At the end of each October the small town of Greyton struts its stuff as the Rose Capital of the Overberg. In this time of pandemic, the organisers have not let us down. The Rose Fair is back with a bigger and better showing than ever before, flaunting an explosion of colour at every turn; happily roses seem to have developed their own immunity to Covid-19. 

Right at the top of Main Road is the home of Linda and Mike Ronquest. Their garden, which they started to develop in 2010 when they moved to Greyton from Pretoria, boasts an abundance of formally arranged rose bushes, many of them about to burst into bloom.

For the past 40 years or so the Greyton Rose Fair has attracted visitors from far and wide and they will not be disappointed this year. Of course, in about February when the organising committee started making plans for it, they had no idea of what was to follow, first on the world stage and then in South Africa. The possibility of having to cancel the Rose Fair was unthinkable, so it was a case of adapt or die.

The abundant rains the region has enjoyed this winter have fully justified this decision. Under normal circumstances this is a village of beautiful gardens. “Everything you put into the ground in Greyton grows,” says one of its enthusiastic gardeners, Evan Hodkinson. “But this year the good rains have turned them into veritable show pieces.”

A former wine farmer from Wellington, Evan Hodkinson is the gardener in the family. When he and his wife Kathi bought their house five years ago, there were so many weeds in the garden that it had to be ploughed up to start afresh. A lush and sprawling lawn now forms the centrepiece and is surrounded by masses of rose bushes, flowering shrubs, annuals and herbs, with strategically placed loungers, pergolas and ponds.

One of the fortunate decisions the committee decided to make, says Penny Sparrowhawk, was to hold the Fair over two weekends instead of one, 24–25 October and 31October–1 November. “Usually visitors stream into Greyton in hordes over a single weekend and it’s a real bun fight, but with social distancing in mind, we decided to stretch it to a second weekend. We’re so pleased with this decision,” she adds, “that we’ll probably continue with it next year. It’s just so much more pleasant for everyone concerned.”

Although they have had to scrap the annual street parade this year and the crowning of Miss Rosebud, as well as the fiercely contested rose competition and exhibition, which usually features around 400 blooms, they have made as much use of online options as possible. The Rose Fair Facebook page features video talks on gardens and rose cultivation, and gardeners are still able to display pictures of their prizewinning blooms for virtual bragging rights. 

However, it’s always the open gardens that attract the most attention and this year that feature still enjoys pride of place. Nine of the outsized gardens are open to the public on both weekends and each one has its own special characteristics. Roses, of course, are there in abundance in every colour and shape, and in all sizes and forms, from standards, to climbers, to miniatures. But other plants clamour for attention in size, fragrance and diversity, including giant yesterday-today-and-tomorrow shrubs, side-by-side with equally enormous camellias, pom-poms and poppies. 

If you are a tree hugger, there are ancient oaks in their stately splendour, yellow woods and spring-clad pin oaks, interspersed with languid lawns dotted with pergolas and ponds. A feature of this year’s gardens, reflective of the times we live in, is the addition of flourishing vegetable patches, often in the same bed as decorative plants. The renowned Greyton leiwater system ensures they are always well watered.

Toni Dalling’s mixed flower beds bring an explosion of colour to this abundant country garden. It’s hard to believe that when she and her husband, Andrew bought their property 15 years ago, there was no garden at all.

There are so many gardens to see, one more magnificent than the other, thanks to the commitment and passion of their owners, that one is in danger of sensory overload. And this upcoming weekend is likely to be even more spectacular than the one before. Due to a late cold snap, some of the roses were not yet in full bloom last weekend, but the masses of buds about to burst, indicate a bumper blooming by this weekend.  

Take a break between garden visits for a refreshing coffee or lunch at one of the excellent restaurants and coffee shops in Greyton, or why not make a weekend of it and spread your viewings over two days. And don’t forget to take a raffle ticket while you’re there. The famous Rose Fair ‘Put a Smile on a Child’ raffle last year raised R90 000 for the children of Greyton, Genadendal and other small, neighbouring settlements like Berea and Voorstekraal. 

Greyton can get very hot, as we discovered this past Saturday, so bring a hat, together with your mask, and you will need to buy a map of the open gardens at the Greyton Tourism office on the Main Road. This will be your entry ticket to as many of them as you wish to visit. More information is available on the Greyton website, or e-mail

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