A Formal Affair
Home South Africa|July 2021
Charmaine and Martin Haines’ Nieu-Bethesda garden is as distinctive as their artworks.
Marie Opperman

WHO LIVES HERE? Charmaine and Martin Haines

WHERE Nieu-Bethesda

SIZE OF GARDEN 600m2

TYPE OF SOIL Clay

The garden created by this artistic couple is one of surprises and contrasts. Not only is this lush oasis unexpected in the quiet, dusty streets of Nieu-Bethesda, but its formal Victorian layout – with straight gravel paths and demarcated flowerbeds – is even more of a surprise. The garden is kept lush with lei water that is supplied to residents via furrows running through their properties (similar to those along the town’s streets), while the beds are filled with hardy plants that can withstand the harsh winter frosts. And the artworks on a wall decorated with mosaics – a woman with jet-black hair, a long-legged rabbit, a variety of pots – are not your standard roadside craft purchases.

TheOnionHouse

Nieu-Bethesda is best known for the Owl House, a museum featuring eccentric artist Helen Martins’ otherworldly cement and crushed-glass sculptures. Charmaine and Martin, themselves well-known ceramic artists, live just a few blocks from the Owl House in a home that bears the name Onion House.

The couple moved to Nieu-Bethesda from the coast near Gqeberha 20 years ago. “Our daughter, Emma, grew up here. Even before we bought the house it was known as the Onion House because onions, garlic and potatoes harvested from nearby plots were stored in it,” explains Charmaine.

Nieu-Bethesda, which lies about 50km from Graaff-Reinet, became a municipality in 1886. “Our house was originally a simple nagmaalhuisie (communion house) with no bathroom,” says Charmaine. “The only rooms we added on were a bathroom and scullery as we wanted to stay as true to the original character of the house as possible.

“We love Nieu-Bethesda and its tight-knit community. This place is a balm for the soul, with beautiful scenery and wide-open spaces. People here are not as materialistic as they are in the cities. We’re all very environmentally conscious and understand the value of our water resource – despite the town’s name meaning ‘place where water flows’. Whenever we tackle a project, we consider its style, colour and texture. Everything we create must respect the unique character of the Karoo.”

Charmaine was head of ceramic design at Nelson Mandela University for 20 years. Her artwork often features fish, birds and icons, while Martin’s sculptures and functional pieces such as plates usually bear his signature rabbit motif.

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