A map of the garden. Image courtesy of Babylonstoren.
Babylonstoren means “Tower of Babel” in Dutch, and the eight acres of gardens at this restored 18th-century Cape Dutch farmstead and hotel in South Africa’s Drakenstein Valley are, like their namesake, both monumental and tantalizingly unfinished. And yet, a walk through the grounds may help visitors do what that skyscraper of legend could not: touch heaven.
One thing I’ve learned after almost a decade in Sweden is this: Under no circumstances should you move here in November. I did. I left New York, a city that glitters year-round and where there’s almost always some green in Central Park, and moved to Stockholm. Life went from Technicolor to black and white. If you’ve seen Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, in which a man plays chess with Death, that’s how I feel as I walk around the house switching on lights at 3 o’clock on a November afternoon.
Grand old buildings—particularly sturdy brick ones that outlived the industries that built them—are repurposed with some regularity. But find a late-19th-century water tower sitting on nearly four acres of open land and you have the ingredients for something truly exceptional. In Dordrecht, 15 miles southwest of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, that is just what Daan van der Have and his partners, Dorine de Vos and Hans Loos, created.
Two eccentric brothers create wonderfully idiosyncratic gardens an hour’s distance apart on an enchanted island off the tip of India. Sibling rivalry? Perhaps. The results: spectacular. I visited both gardens recently, unprepared not only for their beauty and originality but for the distinctive nature of the two men’s designs, each as revealing as diary entries. The brothers, brilliant in their own ways and as different from one another as their gardens, are gone. But here, in vernal splendor, the two documents of their lives bloom on.