Killer sandwiches, astonishing art…. and dragons!
Escape down Alice in Wonderland’s tropical rabbit hole into a magical sculpture forest garden… all mere minutes away from the heart of Kloof.
Ammazulu Gardens and Sculpture Precinct feels a bit like a gigantic Easter Egg hunt – with visitors searching for fabulous whimsical confectionary in the form of 120 enormous sculptures hidden in the nooks and crannies, and often way above the ground, of a portion of the 20 acre primeval forest.
A gathering of shiny tree angels; a trio of acrobats; a fearsome bear hunter; dainty flamingos; ferocious dinosaurs; a steely wolf; a timid deer; outsize blossoms; long-lashed zebras; rearing horses; and fanciful muses can be discovered while following the endlessly criss-crossing 1.2km long spiderweb of footpaths, bridges and walkways through the forest.
Local, African and international artists from diverse traditions have created the works using different media – predominantly recycled and found objects; metalwork, wood and stone. The sublime alongside the whacky and the literal alongside the fantastical.
At the centre of the garden is an alfresco café – the Ping Pong Pagoda Café – run by multi-talented chef and creative Hein Lottering who escaped the bustle of Johannesburg in search of a gentler life. He makes his already famous “killer” sandwiches (the pork belly / gouda / red onion and the mozzarella / brinjal / basil combos are especially recommended). The day-time menu boasts budget friendly light lunches and tea-time treats – with a Halal-certified oven soon to be fired up to add pizzas to the list of delicious options.
An old family friend of the owners, he also curates the events programme and manages the day to day running of the gardens and sculpture precinct. Lottering is animated with ideas and talks of planned circus acts, workshops, theatre productions, puppet shows, exhibitions and themed events which embraces the versatility and uniqueness of the precinct. He is also looking at establishing a micro-craft brewery across the road.
Behind the café are five airy hanger sized studios with opaque walls in a patchwork of forest colours designed by architect, Kevin MacGarry. The primary space is a homage to Durban artist Andries Botha featuring eight huge iconoclastic works which are on a permanent retrospective exhibition, entitled: “it takes everything…” curated by long term collaborator Janine Zagel and associate Jessica Bothma.
One of the hangers has become Botha’s workshop and African Art Centre is using another for a satellite shop and pop-up exhibitions.
Don’t rush through the exhibition, and a guided tour (by Lottering) is recommended to fully appreciate the complexity and detail of the nuanced works. Botha’s pieces grapple with issues such as Afrikaner identity; gender abuse; xenophobia; land reform and colonialism. The themes and gravitas of the exhibition is a counterpoint to the whimsy of the sculptures in the garden.
The garden was originally a flourishing dairy farm and blue-gum plantation belonging to a Mrs Winkler who in 1943 left war-ravaged Germany with her mother. She was enchanted by the lushness of the countryside. Gradually, together with her son, the garden’s owner and creator, Peter Amm, they transformed the former grassland into the botanically-rich, terraced forest – peppered with an abundance of giant ferns, stag horns, orchids, water features and a natural spring. While populating the garden with plants, Peter began creating site-specific sculptures. The transition from diary to forest garden has taken 70 years of consistent nurturing, creating, investing, planting and pruning.
To ensure that the magic of the gardens is retained into posterity, Amm has put Ammazulu Gardens and Sculpture Precinct into a formal non-profit trust to keep the forest intact and to guard against future development.
During these times of uncertainty – spending a day discovering the natural beautify of an amazing forest while being surprised by a myriad fantasy sculptures, is the most marvellous tonic. Wish on the wind, soar with a Pegasus, kiss a frog and tame a dragon… it makes the world an infinitely better place.
Good to know:
Ammazulu Gardens and Sculpture Precinct / 88 Kloof Falls Rd, Kloof.
Open to the public, Thursday to Sun: 10am until 4pm
Otherwise by appointment / 083 244 7565
Entrance to the Sculpture walk is R50 / Kids under 10 free.
Guided tour of “it takes everything…” exhibition / R200 per party.