Muckleneuk Garden

 The garden constitutes a mass of exotic and indigenous plants, fascinating to both amateur gardeners and professional botanists. Killie Campbell designed the layout of the garden and was an enthusiastic gardener all her life. She was helped by horticulturist William Poulton, who is remembered for his pioneering work in the hybridisation of bougainvilleas.

 

The Garden at Muckleneuk: A History


By Sue Lind Holmes


Styles and skills in gardening, both landscape and practical, vary over time, as do the resources available for such activities. Thus, what was possible from the 1920's to the late 1960's changed thereafter on Killie Campbell's death in 1965. Furthermore, there appear to be neither formal plans nor lists of plants used in the original garden layout, personally designed by Killie herself after her parents moved into Muckleneuk in 1914. For Killie's father, Sir Marshall Campbell, the garden had to be an important vista from all the front rooms of the house, "including the kitchen department".

Despite lack of material on the early plans, two salient features remain today: the noble indigenous trees so characteristic of the KwaZulu-Natal bush, and secondly - durable in a different way - the central pathway which bisects the garden, paved with slabs of slate from either West Street or Smith Street (sources differ).

There is no doubt that Killie had the style, skill and resources and above all the enthusiasm ("Gardening is my favourite hobby") to turn the two-and -a-half acres of the property into a magnificent garden. Full use was made, sculpturally and atmospherically, of the huge trees, especially the Natal Mahogany (Trichilia emetica, used for medicinal purposes by the Zulu people), under one of which she planned to have her ashes scattered after her death. From a historical viewpoint, "there is a special plant from the homestead of Shaka the great Zulu king, and a rose-tree grown from one which somehow survived the hazardous ocean voyage of over a century ago" according to Norman Herd.

Lesser early details are sketchy. There are, however, two dried specimens of plants from the Killie Campbell Library records. One is of Stigmatophyllum ciliatum or golden vine "a medium size, very green climber from Brazil ... with pretty, bright yellow flowers"; the other is a Tillandsia, a Brazilian epiphytic bromeliad. Both these clearly are exotics.

Personally, I remember as a fairly small girl in the 1930's being taken to tea by my great-uncle A H Rennie with Lady Campbell, Killie's mother. About the same time, a "crocodile" of small girls, two-by-two, and hand-in-hand, would be led up Marriott Road from Durban Girls' College to see "Lady Campbell's garden" a showpiece admired by all. At that stage I think there were plantings of annuals. I remember small pink flowers (dwarf phlox?) bordering the central pathway, and the beautifully kept flower-beds at each level of what some called an Italian garden with centrally placed symmetrical pencil cypresses. This was high maintenance gardening, requiring competent and numerous staff and knowledgeable direction.

My next visit to the garden was fifty years later, in the early 1980's. Muckleneuk and its garden had been bequeathed to the City of Durban after Killie's death in 1965. However, one of her original gardeners, Mr Ngigqi Mapumulo, her erstwhile household cook, together with others, kept things going. Subsequently, a team of Indian gardeners, three brothers, did an admirable maintenance job until a garden service took over.

In the mid-1990's a decision was made to refurbish the upper part of the garden near the house. Rows of indigenous agapanthus took the place of the established (once fashionable) hydrangeas under the large tree and also the in bed close to the pergola, where the existing bougainnvilleas were retained. The indigenous strelitzia nicolai which grew in the centre of the car park was removed and an encephalartus (a form of cycad) put in its place. Indigenous plants were used wherever possible in view of the vagaries of the local climate.

Plantings in the second terrace were left untouched. Improvements are planned for this area to enhance its impact in the overall garden view. The lower and bottom parts of the garden recall the natural bush surrounding the Campbell family's old beach cottage near Umhlanga. My feeling is that Killie would like that look, a semi-wild place where useful insects and birds sheltering in the Natal Mahogany trees are protected. This area should be left like this.

An important aspect of Killie Campbell's horticultural legacy was her help and encouragement to William Poulton, before his retirement a horticulturalist at the Durban Botanic Gardens. On part of the Muckleneuk property in Essenwood Road, Poulton very successfully hybridised several new species of bougainnvilleas about which he and Killie herself were fascinated. His first triumph was Natalia, a dusty pink, to be followed by Killie Campbell, then Gladys Hepburn (Killie's sister) and then Poultonia. Poulton's final hybrid was Brilliance, renamed Remembrance by his widow (who had been the housekeeper at Muckleneuk) in memory of the propagator. Many of these varieties have been exceptionally successfully grown in other parts of Africa.

Killie Campbell's achievements in horticulture and the collection of Africana - both artifacts and books - have enriched many aspects of life in KwaZulu-Natal. She will not be forgotten. One wonders however whether present-day horticulturalists will have the style, the skill and most importantly the resources, to perpetuate her memory appropriately under the Natal Mahogany tree.