Text Gill Cullinan Production Marié Esterhuyse Garden Editor René Slee Photographs Kosie Janse van Rensburg The road to Greyton passes through the golden wheat fields of the Overberg, where newborn lambs skip among flocks of sheep, cows graze contentedly and tiny scarlet red bishop birds flit along farm fences. It was in the pretty little village itself, with its oak-lined treets, that Elaine and Alistair Davidson started building a house in 2003. It’s hard to believe now, looking at the profusion of flowers in the garden, that the 1 600m2 plot was completely bare when they started. ‘Except for two oak trees at the front,’ says Elaine, ‘we had to start the garden from scratch.’ The Victorian-style house that the couple built has a deep veranda overlooking the garden and its spectacular mountain backdrop. ‘The wonderful view of Sonderend mountain was a crucial element in the design of the garden,’ says Elaine, ‘and we were careful not to plant any tall trees that would block it.’ Elaine has designed a number of gardens in the past, so she wasn’t daunted by the task. ‘I’ve always had a consuming passion for gardening, and my husband has always complemented my design by building walls and arches in the many gardens we have jointly created. Before coming to Greyton we spent two-and-a-half years creating a four-hectare garden around a country lodge in the North West on a piece of land carved out of virgin bush. Prior to that I laid out a suburban garden in Rivonia, having come from a five-hectare property in Hillcrest. We’ve also had gardens in Tokai, Bryanston and East London, and we started out on a farm in the Eastern Cape, so we’ve experienced a wide range of climates, soil types, fertility levels and challenges. Each plot of land was different but they all had a formal park-like quality and an element of the informal English cottage garden that I find so compelling.’ Having decided that she wanted a cottage-style garden in Greyton, Elaine planned the garden on graph paper, which is her usual approach. ‘I aligned three Monet arches, which lead to a pond in the east end of the garden, and then set about designing the basic skeletal layout of borders, rose beds, vegetable garden and so on using pegs to delineate each area into its respective compartment.’ Both Elaine and Alistair grew up on farms, so they enjoy the rural surroundings and small village community. ‘It’s such a pity you’ve missed the best of the crab-apple blossom,’ she says. ‘It was absolutely gorgeous.’ The entire garden is bursting with spring energy – the honeysuckle bush (which Elaine grew from a slip brought from the Eastern Cape) is about to flower, the rose bushes are heavy with blooms and huge self-seeded poppies grow up amongst lavender, ixias, geraniums, shrubs of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, delicate aquilegias and verbena. The main rose garden is pale pink, while other rose bushes are grouped according to colour in the rest of the beds. Elaine has positioned shrubs, perennials and groundcovers around the roses in order to compose a balanced picture, and the shrubs are repeated to lend continuity. ‘The soil here is very sandy,’ says Elaine, ‘which makes digging easier, but I do need to mulch it constantly. Alistair built an irrigation system and we get lei water once a week, which has helped a lot as we have recently been through a severe drought.’ A lawn pathway leads to a gate into the vegetable garden, where Elaine grows broad beans, leeks, celery, lettuce, courgettes, beetroot, cabbages and cucumbers. She even has some potatoes growing in a sack. ‘A friend gave me the tubers and the theory is that eventually I will have a full sack of potatoes,’ she laughs. There are strawberries, loganberries and raspberries, as well as pyramids of sweet peas. Leaving the vegetable garden you pass kumquat trees dripping with their orange fruit. ‘My grandchildren love picking these, and they make a wonderful preserve with cheese, especially if you add a touch of brandy,’ says Elaine. ‘They grow particularly well in these tubs.’ We wander into the neat, well-organised greenhouse, where Elaine spends a lot of time propagating plants. It’s also filled with everything from cress, dwarf spinach and coriander to pots of St Joseph lilies gearing up to flower. ‘I keep the lilies in here in order to protect them from the moles,’ says Elaine. Elaine and Alistair have travelled extensively, visiting many famous gardens around the world for inspiration. ‘You are never bored in a garden,’ says Elaine. ‘There’s always something to do. My inspiration comes from a zest for living and the challenge to create something beautiful.’ And with this garden she has done just that.
Alain's Notes On Creating a Cottage Garden:
- Design the layout on graph paper. Make the pathways wide enough for two people to walk side by side.
- Three-quarters of the garden should be evergreen shrubs, so that it looks good in winter.
- Use different-coloured foliage, from golden to deep red and green.
- Plant as many permanent plants as possible, like agapanthus and irises.
- Let things go to seed and allow the wind to scatter them.
- Group the roses in similar colours, but the little annuals can be mixed.
- Mulch throughout the year, except in spring.
- During the growing season keep mulch around each rose bush. They must also get a lot of water, but they don’t like wet feet.