Annual Report April 2017 – March 2018

   

In late 2017 a unique Public Private Partnership (PPP) was established and the Trust signed a 50 year Notarial lease for La Rochelle for the establishment of the following:

  • Agricultural Training centre
  • Accommodation for training centre and
  • Expansion of country house

The PPP is in synergy with the vision of the NTZ and La Rochelle Organics (Organic Africa) and their business partners have a very good reputation for looking after the environment and being socially responsible in their business operations.  Needless to say the project presents an exciting opportunity for ensuring the economic viability of La Rochelle, training and supporting small scale farmers, caring for the environment and raising the profile of the NTZ regionally.

Based on the positive feedback in response to the new management of the property and the upgrading that has taken place, there is enormous potential for growth. This past year has been a busy and eventful one for La Rochelle and we are very happy with how far we have come in working towards our end goals and vision for the “La Rochelle Project”.

The property consists of three main sections: The hotel and Beauty Spa, the grounds and the new organic herb farm. Here are some of the highlights of the year:

Country House Boutique Hotel and Beauty Spa

  • A research programme was undertaken in December 2017 and January 2018 to determine attitudes to and understanding of the property in order to obtain information that is useful in planning longer-term future strategy for the venue;
  • Occupancy greatly improved with an average occupancy rate of 40%;
  • The hotel successfully hosted the following events:
  • 10 conferences with top corporates such as Old Mutual, TelOne, ZIMPLATS, Pearl Properties, IDBZ and more;
  • Bird courses, vintage car rally, art retreat, jazz evening, food and wine pairings, educational workshops and four weddings;
  • A series of musical events were performed by the Peterhouse instrumental group and the Iona Jones Singers of the Phoenix Choir;
  • A thatched rondavel was upgraded to house the beauty Spa adjacent to the swimming pool area.

The treatments on offer have been reorganized and the spa now offers a wider range that includes:  Swedish Massage, Hot Stone Massage, Indian Head Massage, Facials and a Deluxe Manicure/Pedicure.

 

African Apothecary products that are 100% organic and natural products are used for treatments.

  • Work on identifying and recording the signatures etched on the famous windows continues, the result will be of great historical significance and will result in a publication;
  • The well-known Tjaart Walraven, famous South African chef and judge on the popular show SA Bake Off, came to train the catering staff and new menus;
  • The coffee shop area was renovated and extended outside on the patio area;
  • High-tea’s in the garden or lunch in the Chinese Pergoda were introduced in the 20ha arboretum, a tranquil venue  set amongst exotic trees with a breathtaking view towards the forested mountains on the Mozambique border.

Estate Grounds

  • Further improvements were completed to the orchid house;
  • The very rare Lady Virginia Orchid flowered again. It flowered for the first time in 2016 after 40 years of not flowering. The Courtauld’s discovered the rare species and kept it in their greenhouse at Eltham Palace, London. When their greenhouse was destroyed in the Second World War, only a tiny piece of the orchid remained which miraculously they were able to identify and save and it is now on show in the Orchid House;

  • Visitors are enjoying exploring the extensive grounds that are continually being improved upon;
  • New trails have been established for hiking, biking and horse riding;
  • Volley ball and croquet facilities were created;
  • A petting farm was opened;
  • The dam was restored; children can paddle in the dam, go fishing and boating;
  • The large swimming pool was restored.

Organic Herb Farm

The herb farm training centre has seen the establishment of 10 hectares of ‘field test’ of organic herbs and the trials are well on their way and fast expanding. Herbs that have been planted include Lemon Verbena, Peppermint, Chilli,  Chamomile, Lemon balm, Fennel, Stinging Nettle, Safflower, Calendula, Caraway, Tulsi, Basil, Thyme, Dandelion, two varieties of Ginger, and three varieties of Turmeric Anise  and many have seen their first harvest. Visitors to the hotel can now wader down to the farm and pick fresh herbs to make a cup of herbal tea or pick a few to garnish a sun downer drink with.

The trials were conducted by Mr Dominik Collenberg who holds a Master’s Degree in Organic Farming and Master’s Degree in Economics of Development which means that he has the expertise to implement the project. He is the Director of Organic Africa a company who focus on organic production and are the only company certified in organic fair trade products in Zimbabwe. They are also the only company in southern Africa whereby its small scale farmers have their land certified and so are able to produce high quality herbs.

   

Melissa                                                                       Chilli

     

Calendula growing under acacia tree                    Lemon Verbena

   

                                                                                    Fennel

Organic Africa works extensively with all their producers to help them attain Ethical Biotrade, Organic and Fair Trade certification. An export market was secured for the crops by a leading herbal tea producer based in Europe.

Since September 2017, the farm has trained some 3,889 farmers (2377 female and 1512 male).  47 of them comprised 4 farm managers and 42 contract farmers.

Future plans include the building of a regional agricultural college to train small scale farmers, mainly women, on how to grow crops without using chemicals or fertilisers and how to make compost according to strict organic global regulations.

We are proud to report that the year has been a busy and successful one overall.

 

 

 

 

La Rochelle – Events and news – May 5, 2017

Please email reservations@larochellecentre.com or call us on (04) 497213 / 0714 610 803 to find out costs and more detail.
In 2016 La Rochelle hosted a number of events such as bird courses, vintage car rally, art retreat, jazz evening, food and wine pairings and educational workshops. Here are a few recent photos from some of those events:

La Rochelle – Spirit of Place Statement


Experience both the natural beauty and rich cultural heritage of a country estate, and feel the passion held by Sir Stephen and Lady Virginia Courtauld to settle here and literally ‘put down roots’ as the saying goes. The house and grounds are what has made La Rochelle a lasting treasure to be enjoyed in perpetuity by the nation of Zimbabwe and its visitors. It will forever evoke images of a time in history when this very generous titled couple, who combined English ancestry and Italian and Hungarian ancestries as well, adopted not only this country, but also its people and took both to their hearts.
Their public-spirited generosity, and their enduring interest in promoting the various arts, music and culture, as well as a deep desire to improve the welfare of the lower echelons of the population, means that they will always be remembered for their generous largesse towards Zimbabwe even though these contributions were always made very quietly and modestly and never openly and flamboyantly.
Their foresight in donating La Rochelle to the National Trust now enables one to not only spend a weekend or more inside their very home, but also to walk the pathways so lovingly designed and created by Sir Stephen and his massive team of gardeners and planners, and to relax for a while in a haven of peace and beauty and marvel at the extensive collection of rare orchids.
Stop for a while in The Dell, close your eyes, drift away to the late 1950’s era and just pretend that you are one of Sir Stephen’s invited guests for the weekend, the way he would have wanted it to be. Breathe in the scents surrounding you through this beautiful garden and think of Lady Virginia and her kind and generous nature as she busied herself for the day with the local ladies and their knitting and crotchet projects that she funded. Picture in your mind the soft tunes drifting down from the house from piano and violin as the invited musicians ready their instruments for the evening.
Take the time to enjoy this very special home and garden remembering that the Courtauld’s former home is here for all future generations to be able to admire and enjoy.

National Trust Tribute to Mr Darrel Plowes

darrel-at-la-rochelle

It is with the deepest regret that we note the passing of Darrel Plowes, in Mutare, on Wednesday 19th October 201 aged 91. Darrel has been an invaluable friend of the National Trust of Zimbabwe for a many, many years and a great source of information and of assistance through his long friendship with Sir Stephen and Lady Virginia Courtauld of La Rochelle when he worked with them on many projects in the early years of La Rochelle.  His knowledge of the La Rochelle property was a great help to the Trust during the recent refurbishment programme and we will be eternally grateful for his precious input over the years.

Darrel’s long career before retirement was in agriculture, natural resource management and extension where his contributions were substantial. His extensive interests covered an incredibly wide range of subjects in the fields of natural history, agronomy, entomology, botany and ornithology, to name just a few. The Trust was truly honoured and fortunate to have as an active member, one of the greatest all-round naturalists of Zimbabwe.

Darrel was an authority on stapeliads, orchids, butterflies, birds and bird’s eggs. Several new species have been named in his honour; these include grasses, aloes, a butterfly, legless lizard, mole-rat and a new sub-species of birds.  His plant specimens at the National Herbarium are among the best preserved described and recorded. We are all richer for having known Darrel Plowes and we give thanks for the wonderfully inspiring life of this man and his love of all creation.  Even in the last few weeks of his life, when Darrel was in great pain while sitting at the computer he took the time to write to the Trust on matters which were of concern to him.

On behalf of our Executive Council and members of the Trust, we extend our deepest sympathy to all Darrel’s family and to his companion, Nina. We will ensure a suitable tribute is recorded for Darrel as an acknowledgement and appreciation for all he has done and achieved in his lifetime.

Here are some of our Executive Committee members’ comments:

Darrel will be sadly missed and leave a big void in our community. Darrel was an incredible font of knowledge in many areas scientific, historical, and archaeological, in fauna and flora and this list is by no means exhaustive. He was extremely passionate about Zimbabwe and the Trust and its activities and especially its Mutare properties and in particular the La Rochelle Estate, having known the Courtaulds personally. Our thoughts and prayers go to all his family and close friends at this difficult time.                           David Scott

He was one of Zimbabwe’s botanical giants and one of the most knowledgeable all-round naturalists I have ever had the pleasure and honour to meet. He may now have ended his never finishing work but will always keep on inspiring me and many others for the remainder of our lives. Whether professional scientist or amateur enthusiast we owe a great debt to his unrelenting search for knowledge and understanding of the natural world.                                                                      Rob Burrett

Darrel was also a key link between the present and past of La Rochelle both with the Courtauld Family and the botanicals, particularly the orchids. It was perhaps symbolic that the Lady Virginia Orchid which last flowered in 1973 just after Lady Virginia’s death, came out into flower just before Darrel passed away some 43 years later!  Fortunately Jannie Martin took the orchid up to show Darrel in hospital.                                    Harvey Leared

Darrel was an incredible man and a true gentleman, he was an inspiration to us all and he will sorely missed not least by myself.  I was so privileged to have spent time with him over the years and to have been part of the interview and video event that we undertook with Roger Fairlie a couple of years back at La Rochelle.  It is our intention to make a film on La Rochelle with Darrel’s interview included.  It will be a fitting tribute.                       Sharon Waterworth

Darrel, as David and Sharon have noted, had so many and varied talents and achievements some of which may not generally be known.  My brother in Australia wrote that he first knew Darrel as Head of Agricultural Extension for communal areas in Manicaland before he became senior in the Dept. of Agriculture in Mutare.  Later he rose to a senior level in the Ministry. When he went overseas to do a Masters in Ecology Darrel gave him a number of slides showing trials on soil and water conservation, and trials and demos in communal and commercial farming areas. These always impressed the viewers and I am reminded of the brilliant photographer he was.

Darrel told me how he taught the first groups of Nyanga Weavers the various plants to use for the natural dying of wool. We are all the richer for having known Darrel and give thanks that he was able to share his knowledge and love of this country and of nature to so many.                 Edone Ann Logan

We have been so honoured to have had Darrel as a friend and mentor; he was a man of many parts and always with the Trust at heart. So very sorry Nina for your loss.   We are all the poorer for his passing. My condolences to all his family and friends, he will be sorely missed                                Fira Bache

What terribly sad news. Darrel will be sorely missed and leave a deep void in the field of ornithology and botany, two of his many passions. What an amazing font of knowledge he was and such a highly respected expert in these fields he dedicated his life to.                        Lin Gonçalves

I write to convey my condolences to you, the family members, on the passing on of Darrel Plowes. I came to know him in person in 2014 and always kept in touch by email. On 8 April 2016 we sat at the same table at La Rochelle and touched on many issues including my request for him to bring back on the market an authoritative book on ‘Gardening in Zimbabwe.’ His response was in the affirmative.  God has his way of doing things!  Darrel will certainly be remembered and missed by the NTZ Community. May His Soul Rest in Peace.                                            Elliot Mugamu

The NTZ have happily accepted Darrel’s family request that a memorial bench be placed in the orchid area at La Rochelle. The bench will allow visitors to pause and reflect on the beauty of the orchids. The orchid area was a place that had special significance to Darrel since it was Sir Stephen who inspired Darrel’s fondness for orchids, and in turn Darrel has very kindly donated the balance of his small collection back to La Rochelle.  This is wonderful news for the NTZ and typifies Darrel’s love of La Rochelle and a sign will be erected to indicate the “Kind donation of these orchids by Darrel Plowes”.

The NTZ is also planning for a small memorial stone to be placed at La Rochelle as a specific tribute to highlight Darrell’s incredible commitment and contribution to the NTZ and especially to La Rochelle, not just lately but over many decades. The stone will be unveiled in December 2016.

For the benefit of future visitors to La Rochelle the NTZ will also compile a one page flyer outlining Darrel’s achievements and contributions to the NTZ, the document will be part of the long and varied history of this important property.

 

Rare Orchid flowers for the first time since 1973

The 17th October was a historic day for the Trust and in particular for the La Rochelle property when a rare orchid flowered on the 17th October 2106, this is only the fourth time that it has flowered to our knowledge, the last time being in 1973 so this is a cause for celebration.

The orchid has quite a unique history attached to it: it was found by Sir Stephen Courtauld on one of the eastern Java Islands during his travels there sometime before the start of the second world war. It is thought to be a natural hybrid as there have been no others like it found. It is a unique Vanda orchid different to other lombakensis. Sir Stephen named the orchid, Vanda lombakensis Virginia Courtauld after his wife Lady Virginia Courtauld.

The orchid was taken by Sir Stephen back to England where it was kept in a glass house at Eltham Palace. It flowered once then during the second world war and survived when the glass house that it was in was bombed. A small piece of the plant was recovered and re potted. It was then brought to Southern Rhodesia when Sir Stephen and Lady Virginia moved to La Rochelle near Umtali, present day Mutare.

The Trust would like to thank its dedicated and professional ground estate team headed by Mr Kevin Martin for making this piece of history happen.  We hope you enjoy the photographs of the rare and beautiful orchid below.

lady-virginnia-orchid

 

single-flower

 

whole-orchid

La Rochelle Update August 2016

The property continues to gain much support and praise from all visitors and work is underway to organise various events to attract a wider range of visitors who will view this property not only for its aesthetic appeal but also it’s historical importance for the people of Zimbabwe.

For all enquiries and bookings please contact:

!NL2

With generous support from a donor, the tropical area in the Dell has been cleaned up and the waterways have been cleared and the section is looking amazing

NL3

Please read this very good account from a recent visitor:-

https://wolfganghthome.wordpress.com/2016/06/13/zimbabwes-eastern-highlands-continue-to-amaze/