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Jungle Nook

Text Graham Wood Photographs Connall Oosterbroek Parts of this garden in Sandhurst, Johannesburg, look like a tropical jungle. At a glance, you would hardly guess it was on the highveld – its large, bold leaves, which contribute most of the garden’s colour, suggest lush and equatorial climes. It’s certainly the kind of garden that takes all who enter it on a journey. Horticulturalist Arthur Mennigke, who designed and maintains the garden, transformed it from a sloping open-plan stand, which could be seen in its entirety from one vantage point (the house), into a three-level, three-roomed design linked together by a series of meandering railway-sleeper paths that all lead onto the circular lawn. ‘The circle unifies the space and gives it structure, while also creating an illusion of more space,’ he says. He screened off the bottom of the garden with golden bamboo and conceptualised the rooms and paths so that they offer tantalising glimpses from one area to the next. The result is a garden that draws you into it, and is best experienced by walking though it. ‘The design has to work from every plane – sitting, standing, from the viewing platform and the deck, and looking back up from the bottom of the garden towards the house,’ says Arthur. ‘It concentrates on the reverse views, too, so that, unlike a normal suburban garden, it can be viewed from a variety of points.’ The garden has a multiplicity of focal points, including a collection of sculptures by the likes of Edoardo Villa, Angus Taylor and Dylan Lewis. They act as accent points, but snuggle in nicely, and some, such as Lewis’ big cat sculptures, aren’t always immediately noticeable. They have been subtly placed so that sometimes the best view of them is when glancing back. You might only see one coming down from a tree if you turn around. It’s a garden with an element of mystery and surpriseA system of ponds and waterways winds throughout the garden, punctuating and animating the paths. ‘The water creates a sense of movement in the garden,’ says Arthur. It also adds another dimension to the experience of walking through it. In the forested area around the Japanese elms, for instance, there are stepping stones through the ponds and streams, encouraging you to explore. The planting around the water features is wild yet contained to soften the appearance of the rock, and naturalised plants have started to grow among the rocks. Arthur stuck to a simple planting scheme, introducing a coherent theme and a pattern of repetition, picking up on the colours of the koi. ‘It’s the opposite of a normal garden where the colour comes from annuals,’ explains Arthur. He selected plants to create leaf contrasts, playing on their texture and form. ‘We went for big, bold-leafed plants like philodendrons,’ he says. ‘We positioned them and the cannas so that when you’re sitting on a bench or walking though the garden, you see them as silhouettes against the sun.’ He also included ornamental grasses such as stipa, acorus and variegated ophiopogon (mondo grass) to add movement, bring in bird life and lighten dark corners. ‘The plants completely screen the boundary,’ says Arthur, ‘and where there are views, such as from the upper deck, we have incorporated a borrowed landscape.’ There are just four spots with annuals to punctuate the garden with colour – and they’re always the same: New Guinea impatiens or dark red begonias in the summer and red primulas or cinerarias in winter. Occasionally, orchids add a pop of colour, and an understated sense of opulence. ‘It’s a bold, masculine garden; pristine without being fussy,’ says Arthur. Arthur Mennigke, 083-308-2504 This article was originally published in the August 2011 issue of House and Leisure.