Joan’s love affair with flowers.

Joan Spencer
Joan Spencer

Joan has loved flowers all her life, helping her parents in their garden in Johannesburg from a tender age. She broke her arm slipping while planting pansies when she was 12 years old,  but that did not deter her. Her parents were keen gardeners, and she has fond memories of her mother having bowls of flowers all over the house and of Sundays being special days  because they would visit Joubert Park Conservatory and Rhodes Park to see and smell the wonderful array of flowers.

Beautiful Cattleya orchid
Beautiful Cattleya orchid

When she got married, their first house had 3 greenhouses in the back garden and so they became orchid growers – mainly Cattleyas.  They were able to supply nearly 100 blooms to the florist over the first months of Eastgate opening.

They  moved to a new house and garden  some years later where she had the challenge of setting out a garden as well as coping with the heavy winter frosts that the Highveld brings.  Her sweet peas were her pride and joy –  always over 2 metres high,  yielding armloads of flowers – what a delight with their subtle shades and heavenly perfume!

With  flowers one gets involved with the arranging of them and this she did in various ways through flower clubs.   Over the years she has been very fortunate to have had special times in the flower world, some of which were working at Chelsea on the Kirstenbosch stand, doing flowers at Government House in Perth,  working with David Davidson and Ray Hudson in Singapore at an International flower show, visiting Hampton Court Flower show on opening day with Keith Kirsten (and seeing the launch of a  new pink delphinium and Leonardo rose),  being in Boston for the duration of the World Flower Arranging Show and visiting Keukenhof in Holland for their tulip festival.

joan-0Whilst living in Singapore for 8 years it was impossible to garden in that heat. She was known as the “voluntary pruner of plants” at their condo because she was forever cutting for the flower club there!   The Orchid House at the Botanical Gardens was a treat and she joined the Orchid Society where she was very privileged to work at the World Show held in Singapore.  Orchids of every size, shape and variety were displayed and all in the open in the Gardens. In her words: “ An awe inspiring experience”.  She always marvelled too at the orchids that grew in abundance hanging out of trees on the highway from the airport and down Orchard Road!

Corner House, Leisure Isle photo: Margaret Richards
Corner House, Leisure Isle
photo: Margaret Richards

Back to Knysna and to Leisure Island in all its glory.  What a challenge growing plants in what used to be sand dunes!   They moved to “Corner House” about 6 years ago and the garden was completely different to what it is today.  The garden has changed over the years, more to an English country garden and Joan also started experimenting with different plants.  She   believes in buying plants when they are flowering so that you can see the colour, size, etc., of what it is.

"Woodland Walk" photo: Margaret Richards
“Woodland Walk”
photo: Margaret Richards
Ligularia and Breynia disticha in background photo: Esther Townsend
Ligularia and Breynia disticha in background
photo: Esther Townsend
A quiet place in the corner photo: Margaret Richards
A quiet place in the corner
photo: Margaret Richards

She recently dug up a huge New Zealand Christmas tree only to discover that she now had a wonderful sunny space for roses; now she can indulge in some very special David Austin roses which are so fragrant and exquisite.   “This is a big learning curve as I am not sure that roses grow well on the island, but am holding thumbs and giving them lots of tender loving care.  Already I have had some beautiful blooms – so if anyone is passing by and needs something to cheer them up, please come and pick a rose or two!” The unusual flower below appeared in her garden a few years back, Joan has no idea where it came from. The lovely greenish  Amaryllis was acquired a couple of years ago and rewards her yearly with gorgeous blooms.

Dracunculus vulgaris
Dracunculus vulgaris
Amaryllis 'Cybister Hybrid"
Amaryllis ‘Cybister Hybrid”

Joan’s  house has flowers in every room in different ways – couches, curtains, cushions, but there is nothing better than a fresh flower with its fragrance in all the glory that God made it.   “If my garden can give joy to people, then I am happy.”

joan-12Joan’s gardening tips: “have fun and buy some seed packs of flowers  that you have always wanted to grow, make a good spot in the sun and plant them.  You will be amazed what comes up – sometimes so many that you can supply your friends with seedlings.    Also we must all share our plants – no need to buy expensive plants in the nurseries, ones growing in our gardens propagate so well from slips that we can save money that way.  One woman’s weed is another woman’s orchid!

Joan and Toby, the other love in her life!
Joan and Toby, the other love in her life!