Kings Walden: Agatha’s Garden Legend | iinfo TZANEEN

The Kings Walden legend began nearly a century ago when a young woman named Elsie “Ess” Margaret Dickson — a feisty city girl who itched to create a beautiful country garden — stood on the overlook in front of this farmhouse on a mountaintop in Agatha and pronounced, “I never want to leave.”  An older man named Billo Tooley, the owner of the house, stood beside her and responded, “Marry me, and you will never have to.” 
Billo got the wife he’d always dreamed of. Ess got the garden she’d always dreamed of. And Kings Walden Garden Manor was born. 
Generations passed and the occupants of Kings Walden experienced more than their fair share of joy, triumph, and tragedy. On the day Ess died, in 1987, the massive blue gum tree overlooking the valley was struck by lightning and died. Thirty-two years later it still stands, stark white, guarding over the mountaintop farmhouse and garden.  
Today Kings Walden has become a quaint yet luxurious hotel. Ess’ granddaughter, acclaimed South African writer Bridget Hilton-Barber, has taken over management of Kings Walden and is usually on hand to tell the story of her family and their remarkable home.
Kings Walden is a magical place to spend the weekend. Everything is perfect — from the beautifully appointed guest suites (complete with massive baths and showers, fireplaces, and packed bookcases), to the lush gardens, and especially to the spectacular view, overlooking verdant farmland with the stark white tree in the foreground. 
The food at Kings Walden is particularly fresh and decadent. Breakfast, served on the terrace in good weather, consists of two courses and a selection of freshly baked bread and cinnamon rolls. Dinner is three delectable courses — it’s best to skip lunch to allow ample space for this meal.
Kings Walden is watched over by a friendly gaggle of geese, who can be found swimming in the pond beside the house at sunrise, and several troops of vervet monkeys. The garden is dotted with lion statues, beloved by Ess and her daughter Tana, as well as two ample-breasted sphinx statues. Guests are instructed to rub the sphinxes’ nipples for good luck. 
While Kings Walden feels eons away from the rest of the world, it is actually a very convenient location for exploring the Tzaneen/Magoebaskloof area — close to hiking, zip-lining, fishing, and quaint dining and shopping options in Tzaneen and Haenertsburg. But the best way to pass the time at Kings Walden is actually to stay put — having tea beneath the stark white tree, reading a book by the fire in the lounge, or resting on one of the garden’s stone benches, watching the birds and the geese and the monkeys.
For more on the story of Kings Walden read Bridget’s memoir, Garden of My Ancestors, available for sale at Kings Walden and on web sites like and Amazon.
Kings Walden Garden Manor is on Old Coach Road in Agatha, about 20 minutes south of Tzaneen. The hotel can be difficult to find using Google Maps so call Kings Walden for directions and use GPS coordinates: -23.919903, 30.153296. For more information, call 015-307-3262 or email
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