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With winter almost over it’s time to head outdoors again and get your garden ready for spring. Who better to share advice than Shan Retief, who has kept her hand on the Van Loveren family gardens for the past twenty years – following in the footsteps of grandmother Jean who first started the garden in 1937.

Take a look at her 10 tips for getting your garden ready for Spring:

1. Prune

If you haven’t pruned yet, now is the time to do so. Remember, you can never prune too much. Shrubs (like Viburnum) can even be cut level with the ground and it will grow out again. Roses should be pruned back to three to five stems and hydrangeas to a few more. Open up trees by cutting off dead and overgrown branches to allow in more light.

woman picking roses

2. Compost

Shan uses homemade compost consisting of grape skins, chicken manure and leaves, but at home you can use any scraps from your kitchen such as fruit, vegetable peels, teabags or grass cuttings from the garden. Once turned into black gold, use generously all over the garden.

TIP Be wary of too many citrus and onion peels as they can kill worms and micro-organisms necessary for fast decomposing.

3. Plant colour

If you have a mostly green leafy garden like Shan, it’s important to add splashes of colour. Besides permanent shrubs like roses, camellia, hibiscus, bougainvilleas, strelitzia and hydrangeas, the easiest and fastest way to bring in colour is with seedlings such as pansies and violas – they are perfect for winter and early spring and violas will bloom well into December. Both do well in sunny or partially shaded spots.


4. Pathways

Identify areas in the garden with too much shade or where plants or grass struggle to grow. Try creating pathways with bricks for a rustic look and feel. Bricks are also great for edging and they blend well with the garden. Other options for paths include gravel (for a nice crunching sound underfoot), railway sleepers (for a natural look) and apricot pips or bark chips (for added colour and texture).

5. Plant herbs and vegetables

You don’t need a big space to create a herb or veggie garden – the size of a standard door will do! Shan swears by these three herbs:

  • Parsley (both flat leaf and curly): great for garnishing.

  • Thyme: the perfect flavour for lamb.

  • Rosemary: ideal for any type of stew.

When it comes to vegetables, firm favourites are beetroot, carrots and especially spinach, which grows throughout the year.


6. Grow a creeper

Spruce up any unsightly or uninspiring boundary wall by planting a creeper. Creepers are also great for softening building walls and creating a romantic look when trained around a pretty window. Favourites include ivy varieties (Hedera) which will grow in sun or shade and tickey creeper (Ficus pumilla) which is also great for both sun and shade.

7. Cuttings

Plants are expensive and Shan is a firm believer in sharing the love. Follow her lead and make cuttings of your favourite plants and hand them out to family and friends. The majority of the Van Loveren gardens were cultivated from cuttings, so it would be easy to do the same at home!


8. Birds and bees

Attract birds and small insects such as butterflies and bees to your garden by planting the right food for them. Common sage grows prolifically and produces beautiful purple flowers that hummingbirds love. Birds and insects also love lavender, aloes, wild grasses, karee trees, proteas, pincushions and bottlebrushes among others.

9. Plant a tree

The Van Loveren garden is well-known for their trees, which were planted for special occasions such as when their four grandsons each turned 21, when they completed their studies at Stellenbosch, or when Nelson Mandela became president.

Consider planting a tree during Arbour month in September.


10. Mulch, mulch, mulch

With the drought remaining a serious threat in many parts of the country, particularly the Western Cape, mulching is even more important than before. It prevents soil from drying out while also keeping the ground cool. As the mulch decomposes, it can be worked into the soil as compost.

Consider any of these for mulching: straw, fruit pips, wood barks, garden leaves, compost or nutshells.


Book a guided garden tour (R50) of 30 minutes, which includes a glass of bubbly, or simply enjoy an unaccompanied stroll in our gardens.

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