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News > Announcements > From seeds in his pocket to pocketing the prestigious prize of being South Africa's best landscaper

From seeds in his pocket to pocketing the prestigious prize of being South Africa's best landscaper

Graham, inspired by his grandmother, Phillida (a descendant of Canon Richard Brooke) goes from schoolboy tending the School House garden and the Brooke Chapel rose garden, to award winning landscaper.

Graham von Hoesslin's (1995S) interest in plants started as a very young boy living on farms in Stellenbosch, Middelburg (MPL), Caledon and Franschhoek. Whenever his clothes were put into the wash, seeds invariably fell out of his pockets. After returning from Saturday sport at Bishops on a typical wet winters’ Saturday, he was found with his father’s gumboots on, in the pouring rain and in the dark, digging away in the garden. At school he soon befriended Zeta Bey, the wife of the House Director, Basil Bey, and before long he took over the running of the School House gardens. Others such as Mrs Vivienne Mallett also spotted his keen interest in the gardens and soon he was roped into managing the rose garden that used to be at the Brooke Chapel (named after his great-great-grandfather Richard Brooke, the Principal from 1888 to 1902, and the first of the Principals to take up residence in the Principal's house).

His grandmother, Phillida (nee Brooke), noticed his developing skill, and decided to take him to England in 1994 where they toured many of the gardens including the world-famous and inspiring Kew Gardens.  Graham was sold on the idea of gardening, and applied to the Royal Horticultural Colleges of Sissinghurst and Wisley to follow their horticultural certificate.  Turned down, it did however not deter him.  After completing his Matric in 1995, he applied to Powis Castle in Wales to become a student gardener and was accepted. He met many interesting people while working in the Castle gardens.  One was the local doctor, who employed Graham to attend to his garden over weekends for some pocket money, and another, unbeknown to him, was the Director at Wisley Royal Horticultural College.  At the end of September of 1996, while still at Powis Castle, Graham got a call from the Director of Wisley who offered him a place at Wisley.  He told him how impressed he had been when he had met him at Powis earlier in the year, and that a vacancy had opened and that he was eager to offer it to him.  Graham embraced the opportunity and at the end of the course, he was awarded three of the five awards. He loved his year at Wisley stating that

I learnt more there in the one year, especially in the field of plant identification including South African indigenous plants, than at any future institution. 

Graham returned to the Western Cape at the end of 1997 where he continued to qualify himself as an outstanding horticulturist and landscaper.  His studies included:

  • A three-year Landscape Design and Technology diploma that he passed with distinction at the then Cape Technicon (now the Cape Peninsula University of Technology);
  • A scholarship to an advanced course in Horticulture at Longwood Gardens, Philidelphia in the USA. 

Finding a stable job once back in South Africa was not easy.  He started out working as a landscaper with Golf Landscapes in Paarl and then Knysna.  However, it soon became clear to him that he was not going to be included in the design and the plant selection aspects of the job.  To be able to get involved in all aspects of the landscaping from design to creation, Graham took on extra jobs in the evening and over weekends.  Impressed with the work he was doing, he was approached to design and construct a garden, House Mc Adam, overlooking Lookout Beach in Plettenberg Bay.  This was a large project and meant that he had to resign from his day job to take it on.  This was the start of his little business (Graham and two workers) called GvH Landscapes, taking on their own contracts.  This was at the beginning of  2006. 

Graham was fortunate to have his family support him all the way.  Graham’s father, Richard von Hoesslin (1964S) became a co-Director of the company and took on the management of the Administration including finances and the company’s strategic approach.  Richard had a solid background in agriculture (BSc-Honours, Stellenbosch University and MBA from UCT)  and was accustomed to managing large corporate farming groups and so proved to be a perfect fit for the new business. Soon it became necessary to take on additional staff, purchase specialised equipment and negotiate finance with the bank.  Sixteen years on there are two Directors, Richard and Graham, two senior managers, a bookkeeper, two managers, five supervisors and 40 in-house staff members. The business has expanded to include Landscaping and Maintenance divisions, installed irrigation and also developed an in-house plant nursery following the family purchase of a small farm in Harkerville near Plettenberg Bay. The farm is run and owned by all the brothers including David (1992S) and Neil (1998S) and dad, Richard.

As they grew in size and confidence, every year projects were submitted to SALI for award consideration. SALI, the South African Landscapers Institute, holds its annual prestigious awards in June during the SAGIC (SA Greening Industries Council) convention and this year turned out to be very special.  In the words of Richard, this is what happened:  

 An inkling of what lay ahead was presented at the certificate awards.  In the category Certificates GvH Landscapes was in for a Silver, two Golds and a Double Gold. It was the Judge’s comment regarding the garden at House Keller receiving the Double Gold "that this garden is what Landscaping is all about" that got us guessing. And it was then Trophy time. Here we believed we could win “The Best Use of Colour in the Landscape” for the sixth time having heard the judge comment “WOW” on seeing the garden in full bloom while judging. We were correct; but were not ready for what followed. It seemed that every twenty minutes between all the announcements the name GvH Landscapes would be heard; The Best Waterwise Garden and the Best Landscape Construction with In-House Design were ours. As the pudding was being served a drumming was heard which got louder and louder. Finally, after being requested to be silent, the Chairman of SALI National came to the podium to announce the Overall Landscape winner. We could not believe our ears, “GvH Landscapes is the 2022 winner for House Keller!!!”. The SALI secretary then came up to me and shouted ‘Oom dit is Julle. Jy moet op gaan om die SHIELD te ontvang!’ The penny dropped; we were the best Landscaping business in South Africa for 2022.  ... And all along Graham was in bed with COVID waiting for news from the Gala Dinner in KZN, something he had dreamt of for the past sixteen years!  

GvH Landscapes, was presented with the overall shield for “The Highest Award of Excellence for Outstanding Landscaping”, making it the best Landscaping business in South Africa for 2022. 

In an article in Weekend Argus of June 23 2022 headed ‘Cape wins top landscaping awards’, Kate Montgomery described Graham von Hoesslin as follows:

“the king of domestic garden designs and installations in the Western Cape”

With thanks and congratulations to Richard von Hoesslin who provided the details for this article


To view some pictures of the winning garden CLICK HERE.


The von Hoesslin-Brooke connection and broader family:

Richard Brooke (Principal 1888 to 1902) after whom the Brooke Chapel was called and who is accepted as officially getting the OD Union off the ground, had four sons and two daughters.

  • His eldest son Frank (OD) had a son Peter (OD) whose son Frank (OD) was murdered before having children.
  • His second son, John, was Phillida nee Brooke’s father. The north wing of Founders House is called after him.  John also played for Western Province in the first Currie Cup game (vs Griquas).
  • Richard Brooke had a third son, Cyprian, after which the Brooke House at the Prep is called.
  • Phillida nee Brooke was the the grandaughter of Richard Brooke.  She is mother to  Richard (1964S) and Roland (1966G) von Hoesslin.

Richard von Hoesslin’s sons are:

  • David (1992S) who played Springbok rugby;
  • Graham (1995S) listed in the article; and
  • Neil (1998S) von Hoesslin who with the family,  purchased a small farm in Harkerville on the N2 near Plettenberg Bay in 2008 and developed an in-house plant nursery.

Roland von Hoesslin’s son is  Andrew (1996G).All those attending Bishops except for Graham played top level rugby for the school, all being very good athletes across the sport spectrum.


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