There’s a lot to be said for attaining a sense of mystery in a garden, and this is one of those spaces that both delights and intrigues from the moment you arrive. First impressions of this Bryanston, Johannesburg, garden are of the courtyard area, where an immaculate square lawn, flat and green as a billiard table, invites you into the space. Straight ahead a stone-clad wall rises up from the koi pond, its horizontal striations glistening with water and a tumble of hair-like green grasses. Above it is a second tier, softened by trailing Plectranthus and star jasmine, and cleft by a rocky waterfall. Further still, almost out of sight, a glimpse of a meadow is revealed beneath a shady sylvan glade.
‘What we started out with was an existing derelict garden on a very sloping site,’ explains Tim Steyn of Tim Steyn Landscaping. ‘The northern boundary dropped down steeply towards the house, so we pushed the bank back and created a series of dramatic level changes that culminated in the more formal, geometric courtyard. This lower space is overlooked by the bedrooms and living spaces, and we took our cue from the home’s clean-lined, glass-and-steel architecture.’
Water plays a leading role in the garden, from the koi pond and waterfall that are visible from the house to a series of ponds fed by a stream on the upper terrace. ‘My clients wanted a space that was not only beautiful to look at but provided tranquil areas that they could wander through and explore at leisure,’ he says. Adding to the mystery-tour feel, a gently sloping stone-clad ramp lures you up and around the garden’s perimeter, depositing you in an open space surrounding a dappled woodland clearing.
‘Fortunately there was a series of established, existing trees including Pride of India, Australian flame trees and box elder, which created a wonderful visual barrier,’ says Tim. ‘We wove in the water features among them and added the oval of evergreen lawn to create a meadow effect. This section is mostly shaded, making it difficult to add colour, so we opted for a calming palette of green and white. To keep things interesting we incorporated plenty of variegated and lighter- leafed ground covers, which stand out in darker areas, and added tree ferns and arum lilies to create a foresty feel.’ In the ponds themselves, Tim introduced plants such as water lilies and sedges, adding indigenous tilapia fish to keep the mozzies under control.
In the warmer months this garden is awash in white, with plants such as dwarf agapanthus, Iris wattii and Chlorophytum bowkeri in full bloom. In a burst of seasonal colour, the Tipuana and jacaranda trees leave fleeting carpets of yellow and lilac. ‘It’s very much an evergreen garden,’ says Tim. ‘The trees create a wonderful microclimate so that there’s very little winter browning and the wetland plants hold their form throughout the year. As a cool weather grass the all-seasons meadow is at its greenest in winter.’
Meandering at leisure between the different levels, there’s a constant shifting of view and perspective. Depending on where you stand, you might glimpse the house between the trees, the pleasing symmetry of lawn against gravel or the gleam and babble of running water. ‘I think it’s very tranquil and unexpected,’ says Tim. ‘In the early or late light with those big swathes of green and white there’s a real sense of peace here. It’s a great garden to walk through, full of the unexpected, and those visual surprises are what lure you in.’
This article was originally featured in the June 2013 issue of House and Leisure.