Garden, Gardens

Evolving Refuge

Warren Heath


The first thing Duncan and Liz Henderson did after buying an apple farm in the Elgin Valley in 2002, some 70 kilometres from Cape Town, was fence the boundary and plant along it a hedge of scented, pale pink ‘Albertine’ roses. This would serve not only as a security barrier but as a romantic backdrop to their garden, a showcase for many of the English-style plants grown in their on-site nursery, Fairholme Plants.

They set about rebuilding the house and replanting the garden, creating a series of terraces. As Liz explains, ‘the garden belongs to me, Duncs and Mary’: all contribute to its maintenance and design, and their daughter Mary Maurel, an architect turned landscape designer, uses it as a canvas for her ideas.

garden insitu 1 'Ivory Beauty' roses fill the formal rose garden, planned by Mary. Simplicity, Duncan notes, is both visually effective and lower maintenance - especially when it comes to roses.

Though Fairholme’s garden may encompass 10 distinct areas the ‘less is more’ principle is nevertheless evident and the pared down approach is seen from the start: the driveway to the house is flanked by triple-layer borders of lavender, ‘Iceberg’ roses and clipped viburnum hedges. In the formal rose garden a mixture of yellow and white roses was initially planted but many were plagued by mildew, especially ‘Antique Silk’, and Duncan decided to rid this section of any rose requiring a special spray programme, instead filling it with Liz’s beloved creamy roses, the virtually fail-safe Rosa ‘Ivory Beauty’, planted simply in boxed hedges of Myrtus communis, with peach pips scattered beneath them.

There are zones richer in colour too. From the pool terrace, a walkway with 'Iceberg’ roses climbing over a pergola is underplanted with perennials grown in the nursery, including campanulas in many shades, aquilegias, asters, lobelias and pastel-coloured evening primroses. It leads to Duncan’s personal favourite part of the garden, a colour burst of alstroemerias, dianthuses, pelargoniums and salvias.

Fairholme is a working garden from which plants may be dug up when nursery stocks are running low. Yet it’s a place for laid-back family gatherings too, and an idyllic exploration zone for Mary’s children, Thomas, 11, and Matthew, eight.

garden insitu 2 Old flower heads of Stokesia laevis (Stokes' aster), which are found in various plantings of perennials at Fairholme.

The long swimming pool is where the family members unwind on sun loungers and the grandchildren swim or play in the tree house. The stone wall alongside it, the only original garden feature the Hendersons retained apart from the pool, cascades with flowering shrubs in pinks, blues and white. ‘Before we started, [garden designer] Franchesca Watson advised us to plant no more than seven types of plants on the bank above  the swimming pool,’ says Duncan. The Hendersons selected Hebe ‘Wiri Joy’, Cape May (Spiraea cantoniensis ‘Flore Pleno’), Rhaphiolepis x delacourii ‘Krischenia’, Polygala fruticosa ‘Petite Butterfly’ and Teucrium fruticans, as well as clipped balls of white-flowering rock roses (Cistus) placed next to smaller balls of Westringia to provide visual anchors.

‘We’re very interested in ornamental grasses as an extension of perennials,’ says Duncan of the patch of grasses linking the swimming pool to the rest of the garden. Grasses are trending internationally, he notes, and his nursery has seen ‘tremendous sales’ to local landscapers.

garden insitu 3 Colourful perennials, including alstroemerias, regal pelargoniums and salvias, fringe the stepped gravel walkway that winds between old oak trees.

In 2013 Duncan pulled out the over-tall Gaura in the parterre garden, leaving only the hedges. He recalls, ‘Mary said, “You can do so much better than that,” and came out with her assistant Eduard and physically laid out new plants one pouring wet winter morning.’ Mary’s planting gives the effect of a meadow garden filled with wild flowers and grasses, predominantly Aristida junciformis. She included indigenous bulbs, such as tritonia, gladiolus, Dierama, chincherinchee, and late-flowering deciduous agapanthus. ‘It’s colourful in the spring but also magnificent in the autumn when the knee-length grass is in full flower and sways in the wind,’ Duncan says.

Revisit the Hendersons’ idyllic garden in a few months and something else may have been replaced or upgraded. Says Liz, ‘Mary experiments and tries different things. It’s continually being changed.’

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Originally published in our August 2015 issue.