, Babel Red Blend and Shiraz. The special releases, like the Chardonnay 2017, and the Nebuchadnezzar 2016 (counted as one of the top 100 wines in SA for 2016), as well as their Sprankel MCC (sparkling) are worth nabbing too, and available for tasting at a little extra cost, as they are hand-numbered and limited.

Visit Babylonstoren

There are a myriad of reasons to visit Babylonstoren. I haven’t even mentioned the duck whisperer, donkeys, workshops, heavenly spa, bakery, fowl house and story of the Babylonstoren hill herself for fear of writing an essay. So really, it will take a visit from you to decide on your favourite things about this extraordinary farm that is more heaven than earth.

For more information, visit the Babylonstoren website, and make sure to book your own tour, seat at Babel, Cellar Tour, and whatever else your plant-loving heart desires.

Simondium Road
Franschhoek 7670

Open 7 days a week: 09h00 – 17h00

Blog post by: Tarah Darge

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