Voyager Estate Werf Garden
By Neville Passmore
Voyager estate winery south of Margaret River has as a significant feature a brilliant example of a Cape Dutch walled or "werf" garden as they call them in South Africa. Walled gardens can be traced back to ancient Persia and their design has many practical functions.
One is to create micro climates. I saw for example a walled garden in Hampton Court in the UK where espaliered fruit trees were grown against one side of a double wall. In the space between (about 60cm) fires were lit in late winter to raise the temperature of the soil and the wall itself to encourage deciduous fruit trees to flower and fruit earlier than normal.
The "werf" gardens of South Africa served many functions as well, not the least of which was to offer security in what was perceived as a hostile land.
Many of the design elements can be traced back to those early Persian gardens. There are strong axis lines often with symmetrical ponds at the centre. There is a green emphasis to give a cool atmosphere. Seasonal flowers are used to bring beauty, perfume and colour.
The "werf" garden at Voyager creates a beautiful backdrop to show off the distinctive Cape Dutch architecture of the buildings. It is also a wonderful venue for weddings and other functions relating to the restaurant and tastings rooms of the Estate.
I fell in love with the rose gardens on a previous visit. I visited the estate in January this year and while the roses were in wonderful shape considering the summer season there was not the riot of spring flower that had drawn me before. However, the gardens overall were cool green and welcoming.
Voyager is without question one of the South West's finest gardens and there is something to admire at any time of the year, but spring is 'knockout material' in my opinion. What underpins this success is of course the soil. In the early days of the gardens large quantities of animal manures were spread over the soil every year. While this did produce good growth the smell was an issue particularly with weddings and outdoor functions.
One of the lead horticulturists at Voyager took a closer look at the C-Wise "Premium" feeding mulch that was being used in the vineyard. Actually it was a closer sniff. Rather than an offensive odour there was a pleasant earthy smell.
In the vineyard the mulch has an important role to play. While grapevines are pretty tough plants they can struggle during the periodic heat-waves we experience in WA. The vines can't get moisture up to the leaves fast enough to prevent burning and defoliation. If this occurs before harvest the effect on the bunches of grapes can be devastating and the effect on the resultant juice even worse. A surface mulch keeps the soil cool and holds moisture close to the surface where the feeder roots are concentrated. This offers a sort of insurance against catastrophe. There are many other benefits to the vine including higher productivity even disease suppression.
That year the gardens at Voyager were put on a different diet. The Premium material was shipped from C-Wise's facility in Nambeelup just out of Mandurah.
The proof is in the Prospero, Seduction, Angel Face, Just Joey and Iceberg roses as well as all the other trees and shrubs that contribute to this stunning garden. The high humus composted material provides nutrient, increased water holding capacity, encourages soil biology and at the same time suppresses weed growth.
The idea of a feeding mulch is a different concept for home gardeners. It has a mix of chunky as well as finer textured material. "Premium" is a maturity index 2 product, meaning that it has been pasteurised and composted to a stable state that still has considerable nutrient content to get plants actively growing. When applied to the surface the finer fractions tend to be taken down into the soil through settling, water and soil borne organisms. The chunkier portions hang around on the surface for up to 2 years cooling the soil and conserving moisture. "Premium" contains similar ingredients to mushroom farm compost, has similar benefits and is a bit easier to store and handle. "Premium"
Home gardeners can get their hands on this nutrient rich mulching material from a number of commercial soil yards operating around the state. If its not readily available good old mushroom farm compost is a good fall back as it works in the same sort of way.
Just Joey rose in full bloom
Immaculate gardens an Iceberg rose in the foreground
Walled rose garden