Saxonwold garden

Text Graham Wood Photographs Elsa Young Mariette and Peter Theron’s Saxonwold garden is a wonderful example of what Mariette terms ‘loose structure’. It manages at once to seem spontaneous, whimsical – even a little wild – and at the same time to be curiously harmonious. The couple created the garden from scratch with help and advice from renowned landscaper Tim Conradie and their gardener Dominic Maphosa after they renovated their house a few years ago. A balance, it seems, has been struck in the tension between Peter and Mariette’s approaches. Peter, the son of a horticulturalist and a keen propagator of saplings, loves structure. The box hedges are evidence of his influence, as are the paths. ‘They went down first,’ says Mariette. ‘The whole thing is actually quite geometric.’ Mariette’s planting softens the edges, creating gentle irregularity. The garden was treated as a series of rooms. Each is conceived differently. The meadows in front of the stoep, planted with mondo and meadow grass, are classical in their symmetry and neatly divided by brick-edged gravel paths. They are lined with arum lilies, poppies and Geranium maderense (Madeira cranesbill). ‘I love the candyfloss-pink fuzz on their stems,’ says Mariette of the latter. The paths through this central, open area lead to a box-hedge- lined formal labyrinth at the bottom of the garden. Clivias provide bursts of orange, and more arums reach upwards while purple petria and moonflowers hang overhead, creating a bower for a bench. Around the pool, the planting is all blues and whites. The water captures the reflection of the jacarandas, and irises, delphiniums and lilies cluster at the pool’s edge. Here, Mariette lets on another of her secrets to the harmony of her garden: there are actually very few colours. ‘I stick to blue, pink and their tones,’ she says. She admits that she doesn’t like yellow and is secretly relieved when the orange from the clivias passes. ‘Red and purple are a very strong combination,’ she adds. Mariette sneaks interesting and unusual plants in among the others, which she picks up from Petal Faire Nursery in Pretoria. ‘I love going there because they have such unusual things. They’re like little treasures,’ she says. She also drops small crops of vegetables in among the flowers, showing off their decorative elements. ‘The red and purple lettuce stems are so pretty. The driveway is a riot of purple poppies. ‘They come in waves of different colours at different times of the year,’ says Mariette. ‘The bees love them – they lie in them and wiggle their bodies.’ Beyond that, an Angus Taylor sculpture – a gift from Peter – provides a focal point for a courtyard with a fishpond. This area is characterised by grasses, combinations of red and purple flowers, dierama and Mariette’s beloved gunnera. ‘In Ireland they grow wild, and as tall as people,’ she says. Here, too, the garden goes vertical in a new experiment – she is introducing cymbidiums and aerophytes among the creepers to create a variety of textures and patterns. A dappled passage leads from the veranda down the side of the house to the back and is one of Mariette’s favourite areas. It’s planted with white rhododendrons and fire lilies, hung with bleeding heart and purple and white moonflowers, and delivers you to an entertainment area – with a table under a grapevine and a wall covered in flowering granadilla. Despite their differing characters, each of the garden’s ‘rooms’ seems to complement the others and creates variety and interest throughout. It’s a garden that shouts romantic inspiration, but keeps its disciplined structure hidden so that the whole effect seems effortlessly enchanting. Tim Conradie, The Gardeners, 011-789-7056; Petal Faire Nursery,  This post was originally featured in the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of House and Leisure.