1. The Legacy of Trees
More and more land is being lost to development and we’re experiencing the knock-on effects as trees and their benefits make way for high-density living. Fortunately, a growing awareness is leading to many tree-focused garden designs, where leaves, bark and shade play a starring role.
‘Trees are the backbone of most gardens, and a lot of design work rightly revolves around existing species,’ says landscaper Tim Steyn. ‘Apart from providing shade and cleaning the air we breathe, trees can provide height and scale to a garden like nothing else.’ Taking into account the seasons, site and soil type, you can screen off the neighbours, reduce light pollution, enjoy a variety of coloured foliage, go mad with topiary shapes or create a dramatic alleyway – even in a small garden.
‘A good way to show off a large tree is to plant a single species of groundcover or grass beneath it in a large swathe,’ says Tim. Of course there’s much to be gained from a well thought-out approach to planting. ‘Groups of crab apples create high drama in spring, whereas the peeling bark of leopard trees or silver birches adds a layer of texture to a courtyard area.’ Landscaper Deidre Causton of Inspirations adds that a forest of stinkwoods in a grassy meadow can look spectacular. ‘And Japanese maples work equally well with an under planting of decorative grasses.’
2. In the Pink
It’s always exciting when a new plant makes its debut – especially a hydrangea which is such a familiar backdrop to our South African summers. Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Miss Saori’, with its spectacular double-headed blooms, has put pink firmly back on the map. Winner of the 2014 RHS Chelsea Plant of the Year, it’s the ice cream of hydrangeas – a cheerful mix of rosy edges and delicate, pale centres.
Inspired in part by this international tribute, gardening with pink is enjoying a well-deserved resurgence. ‘We forget that pink is the predominant colour of most summer annuals, especially the shade-loving varieties,’ says PR consultant and specialist plant writer Alice Spenser-Higgs. ‘Think pink and the list of bedding plants alone runs from begonias, dahlias and dianthus, to impatiens and verbena. It’s an incredibly diverse colour that can soften or add drama to a space. Your palette can range from hot and sizzling to subdued and dreamy.’
Alice adds that the delicate pink Gaura ‘Ballerina Rose’ is one of the most popular plants, while shades of pink also predominate in alstroemeria, pelargoniums and hibiscus. ‘If you love flowers it’s hard not to have pink in a summer garden.’
Happily, pink will blend with most colours and adds to a feeling of relaxation. ‘We definitely respond to the soft, feminine and soothing qualities of this colour, and that is what many people want in a garden.’
3. Water Water
Water awareness was beautifully highlighted in English landscaper Hugo Bugg’s award-winning waterscape garden at RHS Chelsea. ‘The garden mimics nature’s way of slowing down water and encouraging infiltration into the ground, while taking pressure off urban drainage systems,’ he explains. ‘The message is that any gardener can manage water consumption through simple techniques that replicate natural processes.’
The garden allows water to flow at different gradients and speeds, while attracting and nurturing biodiversity with the help of grasses, herbaceous perennials and trees. ‘A variety of vegetation has different roles in the garden’s filtration, rain garden and retention pools, with plants intentionally grouped according to the amount of moisture needed to survive.’
‘Natural-looking bodies of water which appear as streams and ponds are becoming increasingly popular in South Africa, adds Tim Steyn. ‘Not only do they provide a haven for birds and fish, they also impart a deep sense of character to an otherwise bland garden. The different moods of the day are reflected on the surfaces of quieter ponds and the sound of a gentle running stream just oozes tranquillity.’
Reticulation-wise, Tim explains that submersible pumps and LED lights will reduce power costs significantly. ‘Frogs and fish will deal with any pesky mosquito larvae’ he adds, ‘and the range of wetland plants on offer has increased significantly. To create a natural look, pay attention to the water’s edge – it must merge seamlessly with the surrounding landscape, so be careful to avoid heavy concrete lips and faux rocks.’
4. Large-Scale Modern Sculpture
As artists and galleries become more accessible, particularly online, appreciating sculpture in an outdoor context is on the rise. ‘Large-scale sculpture takes an inside element outside in a very dramatic way,’ says Tim Steyn ‘and it also brings a highly personal attribute to a garden space. If placed correctly, sculpture can take us into a realm that planting on its own will seldom achieve. It’s often the juxtaposition of the hard materials against the soft textures of vegetation that maximises this effect.’
How we view sculpture remains subjective, yet certain guidelines are worth following if you’re after a specific look. ‘It’s important to give each piece or collection its own room to breathe,’ advises Tim, ‘so avoid having multiple styles of sculpture visible from the same vantage point. Invest in one or two special pieces, rather than trying to clutter with faux concrete or rusted metal.’
Tim adds that sculpture can also take advantage of waterscapes or open sky in ways that indoor art cannot. ‘There are so many applications, whether it’s creating a focal point at the end of a strong axis, providing a moment of whimsy in a formal garden, or adding drama to a garden pond. Much like buying a painting for your home, you should aim for something that speaks to you personally.’ Tim suggests keeping an eye on the works of Angus Taylor, Dave Tomlinson, Deborah Bell, Dylan Lewis and Donald Greig. ‘All produce world-class sculpture that is relevant and accessible.’
5. Container Gardening for Modern City Spaces
‘The challenge with urban gardens is that there’s often very little space for planting,’ says Deidre Causton. This contemporary Joburg home is not only drenched in sun, but has a multi-storey construction on a steeply sloping site. ‘The best solution for north-facing, staggered spaces is to create low-maintenance planting areas that soften and accentuate the architectural lines. First prize is to plan the garden with the home, so that you can incorporate built-in planters, seating and potted areas from the outset.’
Water-wise plants are crucial for this sort of design, as are light, UV-resistant pots that are visually dramatic. ‘Pots such as the polyethylene Elho range from Holland provide the perfect clean lines and bold shapes. And don’t be afraid of scale – we used pots of 1×1.5m in groups of three which looks fantastic.’
To reduce the weight of outsize pots, Deidre fills them with hydroponic clay balls. ‘These weigh very little and fill the bulk of the planting space. We then add drainage material and soil to contain the plants.’
Some of the sun- and wind-resistant plants suited to the Joburg climate include cycads, aloes, conifers, magnolias and firestick euphorbias. ‘Roof gardens are always about the view, but remember that you need some privacy, too. We intentionally chose tall-stemmed wild olives, which will create a pleached effect as they mature – keeping the view open beneath the foliage.’ Inspirations, inspirationsjhb.co.za; Tim Steyn, email@example.com
This article originally appeared in the Jan/Feb 2015 Issue of HL.