Practical Gardening

Text Laurian Brown Garden Editor René Slee Photographs Mike Hall Lying in the green lap of the Tokai valley, just a few kilometres from False Bay, Steenberg is one of South Africa’s oldest wine farms. It has also become one of the Western Cape’s most popular golf estates, laid out in the early 1990s to make the most of its enviable setting and mountain views. After 10 years of happy living here, one couple decided that their house was in need of a face-lift. Their family had grown and their needs and lifestyle had changed accordingly. Under the professional eye of architect Robert de Jager, living spaces were shifted around, and flooring, surfaces and textures updated. Within the Cape Cod grey and white of the estate style, the house changed from neoclassical to homely contemporary, with some smart new finishes. The garden, essentially a fairly narrow strip around the house, was inevitably trashed in the renovation process, so the next step was to call in landscaper Franchesca Watson. She began by considering the basic practicalities. The outdoor functions of the garden and its links to the house remained more or less the same, so no radical reorganisation was required. The first challenge would be to link both sides of the garden, from the swimming pool on the east side of the house to the front patio and on to the kitchen on the west side. At the same time, she would need to establish a pleasing harmony between the garden and the new sleekness of the house – and the landscape beyond. Franchesca had the happy thought that decking might be the answer. ‘The decking would be continuous, so there would be areas where it would simply become a path through the garden, and others where it would function both as patio and walkway.’ Robert, who was firmly against lawn, welcomed Franchesca’s idea with enthusiasm. ‘It took a little time to convince everyone else, though,’ she recalls. Gardens, like golfers, must be able to play in the wind. In the initial landscaping of Steenberg, berms had been built between the golf course and the gardens and planted with fynbos, for privacy as well as protection from the winds. These original plantings had grown into an effective screen, which the owners had enriched with proteas, buddleias, leucadendrons and useful herbs for the house. Franchesca’s next challenge was to preserve this valuable shelter in what was originally a very exposed site, but also keep the garden at least partially open to the view. She worked out a curving path for the decking, and gave it a flowing line along its outer edge, echoing the shapes of the golf course and the landscape. The undulations of the berm were also reshaped to reflect these lines, taking care to preserve the established planting and the shelter it provided but also, at strategic points, to frame the view beyond. The angle of the path from the fairway up to the house was changed for extra privacy. Challenge number three was what else to plant. ‘We needed to integrate the new planting and grade it effectively right down to the deck. I was just starting to get fascinated by grasses, which I realised would be the right height and ideal in the wind,’ Franchesca explains. Once again she had to convince her clients. ‘They understood quickly but they also wanted some colour, so we introduced a purple delosperma as a ground cover and other succulents like the cotyledons as a textural foil for the grasses. So the planting is 75 per cent strappy and 25 per cent texture and colour. It’s an eclectic, easy mix with rosemary and other favourite and useful plants blending into the fynbos thicket.’ Against the strong lines of the decking this bold yet soft planting has created a fine contrast between static and mobile elements, making the garden both invigorating and tranquil place at any time of the year. A stroll from one end to the other is always full of interest. And looking out to the sweep of the landscape, across the stippling of the fynbos, the bold forms of the succulents and the simplicity of the grass, the picture is never more striking than when the wind blows. Franchesca Watson, 082-808-1287; Robert de Jager, 083-478-4736 This article was originally published in the January/February 2011 issue of House and Leisure.