John Richardson Gardens   Garden Design and Construction

Al te Bly, [always happy]

 “We have lived here for thirty years”, says Nicolette Slabber of her 1900, Cape Dutch style house on the outskirts of Wellington, “and although we’ve developed the gardens ourselves over the past 25 years, we wanted to work with a landscaper for the major change to the front. We wanted the element of water and lots of indigenous plants but above all we really wanted the structure that a professional design could bring.”

So, in 2010, Nicolette and her husband, Arnold, appointed landscape designer Danie Steenkamp, of DDS Projects to design and implement the one-hectare garden on the south side of their three-hectare smallholding.

“I am quite influenced by the strong and simple vernacular of the typical Cape farmstead as well as the idea of re-using materials that are already on site,” says Danie, “so I was very happy to do something quite formal and indigenous, whilst still allowing space for fruit, vegetables and a composting area.”

The structure was created by using strong, long axes which effectively divided the garden into three smaller and functionally distinctive spaces – or ‘garden rooms’, as Danie describes them.

“The primary room “explains Danie “is directly in front the house veranda and is designed to compliment and add to the beauty of the house. The big pond reflects the beautiful facade and provides a calm space from where the garden and significant views can be appreciated.”

Here, he terraced the gently sloping ground by introducing a small level change, as well as raising both the pond wall and adjacent planting beds by about 400mm. This effectively brings the water and plants closer to eye level and accentuates the lines of the design. In the centre of the pond a marble tray gently overflows, lending movement and soothing sound to the space.

The planting in this area varies between the formally clipped Salt bush (Rhagoda histata) on the lower terrace, to the more relaxed and diverse spread of flowering shrubs and trees in the raised beds.  Here one finds a range of planting including: the fever tree (Acacia xanthophloea), White Stinkwood trees (Celtis africana), Plectranthus (Plectranthus ciliatus), Large Wild Iris (Dietes grandiflora), Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae), sedges, (Juncus krausii ) and Wild dagga (Leonotis leonurusus) and many others. All of which provide the ample perch necessary for a kind of avian flash-mob  that happens every evening, as a great number of birds arrive at the same time to bathe and drink in the previously tranquil water of the pond,  before roosting for the evening.

Even with the terracing, the lower boundary wall of the property still collects significant amounts of surface water (due to a clay layer). Here generous planting of water-loving  restios, Cape Honeysuckle ( Tecomaria capensis), Red Hot Pokers (Kniphofia praecox),  Arum Lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) and others , not only soaks up much of the excess runoff but also provides a corridor of shelter for small mammals to move within .

Besides the requirement for structure and water, Nicolette and Arnold wanted a fig orchard and an olive grove. This orchard area came to constitute the  second garden ‘room ‘ in Danie’s design and is demarcated by a loose hedge of Wild Elder (Nuxia floribunda) and a single row of mature guava trees, which were salvaged from their former  random scattering across the site and replanted  as a formal divide between the figs and olives.

Amusingly, Danie’s confidence regarding the transplanting of the old guavas was not shared by some of the local farmers, whose regular chorus of “it’s not going to work....” over the garden wall was stoically endured and boldly ignored by this landscaper. And rightly so, because two years later all the trees are as strong and productive as they were the day before they were moved. And that wall of dissent has long disappeared in the foliage.

 Also in the orchard are a long timber pergola and row of rustic obelisks, both of which support an assortment of roses. Handpicked by Nicolette herself, these vigorous plants bring vibrant colour and lovely fragrance to this part of the garden. Not least the climbing rose, Nahema ‘Ou pienk’, which hangs on the pergola at the orchard’s entrance and brings many a visitor to a standstill with its wonderful perfume.

The third ‘room’ in Danie’s plan is the semi-formal herb and vegetable garden which is constructed by re-using old railway sleepers that were found on site. Here profusions of basil, artichokes, pomegranate and rosemary provide ready fare for the dinner table, if not just reward for a journey to the end of the pergolas path.

Walking around the garden, as we did on this bright autumn morning, the overriding impression is of a much more established space than anticipated. The integration of this brand new garden with its 110 year-old house is flawless. And although the trees are obviously only a few years old the garden has a distinct sense of place that belies its age. Testimony, I think to the landscaper’s judicious application of time-honoured design principles, as well as Nicolette’s discerning selection of garden ornamentation. Her choice of pots, urns, troughs and sculpture, sourced both near and far, lend not only emphasis and accent to Danie’s design but also add plenty of her personal charm and generous spirit to this wonderful garden.

Designed and installed by:             DDS Projects

Irrigation by:                                     Emiel Krause

Sculpture                                           Artist: Marieke Prinsloo-Rowe    Title : Inheems: van hier 

Urn, marble tray, trough:              Private Collections

Posted: 10/25/2013 (10:25:38 AM)

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