Behind Babylonstoren #3: Constance Stuurman

The resemblance to Tina Turner is more than passing. When Constance Stuurman leads guests on a tour of the Babylonstoren garden, she delivers an electric performance imbued with wit, knowledge and contagious passion for the plants she so clearly adores.  

Constance’s favourite section of the Babylonstoren garden is the Healing Garden. Her knowledge of traditional Khoi healing herbs is ancestral. “My granny Angelina and great-granny Anna lived to 101 and 113 respectively. So, whatever they were doing with their herbs, they did something right!” she laughs. “The old people didn’t believe in shops. You had to plant your own food and medicine. That’s how I was raised. As a child I spent Sundays on my knees in the garden with them, planting and tending to herbs.” 

Constance describes herself as a fanatical gardener. “I like to get my hands dirty and to play around in the soil. Garden tours were never my thing,” she says. “It evolved due to having the knowledge and being surrounded by people I had to talk to.” 

Her work as a plant propagator at a nearby nursery introduced Constance to Gundula Deutschländer, one of the founding gardeners at Babylonstoren. “Gundula started planting this garden just over 14 years ago. For six months she arrived at the nursery on a weekly basis to collect 6000 wild garlic plants. I was so curious and eventually had to ask what all the garlic was for, which lead to an invitation to join the Babylonstoren gardening team,” she recounts. She joined Babylonstoren on 2 August 2010, exactly two months before the farm opened its gates to the public.  

A willowy woman with four young children in her wake interrupts Constance in mid-sentence. “Excuse me, I just need to give this legend a hug!” she says, throwing her arms around Constance. Completely make-up free and dressed in a breezy sundress, media personality and ex Miss South Africa Jo-Ann Strauss is as incognito as she could be. “This place is our haven. It’s where we come to reset ourselves,” Jo-Ann says.  

Thirteen years after she broke ground at Babylonstoren, Constance is in awe of the growth and popularity of the gardens. “I never thought it would be like this,” she says, gesticulating towards the people laughing and posing in front of the giant sunflowers. “All we do here is to plant our happiness. We put everything into the earth. If I plant something on a Friday, I spend my whole weekend worrying about it.”  

Contance’s immunity booster bed in the Healing Garden.

The Healing Garden has an area dedicated to Constance’s immunity booster, a selection of five Khoi superherbs that have promoted the health and longevity of generations of Stuurman women: Artemisia afra (African wormwood or wilde-als), Leonotis leonorus (wild dagga), Agathosma (buchu), Helichrysum petiolare (everlasting, kooigoed or imphepho), and Ruta graveolens (rue or wynruit). Constance imbibes what she preaches and starts and ends each day with a brew made with a leaf from each of the five plants. And the flavour? “No, it’s terribly bitter. But it fixes me. I think bitter is good. It shocks the bacteria in your body. Bacteria thrive on sweetness. I believe that a bitter concoction, last thing at night, cleanses the system.” Her children, Mariolynne (15) and McClarin (10), also drink it daily, with added ginger, lemon and honey to improve the flavour.  

Constance is also an accomplished floral artist who creates natural artworks from flowers, leaves, fruit and other plant material for indoor and outdoor installations. She shares her knowledge in farm workshops where baskets and wreaths are woven from willow, vine, poplar and black wattle twigs. Constance presents an hour-long garden tour for hotel guests daily, from 10h00 to 11h00. She also does unscheduled farm walks on request.  

The joy guests derive from the garden is a constant source of inspiration to her. “This is a safe place for so many people, it’s their go-to place for inspiration. This garden is a healer, it works wonders – I can see how it brings families together.” For Constance, the garden’s power is rooted in its people. “You can’t work at Babylonstoren if you don’t have a passion for people. And your first client is your colleague.” 

Hotel guests can reserve a spot in Constance’s daily garden tour, for a garden introduction delivered with humour, abundant knowledge and an unmistakable touch of star power.