Secret Garden: 6 Outdoor Chill Zones to Enjoy
A chill zone is not merely a tool for instant garden cool – it’s a daily lifestyle enhancer that draws you out of the house and into your private open airspace more often. Whether a courtyard, a themed nook, a shaded eating area or an outdoor room, ‘the same design sensibilities apply as to indoor spaces – with a few extras’ that take weather into account, says interior designer André Kleynhans. Start by thinking about how and when the space will be used, and who will use it, he advises, adding that bigger is better in smaller spaces.
‘Fewer neutral pieces are preferable to a clutter of smaller items.’ Landscape designer Angela Langley agrees. ‘Don’t be tempted to fill a small space with more features than there’s space for. Include only one medium-size focal point.’ When choosing plants bear in mind how big they’ll get. Alternatively, interior designer Liam Mooney recommends trickery: mirrors behind foliage, for example, can make a space seem more extensive.
1. The Outdoor Room
Here, a pair of matching glass doors connects the interior space with a serene private courtyard. ‘When the inside flows seamlessly outside, spaces seem bigger and more considered,’ notes Liam. Keep the choice of colours very simple, Angela says, and introduce trees and plants with fine foliage for softness. ‘Here the eye is drawn from the one entrance to the other by the curving grey gravel pathway and carefully placed beds of plants.’
What to plant
Trees Caesalpinia ferrea (leopard tree) Betula pendula (silver birch) Salix caprea (pussy willow)
Adiantum capillus-veneris (black maidenhair fern) Asparagus densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’ (emerald fern) Aspidistra elatior (cast-iron plant) Diospyros whyteana (bladdernut) Drimiopsis maculata (little white soldiers) Ophiopogon japonicus (dwarf lilyturf) Lomandra longifolia ‘Tanika’ (Tanika basket grass) Microlepia speluncae (limpleaf fern) Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’ (spurflower) and Plectranthus strigosus (dwarf spurflower) for shade Pteris cretica (Cretan brake fern) Viola odorata (sweet violet)
2. Space to Hang
An intimate zone can be magicked from a sliver of space. Use stone and wood, low-maintenance plants – and the key feature: a hammock. ‘Muted colours and a limited variety of materials create a restful feeling,’ says landscaper Gordon Stuart.
What to plant
Bamboo and wisteria (seen above) should be planted where they can be controlled as they can be invasive. On a palisade fence consider using a hardy evergreen such as Trachelospermum jasminoides (star jasmine) instead.
Heteropyxis natalensis (lavender tree) Dombeya rotundifolia (wild pear) Halleria lucida (tree fuchsia)
Plants for pots (full sun)
Portulacaria afra ‘Nana’ (dwarf spekboom) Euphorbia tirucalli (pencil plant) Strelitzia juncea (crane flower) Limonium perezii (Statice)
Plants for pots (shade)
Scadoxus puniceus (paintbrush lily) Veltheimia bracteata (forest lily) Haemanthus albiflos (paintbrush)
3. Rustic Chic
‘Warm minimalism’ sets the tone in this zone designed for casual country-feel gatherings. Liam advises juxtaposing forms and textures for interest and depth. Add a striking object or two, and soft lighting – such as the fairy lights and tea lights in suspended jam jars here – for a flare of whimsy.
Greenery to use
Vitis vinifera (common grape vine) is a hardy, deciduous climber. As Angela advises, be sure to keep the vines well watered during dry weather, especially in regions that experience summer rainfall. An alternative creeper is the fast-growing perennial Passiflora edulis (purple granadilla), which can be grown in frost-free, temperate and subtropical climates. It should be thinned and cut back in winter.
4. Zen Effect
A gravel garden brings an air of Zen to the smallest spaces – and it’s low-maintenance and water-wise to boot. Just keep it simple: ‘Don’t try to cram too much variety into a small space or it’ll look cluttered and bitty,’ says Gordon. Use a paint effect, such as the rusted-wall look, to inject colour, cohesion and interest.
What to plant
Acer (maple) pairs perfectly with Anigozanthos ‘Yellow Gem’ (red-yellow kangaroo paw) – a drought-resistant Australian plant – and the purple Graptopetalum, which is also exotic but hardy and waterwise.
Dierama pendulum (fairybells) Cotyledon orbiculata (pig’s ear) Kalanchoe thyrsiflora (desert cabbage) Aristida junciformis (ngongoni three-awn) Watsonia
5. Pop Art
Basic brick paving and a neutral wall make an ideal backdrop for a statement screen (above). Use a vertical planter with design cred, add contemporary furniture and accessories, and cut the sunshine with a fine-leafed plant.
What to plant
Phyllostachys nigra (black bamboo) isn’t as aggressively invasive as other species of bamboo. Even so, you’ll want to make sure you control its growth by planting it in a planter or a large container in a dedicated area, Angela says. Plants for the screen Asparagus densiflorus ‘Meyersii’(foxtail fern) Asparagus densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’ (asparagus fern) Thunbergia alata (black-eyed Susan) Clematis brachiata (traveller’s joy) Jasminum multipartitum (starry wild jasmine) Rhoicissus digitata (baboon grape vine –produces edible fruit) Senecio macroglossus (Natal ivy) Gasteria brachyphylla (Klein Karoo ox-tongue) Sansevieria trifasciata (mother-in-law’s tongue) Sedums (stonecrops) Plant for the table Euphorbia (spurge)
6. Jungle Book
Amp up the retro appeal of slasto (slate) by using it in a bright, jungly corner for coffee and conversation. An unplastered wall painted contemporary grey, with wood extensions for privacy and texture, anchor the zone. A platform makes a distinct ‘room’ of the space. ‘For this look it’s important to pull back and choose only a few strong pieces,’ says Liam.
What to plant
Blechnum tabulare (mountain blechnum) Platycerium alcicorne (staghorn fern) Aspidistra elatior (cast-iron plant) Bromeliaceae (bromeliad) Hosta (plantain lily) Nandina domestica (heavenly bamboo) Fuschia Ground cover Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ (golden creeping Jenny) Mentha pulegium (pennyroyal) Pot plant Chasmanthe (cobra lily)