Gert Sumner’s Garden
Contributor: Carol Kennedy
Photos: Carol Kennedy
Gert’s garden, just like her personality, exudes bright colour and warmth.It spills over with a good mix of indigenous plantings and exotics and is full of leaves and flowers which she can use in her floral art. She is an extremely accomplished floral artist and when developing the garden she incorporated plants with this in mind.
Gert and her late husband Mick, bought the house in 1989 as a holiday house and in 1993, when they retired to Knysna from Durban, altered the house to suit their needs. Gert then tried to use as many indigenous plants as possible as the house faces the estuary which is South, with the cold winter wind to contend with. She has successfully achieved colour and texture with clumps of Limonium [sea lavender or statice], gazanias, the little ground cover geraniums, flax, mini agapanthus, polygala, fuschias, ferns, lavender, coreopsis, onothera [evening primrose], gaura, echervaria, hypericum [St John’s Wart], and then annuals such as begonias, mimulus, and scatterings of seeds such as Nigella, [Love in the mist] which now self sows.
The view from the bay window looks out onto the heads and is shaded very cleverly in summer, by a tree which is pollarded every year so that it won’t get too big. Gert is very clever with pots and makes use of a variety of plants to achieve this seasonal and on going colour.
At her entrance patio there are 2 huge pots with magenta azalea bushes which have been given a topiary look and in one is a beautiful lime green fern which contrasts so well with the azalea. Sadly, since photographing these plants, the azaleas have died for no apparent reason. To enable Gert to recycle the dead branches she has sprayed the tree white, added lights and then used other floral art material which resemble ‘stars’ to decorate the tree.
The wonderful sunny garden at the back of the house is a place for Gert’s collection of pots. From succulents, epidendrums [poor mans orchids], heliotrope and other seasonal annuals such as pansies, violas, lobelia, which tumble over the edges of various shaped and coloured pots. To me the highlight are the pots of Double Delight roses which produce beautiful blooms and are prolific as well. This rose is a favourite of Gert’s and what a well chosen rose as the name is so appropriate of how we all feel about the gardener who lives here. A truly generous and caring soul, who shares her talents and garden with anyone and everyone. She never throws anything away, be it plant material or anything that can be recycled. My Hospice garden has benefited from her generosity as have many others on the Island.
A big curved border snakes around the back perimeter and here again plants and shrubs with smooth and varied textures and colours abound. The variegated cannas leaves both red and lime green, flax, spiraea, fuschias, alstomerias, cordylines, aspidistra, a Dais cotinifolia tree [Pom Pom] and a coprosma which has been trimmed to give it a bonsai shape and a splash of brightly coloured nasturtiums paint a background for the highlight, which in my mind is a beautiful fig tree. Not the huge Ficus Natalensis, which takes over and envelopes our small island gardens, but a fruit bearing tree which produces delicious figs which Gert once more shares with many friends, as well as the feathered variety. I was given a bowl of the fruit and it prompted me to make a truly delicious tart which I had never tried before. The shade of this tree provides a beautiful cool setting for Gert’s large family of four daughters and 10 grandchildren who will all join her this Christmas and will hopefully celebrate this festive season with one of life’s special people who is an active gardener.