When architect William Raats and zoologist David Mostert bought their home in Constantia Avenue more than seven years ago, they wasted no time planting an incredible collector’s garden that is every bit as unique and fascinating as the mid-century house at its centre.
A landmark home
It’s impossible not to be intrigued by David and William’s landmark house and abundant garden in the sunny suburb of Welgelegen. Perched on a hill like a bird in flight, the architectural marvel was originally built for timber merchant and yachtsman Kees Bruynzeel in the 1950s. Bruynzeel famously won the Cape to Rio in 1973 following an impressive sailing career onboard his beloved yacht Stormvogel.
Growing up in Stellenbosch, zoologist David was familiar with the unusual house at the top of Welgelegen. Back then, this was the lone house on the hill with panoramic views across the town and beyond. When David returned to view the house with William seven years ago, the pair fell in love with the sprawling property and, once it was theirs, aptly named it Stormvogel.
Bruynzeel’s affinity for yachts is evident in the curved yellowwood ceiling, teak rafters, and vast windows inside the house. But the home’s most admired feature has to be its hyperbolic paraboloid roof - a perfect square with two opposite ends anchored downward and two pointing upward. And like the garden that surrounds it, the unusual roof changes with the weather – shrinking in winter and expanding in the heat of summer.
The work is never done
Boasting an astounding variety of plants, trees, and flowers, David and William’s delightfully diverse garden is always in bloom. It’s inconceivable to imagine the garden was overgrown when they took ownership and laid the groundwork for what would become a bustling collection of year-round colour, unusual hybrids, and living heirlooms.
Starting with fynbos, aloes, and bromeliads, the garden was slowly but surely brought back to life with largely indigenous plants that are more resistant to dry spells. Over the years that followed, William and David cut back, uncovered, and restored its many treasures. Today, the garden is bursting at the seams, but the work here is never done - there is always space for something new.
A journey of discovery
The first of many enviable plants in the sun-drenched garden is a wisteria vine running along the walkway leading to the front door. Replanted as a bonsai from David’s childhood farm in Banhoek, the tree has thrived here – happily weaving its bony branches and spilling dusty purple flowers for visitors to admire.
Heading down into the front garden is a delectable feast of colour. Pelegonias, lavender, irises, pink and white veltheimias, red ericas, and purple baviaantjies come together in a chorus of happy flowers - so eager to grow and show off their intricate designs and bright blooms. From a salmon-coloured marsh rose to geraniums taken from the ancient gardens of France, David and William’s garden is a never-ending journey of discovery. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, a cluster of pale orchids or an exotic amaryllis pop up to steal the show.
Among the proteas, pincushions, aloes, and bright red vygies that follow is an enormous, 60-year-old cactus that towers above the footpath with its delicate, finlike patterns. It’s also here where one starts to notice the several cycads dotted around the garden. David replanted eight trees from his farm in Banhoek while William brought his two cycads from Pietermaritzburg when he moved to Stellenbosch. Coincidentally, the ten trees all have 1978 stamped on their certificates – bought in the same year, in opposite ends of the country.
In a shady spot under a Brazilian pepper tree dressed in staghorn ferns and orchids is the first of David and William’s many outdoor entertainment areas where they soak up their hard-earned garden of joys on summer nights.
From here, a walkway of deep green clivias, orange and red bromeliads, and a frangipani tree opens up to the sun-soaked pool with an elephant skull embedded in its side. During David’s lecturing tenure at Stellenbosch University, he salvaged the various wild animal skulls that are now perfectly at home in this garden of conversation pieces.
Beyond the pool is a fishpond with waterlilies, waterblommetjies, cacti, and a thriving school of Nguni fish. A stone slab against the wall reads ‘The kiss of the sun for pardon, the song of the birds for mirth, one is nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth’ – words that ring so true in this green paradise with its divine beauty.
Something old, something new
When David and William started cutting back the growth, they discovered a staircase and jacaranda tree leading up to the top part of the garden. The original stone wall was restored to create more usable space and definition. The stony line draws your eye up to a row of pale coral trees with luminous red flowers and bright yellow ansellia orchids growing from the trunks. The trees are branches that were cut and replanted when the original tree collapsed. Thanks to the gardening prowess of David and William – the trees are growing and thriving once more.
It is also here where the treasure hunt continues – set against a face brick wall is a breathtaking pink cymbidium orchid that is positively sprouting reams of incredible flowers. Rooted in the same spot is an old vine from David’s Banhoek farm, its woody branches twisting upwards across a trellis. A new vine cutting from Graaff-Reinet was added to grow over the old one – adding new life to this grand old relic.
Up another set of steps is the garden’s back boundary and arguably the most magical enclave on the property. Cutting through a bank of citrus trees heavy with fruit is a winding path through a sea of clivias and drapes of air plants. This shady opening is the ideal spot to reflect on the wonders so generously on display in David and William’s garden. Here among the arum lilies, nasturtium, and cycads is another opportunity to admire David’s penchant for planting orchids in trees to grow as one. Adding to this part of the garden’s charm is an orange tree with a single branch of lemons. While the beauty here is enough to make you believe in magic, the tree is, in fact, a graft that was simply left to grow.
Coming full circle
Walking towards a grass embankment and pergola built with slate from the area, the garden brings its visitors full circle. The view from here stretches across the bright blue sky, the lush hills and valleys of Stellenbosch, and the soft, purple flowers of the winding, twisting wisteria welcoming guests to Stormvogel.