In 1662, on the 17th of April, the first apple was picked at the Cape. It was the Witte Wijnappel. In 1692, Babylonstoren Farm was granted to burgher Pieter van der Byl by the then Governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel. Prior to that, the Drakenstein Valley had been inhabited by the nomadic Khoisan communities for tens of centuries.
The first vineyard on Babylonstoren
And so it was Pieter van der Byl who planted the first vineyards on the farm and who altered the water courses to provide irrigation. In 2007, the present owners, Koos Bekker and Karen Roos, bought Babylonstoren and created a garden inspired by the historic Company’s Garden in Cape Town. The latter supplied sailing ships of the Dutch East India Company with fresh vegetables and fruit during the days when the Cape was a halfway station on the spice route between Europe and Asia.
The 3,5-ha (8-acre) Babylonstoren garden excels in diversity with vegetable areas, stone and pome fruit, nuts, citrus, berries, bees, herbs, ducks and chickens, a prickly pear maze, and more. Gravity feeds water from a stream by rills into the garden, flowing through ponds planted with edible lotus, nymphaea lilies and waterblommetjies.
This garden, which is at the heart of the farm, invites guests from all over the world to discover the rich history of the Cape and to enjoy its produce by simply picking and eating a ripe fruit as they walk through.
Witte Wijnappel gifted to Babylonstoren
On 17 April 2019, after successfully searching for a Witte Wijnappel tree in Holland and importing it back to South Africa, Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing and Hortgro re-planted the Witte Wijnappel in the Company’s Garden near the place it originally stood. Similarly, in August 2019, Tru-Cape and Hortgro gifted a Witte Wijnappel tree to Babylonstoren. Now the oldest recorded apple cultivar will also form part of the more than 300 varieties of plants in the garden that are edible or has medicinal value.
Head gardener Liesl van der Walt commented: “The Witte Wijnappel is a treasured gift linking our garden with our inspiration, the original Company’s Garden in Cape Town. It is also a valuable addition to our growing collection of historical trees that include Newton’s “Flower of Kent” apple tree, Shakespeare’s mulberry, Napoleon’s willow and many old Cape varieties such as the Saffron pear, Ohenimuri and White Winter Pearmain apples.”
“Although Tru-Cape, together with Hortgro, invested in securing the Witte Wijnappel and bringing it back to South Africa, we did so with the whole South African agricultural industry in mind. Knowing that, along with its position in the Company’s Garden, the Witte Wijnappel will now also be in Babylonstoren’s heritage orchard where we know it will be lovingly tended and appreciated by visitors, makes us very happy,” said Tru-Cape Fruit marketing managing director, Roelf Pienaar.
The economic contribution of the apple industry
Hortgro’s executive director Anton Rabe added: “Today, the impact on and contribution of the apple industry to the modern rural economies of the Western Cape and the rest of the country is vast. We contribute to rural development and transformation by creating in excess of 27 000 direct (on-farm) jobs and a further 109 000 dependents are impacted by the success of the industry.
We help ensure food security, rural stability, infrastructure and foreign earnings. The industry has a global standing and is considered a leading player with regard to the quality and taste of our products, compliance with discerning market requirements and food safety, ethical trade and environmentally sustainable production practices.” – Press release, Tru-Cape