A version of this piece was published in the Sunday Times Home Weekly, 12 May 2013.
“I often think that gardeners could save the world,” smiles oncologist Sally Earl.
Nestled amid the plane tree-lined streets of Johannesburg’s Parkview, her home is as much a celebration of all that is living - inside and out - as a nurturing of all that has come before it. It’s a home that’s been lived in and loved in for generations, imbued with the sentiment and warm sensibility of its newest inhabitants.
The 1910 stone house and lush gardens evoke an air of quiet English restraint, of Pimms and summer strawberries and pots of tea; matched with an urge to let its mistress’ artistic side run riot like wild climbing roses over every surface.
For it is the garden that makes this home - the nooks of beauty scattered about its lawns, the tendrils of greenery that have have crept into the upholstery, the love for all things botanic through its windows and on its walls.
“I wanted a place that speaks to your soul,” says Sally. “Gardening is my artistic expression. I think I’m a frustrated artist.”
“I bought the place on a whim,” she says, but since a four-month renovation in 2004, she has made it her own.
Now it’s home to Sally, daughter Lexi, on her twice-yearly visits home from studies in England, Hobbs, the feline patriarch, Pixie, a five-year-old bouncing Jack Russell, Homer, an elegant German shepherd with a sable coat, and more than fifty varieties of roses.
The family spends most of its time outside, the wide terrace having become an extension of the lounge, oregon pine floorboards stretching to a pebbled floor on the other side of the expansive sliding glass doors. Muted light filters through the semi-opaque rooftop, allowing the bounty of potted plants to grow.
The Earls have been gardening for generations. “I still have the same caterpillars as my mother had, eating my autumn crocuses,” says Sally. She remembers her Eastern Free State childhood wanderings through fields of gladioli. “They were taller than me,” she smiles.
Her home brings all that’s lovely outside, in.
From the squishy striped couch in the reading snug, double doors open to a giant moonflower tree. The same branches drooping with intoxicating blossoms peep into Lexi’s room upstairs. The fence is overhung with Australian brushed cherry branches laden with fruit, filled with a cacophony of grey loeries. It’s a room to sleep with the windows open.
Here, the best view in the house offers a vista over the neighbourhood’s treetops, as they run the autumn gauntlet of rust and gold.
It’s the beauty of Parkview’s borrowed landscapes, Sally explains, sharing foliage and shaping views beyond walls and electric fences.
Under the slanted tongue and groove ceiling, the walls have always been pink - shades of raspberry and warm tuscan stone. The curly cane chair, bought for Sally by her mother when she was a little girl has been handed down another generation.
The original heavy wood doors and cupboards are original, so too, the leaded glass windows set in their frames.
Sally’s love of sentiment is picked out in tiny details. “I can’t throw anything away,” she laughs, “so I frame them instead.”
In the passage, Lexi’s Red Indian toddler booties hang on the wall. And tucked next to the doorway of her bedroom, a tiny framed gift card from her sister depicts a delicate violet, a sweet reminder of the crystallised violets Sally and Lexi would drape on birthday cakes.
In Sally’s own bedroom, calm pervades in shades of farmhouse white and cream, a sunny vanilla warmth.
“It’s my white rose room,” she says.
Next to the damask curtains, rose foliage motifs climb over embroidered cushions, tea roses adorn the mirror frame, bedside cabinets are covered with fat white roses, their petals a paintbrush’s flourish. A wall full of watercolour roses and a King protea in gilt-edged frames above her bed. The faded pastel wreaths of roses in the dainty needlepoint rug point toward their real-life inspiration - the Avril Elizabeth Home roses, dropping its petals from a glass bowl in the bathroom, Sally’s favourite room in the house.
The bath oils, next to the re-enamelled ball and claw bath are rose-scented too. Pistachio green ceramic birds and a butterfly orchid perch on the narrow mantel, above the original English cast iron fireplace, where Sally burns pine cones every winter, for scent as much as warmth. She has kept the tiny tiled hearth, in shades of mustard and rhubarb, glossy as boiled sweets.
Down the stairs, other subtle watercolours reminisce of favourite holidays - to Florence, France, Whitby, and Sally’s Tweespruit childhood as the daughter of a sunflower farmer.
In a corner of the living room, the most precious painting of all, a view of Thaba Nchu mountain, from their Free State farm, painted by her uncle, Stuart Langbridge.
Sally’s father’s old tea trolley, now hand-mosaiced with pieces of broken china is covered with glass pitchers, filled with sipping spirits, housed in cut glass and crystal. An urn of roses and carnations in shades of marigold, saffron and crimson shares pride of place with a symphony of birds, plants and flowers, strewn through the upholstery. A hoopoe shares the couch with bee eaters and fuschias.
A new north-facing skylight offers sunlight a peek into the former smoking room, now dining area.
And in the corner, a library, tucked away, its shelves sagging under the volumes of botanic journals and gardening books, and indigenous birds sculpted in wood, a fitting audience for a view into the sunken greenhouse that leans onto the home.
The pale butterscotch kitchen with its vanilla metro tiles, new white shutters and cookbook-strewn kitchen island also opens onto the garden, a little veggie patch going wild.
Amid the crooked paving stones, a tousle of vegetables and fragrant herbs: tiny tomatoes, nasturtiums, swiss chard, chives, three different types of basil going to seed, waiting to be made into pesto. The old hibiscus bush has grown so large the broad beans have started to grow horizontally.
The stone pillars of the wisteria covered walkway have become entwined with embracing branches. “It becomes a cloud of scented mauve in the summer,” Sally says.
After a day in the hospital, Sally finds solace in her garden. I pour myself a restorative glass of chardonnay, and sit with the dogs, Sally says, “it’s a particular spot where you have an expansive view of the sky, and I can turn my back on the city.”
She finds comfort in visiting her roses, each a precious memory - the delicate Mrs John Lang rose given to her by the husband of one of her patients, the Just Jos, in honour of her sister, the Lord Penzance blooms on the terrace, with its tea-scented foliage, a nod to Lexi’s old school, and the Crimson Glory, her mother’s favourite, still crowning the garage.
“My garden is a series of Kodak moments,” Sally says. It is constantly changing - and yet there are parts which endure.
She nods towards her flowering Ukon cherry, where the leaves turn apricot in the autumn, and clusters of blossoms emerge, creamy with a tinge of pink.
“I plant one wherever I live,” Sally smiles. “I find it comforting that seasons change, and that in spring, life goes on.”
Even amid the flagstones, tiny erigeron daisies nestle on the steps.