Hidden Gem: A Charming Joburg Garden
This Joburg garden is a rare oasis that's bursting with hidden charms, combining old-world formality with a rambling suburban forest.
From the road, Mary Jane Darroll’s Craighall Park house looks much like any other of its era. A neat 1940s bungalow, it’s part of a Johannesburg suburb that, just a century ago, was a series of farms.
It’s only when you walk through the door and out to the patio on the opposite side that something astonishing appears. We’re talking a towering, wall-to-wall verdancy, stretching over half an acre.
Shielded on all sides, there’s not a single impediment to the view. It’s a peaceful green marvel free of power lines and fences.
‘My mother was a great gardener,’ says Darroll, who is a fine art specialist. ‘We lived in Bryanston, and the garden was her absolute passion. When I saw this house on the market three years ago, I just knew that I would buy it. They say you shouldn’t buy a property for the garden alone, but I did, and it was definitely the right decision.’
The previous owner had established the garden, transforming the unkempt slope into an expansive terrace before undertaking all the planting.
A gravelled path leads from the patio through a formal rose garden, with buxus hedging containing blooms ranging in hue from delicate pinks to rich, deep golds.
‘The garden is about 15 years old now, and it represents an extraordinary amount of love, time and investment,’ says Darroll. ‘My predecessor, Pam Sylvester-Curr, gave me a list of all the different roses she planted. There are countless classics, like Roberto Capuccis, Claire Austins, Crimson Glories and Germiston Golds – each bed planted with roses of a specific hue. I’ve become the new guardian, and it’s a remarkable thing to come home to this spectacle each day.’
Boasting an enticing, symmetrical layout, the garden draws you right in, presenting crisp paths just wide enough for a bit of unhurried meandering.
On the east-west axis are two viewing seats, each topped by an arbour and backed by dense green hedges.
‘The first flush of roses appears in mid-October, with a second flowering in March,’ says Darroll. ‘Each year revolves around this cycle, and in June, we spend at least three full days pruning.’
Roses aside, fragrance abounds in star jasmine and murraya, gardenia and wisteria.
‘The first year was a real joy because plants kept popping up unexpectedly. Out of the blue, I’d find irises or Tiger and Inca lilies. There are some gorgeous hellebore too,’ Darroll adds.
The sense of peace here is tangible. Ambling around the orderly beds, you’re constantly drawn back to the towering green canopy beyond. ‘It reminds me of the very mannered Italian gardens that merge into the bosco – a wilder forest-type garden,’ says Darroll.
At the far end of the rose garden is a visual pause, a shady escape marked by an arbour that’s predominantly green and white. Acanthus-lined paths amble past a picturesque shed before dropping down to a stream below.
‘My son Nicholas and I love to spend time here,’ Darroll says. ‘It’s far more natural and rambling, and there’s such a sense of being in the heart of nature.’
With its varied vegetation, the garden has become a magnet for birds. ‘In summer especially, the birdsong is incredible,’ says Darroll. ‘Sometimes you can’t hear yourself think!’
Grey turacos, southern masked weavers, hoopoes and barbets are regular visitors, and recently, a long-crested eagle made a welcome appearance.
‘There is definitely a micro-climate here,’ she adds. ‘We keep the large trees trimmed to allow sufficient light in, but it’s incredibly lush – it almost feels like certain parts of KwaZulu-Natal. Although the winter frosts can be severe, there’s a year-round beauty to this garden. I have to believe that this greening has some positive effect on local weather patterns.’