News and Trends

Small Worlds

Text Graham Wood Garden Editor René Slee Photographs Connall Oosterbroek Patrick and Clare Wood’s Parktown North, Johannesburg, garden is really more like two gardens – or even three, depending how you look at it. It has made a virtue of diverse, contrasting interests and aesthetics, using small spaces to multiply its possibilities. The position of the house on the long, narrow stand divides the garden into two distinct areas – one in the front and one at the back. ‘At the back, there is an indigenous garden; in the front, we’ve established a little English garden,’ says Clare, who is a botanical artist. ‘I have a long-standing interest in indigenous plants and trees, but at the same time I love to visit English gardens. Among my favourite gardens in the world are Sissinghurst in Kent and Great Dixter in Sussex.’ Renowned horticulturalist Arthur Menningke, aka The Naked Gardener, worked with the Woods on the property over a number of years. He designed the English garden to appear bigger than it is. ‘We squared off the lawn three quarters of the way down the plot to create a sense of depth at the bottom of the garden,’ he explains. ‘It creates a division that the eye can read. By making it long and narrow, you can make a small plot look large, and by cleaning up the foreground, you create depth for the background.’ He also put in topiaries and box hedges to add structure and a sense of formality. Clare says, ‘Patrick and I like to potter around in the garden. Although this isn’t a high-maintenance space, it’s designed so we can change and add things when we feel like it. Luckily, because it has good bones and structure, it always looks good.’ They included a classic English selection of plants: perennial phlox, bellflower, spurge, Siberian iris, violet, Christmas rose…. Clare has a fondness for the subtleties of foliage rather than bright bursts of colour. ‘Foliage is the backbone of a garden,’ she says. ‘Its colours, shapes and textures are what really hold it together and give it real interest.’ Arthur adds: ‘The greys of the artemisia, helichrysum and lamb’s ears help to unify the garden.’ The second garden, at the back, is in many ways the antithesis of the front: wild, indigenous, overgrown. ‘The back is essentially two rooms: the path and the circular garden,’ he explains. A path made from railway sleepers leads from the back of the house under a large stinkwood to the round indigenous area. The path curves slightly, employing another of Arthur’s deft optical tricks to create a sense of anticipation and to hint at the space beyond the arch without revealing it. The garden’s circular structure adds an element of surprise when you pass through the arch. The mulchy area along the path is characterised by forest planting. Halleria lucida (tree fuchsia), psychotria (chacruna) and lemon thorn are interspersed with pineapple lily, bush lily and lots of plectranthus and bulbines to attract birds and insects. There are also drifts of grass and grass-like plants: stipa and setaria (broad-leafed bristle grass), which is beloved of weavers and finches. Arthur adds, ‘The anthericum attracts bumble bees and other insects, which create a charming dancing effect as they land on the flowers, which Clare particularly likes.’ Clare loves the plants and landscape of the Karoo and the Eastern Cape, which find reference in the archway and the garden beyond. ‘The arch has been planted with Cape honeysuckle,’ says Arthur. ‘The round garden has a formality of structure, but it’s characterised by careless and casual planting,’ says Clare. It has lots of seasonal colour and is filled with Aloe arborescens, senecio, dietes, strelitzia, cotyledons, thatching reed, olive trees and more setaria. Many of the plants were chosen to attract bird and insect life. Birds love the chacruna, the plectranthus is insect friendly, sunbirds love the flowers of the tree fuchsia, and prinias nest in the Asparagus laricinus. ‘Robins nest in the dietes, and barbets have raised countless families in the log on the old stinkwood at the back,’ says Clare. ‘The weavers might strip the leaves off everything, but they always have nests in the trees.’ The Woods use no pesticides and no artificial fertilisers, and instead use the compost that they make themselves. The beds are filled out with honeybells, and Clare loves the Buddleja salvifloria for its lemony, sweet scent. ‘They’re very untidy, but I don’t care,’ she says. They have also used a lot of Mackaya bella, which comes out in lovely blooms in the spring. ‘The grey of the wild rosemary (Eriocephalus africanus) picks up on the stone and pulls it all together,’ says Arthur. ‘This garden is all about contrasts,’ says Clare. ‘There is an energy in contrasts that no garden should be without.’ She adds, however, that she’s noticed that the distinction between an English and an indigenous garden isn’t so stark after all. ‘There are plenty of indigenous plants in the English garden,’ she says, ‘and even English gardens have South African plants – agapanthus, arum lilies, crocosmias, geraniums and pelargoniums.’ She might have split the garden, but the connections between the two aesthetics continue to animate and energise it. The Naked Gardener, 083-308-2504   This article was originally published in the March 2011 issue of House and Leisure.