We have always wanted to open a coffee shop/restaurant/tea garden at de Charmoy Estate, but could never figure out the logistics of it all in order to maintain the privacy of our residents whilst being open to the public. In September last year we started wrapping our heads around converting the Estate House from a boardroom to our new reception. It was during this process that the logistics revealed themselves in that there was a clear and non-invasive way to isolate the gardens of the Estate House from the wedding venue.
After moving our Reception in November 2016, we contemplated putting in a coffee garden but put it on the back burner as we felt it wasn’t the right time for us and our final vision wasn’t clear. In my humble opinion if you cannot see the finished product, you shouldn’t start.
In April 2017 the whole family took a much needed break and, whilst on holiday, I indulged in my absolute favourite pastime … reading. I read a book by Ava Miles called Country Heaven and was inspired by the delicious recipes in the script that paid tribute to the Southern, Plantation style of cooking, Fried Chicken, Okra, Collard Greens and gingerbread waffles to name a few. My vision about the types of foods we wanted to have in our coffee shop started to reveal itself.
After finishing the first book, I saw there was a second book in the series so I purchased it on my Kindle. The book was called “The Chocolate Garden”. Briefly, the book is about a woman who escaped an abusive household with her children and found her purpose and passion in designing and planting gardens. She designed and planted a garden for a man that she and her children had come to love and trust, which was inspired by his love of chocolate. The garden featured a centrepiece that paid tribute to his love of chocolate. A chocolate garden! Goosebumps right?
I wanted to jump in my car with the kids and go and visit a chocolate garden there and then. I googled and googled and soon realised that there were no dedicated chocolate gardens anywhere near me. In fact, not one on the whole continent of Africa (according to Google).
I put my iPad down and said, Mom, Dad, we have to make our coffee shop garden into a Chocolate Garden, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The Gardening Part
Gardening was always a chore when we were young. Taking time out of valuable play time to heft plants to and fro, lug around wheelbarrows and deal with “stinky” compost was not my idea of fun. So much so that I, (regretfully now) never developed a love and passion for gardening. Due to my lack of enthusiasm for the physical act of gardening, my love of Science and Biology never extended to plants. There is so much to know, it was completely overwhelming and I “hated” gardening. My father Bernard, has always been so passionate about plants (particularly the edible kind) and I have always been amazed at his ability to identify plants and fruits just by looking at the plant. Furthermore, he knew how to graft plant species together, assist with pollination and successfully grow the biggest cucumbers, calabash, pumpkins, cabbages, spinach and chillies (to name a few) out of anyone I know. This from a person who, until his recent conversion to an iPhone, never had access to good old Google/encyclopedias. He just applied his basics learnt in high school biology and was able to grow just about anything through trial and error.
My mom and I may not have had green fingers or a passion for gardening, but we had an immense appreciation for beautiful gardens and lacked the confidence to grow our own. So in August of last year, my mom Cathy said, “Lauren, I have paid for us to go on a garden design course with Lindsay Gray.” (Lindsay is principal of The School of Garden Design). After a day on her course, it was as if a new world opened up to me! Her passion for indigenous plants, butterflies and all living creatures is contagious and her plant knowledge is second to none. I knew from the moment I decided to build our own chocolate garden that Lindsay was the final piece of the puzzle to bring our vision to life. I sent her a cryptic Facebook message and asked if she could meet me the week I got back.
There were a number of challenges we faced in that a lot of the plants typically used in a chocolate garden required cooler temperatures to thrive. Lindsay worked very hard to design the space taking into account movement in the space, sun and shade, the climate, the ‘chocolatiness’ of the end result and making it a space to relax and be inspired.
The pictures below show the journey from a great big patch of grass to our dream and vision - a chocolate garden.