‘Grassland gardens aren’t only functional but really lend themselves to contemporary architecture and organic interior elements,’ says Joburg landscaper Tim Steyn. ‘What we’re seeing is a deconstructed veld look in which selected heroes of the grasslands are being used on a grand scale. Of course the key benefit is how water wise these gardens are. You’ll need water to get the grasses rooted but once they’re established your irrigation will be minimal.’
British landscaper Marcus Barnett has perfected this look, consciously combining mown areas with wild prairie planting. ‘The apparent disorder of a naturalistic garden is appealing because there’s a sense that nature is dictating the design and colour palette,’ he says. ‘Done skilfully, that can be very seductive.’
South Africa has an endless variety of indigenous plants – not only grasses but shrubs and bulbs too. ‘These are all beautifully suited to grassland style gardens – a look that Piet Oudolf has perfected in projects such as the High Line in New York,’ adds Tim. He cautions, though, that the optimal meadow effect can be very seasonal as our grasses reach their flowering prime in late summer and autumn.
‘If you’re a “plant and forget” gardener you’ll have a fantastic display once a year but if you’re prepared to do some work – adding in summer bulbs such as Eucomis or winter plants such as aloes – you’ll have interest for much of the year.’
As our veld grasses naturally collapse in winter Tim suggests including evergreen options such as Cape restios to achieve a deep, rich green. ‘Aristida junciformis will hold its shape well and works brilliantly when repeated in drifts over a large scale,’ he says. For high impact in smaller gardens he recommends creating rooms by framing grassland areas with evergreen hedges or lawn paths.
Draw inspiration for your own garden from the images below:
Main image: Garden design by Marcus Barnett