80-year-old JHB Garden
Text Tess Paterson Photographs David Ross What I inherited when I fell for this 1930s home in Westcliff was a rambling, weed-filled garden with some straggly agapanthus and a few trees,’ says owner Ingrid Staude. ‘Everything was malnourished and dehydrated, yet despite all the neglect, there was a real charm to it.’ With a heady drop of 40 metres from the main house to the front gate, the layout of the once-formal garden consisted of a series of terraces, with rambling pathways culminating at street level. ‘The original design was based on a home in Madeira and many of the most beautiful ones were built on steep slopes,’ says Ingrid. ‘Or as the landscaper Tim Conradie put it, “there was something very ‘Monaco’ about it.” ‘Tim instinctively knew that recreating a Riviera-like environment would be more formal than I’d like,’ she adds. ‘Rather than something overly-structured and manicured, I envisaged swathes of texture and colour and I also wanted to introduce more indigenous plants. We certainly didn’t want to eradicate the original design, so the trick was to marry the two looks and to come up with something a bit wild, informal and fun.’ Tim began by creating a shade forest at the site’s lowest point. ‘The existing jacarandas, wild olives and wild date palms provided a strong base to work from and we added plants that do best in light shade, such as plectranthus, giant salvias, arums and tree ferns.’ Primulas add a calm palette of mauves, whites and blues, while anthericum gives the dappled garden its meadow feel. ‘This is bumble-bee heaven in summer,’ he says, ‘and in the evening, the scent of moonflowers and gardenia is a sheer delight.’ Grounding this calm, leafy sanctuary is the modern backdrop of Ingrid’s corporate publishing company, Words’worth (see Nature’s Reflection, HL September 2011). One of the building’s most striking features has to be the shallow rooftop ponds, which reflect the surrounding forest canopy. ‘My clients are always astonished at how peaceful it is,’ says Ingrid. ‘The ponds dramatically enhance the feeling of being surrounded by the natural world.’ From this dream home-office, it’s a winding, heavenly walk up towards the main house. ‘Reworking the existing terraces was the next step,’ says Tim, ‘and this area certainly has a strong nod to the Riviera, albeit in a quirky way.’ Tim added three separate water features to the gentle switchback layout and the ascending paths are overlooked by a vast Italian cypress. ‘It’s a perambulation,’ he explains, meandering past a giant persimmon tree, splashes of red salvia, and iresine. ‘Each section has its own character and points of interest.’ Once at the crest, the views from Ingrid’s substantial vegetable garden are quite breathtaking. Looking south, there’s the familiar grid of the Brixton Tower, the gas works and a distant Ponte building. Turn the other way and you can see both Northcliff Hill and the Melville Koppies. ‘The original owner grew veggies here and sold them to a market,’ says Ingrid. ‘I’ve discovered that it’s a wonderful thing to pop outside and gather ingredients for a salad.’ Walking back down towards the shade forest, there remains a tangible sense of old Joburg at play. ‘Tim took a neglected, 80-year-old garden with fairly good bones and transformed it into so much more,’ says Ingrid. ‘From the cool shade garden to the hotter, Mediterranean-inspired terraces, it’s incredibly well thought out. There are so many vignettes and corners that keep surprising us and the blue heron from the zoo thinks my koi pond is the local sushi spot. Wherever I sit, I find a bit of paradise.’ TIM CONRADIE’S GARDENING TIPS
- Older gardens can become quite dark and overgrown, so don’t be afraid to open them up. It you don’t want to remove trees, you can always ‘prune them up’ by removing the lower branches and opening up the crown to let more light in.
- If a tree does need to be removed, look for a good indigenous equivalent or one that suits the style of the garden. For instance if you have big, park-like trees, then Cape ash, wild plum or Natal mahogany are good alternatives.
- Many established gardens have forest characteristics which create the opportunity to plant shade-loving species; we’re blessed with a rich variety in South Africa, such as clivias, crinum lilies, dracaenas, mackayas and nearly all the plectranthuses.
- Although established gardens are often growing well, the soil can become ‘tired’. A lot of the time, the fallen leaf material is removed to keep the garden looking neat. Compost and mulch are the most important ingredients: if you’re not adding to the soil (mulch and/or other organic material) then bring compost in and enrich your soil, feeding extensively and on a sustained basis.