Fairview Homestead | My Guest House Life
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In July 2018, three days before my 60th birthday the green-fingered doctor became a patient. As I sat next to his bed in the intensive care unit, watching him fight for every breath, I knew that I had to do something about his garden.

I phoned a landscape designer, whom I knew he trusted, to come to Fairview and prune the roses, prune the trees, do whatever he thought necessary to ensure that the garden would be in shape for whenever Desmond would be discharged. Ten days in intensive care was followed by a six week recuperation period during which time he sat on the back porch, looking at his beloved garden and “gardening” by giving orders!

More than six cubic meters compost got worked into the soil, a new vegetable garden was planned, the raised beds built and the vegetables planted. Gradually he regained his strength and started physically gardening again.  This summer I can honestly say that our garden has never looked as good – and let’s face it, it has been pretty awesome all along.

Copyright ©       Philda Benkenstein    All Rights Reserved

As a Guest House I joined   www.swopandstay.com  , which is a bartering group for accommodation providers – I love the look of the website and cannot wait to start swopping. Which brings me to the topic of my blogpost – why are we so adverse to bartering?

If there is one thing that gets me hot under the collar it is when a prospective guest wants to bargain me down.  In the winter it actually costs me more to run my guest house – the rooms need heaters, electric blankets and the linen have to be tumble dried- so why should I lower my rates in the off-season?  Is it even fair to lower my price and in that way take the business away from another establishment and forcing them to lower their rates to the point where it is actually costing them to fill their rooms? (I’m not exaggerating – I know of one B&B that cut her prices to the point where she was actually subsidizing the guests sleeping over – how crazy is that?)

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Before starting my guest house blog I had planned to start a blog where a few guest house owners could share stories and recipes, but it turned out that I was the only one who ever posted!

Because I blog regularly I changed to a blog-based site, where my blog posts form an integral part of my website content. I have kept the Blogspot blogging going even after the development of my new blog-based guest house website as it attracts a different readership. I am still humbled by the number of people who read my blog posts – my monthly unique visitors are a constant surprise to me.

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Our children were all three still in primary school when we moved into Fairview. Within months I received my first paying guest and our children  had to learn a new set of rules: ask before you take fruit out of the fruit bowl, tell me when you finish the juice or milk, no sport equipment lying around,  no loud music, no loud shouting and the one that drove them to distraction –  no telephone calls on my dedicated guest house telephone number! This was prior mobile telephones and even though we had a private number too, their friends would phone on the guest house number and that would not be tolerated as their teenage calls could go on for hours.

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Even in the midst of winter we have green lawns and flowers to brighten the garden. It does look less luscious and green with many of the trees dropping their leaves, but there is still beauty to be enjoyed –  the winter bulbs, Arum Lilies,Irises and camellias are out in full bloom. Local photographer, Cathe Pienaar took these lovely photos of our winter garden.

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Twenty one years ago, just before we bought Fairview, we made an offer on another heritage property in George, but the owner  decided to withdraw Whispering Oaks  from the market. We were quite heartbroken, but then we found Fairview – and the rest is history…

I am happy to announce that our daughter Nelleke and her husband Michael just bought Whispering Oaks! This all happened very fast and with great  serendipity – at this stage I cannot direct you to the new website yet, but it should be up and running before 1 January 2016. In the meantime they are painting, furnishing, decorating – to hopefully open between Christmas and 1 January sometime.  Initially they will only have three rooms, but eventually there will be 5 rooms offered on B&B basis and 1 self-catering unit. Talking about breakfast – it will be good as Nelleke is a qualified chef and food stylist by profession.

Situated in Caledon Street, centrally located in George, all the Whispering Oaks bedrooms are en-suite, have flat screen televisions, DSTV, queen sized beds with good quality mattresses and white percale linen. The decor can be described as contemporary, Scandinavian style. Guests are within walking distance to many good restaurants, the Botanical Gardens and only a few minute’s drive to the beachfront in Victoria Bay.I think they are going to be my biggest competition in George…

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This article, titled ‘Paul Ash plays lord of the manor’ appeared in the travel section of the Cape Times :

”I’m tired of boxy hotels, and I’ve had enough of drek little B&Bs owned by poxy, unhelpful pinch-faced landlords and stuffed with décor from hell. There, I’ve said it. Running a B&B should require a license, where applicants are subjected to the same rigorous scrutiny as those who wish to own automatic weapons. Sadly, that is not the case, which means I spend an inordinate amount of time sifting through the dross.

George, as you may well imagine, is overstocked with B&Bs. The town has more accommodation options than Jo’burg has Tuscan palazzos, so I was well pleased, on my very first troll of the web, to stumble across Fairview Homestead, a former farmhouse built some time after 1864 and sold to one Koos Stander in 1894. The family farmed apples and cattle until 1974, fending off the urban creep. Today, the homestead is an island of beauty in the middle of George’s spreading metropolis.

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The grounds on which Fairview stands was first registered in 1864 in the names of Messrs. Swemmer and Meyer, directors of the first bank in George. When these two gentlemen found themselves in financial difficulty in 1894, they sold the farm to Koos and Miems Stander.

The Standers had sold their farm at Victoria Heights and bought Fairview so that their 8 children could go to school from home. In those days it was a big apple and cattle farm on the outskirts of George.

Two sons became attorneys, one son qualified in Scotland as a dentist and all 5 daughters qualified as teachers. To get to Wellington Teachers College the girls traveled by horse-drawn cart to Mossel Bay, from there by ship to Cape Town and then by train to Wellington! Koos Stander was Mayor of George from 1926 to 1932 and the house stayed in the Stander family from 1894 to 1974.

In those days it was a big apple and cattle farm on the outskirts of George; today it is centrally situated in the suburb of Bergsig and the grounds measure 3800m².

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In 1994 we moved back to South Africa after a 13 year stay in Namibia. We bought Fairview and took up the challenge to restore this historic George landmark – always bearing in mind that the challenge in restoring and maintaining any old building remains staying true to the authenticity of the structure. We therefore removed a garage that altered the square Georgian shape of the original building. Eight windows had to be replaced and were meticulously duplicated using the old frames as templates. The time consuming restoration was contracted out to a specialist team and took nine months to complete. Waterproofing of the clay walls proved to be a major challenge, as was the stripping of the many layers of paint to expose the lovely wood again. All the plumbing and electric wiring had to be redone, the 4 chimneys and fireplaces needed radical repairs, and most of the light fittings were removed and had to be replaced with antique ones again.

Below are two very old photo’s showing that the house originally had a pitch roof on the front section. There is no record of when the facade was changed to that of the typical flat-roofed Cape Georgian style. As not even the 82 year old Stander granddaughter could remember this pitched roof, it was decided not to replace during the 1996 restoration.

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In 2013 we embarked on yet another phase, this time renovation more than restoration. New garages were built for private use at the Smith Street entrance, a spiral staircase was added to the inner courtyard to give access to two upstairs guest rooms, the little storeroom below the swimming pool was restored and turned into a small guest room and 4 of the bedrooms were renovated and re-decorated.

The house is now fully restored to its long lost splendor and elegance and is listed with the National Monument’s Council as well as the local George Heritage Trust.

Desmond is passionate about his garden – work on the garden is an ongoing labor of love. The front garden is more formal in structure – in keeping with the formal Cape Georgian style of the house. The flowerbeds on the Eastern side of the house is more informal. At the back of the house we have fruit trees, a herb garden, vegetable garden and a small orchard. We also keep our own chickens to keep the kitchen in supply of fresh eggs.

 

… and no golden eggs. Yes, it’s that time of the year again…

You have to understand – as much as I hate the start of blaring ‘Jingle Bells, jingle bells,jingle bells’ rocking in my ears while I’m shopping for our daily bread, eggs, bacon, mushrooms… IN OCTOBER! As much, do I love the advent of Christmas? I light my 4 candles in anticipation of the last candle – one on each Sunday and the last candle we light on Christmas eve. I hang an advent wreath on our front door, I use my navy blue cloth napkins with the golden stars that my children helped me to stencil on when they were small. There is always a small Christmas tree – often one concocted with thorn tree branches. In Namibia ( where we lived for 13 years) this is quite a traditional Christmas tree – the thorns are perfect to hang the tree decorations from and I also find the thorn tree symbolic of the thorn wreath that was put on Christ’s head during the crucifixion.

Our friends in the northern hemisphere probably find it incomprehensible that we can have Christmas without snow, but yes that is our reality: Christmas day temperatures average about 25 degrees Celsius. Some people do the whole hot meal with turkey and gammon, others prefer to go the more sensible route of salads and cold meat or salads accompanied by meat grilled over the coals (a braai).

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