Footprints in The Garden

The success of a garden depends on the number of footprints left in the garden by the gardener.

These words come from a wise gardener who taught me the basic principles of successful gardening.

A week ago two friends and I set out on a roadtrip to Haenertsburg in Limpopo with the specific goal of viewing the Cheerio Gardens which is well known for its blooming azaleas and Japanese cherry blossoms.

On arriving at the gardens we were greeted by a long winding driveway flanked by  a hedge of colourful blooming azaleas. The sight of the driveway took our breaths away and sparked our excitement and anticipation.

The Cheerio gardens have an interesting history, dating back to World War 2 when a young woman called Box ( Sheila Thompson) was sent to Cape Town to serve in the SA signal corps. She fell in love with the indigenous South African bulbs and flowers and brought some home to Heanertsburg to start her own nursery and garden.  When the bulbs were destroyed by bushpigs, mole rats and porcupines, she decided to change direction. She built a wild and beautiful garden, nursing the worn out soil back to fertility organically and planting  trees and plants suited to the climate. She didn’ t believe in interfering with nature and up till today the gardens are never watered, no insecticides used and no fertilisation given to the plants and trees.

Box soon realised that the misty climate in Haenertsburg is ideal for northern hemisphere flowering trees and started to source and  plant them. She wrote many articles on the indigenous flowering plants of South Africa. When one of her articles was read by the personal physician of the Japanese Emperor, she sent him seeds of indigenous blue flowering plants.  He in turn sent her the seeds of the flowering Japanese cherry and some azalea seeds.

Today the gardens lie stretched out over 20 acres of hilly terrain. The azaleas grow on the slopes bordering tranquil trout dams and are interspersed by white and pink Japanese cherries, frothy crab apples, dogwoods, rare camellias and magnolias and rhododendrons. Later maples, liquidambars and oaks were introduced to add to the magic and the colourful display in autumn.

The visitor is free to wander the many pathways winding through the profusely growing plants and trees. Around every corner new delights wait to be discovered. A Japanese cherry dressed like a bride stand  alongside old trees. Fallen leaves covering  a pathway which beckons to be explored. Trout dams lying tranquilly in the sun  reflecting the intense colours of the azaleas. Shady corners to rest weary feet.  Many butterflies and other insects as well as birds thrive in this natural environment.

We spent many hours wandering along the pathways, following the footprints of the gardener who created this  wonderland.

Information and history from

3 thoughts on “Footprints in The Garden

  1. First of all, how could you not love a garden called “Cheerio!” As a gardener, I have such admiration for her cultivation of native plants. Imagine never having to water or spray hideous insecticides. That’s what I strive for in my own garden….expunging those plants that are too high-maintenance and require too much TLC. Your photographs of this amazing place are just breathtaking! Thank you.

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