The Helen Hyslop Kopje

World Heritage Day (WHD) is an annual event celebrated on 18 April of each year. It aims to preserve the human heritage and recognize the efforts of all relevant organizations in the field including the National Trust of Zimbabwe (NTZ). World Heritage is the shared wealth of humankind. Protecting and preserving this valuable asset demands the collective efforts of the international community. This day offers an opportunity to raise the public’s awareness about the diversity of cultural heritage and the efforts that are required to protect and conserve it, as well as draw attention to its vulnerability.

The NTZ celebrated WHD at Worlds View with the unveiling of a plaque for Helen Hyslop who is a very special person.

The celebratory event took place on a kopje (hill) at an altitude of over 2,000 metres, one of the highest points in Zimbabwe, where the escarpment drops 600 metres to the plain below.  Helen’s plaque sits proudly above the clouds and birds flying.


                                                                                The Helen Hyslop Kopje

As you can see the view from the summit is one of peace and of extreme beauty and it seems endless.

David Scott, Chairman, mentioned in his speech of the huge contribution that Helen has made to the success of the NTZ over the 25 years that she has been involved and she still continues to be an active council member.

Left to Right: Panganai, Michael Hoggard, David Scott, Gill Honeyman and Sharon Waterworth   

Helen joined the NTZ in 1993 and became a member of the Executive Council in 2003.  She was Chair of the Rhodesia Association of University Women (1970 -1980). One of her major local achievements, at that time, with other groups was the lobbying for separate assessment for tax of female spouses in 1977. Helen was a regular member of International Federation of University Women s Council in Geneva  promoting graduate women’s and feminist rights over that period. The University was established in 1919 and nearly 100 years later it continues to advocate for women’s rights, equality and empowerment through the access to quality secondary and tertiary education, and training up to the highest levels. The goal is for 100% of girls and women worldwide to achieve an education beyond primary school. Helen is an alumnus of University of Witwatersrand in South Africa.

It was with great disappointment that Helen was unable to attend the event. She expressed her deepest thanks and appreciation for the honour and recognition.

A vote of appreciation was given to Gill Honeyman, Chair of World’s View, and to her hard working team for organising the event and for keeping Worlds View looking so stunning in a very challenging environment!

A big thank you to Shirley Scott, Lin Goncalves and Jean Goncalves for being the photographers!

Celebrating World Heritage Day: 18th April

World Heritage Day (18 April 2018)  

World Heritage Day is an annual event celebrated on 18 April of each year. It aims to preserve the human heritage and recognize the efforts of all relevant organizations in the field. In 1982, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) announced, 18 April as the “World Heritage Day”, approved by the General Assembly of UNESCO in 1983, with the aim of enhancing awareness of the importance of the cultural heritage of humankind, and redouble efforts to protect and conserve the human heritage.

World Heritage is the shared wealth of humankind. Protecting and preserving this valuable asset demands the collective efforts of the international community. This special day offers an opportunity to raise the public’s awareness about the diversity of cultural heritage and the efforts that are required to protect and conserve it, as well as draw attention to its vulnerability.

Diversity and inclusion at Rhodes Nyanga Historical Museum, Zimbabwe

The National Trust of Zimbabwe (NTZ) is proud to say that it is listening and responding to the changing needs of its visitors. Realising that diversity and intangible cultural heritage is being lost and the world is becoming poorer in culture and wiping away the traces of history and local distinctiveness the NTZ decided to start working to keep it alive, protect and promote it.

Over the past few years, at one of our sites in particular, the displays at the Rhodes Museum have expanded and become more inclusive to the rich cultural diversity in Zimbabwe.   There is a now permanent display of early Manyika culture along with pictures and stories associated with renowned Tribal Chiefs and various people who have played a significant part in the country’s history.  Traditional stone sculptures, pottery and woven mats are also a feature of the Museum.

In 2015 the Museum undertook an innovative, experimental pilot project for school children to re-discover their living traditions and identify their cultural roots.  The project was drawn up using guide lines from a project Uganda, adapting the details to the Zimbabwean context. The successful ‘Cultural Heritage Education Project’, championed by Mrs Edone Ann Logan Chairperson of the Museum, resulted in a proven blueprint for cultural heritage education management that can be replicated in other schools countrywide.  The project mentioned won a special award at the 17th Conference of INTO in Bali in September 2017.

The Museum has produced several heritage booklets including: Traditional Leadership and Shona Culture and in 2016 published a book entitled “Nyanga’s Rich Heritage’ (Khami Press, Bulawayo).  The book was co-edited by Mrs Edone Anne Logan and Mr Robert Burrett, Archeologist and Historian. The book contains information on the many and varied aspects of the rich natural and social heritage of the area, and through knowledge and interest encourage a sense of pride and a wish to preserve this heritage.   It is the authors hope that the book, which includes many historical black and white photographs, will serve as a historical reference for those interested in Nyanga – particularly the early pre-history period. Proceeds from sales of the booklet are generating funds for the Museum where it is on sale.

The Museum Committee, along with Marshall Nyanhanda, the Curator,  continually work hard to organize various exhibitions that have included traditional customs of indigenous people portrayed by displays of relevant foods, tools, implements, and musical instruments.  And, after making a very determined effort, last month committee members achieved the completion of the ‘Time Line Project’ which depicts salient historical events related to Zimbabwe during the period from BC to 1980.

The NTZ is actively encouraging schools to visit heritage sites in their area and experience hands-on traditional crafts, and most importantly, research their own family histories, collect stories from their grandparents, and find their own identities within their ethnic groups.

The NTZ will be celebrating World Heritage Day with the following two events (details of which will be posted after the event):

–              The presentation of the inaugural Annual NTZ Heritage Award in Harare and

–              The unveiling of a plaque at Worlds View for a long standing, very valuable and dedicated NTZ Council member

The NTZ believes that Nations prosper from their diverse heritage.




Update on La Rochelle Organic Herb Project

The NTZ is part of the International National Trusts Organisation (INTO) which is a non-governmental group founded in 2007. INTO was established to promote the conservation and enhancement of the natural and cultural heritage of all nations for the benefit of the people of the world. INTO has close links with organizations such as: UNESCO, UNEP, ICOMOS, IUCN and Europa Nostra.

Currently, INTO represents about 55 million individual members and countless millions of visitors to sites and properties across more than 25 counties.  INTO are actively involved in various initiatives including conserving and enhancing existing built resources, most notably by the viable re-use of historic and older buildings, greening of existing building stock, and reinvestment in older and historic communities and managing land in a sustainable way.

Members of INTO own and manage many farming properties across the globe. The organisation encourages and supports the conservation and preservation of natural resources, heritage breeds and heirloom species, heritage farming structures, traditional rural landscapes, and the use of traditional farming and cultural practices.

INTO Sustainable Farms brings together National Trust farming properties across the globe. By exchanging knowledge through INTO Sustainable Farms, other National Trust farms and the wider community will learn about food and fibre production whilst concurrently supporting the conservation of natural and heritage resources.

Farmers today are under pressure to meet the demands of a rapidly growing global population whilst operating in increasingly challenging environmental conditions. It is more important than ever to ensure both food security and environmental sustainability not only for our generation, but generations to come. To achieve food security whilst safeguarding ecosystem stability, there must be a widely shared appreciation of agriculture as a multifunctional strategic land use that can provide: nutritious food, rural development and employment, environmental management, and the sustaining of cultural heritage of agrarian communities.

We are very pleased to announce that INTO Farms have just posted details about our organic herb project at La Rochelle on their website. Please see the article below.


La Rochelle Country House

Thank you.


Tackling Aliens and Increasing Biodiversity

Mabukuwene is one of seven National Trust of Zimbabwe (NTZ) properties. The twelve hectare site comprises of three separate plots that were purchased and consolidated by the successful businessman Mr. Thomas Meikle, which were given, by his daughter, to the NTZ in 1979.  One portion of the property has since been returned to the Thomas Meikles Trust (TMT) as this section contains the Meikles family cemetery and the main infrastructure.

The property is situated about five kilometres south of Bulawayo City centre. It is a tranquil place and consists of indigenous trees and plants set in an un-spoilt area of kopjes whose distinctive pink hue distinguishes it from other rocky environments in and around Bulawayo. Mabukuwene means ‘high point’ and there is a ‘look-out’ built upon a rocky outcrop 1,422 m above sea level that once afforded a 360º view point of the area (sadly much of the view has since been hidden by trees and residential development). The property has a long social heritage that extends back from at latest 250,000 years to the early colonial era. This history is represented as archaeological sites, old village remains, rock paintings and various stone and brick-built structures.

Over a decade ago the NTZ was alerted to the fact that there had been a serious invasion by an alien plant species called  Lantana camara which had developed into a veritable forest and threatening the indigenous plant species at Mabukuwene. In Zimbabwe its common name is ‘Cherrypie’ or ‘Tickberry’.  Originally from Central America Lantana is an invasive shrub that can grow up to 4m high with numerous square branches with hooked spines. When scrambling on other trees it can reach heights of up to 15m.

The lime green bushes are all Lantana smothering the indigenous vegetation

The fruit has many berries that ripen a purple-black. Each contains a seed and in flush a single large bush can yield up to 12 000 seeds. The plant has a short taproot and a mat of many shallow side roots.   The flower colour may be red, purple, pink, with yellow centre, salmon, orange, pure yellow, white etc. sometimes the inner flowers a different colour from the outer. We certainly see a great variety of colours in Zimbabwe.

Lantana camara Photo: Bart Wursten

Lantana spreads both by seeds (a food favoured by small animals and birds) as well as layering where horizontal stems take root when in contact with moist soil. Seeds can remain viable in the soil for a decade or more. This species often forms impenetrable thickets that rapidly takes over and out-competes indigenous vegetation. It becomes an aggressive invader of disturbed and overgrazed areas, it is extremely difficult to eradicate. Simply cutting it down is effectively a waste of time as it coppices and the area is left in a worst position.

It’s ousting of indigenous plants has a negative impact on various bird and insect species which are dependent on specific host plants. Lantana has been nominated as among 100 of the “World’s Worst” invaders on the Global Invasive Species Database. In Zimbabwe it is declared as a noxious weed under the Environmental Management Act (Chapter 20:27 Section XIII). It can be poisonous to both livestock and children.

As part of its mandate the NTZ desperately wanted to clear the noxious weed from the site.  In 2013 Mr Dave Mason of the Thomas Meikle Trust (TMT) and Malcolm Ross, a local resident expressed interest in assisting with a clearing project. In 2014 the NTZ managed to find a small amount of money to start clearing the Lantana on a small scale and then in 2015 the TMT agreed to finance the clearing project. Work was stepped up and clearing started in earnest and the Lantana extending from the main gate away to the distant boundaries was cut back to about 30 cm above ground level and left in small piles for burning. Permission to carry out a controlled burn by the local fire brigade was granted by the Environmental Management Agency and Bulawayo City Council. Local residents were informed of the burning, as well as the Town Clerk and the Head of Parks.

Burning stimulates further Lantana seed germination so the emerging seedlings that arrived after the rains had to be removed by hand. Constant vigilance will be needed for many years to come to ensure that all emerging seedlings are uprooted and burnt. Unfortunately there is no quick solution. As the plants regenerate the larger ones were treated with a selective chemical to kill them off.


Lantana regrowth after the burn                                  Piles of cut Lantana


Controlled burn of cut Lantana                                    Post burn

After seeing such an improvement at the site the TMT agreed to continue the clearing exercise in 2016 for which the NTZ were very grateful for. Fortuitously also for the NTZ, Busani Bafana one of the Board members at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, Charles Wawn of Eco Logical Safaris and Travel and Hylton Price of Halsted’s kindly offered to assist and a small working party/committee was established. During the course of the year Lantana was re-cleared from the central area and from the really badly infested hills on the west side and from a section of the Meikles area along the north side of the road way.


The cleared entrance roadway                             Entrance with Wrought-iron gates

The NTZ would like to commend Mr Mason and the Meikles staff for clearing out most of the litter that was thrown in the bushes along the entrance road.

Several of the stone walls that had collapsed in a number of places, one section fell down after a 25 mm rainstorm, were rebuilt.


  Sections of collapsed stone walls

A new cement stone wall was built and the historic wrought-iron gate moved to its current location. The main entrance wall was repaired: it was seriously leaning over (being supported with gum poles).


One of the restored stone walls                             Leaning Main Entrance Wall

Fortunately, in 2017, Meikles continued to fund the clearing of the Lantana and the team started with the outside of the gardens along with the clearing of a 4 metre width fire guard (from the fence) both inside and outside of the property.  In October when the wind and temperatures conditions were right, the fire brigade carried out another controlled burn of the cut Lantana. During the whole clearing exercise other invasive species like Mexican Sunflower were also removed. Happily the Prickly Pear is being destroyed by cochineal bug, interesting to see a natural biological–control process in action.

This year we are delighted to say that the clearance of the Lantana along the perimeter fence was finally completed after many grueling months of hard work and that the Lantana, within the rocky areas, that re-grew (following the rains) will be sprayed with herbicides.

The NTZ would like to express its sincere gratitude to TMT, in particular to Dave Mason, for continuing to fund the clearing exercise and for all their assistance at the site. The clearing of the Lantana cannot be over stated enough. The NTZ would also like to extend its appreciation to the working party consisting of Busani Bafana, Charles Wawn, and Hylton Price whom worked tirelessly often under difficult circumstances.  We are also very grateful to Halstead’s for donating equipment such as gloves, boots, refuse bags and various tools.

The project has led to the NTZ working with new people and stakeholders and we are enjoying the relationships that have been formed and very proud of the significant progress that has been made. The clearing has enhanced the beauty of the site and visitor experience and most importantly the removal of Lantana is leading to the restoration of the property’s natural biological diversity.


The NTZ acknowledges Busani Bafana for supplying most of the photographs.




Celebrating International Women’s Day

Sir Stephen and Lady Virgina 

Pastal Circa 1963


In 1890 Virginia Periano family moved to London from Romania where she received a convent education.  Rebellious and unorthodox, while still a teenager Virginia had a large snake tattooed down the front of her right leg, a shocking choice for a convent schoolgirl to make during the Edwardian era!   Her marriage to the aged Italian Count Spinoza was annulled by the Vatican and on 20 August 1923 she married Major Stephen Courtauld at Fiume in Italy and after living in Etham Palace in England  she ended up living in Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) . Together Sir Stephen and Lady Virginia Courtauld built La Rochelle estate, comprising of 108 ha , in 1951 as a retirement home, and donated it to the National Trust of Zimbabwe in 1970.


Sir Stephen and Lady Virgina standing outside La Rochelle by the formal pond

Circa 1963


On 16 June 1954 Stephen and Virginia became citizens of Rhodesia and over the next 13 years their major achievements included the funding of the construction of buildings for:

–           The Courtauld Theatre, Mutare (1955)

–           The Queen’s Hall, Mutare (1957)

–           The National Gallery, Harare (1958)

–           The Rhodes Club, Mutare (1961)

–           The auditorium of what is now the Zimbabwe College of Music, Harare (1962)

–           Kukwanisa Farm School, Nyanga (1964).

In their unobtrusive quest for a just and non-racial political dispensation in their adopted country the Courtaulds were also the main sponsors of the Capricorn Society Africa, a pressure movement that sought to improve  relations between races in the British-administered countries of sub-Saharan Africa.

Virgina, with her kind and generous nature, had a deep desire to improve the welfare of the women in the rural areas and so she established a ‘Homecraft Club’ on the property where she taught needlework, embroidery, cooking and domestic science.  The women were able to sell their arts and crafts and for the first time financially support their families.   Her important contribution was made quietly and modestly, with sincere humility and she improved the lives of many African women over the course of several years.



Announcing the Winners of the Schools Cultural Heritage Competition

Ms Emily Drani, Executive Director and Mr John De Coninck, Programme Advisor from the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda (CCFU) developed a concept for a project reflecting their conviction that we must focus much of our work on the youth and a desire to share the lessons they have learned from their work to support “Heritage Clubs” in (now over 100) Ugandan secondary schools in the past few years. In 2017 their conviction led to the creation of a schools heritage club completion being held in three African countries.

The idea behind the heritage competition is to ensure that young people from Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone and Uganda develop a better appreciation of the diverse heritage across the continent and become more effective in its preservation, through an electronic platform/ learning network related to heritage conservation and to strengthen the skills of our organisations in delivering more effective Heritage Education programmes for youth in a globalised, but diverse world.”

John De Coninck, Programme Advisor

Following this idea, the International National Trust Organisation (INTO) launched their first ever crowd funding campaign to raise competition funding from as many donors as possible in five weeks.  The threshold goal of £2,500 was successfully reached with the assistance of Global Giving. The NTZ would especially like to thank Mrs Catherine Leonard, Secretary General of INTO, who championed the campaign that also resulted in INTO earning a place in the Global Giving crowd funding community.

As part of the global family of National Trusts (INTO), the National Trust of Zimbabwe (NTZ) participated in the competition entitled ‘Heritage education: youth linking minds across the continent’ which was aimed at creating spaces for intercultural learning from various parts of Africa.  Students (under the age of 20) were invited to submit a short, original video clip (taken on a cell phone) showing the world their unique heritage by sharing an original experience or activity of their heritage club, which they felt was exciting. The video had to be accompanied by writing (about 250 words) explaining the clip.  Young people from each of the countries selected a winner from another participating country which resulted in three ‘first’ competition winners who each won a cash prize.

In Sierra Leone Ms I Smith Chairperson of the Monuments and Relics Commission and team generously provided technical assistance to the competition. In Zimbabwe the competition was successfully run by Mrs Edone-Ann Logan, Chair of the Rhodes Nyanga Historical Exhibition, and Mr Willie Dhlandhlara of The Solon Foundation who is an expert in the field of education and heritage projects whom provided both technical and financial assistance. Mr Dhlandhlara designed a competition poster and wrote a proposal and presented them to the Heads of Schools in the Nyanga area under the theme ‘I love my Heritage’.

The response was good with 33 entries being submitted. Mrs Logan and Mr Dhlandhlara were delighted with the entries – all covering very different heritage subjects: pottery, traditional courts (2), processing sorghum, roofing of traditional Homes, the sacredness of Nytate Bush, ancient ridges and structures, the importance of cattle and mat making: all of which were extremely well presented. The top eight were shown to a panel of young judges who elected the five best videos and the same process happened in the other two countries.  Each entrant was asked to speak for about five minutes prior to the video being shown and answer questions afterwards.

The competition judges said that they appreciated the following from the entries:

  • The diversity of the videos; diverse cultural themes and activities, different schools participating;
  • The videos were communicative and generally easy to understand the messages conveyed;
  • The good sequencing of the message in creating a story, making the significance of the cultural activity clearly understood;
  • Illustrating the cultural activities that made the videos very lively and compelling to watch;
  • The entries from Zimbabwe were mainly from primary (younger) students than the other two clubs so the judges felt that there was a need to balance external technical support with student ownership.

During the course of the competition there were inter-country exchanges of experiences as members of each of the heritage clubs and schools learnt about the other countries culture and heritage which lead to an increased understanding and appreciation of just how important it is to keep it alive.  Solidarity and cultural respect among young people across continents can provide energy and solutions to heritage preservation.

Looking ahead, areas for future improvements were noted in the judging process such as the limited participation of students in some videos, poor sound (caused mainly by being outside in the wind) and image quality (low lighting levels) because it is planned to make the competition an annual event.

So who won?

The top two videos selected from Sierra Leone were:

First prize

Song and dance for planting: With Agriculture, Food   

Sufficiency is Assured’   

By Henry Fergusson Junior Secondary School                                        


Second prize






‘Pul Na Do’ Naming Ceremony for a Baby By Methodist Girls’ High School

The top two videos selected from Uganda were:

First prize


Ekizino’ a Ceremonial Dance Performed After a Successful                 

Harvest or Victory in Western Uganda                                                        

By Perfect Tumusiime of Kabaale Trinity College Heritage Club           


Second prize

‘Imbulu’ an Initiation Ritual by the Bamasaaba Ethnic

Group in Eastern Uganda

By Paul Kusolo of Bulucheke Secondary School


The top two videos selected from Zimbabwe were:

First prize


‘Building a Traditional Hut’ By St. Monica’s High School            

Second prize

‘The Secret of Nyatete Bush’ By Nyatete Heritage Club

The competition was made possible with the generous help and support of INTO and its members: CCFU and the NTZ. Ms I Smith Chairperson of the Monuments and Relics Commission in Sierra Leone and team and Mr W Dhlandhlara of The Solon Foundation in Zimbabwe.

The NTZ would like to thank all the heritage clubs for participating in such an exciting and interesting competition and would like to say ‘Makorokoto’ (congratulations) to all the winners.  It was heartening to see a good gender balance and for young people to share their culture to enable others to discover and experience it. Every student should be very proud of their work and the fact that they certainly helped to make a difference to the future of African heritage!

Why not take a few minutes to learn about the fascinating cultural heritage of Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zimbabwe! You can watch the short video clips that have kindly been posted by Mr Bill Turner of INTO on YouTube.  Here are the links:

Sierra Leone:

St Edwards Cultural Club, The Death of a Chief:

Methodist Girls High School, ‘Pul Na Do’ Creole Baby Naming Ceremony:

Henry Fergusson Secondary School, With Agriculture, Food Sufficiency is Assured:

Annie-Walsh Memorial School Heritage Club, A Creole Engagement Ceremony:

Ahmadiyya Muslim Secondary School Heritage Club, What Happens Before the Planting Season:


Grace Atuhairwe of Kabaale Trinity College Heritage Club, A Family Tree My Heritage:

Elizabeth Twesigye Queen of Bweranyanyi Girls Secondary School, Preservation of Culture Through Art and Craft:

Treasure Akansasira of Kabaale Trinity College Heritage Club, Importance of Museums to Our Lives:

Paul Kisolo of Bulucheke Secondary School Heritage Club, ‘Imbulu’ an Initiation Ritual by the Bamasaaba Ethnic Group in Eastern Uganda:

Tumusiime Perfect of Kabaale Trinity College Heritage Club, ‘Ekizino’ a Ceremonial Dance Performed After a Successful Harvest or Victory in Western Uganda:


Nyamhuka Primary School, Processing of Sorghum into Sorghum Meal by Paidamoyo Hondo:

Nyatate Heritage Club,The Secret of the Nyatate Bush:

Nyamhuka Primary School, Importance of Cattle in a Family:

Nyajezi Primary School, Pot Making:

Tanatswa Mvududu of Nyamhuka Primary School, My Rich Heritage in Nyanga National Park:

St. Monica’s High School, Building a Traditional Hut:

An aristocratic African B&B full of orchids and roses A very British couple left behind a palace in south London to create a horticultural gem in Zimbabwe. Lisa Grainger takes a tour of La Rochelle

We would like to share an excellent article about La Rochelle that was recently compiled by Lisa Grainger. It was published in The UK Daily Telegraph Gardening Section for which we would like to extend our deepest appreciation to Lisa Grainger.


The Art Deco bungalow has a French-style turret and Welsh slate roof

There were few sixty somethings in the Fifties who would have chosen to leave an English home as spectacular as Eltham Palace in south London to build a new life in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).There are even fewer who, upon ­retirement, would have bought a ­rundown African farm and turned it into the finest arboretum in the southern hemisphere.

But Sir Stephen and Lady Virginia Courtauld weren’t any conventional retirees. Stephen had been awarded the Military Cross for his bravery in the First World War and knighted for his philanthropy (including his support of the Royal Opera House, the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and Ealing Film Studios). Virginia was the headstrong London-educated daughter of an Italian marquis who had scandalised society in Thirties Britain by not only divorcing her aged aristocratic Italian husband, but also by having a snake tattooed up her leg.

In their 15th-century palace, where Cardinal Wolsey took his oath of office and where elite guests such as Rab ­Butler and the Duchess of York (later the Queen Mother) dined, the couple lived a glamorous, carefree life. As well as their own palace, they had their own yacht and their own plane on which to explore the world.

The one thing they didn’t have was sunshine in which to grow the exotic plants they had gathered on exotic journeys aboard their 210ft, 30-crew steam-yacht, Virginia. The couple were both keen gardeners and Stephen had inherited a love of orchids from his father, Sydney. In 1949, fed up with post-war Britain and rain, the couple sailed to Cairo, then flew their twin-engined plane to Cape Town, and on to Southern Rhodesia.

The rare orchid 
Vanda lombakensis ‘Virginia

When they flew over the beautiful Imbeza valley in the Eastern Highlands, with its 3,000ft hills, trout streams and forests, and discovered a farm which had once been called La Rochelle – the part of France from which Stephen’s French-Huguenot family had fled in the 1500s – they decided their fate was sealed.

In 1951, once they had been granted Rhodesian residence, they bought the farm and started to build a house – an expansive modernist bungalow with a French-style turret, Welsh slate roof and sprung-wood dance floor, which would be their home for the next 20 years.

It was to be the biggest personal project of their lives – and one, according to Stephen’s memoirs, that gave them more pleasure than any other. When they died, in the early Seventies, the couple left behind one of the finest arboretums in the southern hemisphere, one of the most beautiful formal gardens in the country, and one of greatest collections of orchids on earth.

Like many properties in Zimbabwe, La Rochelle has seen several dramatic turns since it was built. The Courtaulds were – unlike many of their countrymen in the former British colony – liberal, and were among the key sponsors of the Capricorn Africa Society, which sought to foster good relation between races.

During the country’s fight for independence, the Courtaulds hosted not only British aristocrats and politicians, but also opposition leaders such as the future president Robert Mugabe, Leopold Takawira, Herbert Chitepo and Ndabaningi Sithole, all of whose signatures were etched, using a diamond stylus, into a glass window in the 
couple’s home.

When the Courtaulds died, childless, the property was left to the people of Zimbabwe, whom Virginia called her family – a bequest protected by an Act of Parliament and the National Trust of Zimbabwe – along with a gift of $250,000 to cover running costs. While their intentions were honourable, their timing was unfortunate. A liberation war had broken out and the house was around four miles from the border with Mozambique, where hundreds of guerrilla fighters were trained. It was neither safe for anyone to live at La Rochelle nor to visit the property.

La Rochelle has been restored to somewhere near its original glory

By the time the war was over in 1980, and Zimbabwe was born, the funds left by the Courtaulds were depleted and the property had started to decay. Wild bush had taken over the 20 hectares of garden, in which the couple’s beloved pet lemur was buried. The greenhouses had collapsed. Flagstones on paths built to help Stephen wheel around in his latter years had been stolen. And the couple’s collection of 365 trees amassed in 25 countries had been subsumed by indigenous greenery.

When La Rochelle’s current head gardener, Nicholas Kashiri, came to work in 1972 as a 16-year-old apprentice – one of 55 full-time gardeners employed by the British couple – it was, he says, “the most beautiful garden you could imagine. “It had hundreds of rose bushes, of all colours: red, orange, yellow. Big wide beds planted with asters, lavenders, roses, salvia, agapanthus, cannas, hebes.”

He adds: “In summer we’d plant marigolds, zinnias, salvias, then in spring petunias, calendulas, snapdragons and lots of white annuals. People came from all over the world to see it.”

Then, in the Eighties, the hard times arrived. A grant from the Zimbabwean treasury was cut. As Mugabe continued to incite supporters to take over white-owned farms, donors abroad became nervous about sending funds. Inflation rose to 231 million per cent, and people across the land suffered and starved. Oddly, it was in part thanks to these desperate times that 17 years ago the property found a saviour.

When a local farmer, Jannie Martin, had three consecutive properties taken by Mugabe’s supporters, he decided that he “should try to use the negative to do something positive”.

Having lived in the area all of his life, he explains, he had grown to love the property, and admired the ­philanthropic spirit of the Courtaulds, who had paid for schools, civic halls, museums and clubs across the country – from the National Gallery in Harare to a homecrafts centre for local women. So he set about doing what he could. Gardeners who worked with him were paid in food, grown on the land. The property was leased as a B&B, painted, and partially restored, to lure visitors.

When, in 2013, two donors were found, serious work began to turn the home into the comfortable guesthouse and national garden it is now. With the help of nine gardeners, the shade houses and orchid-houses were rebuilt. The pathways and funnels bringing water from mountain streams were fixed. And, finally, 10 hectares of land were ploughed and turned into an organic herb farm, to ensure that the property could continue to fund itself.

Walking around the garden today, it seems incredible that such a magnificent property was almost lost. From the grey-painted modernist bungalow, with its art deco furnishings and homely bedrooms, views stretch out over acres of lawn, dotted with giant trees, towards forested hills.

  An organic herb farm brings in income  

To the east, the rose garden has been replanted by Henrietta Courtauld (a distant relative by marriage) and Bridget Elworthy, founders of The Land Gardeners, based in London and Oxfordshire, with hundreds of pink and white blooms: ‘Iceberg’, ‘House and Garden’, ‘Duet’ and ‘Virginia’ (named after Lady Courtauld). A long avenue of white standard roses and lavender created by them now leads to the original circular pond, where the pergola beyond is still planted with a thick roof of purple Queen’s wreath.

Since The Land Gardeners visited the property in 2014 – when, Henrietta remembers, “it was pretty much a ruined garden, albeit a magical one” – a large pond has been cleared, uncovering an island, now reached by a pretty bridge. Hillsides of azaleas from Nepal, India, China, Burma and Japan have been uncovered.

Terracing has been planted with hundreds of white agapanthus and orange clivia. And on the hill, dozens of beds are now thick with aloes, cacti, cycads and cymbidium orchids. This is now a garden in which days could be spent exploring: examining trees from around the world, taking in the scents of enormous magnolias and pink begonias; marvelling at the variety of palm trees; walking trails in the indigenous forests and, of course, examining orchids.

Stephen had one of the finest collections of orchids in Africa, and today, under the care of both Martin and Nicholas Kashiri, as well as Martin’s son, Kevin, who now runs the garden, the six orchid houses are flourishing. In regulated conditions, orchids thrive in pots on sunny shelves, attached to tree trunks, hanging in enormous balls.

There are red and purple Vanda lombakensis from Malaysia; phalaenopsis of all shades from East Asia; dendrobium, arachnis, bulbophyllum.

The most treasured orchid of the collection – the rare Vanda lombakensis‘Virginia Courtauld’ – Kashiri shows to me with some pride. The Courtaulds found the plant in Java in the Thirties, and took it back to their Eltham Palace greenhouses, where it flowered just once. After the palace was bombed, bits of the orchid were rescued, and when the couple came to Zimbabwe, they brought it with them. Since then it has flowered three times, including last year, under the keen plantsman’s care. “For me, when it flowered it was like an omen,” Kashiri says, smiling. “Like this house, it almost died. But now it’s blooming again. That makes me very, very happy.”

La Rochelle ( now welcomes guests, from $75pp (£54) a night, B&B, and $20 for a three-course dinner, featuring local produce. It periodically also hosts gardening weeks, yoga weeks and art courses, and welcomes donations to maintain the gardens through the Zimbabwe National Trust ( May to October is peak season; for British Government advice on travel to Zimbabwe, visit



This Way to the Museum

Committee members of Rhodes Nyanga Historical Exhibition arrived at the Rhodes Museum for their usual bi-monthly meeting on 7 December 2017 and started work on setting up the new ‘Time Line Project’ and also co-opted member Ray Clutty, together with Marshall Nyanhanda, the task of fixing the newly painted signs outside the Museum and positioning them strategically.


This has proved to be very successful in drawing the public’s eye to the locality and entry point of the Museum.  Needless to say, the NTZ and Marshall, in his capacity of Curator since July 2014, are extremely chuffed with these new signs. Hopefully, they will attract more visitors to the Museum.

   Marshall Nyanhanda with the new sign