Cruising up the tree-lined driveway, past the former stables and central stone fountain, it’s easy to imagine that you’ve stepped into another era. Built in the Herbert Baker style in the early 1900s, this home in Houghton, Johannesburg, was named Iona after the original owner’s Scottish island roots. ‘Victorian style enjoyed a strong revival in the late 1990s when we bought this property,’ says current owner Cindy Came. ‘The garden was in a pretty sad state but everything English was in vogue and we wanted to create something that was faithful to the turn-of-the-century style of the house.’
Cindy approached landscaper and longtime friend Rose Bulterman of Rosemary Shave Gardens to tackle the project, and together they decided on the plantings and palette that would enhance the south-facing front entrance.
‘The position of the home on the hill as well as the endless views demanded a simplicity of style,’ explains Rose, ‘yet we wanted a variety of plants that characterised this period in Joburg’s history.’ First on the list was to tame and cut the unruly hanging ivy and scrambling jasmine carefully as they had taken over whatever had existed previously. Rose then cleared and prepared the beds with much needed compost while a stonemason began work on reinforcing the original stone walls. With its glimpses of the garden cottages, which were once stables, this ‘English’ half of the garden has a rambling, layered charm. ‘We accentuated the existing structure by adding standards, edging plants, banks of perennials and dripping plants, all with the seasons in mind,’ explains Rose. ‘In spring, for instance, white standard azaleas are underplanted with foxgloves, while crimson azaleas, deep blue pansies and white cinerarias add vibrant colour.’
Tall delphiniums, deep blue Petrea and rich red ranunculus provide continuity as summer begins, with crimson dianthus and burgundy geraniums handling the high summer heat. ‘The palette of blues, purples and reds is so appropriate to a period house,’ says Cindy, ‘although I’ve become a lot more “South African” in my thinking since we first planned the garden. Rose and our fantastic gardener Chris Rori handle all the feeding, mulching, spraying and pruning – you definitely fight the elements with this style of garden. As much as we love and appreciate it, I think if we did it all over again I’d probably go indigenous throughout. The north-facing terraced garden is just so much more robust.’
Sloping down from a ribbon of green lawn that overlooks the treed sprawl of Joburg, the northern garden is indeed a polar opposite. When Cindy and her husband Richard first moved here it was a steep bank of unkempt shale, which revealed some interesting finds including an abandoned washing machine and a bicycle.
The transformation of this ‘mountain’ garden began by reconstructing the partially terraced site with gently meandering stone walls.
‘We added a series of rock pools, stairs and look-out areas,’ says Rose, ‘and planted arums, crinums and Clivias in the shady areas. The sunny areas were filled with indigenous plants to enhance the existing indigenous shrubs and trees.
The view from here is quite spectacular and I think it’s one of the most peaceful and inspiring aspects of the garden.’
‘I’m not a fan of overly neat gardens,’ adds Cindy. ‘Much like our house, the garden is relaxed and informal and its dual character has evolved over the years. When our daughters were little they spent hours playing on the rocky slopes, which doubled up as fairy gardens, palaces and sit-down restaurants. It was a wonderful space for them to grow up in and each day that I come home I can’t quite believe we live here.’
For more information, contact Rosemary Shave Gardens on 083-327-3579.
This article was originally featured in the July 2013 issue of House and Leisure.