The Roedean Story
In 1903, only two years after the end of the Boer War, Theresa Lawrence and Katherine Margaret Earle set sail for South Africa, inspired by a vision. Their mission was to create a world-class sister school to the esteemed Roedean Brighton. Founded by the Lawrence family in 1885, the core ethos of Roedean Brighton was to provide young girls with the kind of academic education that would enable them to meet the challenges they faced during this time in their struggle for gender equality.
Together, these resourceful pioneers of the teaching profession built Roedean School (SA) and so began its great history of academic excellence, civic duty, and cultural diversity. Their vision within the framework of a nurturing and caring environment was brought to life with stunning gardens and Sir Herbert Baker architecture. 110 years later, the founding ethos of Theresa Lawrence and Katherine Margaret Earle remains the guiding principle of Roedean School (SA). Roedean is committed to providing opportunities for young women to make career choices which will enable them to be competitive in the global workplace and which, we know, for the young women of this country will be a vital asset for their generation and those to come.
In May 1907 Theresa Lawrence (‘T.L.’) writes, “During my absence the grounds of the school were laid out and are very pleasing improvements in the appearance of our premises.”
Theresa Lawrence had been overseas and Katherine Margaret Earle (‘K.M.E.’) began the garden as a surprise.
‘Where nothing lay but the ﬂint of the koppies, Planted they Youth in a pleasaunce of green.’
Gwendolen Edwards writes: “Although we have lost our personal contact with K.M.E., there yet remains a comforting feeling of her presence in and about the school which she loved, laboured for and thought about for so long. I think that nowhere do we feel her presence more than in the garden which she planned and wrought, developing it from bare koppie to its present delight. In childhood she lived with the beauty of the ancient gardens in the Oxford Colleges and in the exquisite city of Wells, so perhaps it was easy for her to see ahead the garden she created. The Roedean garden has a special and most individual appeal; it is not formal nor is it wild but it is just right.
Perhaps we are inclined to take for granted the garden as we have always known it, but we realise the genius with which it is planned if we look at some of the details of its working out. Look for instance at the mass of foliage which divides the big lawn from the rose garden. It was K.M.E. who put blossoming trees to tell us spring had come. At that season they are contrasted with the bare drooping branches of the willow over the Beauty Spot. When the blossom falls, the copper foliage of the Japanese plums shows up the golden masses of broom. When the broom dies the light-coloured leaves and pink ﬂ owers of Pride of India take its place. In autumn as the plum leaves become opaque, the Pride of India turns scarlet. Then the double peach trees, white and red, are set against the silvery green of the plane tree on the back lawn, with its close neighbour the Lombardy poplar. Behind all these trees and shrubs is a dark background of pointed ﬁrs. The expanse of green lawn has a Jacaranda at one corner, and when the Jacaranda is at its bluest the Dorothy Perkins rose over the arch comes into bloom.
I do not remember the time when K.M.E. actually worked in the garden, but I have been told that she and Old Charlie planted the terrace lawn themselves, and that K.M.E. planted the Cypress avenue, which was such a distinctive feature of the old garden. When it was decided in 1930 that the cypresses really had to go, K.M.E. substituted Japanese plums and pillar roses and named them after members of the Staff. There were the Vice-Principal, Rebecca Scott; Mabel Bayley, the Head of the Junior School, and the House mistresses of the time. They come in this order: Ella and Beatrice, Rebecca and Mabel, Gwen and Katharine. The two new cypresses, T.L. and K.M.E., are a memory of the avenue which the Old Girls all miss so much. One of the old trees, after felling, measured sixty feet.
After their visit to The Kirstenbosch National Botanic Gardens T.L. and K.M.E. were determined to create a Roedean Kirstenbosch by preserving the beautiful wild growth on our koppie. They made me Curator of the wild garden. It is surprising to see how the wild things have thriven, being protected from burning and from other interference. Our koppie, from rather unpromising beginnings probably now has a richer collection of species of indigenous plants than any other piece of wild ground so near the city.
“This goodly heritage of ours, which adds so much to our happiness, should not be too lightly accepted. We have our duty towards it. Both the tame and the wild gardens were inspired by Miss Earle’s beautiful and cultured mind. It was a lucky day for South Africa when T.L. and K.M.E. ﬁrst came out and made our garden.
Anne Lorentz (née Douglas)
6 May, 1930 – 11 November, 2010
In John Milton’s sublime epic, Paradise Lost, the Garden of Eden is described as a “happy rural seat”, in which “crispéd brooks” feed “flowers worthy of Paradise which . . . nature boon/Poured forth profuse on hill and dale and plain”. Only the arch-fiend, Satan himself, can fail to be overwhelmed by the wonders of Eden, with its “Flowers of all hue, and without thorn the rose”, and Satan, after all, sees “Undelighted all delights”!
We, the members of staff and the pupils of Roedean, would have to be truly diabolical not to gaze with wonder and joy at the heritage gardens in which we are privileged to spend our working days, and we owe the ongoing splendour of these gardens’ ”trembling leaves”, “rich trees”, and lawns “damasked with flowers” to the creativity, tireless labour, imagination, and sheer devotion of the incomparable Anne Lorentz. The creation and maintenance of exquisite gardens can be regarded as a form of art, and Anne Lorentz was the Michelangelo of gardeners. For decades, Roedean benefited from her genius, and also had the pleasure of her company. The forthright, witty Anne was a superb raconteuse and a very erudite lady. When chatting to Anne Lorentz, especially in her last pain-racked year, I often thought of Alexander Woolcott’s comment after his final meeting with the legendary actress, Mrs Patrick Campbell (the original Eliza in Shaw’s Pygmalion): “How bright in the afternoon sunshine was the banner that flew ever in her heart.“
We shall miss Anne more than it is possible to express, but, whenever we look at the rose named for her, or page through the beautiful books on flowers, gardening, and celebrated gardens that she generously donated to Roedean, or simply cast our eyes upon our surroundings, we shall remember her. We at Roedean certainly believe that Anne should share an epitaph with Sir Christopher Wren: “Si Monumentum requiris, Circumspice.”
Anne has been a part of Roedean School for 73 years. During this time, she has been a pupil, a parent, chairman of the S.A.O.R.A Committee, ‘ .. and finally I’ve ended up as the gardener!’
‘ .. As a somewhat scruffy schoolgirl in the ‘40’s, I clearly remember being far more interested in watching Juicy tend the garden, than listening to our History teacher going on about the Battle of Waterloo! Particularly fascinating were her very short blue or green tunics, worn over very long knee-length blue or green bloomers! Little did I know that one day I would be tending the same gardens – without the bloomers!’
Anne nurtured the school’s gardens, for the last 35 years, building on the foundations laid by Katherine Margaret Earle and Gwendolen Edwards (“Juicy”). She created a magnificent garden of botanical interest, a garden which “intertwines” with Roedean’s long history. ‘But all credit goes to our wonderful team of men for their hard work and dedicated caring’ said Anne.
When Anne left school she wanted to nurse but was too young for the intake at Greys Hospital in Pietermaritzburg. Instead she joined the staff of Springbok Radio (then a brandnew commercial service of the SABC), followed, in the early 1950s, by 2½ years in London working for the BBC’s European Service – broadcasting to 44 different countries.
Since about 1960, Anne was involved with the Johannesburg Garden Club, and its fund-raising for Johannesburg Child Welfare. In 1982 she took a design course in the UK, with well-known English landscape designer, John Brooks, and has subsequently been kept busy running her own garden-design business. During the 1990s, she was horticultural adviser, a script-writer, and presenter for the SABC TV3 programme “Gardens – Wild and Wonderful”.
Anne’s legacy is captured in Roedean’s bountiful beauty and each year, as the rose buds bloom, and the Jacaranda Tree sheds its colour, we will silently thank Anne for constructing an environment as magnificent as ours, and we will miss her steadfast passion.