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The Gardening Adventure

Not only is Leslie Riggall passionate about plants, but about Rhododendrons in particular.

A walk around his garden with him at your side to name and point out the Rhododendrons he has collected and created over the years is like leafing through a giant and beautifully illustrated botanical book.

Having been issued dire warnings about how these plants with their delicate flowerswould never flourish in the harsh climate of Africa, Leslie Riggall rose to the challenge, packed his prize plants,and started planting. The Riggall's original destination had been Cape Town until they realised that the Cape climate was unsuitable to many of the plants.

When the original 8-acre plot in Kloof was discovered it was clear that the gentle microclimate was the best area for them. And so, what started ff as a hobby, became a lifestyle. Leslie has spent the last 25 years honing his skills and knowledge of the plants "by sticking to the tried and tested rule of learning from my mistakes, and never repeating them."

The perfection of the plant is the driving force behind this creation, and what is on show in this fantastical display of abundance and greenery is an exercise in time and patience, a labour of love, of grafting and cross-pollination.

Violent pinks and reds transport into the exotic. Fairlyland is also full of shifting forms, plants with souls and peopled with sprites and the shifting light filtering through the fronds of of the giant ferns adds to this sense of other-worldliness.

Stag horns stand guard and exotic palms, like genies of the forest, watch travellers passing through in silent observation.

If you stand rooted in one place too long, a stray vine of a wild orchid might wind itself around an outstretched limb, drawing you into the generous velvety green undergrowth.

The Rhododendron is an ancient plant, firmly rooted in history. The soft beauty of its blooms have given it a dedicated follwing
of admirers and collectors, who, like Leslie Riggall have been inspired to constantly refashion and refurbish the details of colour and form found in the flower. In his own words, "nature is all around us, and to work in unison with such beauty is a privilege."

It is in fact a privilege to be given a glimpse of the paradise that is Fern Valley.

Like his garden, Leslie Riggall possesses a quiet energy that belies his 90 years. He is a quiet, understated person who seems to thrive on his privacy, yet drawn into company will quietly share his knowledge and enthusiasm for his plants and their beauty.

His garden has perhaps become a buffer between him and the hurly burly of the 21st century, and the acres of huge trees and exotic flowers protect its denizens, only to be shared with other enthusiasts and researchers. It is perhaps the energy that he has drawn from nature itself that has allowed the years to pass gently over Fern Valley and its creator, all being imbued with a sense of life and vitality that makes you want to throw your vitamins out the window and bury your hands in the soil.

It is also characteristic of fairyland, we are told, that it has its on time span. Immersed in the tangible greenness, time does seems to go at a much slower, gentler pace, as things grow. Emerald green, jade, lime and bottle green all combine in this intricate palette, punctuated with sudden splashes of iridescent colour.

Having finished their work in the Fern Valley, Leslie and Gladys Riggall are again uprooting themselves and are "desperately trying to create new babies"to relocate and start planting in Panama. It is no small undertaking to start a garden from scratch, let alone acres of it in an old volcano on the edge of the Panamanian rainforest. This is another 30-year project which Leslie Riggall has every intention of seeing through to

Now, Fern Valley will have a new caretaker, ensuring that this work continues to thrive with the only change being that it will be made more accessible to the public.

There is a sense of comfort in knowing that another pocket of paradise will be being created in a far-flung corner of the globe so that indeed, as Leslie Riggall says, "long may the birds sing, the insects eat, the frogs croak and the flowers bloom."