South Africa: Wild Living, Lightning and Sorrow in the Garden of the Ancestors


The women of Billo Tooley's dynasty started to garden and with the burgeoning gardens came the food, dramatic feasting and furious champagne drinking. Now a luxury lodge, Kings Walden Manor and its dramatic and eccentric history has been home to the Hilton-Barber clan since 1904.

The hills before me were aflame. Fiery orange light and bright bougainvillea blazed in the sunset. Bridget arrived and we drove right into the inferno, through it and up, up above the earthly heat of an end of a day, to rare, deepening coolth on a fountain garden plateau.

My dramatic introduction to Kings Walden, in Tzaneen, was appropriate. Here there is and has always been either delicious or dreadful drama.

It was named by Bridget Hilton-Barber's grandfather when he'd bought the farm just after the turn of the century before last. King's Walden was the name of his Hertfordshire home village, where his parents ran the royal estate, more parkland than garden. Here, near Agatha, in the southern part of Africa, he began to grow food, all of it exotic. He planted oranges and granadillas, litchis and pecan nuts, avocados, tomatoes.

The seeds of deliciousness were planted. Seeds of tragedy would take root too....

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