Text Graham Wood Photographs Elsa Young
William Kentridge’s garden sprawls over 0.8ha on Houghton Ridge around the home where he grew up. It’s on a steep, rocky slope, stretching from street level to the highest point on the ridge, with views north over Johannesburg. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the Magaliesberg mountains. Because of its size and challenging setting, landscaper Jane Henderson – who began working on the garden three years ago when William wanted it prepared for a family wedding – has divided it into a number of different ‘rooms’, as she calls them. ‘There are many different compartments designed to hold your interest,’ she says. ‘The garden is a collection of different styles.’ From the formal English cottage garden that surrounds the house, a network of stone paths and stairs leads up a rocky koppie through a wild, forested area which is planted mostly with indigenous species, and back down through a ‘dry’ garden with aloes and succulents. Below the house and beyond the cottage garden, the driveway descends steeply, below William’s studio to a meadow-like area at street level.
‘Because of the large area, I’ve gone for mass planting,’ says Jane. ‘Repetition is important in a garden this size. It helps to keep the eye moving along the garden and, I feel, creates a sense of harmony.’ Green predominates and she has favoured perennials, which are attractive throughout the year, provide seasonal variation and ‘lend permanence and stability’. ‘There are no mass plantings of colour,’ she explains. ‘Colours are transient and always changing. Form and composition are more important.’ Which is not to say there isn’t colour. ‘I have used varying colours of foliage – yellow, grey, shades of green and bronze. A combination that I think works well together is burgundy and gold,’ says Jane. ‘You will notice the wine-coloured phormium interspersed with bright gold lamium.’ Jane points out that autumn is particularly beautiful because of the colours of the fallen leaves. ‘Fortunately, William and I agree that the leaves should be left on the lawn – after all, that is what autumn is about,’ she says.
The rocky koppie above the house was completely wild until Jane intervened. She aimed to retain its character: ‘The beauty of the natural rock formations speaks for itself,’ she says. She chose ground covers and low-growing plants for the forested slope so they wouldn’t obscure the rocks. She also planted indigenous trees. The sculptural trunks of canthiums create vertical lines that complement the rocks and agaves. On the other side of the koppie, a dry garden is dominated by indigenous aloes, gazania, osteospermums, arctotis,
bulbina, grass aloe and other succulents. ‘We even have a few leucodendrons and proteas – not easy to grow in Joburg,’ says Jane. At the top of the ridge, there’s an abundance of columnar cactuses. Her impulse was to remove them, but William likes their silhouette against the sky at night. The cottage garden immediately surrounding the house features topiaries, roses and perennials, with herbaceous borders.
‘There is a substratum of rock, which makes growing roses a challenge,’ admits Jane, but the fragrant roses are one of the Kentridges’ favourite elements of the garden. Two of William’s spiky cats in steel stalk the top of the gate at the bottom of the garden, where visitors enter into an abundant meadow. The variety and richness of this garden are fundamental to its beauty, but Jane believes that the fact that it’s a ‘well-loved garden, not a showpiece’ is key to the joy it brings. ‘This garden is a true extension of the home, a place that is lived in, where soccer balls are kicked around, work and entertaining are done, and dogs have free rein,’ she says.
This article was originally featured in the April 2012 issue of House and Leisure.