Fourteen years ago, this one-acre garden in Hurlingham, Johannesburg, was pretty much a shambles – an unkempt tangle of pines and gum trees that had suffered decades of benign neglect. ‘The fact that nobody had gardened here was ideal,’ explains the owner. ‘We knew that we could make it our own and put our stamp on it without being influenced by an existing design.’
After demolishing the house, the owners then re-built, envisioning a sizable pool and expansive stretch of lawn as their primary view. A magnificent oak dominates the eastern stretch, with enough space beneath its boughs to seat 40 comfortably for lunch. ‘Despite having to remove around 13 pines, what really drew us to the site were the many beautiful, established trees. Apart from the oaks there are jacarandas, yellow woods and American elms. Not only do they protect us from the city noise, but they’re a haven for birds, and especially for owls.’
The owners added the sunken pond and surrounded it with the Peace rose and white icebergs.
With the trees forming a rambling, verdant backdrop, the owners began the daunting task of planting. Having moved from a two-acre Bryanston property, this was a scaling-down of sorts, yet the amount of vegetation required was staggering. ‘Our previous home was demolished by developers, but on the positive side this meant that we were able to save masses of plants. For three months we drove back and forth along William Nicol Drive with bakkie loads of trees, shrubs and cuttings. Creating an impact in areas of this scale is all about abundance. It meant a great deal to be able to re-use so much from our former garden.’
Oriental poppies, which were planted from seed, add splashes of colour.
Style-wise this garden has evolved into a serenely classical space. Part gracious English park, part meandering fairyland, it’s designed to be used and appreciated. ‘I was given a book on Japanese gardens, and two statements have always stayed with me. One is that your paths should always be a little bumpy and winding so that you don’t rush, but rather walk carefully. The other is that the caretaker of your garden should be older – someone who isn’t going to pick up each and every leaf. I love the wisdom in those philosophies and I don’t believe that perfection is the goal. What we’ve tried to create is a rambling, inviting space where children and dogs are right at home.’
A large bed of agapanthus at the garden’s southern end
While the owners have always loved gardening, they are quick to acknowledge their gardener, Million Sibanda, for his patience and expertise. ‘Million is such an important part of our family, and his input over the years has been invaluable. Plants really do flourish under his care, and we have a good selection for cut flowers – classics such as the Peace rose, hydrangeas, Oriental poppies and agapanthus.’
While the swimming pool and its bowling-green lawn impart a serene formality, the periphery of this garden reveals a series of visual delights. From the small pond and glimpses of statuary, to a fairy garden for the owners’ three-year-old granddaughter, there’s something unexpected around every turn. ‘We’re fortunate to travel to France regularly, and we created the gravel courtyard and rectangular pond as a reminder of our visits. The metal gate posts at the far end were part of the original house, and they’re meant to give the impression of leading somewhere magical.’
Softened by iceberg roses, a white stinkwood and jacaranda enhance the garden’s many secluded spots.
Since the owners moved here, this remarkable garden has played host to both a family wedding and a christening, with Sunday lunches under the oak tree now something of an institution. ‘I like to give plants and cuttings away,’ says the owner. ‘This space is so peaceful within the busyness of the city, and I believe that gardens should be shared.’
The rectangular water feature was inspired by the owners’ visits to France.
This article was originally published in HL June 2014