Landscaped Garden

Text Graham Wood Photographs Connall Oosterbroek Renowned landscaper De Wet Louw’s Pretoria garden is on a steep slope on a narrow, subdivided plot. A nature reserve above it creeps down the gradient adjacent to the house and, beyond the garden, there are sweeping views of the city as the land drops away. When De Wet and his partner, Rikus Delport, built their new house here a few years ago, they designed it carefully around existing trees on the plot so that the house and garden immediately felt well established. The architecture, garden and their surroundings are well integrated. The garden consists mostly of courtyards and passages that interlock with the architecture like a jigsaw puzzle, and its multiple levels are connected by stairs. The garden also links the house with the vast view to the north, borrowing a sense of space from the landscape beyond. A deck extends along the front of the house, leading from the pool on one side past a water feature to a small square lawn where the rusted patina of a Louis Olivier sculpture seems to glow in the light. Below the pool deck, a path runs along the boundary wall and, in the middle, a box-like planted area behind the water feature creates a strong centre where powerful figural sculptures by Ruhan Janse van Vuuren act as focal points. De Wet created the central box form because, he says, ‘in a small space, you need strong geometric shapes’. He has also restricted himself to shades of green, yellow and grey foliage – duranta, viburnum and star jasmine – for the box’s carefully trimmed hedges, creating a strong form and a pleasing rhythm. In time, they will grow to the same level as the deck. Ball-shaped topiaries of buxus introduce a sense of irregularity and dynamism to the straight lines. ‘They will eventually grow into each other for a wavy effect,’ says De Wet. ‘In a small space, I prefer to use repetitions of the same kinds of plants so that the planting doesn’t seem too busy,’ he says. He introduced new indigenous trees, trimming them to keep the foliage high and being careful not to block off lines of sight so that the garden constantly leads the eye, connecting different areas and evoking a sense of depth. ‘The shapes of the bare stems create sculptural focal points and contribute to the illusion of space that you need in a small garden,’ he adds. Along the boundary, De Wet planted a hedge of buddleja, or false olives, which attracts birds and butterflies and, below the pool area, indigenous olives, to hedge off the street. Viewed from the deck and the house, their grey foliage fades into the view beyond, softening the boundary and creating the illusion of continuity and space. ‘Dark leaves, by contrast, would starkly emphasise the boundary and make the garden seem smaller,’ he explains. On the path that runs along the front border at the bottom of the garden, he’s planted golden acorus grasses interspersed with more sculpted buxus. ‘Acorus is such a lively grass – I love it,’ says De Wet, pointing out how it contrasts with the dark olive stems. Tickey creeper makes the retaining wall opposite seem like a soft green box hedge, with the added advantage that it doesn’t take up space and encroach on the path – another useful trick for compact gardening. It’s a beautifully conceived, yet simply designed garden, complementing the architecture in an understated way and supporting the view, while doing the invisible work of connecting areas and creating the illusion of space. Unfussy planting and geometry allow it to be at once subtle and strong. Its genius is in doing so much – with so little. De Wet Louw Design and Landscape, 083-263-1517 This article was originally featured in the March 2012 issue of House and Leisure.