Dylan Lewis’s Stellenbosch Sculpture Garden

PHOTOS Lambro Tsiliyiannis PRODUCTION Sumien Brink WORDS Elna Van Der Merwe

The taming of the wilderness in Dylan Lewis’ sculpture garden belies his wilderness within.

“I was gripped by a madness that has finally quietened down after 10 years.” Dylan Lewis looks out across the 7 hectares he has moulded into an undulating landscape that mirrors the contours of Stellenbosch Mountain towering above it. Dotting the garden are his sculptures of wild animals, shamanic shapes – some half- human, half-animal – and lately nudes too.

All he started out to do was level some ground where his children could play, but something happened when he first set eyes on the huge earthmover he’d hired. “When I saw the potential of what that machine could do, it gripped me. I spent almost two years with earth-moving equipment, these very large machines contouring the landscape, much as I would with the surface of a sculpture, using the same principles but on a much bigger scale. I developed a sign language with the operator and he became an extension of my hand.”

When Dylan had finished moving the earth around to please his sculptor’s eye, he had 7 hectares of bareness. Looking at this strange, wonderful Eden now, it is a surprise to learn that he never intended to make a garden. Equally surprising is his confession that he knows nothing of garden history, gardening or plants.

He called in the help of garden designer Franchesca Watson. She formulated some of the early ideas for planting and implemented the basic plan. Later, she put Dylan in touch with indigenous plant expert Fiona Powrie, a horticulturist at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden for many years. “I would say, I want this kind of volume or this colour, and she would suggest a plant.

“It is not a linear Western garden imposed on the landscape. It is very organic, very natural. It could appear that nothing has changed here, that no work has been done, because it fits in with the natural order.”

Dylan describes the process as intuitive. “The garden seems to have tendencies towards the Japanese. I have always admired their gardens. Aesthetically there’s something that resonates with me – the distillation of nature to its essence, the contrast of textures.”

We pass a brass plate with a poem, The Rising by Ian McCallum, engraved on it. It talks of the reader’s soul one day raging about an unlived life. Surely this man whose creative expression is rewarded with acclaim is not guilty of a wasted life?

“From an emotional point of view it may appear that I live a congruent life,” Dylan says, “but it has not been easy. I grew up in a very conservative fundamentalist environment. I lived that fully until maybe my mid-30s. Holding myself was difficult. The rest of my life to date has been a response to that, an attempt to recapture an authentic life.”

For more information, visit dylanlewis.co.za. Visits to the Sculpture Garden are by appointment.