A Garden for the Next Generation
This terraced garden in Johannesburg is steeped in history yet continues to evolve alongside its young owners.
There’s something almost absurdly lovely about a stone house standing sentinel over a long-established garden. Shaded by a vast pin oak, this beautifully proportioned 1906 home is serenely inviting. The property lies in the lee of another head-turner – the renowned Northwards mansion, perched high on the ridge behind it. With its string of heritage-listed houses, this street has long been sought after for its breathtaking gardens and heady views: the urban forest that is Joburg unfurls towards the Magaliesberg, skimming over the Johannesburg Zoo and the hills of Westcliff.
The present owners have lived here for five years – a busy young family that continues to place its stamp on the garden. Like all properties with a history, it’s undergone a series of transitions, evolving from a state of rambling, genteel chaos to a rose-centric spectacle under the guardianship of landscaper Elizabeth Steyn.
The current owner envisaged an ‘edible farm’ – integrating herbs, fruit and vegetables with the established trees and plants. Underpinning it all is Steyn’s design, in collaboration with the architectural team, that takes the form of a series of stone terraces descending to an orchard below.
‘One of the most significant aspects of this garden is the view,’ says Steyn. ‘On top of that, the borehole and the Highveld climate meant that we could plant pretty much what we chose.’ While the koppie behind the house boasted some well-established white stinkwoods, tall trees were needed to screen off the boundary. ‘It’s a very difficult site to access, so we had to crane in a series of established trees, including an Australian flame, which is spectacular in early summer,’ she says. Prunus, cherry and crab apple trees announce the onset of spring, ensuring six weeks of continuous blossom.
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With its gently curving tiers, numerous stone staircases and an expansive pond, this is a garden that invites you to linger. For relaxed sundowners, a west-facing gazebo overlooks the evergreen tree-top views. Between here and the house is a formal herb garden, a gravelled French-style interlude that Steyn designed for the previous occupants. ‘This has become one of my main focus points in the garden,’ says the owner, who works as a homeopath. ‘I wanted to grow a variety of edible and medicinal plants, and on the practical side, it’s very close to the kitchen.’
In line with this ethos, the owner took a decision to garden organically. ‘We make our own compost and haven’t touched pesticides or chemical fertilisers since we moved in,’ they say. As if proving the point, it all looks extraordinarily healthy – glossy spinach leaves offset grey-green artichokes; cauliflower and broccoli thrive in abundance; blackberries and raspberries provide natural sweetness.
Aside from their very real health benefits, the veggies have high visual impact, too. ‘The artichoke shapes remind me of proteas, and we combined purple cabbages with lavender for intense colour,’ says the owner. ‘There are citrus, fig, almond and apple trees in the orchard, which is a real drawcard for birds and insects.’ Before next summer, plans are afoot to trail grapes and granadilla vines over the arches, interspersing them with climbing roses. ‘It’s an ongoing, long-term project and a wonderful challenge,’ the owner adds.
As for the rest of the garden, it retains much of its seasonal palette. On the front wall, a century-old wisteria is a fragrant lilac marvel in spring. Petrea and pastel pink blossoms are etched against a cobalt sky. ‘It’s beautiful year-round,’ says the owner, ‘a real sanctuary in Johannesburg and a big part of our healthy way of living.’
The Owner's Top 5 Tips for Healthy Planting in Your Garden
• Brassicas have wonderful health benefits. Try cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, pak choi and kale.
• Add vibrant colour by planting red-stalked spinach and sorrel next to beds of leafy greens.
• Plant water-wise aloe vera in pots. The pulp is a great addition to juices and smoothies.
• Add comfrey leaves to pots and beds that are watered regularly. It’s an excellent compost activator and enriches the soil.
• Spekboom is a great air purifier and makes attractive, hardy hedges too.