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Alex Smith

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Secret Gardens of Cape Town #6: Klein Constantia & Little Stream

GatesIt is late afternoon, the wind sighs through vines laden with dark grapes awaiting a harvest time which never seems to come. A hunting buzzard circles overhead. And we are playing ‘Camel’: I am the camel, Elias in his red Monte Carlo Grand Prix T-shirt makes clip-clopping sounds and we amble down a tree-flanked driveway towards heaven. There it is: fields of vines, soft emerald meadows where fat cows graze and laze and then the Constantia mountains spot-lit by ethereal fingers of sunlight. If they are anywhere, Gods, Saints and Spirits are here. Swing, swing! calls Elias as we pass the solid gates of Klein Constantia and head towards Little Stream a six hectare private garden along a stream in the folds between two historic wine estates. Elias neath plectranthusLittle Stream was bequeathed to the YMCA and is open to all who like gardens for roaming. And between the oaks and a bamboo glade there is a swing, which Elias adores. Higher, higher! he demands. Beagle, beagle! he points out, as one trots by. Higher, higher! After half an hour of swinging, the only way I can entice him from the swing is to suggest looking for baby pandas in the towering, clattering bamboo forest. He is easily distracted from the search for pandas – he is too clever, my baby, he knows it is only pretend, he knows there are no baby pandas there. We admire day lilies, white butterflies, acorns and plectranthus and then I must be camel again. Up, up, up we go through the tea garden, past the succulents for sale, past a pair of pugs and out again towards Klein Constantia. We’re on a dirt road leading to the Kramat of Shaykh Abdurahman Matebe Shah. KramatIt is a beautiful green domed shrine in honor of Shah, a young sultan, who became a Saint and who died in this place in 1685. Elias and I skirt around the Kramat, we clamber over a small barbed-wire fence and now we are inside the vineyard. Every time we come here, I wonder: when are they going to pick these grapes? Perhaps these grapes need to become heavy with sweetness, perhaps these are the grapes used to make the legendary Vin de Constance, which appears in the work of Charles Dickens, Baudelaire and Jane Austen and which was the favourite drink of Napoleon during his exile on St Helena. We leave the vines and do not stop in at the cellar to taste the famous Constantia (but you can if you visit!);we take a road flanked by agaphanthus (Light blue! observes Elias, and his proud mummy, that’s me, thinks him terribly clever for this considering he is not yet 2) and then we’re back at the very beginning: the gates of Klein Constantia.

Devilskein&Dearlove is due to be published by Random House Umuzi in SA and Arachne press in the UK in July 2014. It is a ‘Secret Garden’ for the 21st century, set in Long Street Cape Town. Perfect for precocious readers from the age of 12 and up!


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